Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I Samuel 17

I Samuel 17: David and Goliath

Synopsis

This is one of the more famous stories in the Bible—at least, the highlights of it—but some of the details may not be so well known. So, as with any passage that I blog about, if you’re reading this (and you’re not me), read the passage first, before you even bother reading this blog post.

The Philistines and Israelites gather together their forces for war. They each occupy one hill, with a valley in between them. But they don’t just start fighting; instead, there is a man from the Philistine camp, named Goliath, who comes out every morning, and challenges the Israelites. If the Israelites choose a man to come and fight Goliath, then it will be a winner-take-all battle: If the Israelite wins, the Philistines will be subject to the Israelites, but if Goliath wins, then the Israelites will be subject to the Philistines.

However, the Israelites are hesitating to send someone to fight Goliath, and with good reason:

A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. He was over [three metres] tall. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing [fifty-seven kilograms]; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed [seven kilograms]. His shield bearer went ahead of him. (verses 4–7—I’ve replaced the measurements from the text with metric measurements (from the NIV footnotes)

This terrifies the Israelites. And every day, for forty days, Goliath steps out and issues his challenge to the Israelites.

While this is happening, David is still serving Saul, and David’s three older brothers (Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah) are in Saul’s army. But David isn’t serving Saul full time; he’s actually going back and forth between serving Saul and tending to his father’s sheep. One day—presumably the fortieth or forty-first day of Goliath’s challenge—David comes back to the Israelite camp, and goes to meet his brothers, but as he’s talking with them, Goliath comes out to issue his usual challenge. When this happens, all of the Israelites run from him in fear.

David talks to some of the Israelites, and is told that if an Israelite defeats Goliath, King Saul will give him wealth, exempt his father’s household from taxes, and give him his daughter in marriage. But Eliab isn’t happy to hear that David is talking with the men:

When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the desert? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

“Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before.

(verses 28–30)


Word of David’s conversation gets back to Saul, and Saul sends for him. And David tells Saul not to lose heart: David will go and fight Goliath. Not surprisingly, Saul isn’t that relieved; David is only a boy, whereas Goliath is a soldier, and has been a “fighting man” since his youth (verse 33). But David is able to convince him:

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.”

(verses 34–37)


So, to prepare David for his battle, they dress him in Saul’s tunic, some armour, and strap a sword on him. But when he tries walking around, he realizes that he’s just not used to it all, so he takes it off. He grabs his staff, five smooth stones from a stream, and approaches Goliath.

Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was only a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!”

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

(verses 41–47)


As Saul watches David approaching Goliath, he turns to Abner, and asks him who David’s father is, but Abner doesn’t know. He promises to find out, although, as we’ll see later, he doesn’t have to.

We all know what happens next: As Goliath moves forward, David rushes toward him and slings a stone at him, which sinks right into his forehead. Goliath falls faced0wn, and David comes and cuts his head off with Goliath’s own sword. When the Philistines see what has happened, they turn and run, and the Israelites pursue them. They then return and plunder the Philistine camp. David takes Goliath’s head and brings it to Jerusalem, and he brings Goliath’s weapons to his own tent.

After all of the action, Abner brings David before Saul, and Saul asks David who is father is. David tells Saul that he’s Jesse’s son.

Thoughts

The idea of having two men fight out the battle, instead of the whole armies, was not unheard of in that day and time. The idea is that the men are really just proxies for the battle between the gods of the two nations; if the Philistine won, it would mean that the god of the Philistines was more powerful than the god of the other nation, and vice versa. Which works out very nicely in this particular instance, because obviously the LORD God Almighty is all-powerful, and the god(s) of the Philistines were no gods at all.

I’m not sure why Saul has to ask David who his father is; I’m especially confused because Saul should already know—he asked Jesse in the last passage for permission to keep David in his service. It may be that there are so many people in Saul’s service that Saul can’t keep track of them all, even David. Or it may be that the seeds of Saul’s jealousy of David are already forming. But we’ll read more about that in the next passage.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I Samuel 16:14–23

I Samuel 16:14–23: David in Saul’s Service

Synopsis

In the last passage, Samuel anointed David as king. (He didn’t yet become king, he was just anointed.) However, Saul didn’t hear about it; it was a somewhat (although not completely) secret ceremony.

