Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Samuel 27

I Samuel 27: David Among the Philistines

Synopsis

In the last passage, Saul tried—again!—to kill David, and when David confronted him, he—again!—repented. But David is learning his lesson, and in this passage he decides to leave Israel and go and live with the Philistines, so that Saul will stop chasing him. So he and his six hundred men go and settle in Gath, where the king’s name is Achish. (And Saul stops chasing him, so I guess it was a good idea.)

He tells Achish that he doesn’t want to live in the royal city with the king, so Achish gives him a town called Ziklag to live in. (The passage tells us that Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Israel ever since—meaning up until the time that the book of I Samuel was written.)

But once David has settled in, he starts raiding the surrounding peoples; the Geshurites, Girzites and Amalekites. But what he tells Achish is that he’s raiding the Israelites. Whenever he does one of his raids, he takes the plunder, but doesn’t leave alive a single man or woman, so that word won’t get back to Achish what David is really doing. And his subterfuge works, because Achish becomes convinced that David has become “odious” to his own people, and that therefore he’ll have no choice but to remain in Gath, and serve Achish.

In all, the passage tells us that David and his men live there for a year and four months.

Thoughts

Obviously David’s heart never left Israel. Even after he left the country, afraid for his life, he still fought her enemies, and served the LORD. I wonder, though, if there’s something to be said here about David’s deception; would the LORD have been pleased with him about it? Does it show a lack of faith—maybe if he’d stayed in Israel, and not had to be deceptive, the LORD would have protected him there? I don’t know, and don’t even have an opinion, just asking the question.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Samuel 26

I Samuel 26: David Again Spares Saul’s Life

Synopsis

Only a chapter ago Saul repented of trying to kill David, and yet in this passage he’s back to trying to kill David again. David is in the Desert of Ziph, and the Ziphites report it to Saul. Saul brings his army after David, and when David hears that Saul is after him again he sends out some scouts to confirm it, which they do.

That night, David and a man named Abishai sneak into Saul’s camp—which isn’t too hard, since the LORD has caused everyone to fall into a deep sleep. They come to where Saul is sleeping, with his spear and his water jug nearby, and Abishai volunteers to kill Saul for David. But David forbids it; Saul is the LORD’s anointed, and you can’t kill the LORD’s anointed without incurring guilt:

But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the LORD lives,” he said, “the LORD himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the LORD forbid that I should lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.” (verses 9–11)

So they do, and sneak back out of the camp.

David and Abishai then go to a hill, fairly far away from Saul’s camp (but still within shouting distance), and then starts teasing Abner, the leader of Saul’s army. He asks Abner why he didn’t protect his king, and why he let someone into the king’s camp without stopping him. And as proof, he asks Abner where the king’s spear and water jug are.

Saul hears this conversation, and steps in.

Saul recognized David’s voice and said, “Is that your voice, David my son?”

David replied, “Yes it is, my lord the king.” And he added, “Why is my lord pursuing his servant? What have I done, and what wrong am I guilty of? Now let my lord the king listen to his servant’s words. If the LORD has incited you against me, then may he accept an offering. If, however, men have done it, may they be cursed before the LORD! They have now driven me from my share in the LORD’s inheritance and have said, ‘Go, serve other gods.’ Now do not let my blood fall to the ground far from the presence of the LORD. The king of Israel has come out to look for a flea—as one hunts a partridge in the mountains.”

(verses 17–20)


As usual—you know the drill by now—Saul repents, and tells David that he won’t try to harm him again. So David returns Saul’s spear, and reiterates to Saul that because Saul is the LORD’s anointed, David will not lay a hand on him. David then goes back on his way, and Saul returns home. Again.

Thoughts

So if David didn’t intend to kill Saul, why did he want to sneak into Saul’s camp? It’s possible that he planned all along to steal something from Saul, to prove that he intended Saul no harm, but it doesn’t seem like that to me. It seems like he was just sort of playing it by ear, rather than having any real plan of what he wanted to do.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I Samuel 25

I Samuel 25: David, Nabal and Abigail

Synopsis

This passage starts out with mention of the passing of Samuel—so obviously Samuel himself didn’t write the books of I and II Samuel (or at least not all of them).

David goes to the desert of Maon, where there happens to live a man named Nabal—a man who is “surly and mean in his dealings”—and his wife Abigail—a woman who is “an intelligent and beautiful woman” (verse 3). Nabal is very wealthy, and it’s currently sheep-shearing time, so David sends some of his servants to ask Nabal for a handout. After all, David’s men have been protecting Nabal’s property, and have never stolen anything belonging to Nabal, nor mistreated his servants.

However, Nabal doesn’t answer favourably. (One might even say that he is “surly,” and “mean in his dealing” with David’s men.)

Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?” (verses 10–11)

When David’s servants bring this message back to him, he immediately springs into action; he straps on his sword, and four hundred of his men strap on theirs, to go and teach Nabal a lesson. (A permanent lesson.)

Luckily, however, Nabal’s servants approach Abigail, and let her know what’s going on. They seem to beleive that Nabal should have given David’s men something, because of all that David has done for them, but they’re also afraid of what is going to happen; they know that they can’t go to Nabal about this, because, “He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him” (verse 17). Abigail immediately loads a bunch of food onto donkeys, and brings them to David, but doesn’t tell Nabal.

As Abigail meets David, he is in the middle of a tirade:

As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. David had just said, “It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the desert so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!” (verses 20–22)

(Okay, so she actually meets him just after his tirade.)

Abigail gets off her donkey, and bows down before David. She asks him to let the blame fall on her, and, in essence, says that Nabal isn’t to blame because he’s a fool, and you can’t really expect much from a fool. (The name Nabal actually means fool, according to Abigail.) If Abigail had known about David’s request, she would have responded better.