This passage begins with the fact that the Spirit of the LORD has departed from Saul, and an “evil spirit from the LORD” is now tormenting him (verse 14).

So Saul’s servants suggest that he find someone who can play the harp, to soothe him when the evil spirit torments him. Saul agrees, and decides to send his servants to find such a person, but before they even do, one of the servants pipes up and mentions that he knows about a certain son of Jesse who plays the harp. He also happens to be a brave man, and a warrior, not to mention a good speaker and fine looking. Plus the LORD is with him. Sounds like a ringing endorsement! (Of course he’s referring to David, in case that wasn’t clear.)

So Saul sends to Jesse for David, and Jesse loads up a donkey with supplies, and sends David on his way. Once David begins serving Saul, Saul likes him so much that he makes David one of his armour-bearers, and sends word to Jesse asking him to allow David to remain in Saul’s service permanently. And whenever the evil spirit torments Saul, David plays the harp, which soothes him, and causes the evil spirit to leave again.

Thoughts

Based on the NIV footnote for verse 14 and the various other translations I checked the word “evil” could also be translated as “injurious,” “harmful,” or “distressing.” (If I continued to check other versions, I might find other words used.) I kept using the word “evil” in this post, but we shouldn’t take this to mean that the LORD is doing something wrong—or evil—since He cannot do anything which is sinful. I think this is a figure of speech, based on the effect that it’s having on Saul, rather than literally meaning that the spirit is doing evil things. (In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if this turn of phrase, about Saul having “an evil spirit,” just means that he’s suffering from depression.)

Obviously Saul doesn’t yet know about Samuel anointing David to be king, or he wouldn’t have asked David to come into his service. But I think this passage very well illustrates God taking His favour away from Saul, and giving it to David instead.

Friday, September 26, 2008

I Samuel 16:1–13

I Samuel 16:1–13: Samuel Anoints David

Synopsis

This passage introduces King David—although he’s still just David, at this point. He won’t be king for a while.

The passage starts with the LORD coming to Samuel, chastising him for mourning for Saul, and instructing him to go to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem, where Samuel is to anoint the new king. Samuel is worried about this because he’s afraid that Saul will hear about it and kill him, but God tells Samuel to claim that he’s just offering a sacrifice and inviting Jesse to go with him.

So Samuel goes to Bethlehem, and when the elders of the town meet him, they start to tremble, and ask if he’s come in peace. He assures them that he has, and invites them to consecrate themselves and join him at the sacrifice. He then goes and consecrates Jesse and his sons.

When they arrive at the feast, Samuel see’s Jesse’s son Eliab, and, based on his appearance, assumes that he is the man the LORD has chosen. Not so:

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (verse 7)

Jesse has seven of his sons pass in front of Samuel, but the LORD tells Saul that He has rejected each one. So Saul asks Jesse if these are all of the sons he has, and Jesse responds that there is still the youngest, who’s out tending the sheep. So Samuel has Jesse send for David, saying that they won’t sit down to eat until he arrives.

So they send for the youngest son, who is David. Samuel sees that he is “ruddy, with a fine appearance” (verse 12), and the LORD confirms that this is the man who is to be anointed. So Samuel anoints David in front of his brothers, and from this day on, the Spirit of the LORD is upon him in power.

Thoughts

The text doesn’t say how long Samuel spends mourning for Saul, but verse 1 indicates that he spends too long doing it. Since the LORD has rejected Saul, He doesn’t seem to want Samuel wasting too much mourning time on him.

It’s interesting that the elders of Bethlehem get nervous when they see Samuel, and ask him if he’s come in peace. Obviously it has become common knowledge that the LORD and Samuel have rejected Saul; I wonder if the elders expected Samuel to come advocating sedition—which, in a way, he is. I wonder what they think when he anoints David as king! He does it in front of David’s brothers, and even if the elders weren’t there, I’m sure word got around. Word obviously doesn’t reach Saul, however, as we’ll see in the next passage.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I Samuel 15

I Samuel 15: The LORD Rejects Saul as King

Synopsis

This passage begins with a mission that the LORD is going to send Saul on:

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (verses 1–3)

So Saul musters his men, and prepares to attack the Amalekites. (Before he does, however, he gives advance warning to the Kenites, who live near the Amalekites. Since the Kenites were kind to the Israelites, when they came up out of Egypt, Saul is willing to spare them.)