She then asks David to accept her gift, and keep himself from revenge. She asks David to leave revenge to the LORD, so that David will not have on his conscience “the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself” (verse 31). David is convinced:

David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.” (verses 32–34)

So Abigail goes home in peace. When she returns, she finds that Nabal is in the middle of a banquet, one that is “like that of a king” (verse 36). He’s in high spirits, and very drunk, so she decides not to tell him what has happened. She waits until the next morning, when he has sobered up, and then tells him everything that has happened.

When Nabal realizes what has happened, his heart fails him, and he becomes like a stone. He stays in this state for ten days, and then the LORD takes his life.

When David hears about this, he praises the LORD, who kept David from doing wrong, and brought Nabal’s sin down on his own head. He then sends some servants to ask Abigail to become his wife. She agrees.

We are told that, although Saul has given David’s previous wife Michal to another man, David does have a second wife, named Ahinoam. So David is currently married to Ahinoam and Abigail. (As I recall, in a later chapter when David returns to Jerusalem, he’ll take Michal back as his wife.)

Thoughts

A question I have: Even though Nabal was selfish and mean in his dealing with David, would David actually have been justified in killing him? My feeling is that no, he wouldn’t have been. Yes, Nabal should have dealt better with David, but that’s different from actively wronging him. So when David is convinced by Abigail to leave Nabal to the LORD, it’s not just a matter of leaving vengeance in His hands; I think that it’s also the case the David would have been guilty of murder, if he’d gone through with it. I could very well be wrong on this point; I don’t claim to be an expert on Old-Testament-Israel law.

Which might speak, again, to David’s youth; I believe David is still a young-ish man at this point. (I wonder what the age difference would have been between David and Abigail? Were they similar ages? Was Abigail older? I don’t see any indication either way, unless the Hebrew word translated “woman” in verse 3 indicates an older or younger woman.)

In any event, whether David would have been justified in attacking Nabal or not, it seems to me that the LORD is punishing Nabal for his actions. (The passage doesn’t specifically say that Nabal’s death is a punishment, but it seems pretty clear to me that this would be the reason that the LORD strikes him dead.) So whether he specifically sinned against David or not, he definitely sinned. Perhaps we should remember this example the next time we’re on the street and a homeless person asks for change.

This passage also brings up the question of polygamy, since David is now married to two or three women (depending on if you count Michal). But I’ve talked about polygamy before, and don’t have any further insights to add at this time.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I Samuel 24

I Samuel 24: David Spares Saul’s Life

Synopsis

As we enter this passage, Saul is still pursuing David. He hears about David’s whereabouts, and follows him there. Along the way, Saul enters a cave to relieve himself, and as it turns out, David is hiding in that cave, with some of his men! Immediately, David’s men see this as an opportunity from the LORD; this must be the day He spoke of, when He promised to deliver David’s enemy into his hands, to do with as he wishes.

But rather than killing Saul, as one might expect, he instead creeps up unnoticed, and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe. And is then immediately conscience-stricken, for having done such a thing to the king, the LORD’s anointed. He then rebukes his men, and prevents them from attacking Saul.

But David is not just letting the matter drop, either. He then goes out of the cave, and calls out to Saul. When Saul turns around to see David, David prostrates himself, and calls Saul “My lord the king” (verse 8). He asks Saul why Saul would listen to people who claim that David is trying to harm him. (I don’t think Saul has actually listened to anyone, I think he decided this himself, but I don’t know what David knows and what he doesn’t.) David then points out that the LORD has delivered Saul into David’s hands, by sending him into the cave, but David spared Saul, since Saul is the LORD’s anointed king. He even shows Saul the corner of his robe, which was cut off in the cave, as proof that David could have killed Saul, if he’d been so inclined. Therefore, Saul should recognize that David has done nothing wrong, and that he is not guilty of any rebellion. Then he says:

May the LORD judge between you and me. And may the LORD avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, “From evildoers come evil deeds,” so my hand will not touch you.

Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea?

(verses 12–14)


I especially like that last line.

And Saul appears to heed David’s words.

When David finished saying this, Saul asked, “Is that your voice, David my son?” And he wept aloud. “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. You have just now told me of the good you did to me; the LORD delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the LORD reward you well for the way you treated me today. I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. Now swear to me by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.” (verses 16–21)

So David gives Saul this oath, Saul returns home, and David returns to his stronghold.

Thoughts

I’ve heard people say that the Bible is not realistic, because it doesn’t include things like people going to the bathroom. To which I say:
  1. They obviously haven’t read this passage, and
  2. It wouldn’t matter even if the Bible didn’t include this, because very rarely does someone going to the bathroom introduce an important plot point for the stories included. (This is obviously an exception to the rule.)
I also find that God introduces a lot of “coincidences” into the story between Saul and David. Saul and his men are encircling a mountain, and David and his men are creeping away from Saul on the other side; Saul goes into a cave to relieve himself, and David happens to be hiding there. Being in control of the situation, God is very much emphasizing David’s responses to Saul—largely, I believe, for our benefit, who are reading about it thousands of years later.

It’s interesting that David rebukes his men, after becoming conscience-stricken for cutting off the corner of Saul’s robe. This tells me that his men are really pushing for him to kill Saul, but I wonder if he’s also partially blaming them for goading him into cutting off the piece of Saul’s robe in the first place? It seems to me that we’re watching David grow up, in the book of I Samuel; he starts out a boy, and is growing up a little more with each story we read.

Once again, in this chapter, we see Saul seeming to come to his senses, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing soon that Saul will be back to his old ways, and trying to kill David. David definitely doesn’t go back to serve in Saul’s court, he goes to his stronghold instead, so he’s probably thinking the same thing.