So Saul and his men attack the Amalekites, but they don’t quite follow the LORD’s command to the letter. They spare the Amalekite king, Agag, and they also keep for themselves the best of the livestock as plunder—although they do deign to destroy the “despised” and “weak” animals (verse 9).

Obviously this displeases the LORD, who tells Samuel that He is grieved for having made Saul the king, since Saul has turned away from Him. Which troubles Samuel, who cries out to the LORD for the rest of that night. The next morning, Samuel goes to find Saul, only to be told that Saul has moved on to another place—where he has set up a monument in his own honour.

When Samuel finally catches up with Saul, Saul proves that he doesn’t understand that he has disobeyed the LORD:

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”

But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

“Stop!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.”

“Tell me,” Saul replied.

(verses 13–16)


Two thoughts, which I won’t bother to put down in the Thoughts section:
  • When Samuel asks about the livestock that has mysteriously appeared, Saul says that they kept those animals to sacrifice to the LORD, but he calls Him, “the LORD your God,” and since he used the word “your,” that probably indicates that he feels Samuel is closer to the LORD right now than he is. I think he knows that something isn’t right.
  • Samuel says he’s going to tell Saul what the LORD has told him, and Saul simply says, “Tell me.” It’s very hard to tell from a two word response—in print—how Saul felt about this. Did he say those two words with dread? With optimism?
Samuel asks Saul why he didn’t obey the LORD, and Saul’s response is striking:

“But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.” (verses 20–21)

And I know I’ve been putting a lot of quotations in here, but I’ll include Samuel’s response as well:

But Samuel replied:
  “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
  as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
  To obey is better than sacrifice,
  and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
  and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
  Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
  he has rejected you as king.”

(verses 22–23)


This is a great quote—and one that I’ll be talking about in the Thoughts section below.

After hearing this, Saul gets the point. He realizes that he has sinned, and says he did it because he was afraid of the people, so he “gave in to them” (verse 24). (A valid question at this point would be why Saul is changing his story; first he said he committed no sin, but then he said that he committed the sin because he was giving in to the people, which makes it sound more like a conscious decision.) But Saul asks Samuel to forgive his sin, and accompany him in worshipping the LORD.

Samuel refuses, and turns to leave—because Saul has rejected the LORD, the LORD has rejected Saul—but Saul grabs Samuel’s robe, which tears. Samuel uses the torn robe as an object lesson for Saul: The LORD has torn the kingdom away from Saul, just as his robe was torn. Samuel tells Saul that God is going to give the kingdom to one of Saul’s neighbours—someone who is better than Saul. Samuel also tells Saul that He “who is the Glory of Israel” (verse 29) doesn’t lie or change His mind.

But Saul again asks Samuel to come and worship with him, to honor Saul before the elders of Israel, and Samuel relents, and goes to worship the LORD.

Samuel then asks for Agag to be brought before him, and Agag comes confidently, thinking that “the bitterness of death is past” (verse 32)—which seems like a strange thing to think, to my ears. The battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites is at most a few days past; has enough time really past that the Israelites will have forgotten the “bitterness of death?”

But Samuel quickly dispells any confusion by putting Agag to death. He then leaves, and goes back to his home in Gibeah. Then, until the day Samuel dies, he never goes to see Saul again, and the LORD is grieved that He has made Saul king of Israel.

Thoughts

I guess the first thought I have is about the reason that God is wiping out the Amalekites. He is not just trying to enlarge the Israelites’ territory, He is punishing the Amalekites for a particular sin they committed in their past. Sometimes His justice is swift, and sometimes it takes a while before coming, but God is just.

One of Saul’s problems is that he misses the big picture, and thinks it’s about him, when it should be about God. We see that again in this passage; Samuel goes looking for Saul, and is told that Saul has erected a monument in his own honour. Why not a monument to God—the one who actually won the battle? Because Saul doesn’t have the right perspective.

When Samuel confronts Saul, and Saul says that he has carried out the LORD’s commands, it’s possible that he knows he’s done wrong, and he’s just trying to cover up. However, I don’t get that impression when I read this passage; to me, it seems like Saul really believes that he’s carried out the LORD’s commands. (Until he finally gets convinced—and then blames it on the people.) I don’t think he’s lying to Samuel, so much as he just doesn’t understand what he has done wrong—after all, he mostly followed the LORD’s commands, right? (And how often do we fall into the same trap? “Well, I mostly love my neighbour as I love myself. Except for that guy, but he doesn’t count, because he’s too crotchety.”) And later, in verses 20–21 (quoted above), I still read this that Saul really believes he’s followed the LORD’s commands. I don’t think that he’s just trying to weasel out of it.

With regards to Samuel’s response to Saul, in verses 22–23 (quoted above), I have a few thoughts:

  • As important as the sacrificial system is in the Old Testament, another theme is even more important, and there are various times during the Old Testament history of the Israelites that they miss it: Obeying the LORD is better than sacrifice. To my mind, sacrifice was probably a very tricky thing for the Old Testament Israelites—maybe similar to the discussions we have about baptism in the modern-day Christian church?—because it was definitely something they had to do, to obey the LORD’s command, but sacrifice in and of itself didn’t make Him happy. (That was probably badly stated; I await comments on this blog post…) The Israelites weren’t saved by sacrifice any more than we are—unless you count the sacrifice of Jesus. Not that the Israelites would fully understand how their sacrificial system was a picture of what was to come—how could they?—but God did tell them that He was more interested in obedience than in sacrifice.
  • I also find it interesting that Samuel compares rebellion with divination, and arrogance with idolatry.
    • After all, what is divination, other than a lack of trust in God? You wouldn’t need to know the future if you just trusted Him to guide you and provide for you day by day. (See Matthew 6:25–34 or Luke 12:22–34 for good examples of Jesus telling his disciples not to worry about tomorrow; just trust God to provide for today, and tomorrow will take care of itself. Or rather, God will take care of tomorrow.)
    • Similarly, what is arrogance, if not idolatry—where you yourself are the idol you’re worshipping. Arrogance is nothing more than putting yourself in God’s place.
It might seem strange to read that the LORD is grieved that He has made Saul king—didn’t He know ahead of time that this was going to happen? Of course he did. But He can still regret that He has to do things this way, to teach the Israelites (and us) the lesson that He wants to teach. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that He is grieved that He had to punish his Son to save us from our sins, either, but that’s what He had to do, to solve the problem of being a Just God, who is also a Merciful God, who wants to save a people that He loves. In a sense, it’s unfortunate that things have to be this way, but they are. (Again, this sentence is badly worded, so I expect comments—especially from Jonathan Edwards readers—but it would take me hours to word it properly.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I Samuel 14:49–52

I Samuel 14:49–52: Saul’s Family

Synopsis

This passage just talks a bit about Saul’s family:
  • His wife is Ahinoam
  • He has three sons, Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malki-Shua
  • He has two daughters, Merab and Michal
  • Saul has an uncle named Ner, and Ner’s son, Abner, is commander of Saul’s army
The passage also reiterates that there is a “bitter war” (verse 52) between Saul and the Philistines for all of Saul’s reign. Also, whenever Saul sees a brave man, he takes him into service in his army.

Thoughts

I don’t have anything to say about this passage, except that I like the name Michal. (It’s apparently the feminine form of Michael, and means “who resembles God.”)

Monday, September 22, 2008

I Samuel 14:24–48

I Samuel 14:24–48: Jonathan Eats Honey

Synopsis

I decided to go with the NIV title for this post, “Jonathan Eats Honey,” even though it’s not very descriptive of the passage. Maybe “Saul Makes a Rash Oath” might have been better. Anyway…

In the last passage, the Israelites were having a great victory against the Philistines, and it was clearly Jonathan, not Saul, who started the ball rolling. However, as this passage begins, we find out that the men are having trouble continuing the battle, because Saul has bound the army under a rash oath:

Now the men of Israel were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, “Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the troops tasted food. (verse 24)

To make matters worse, when the army reaches a particular forest, they find an abundant amount of honey on the ground, just “oozing out” (verse 26) of the hives, which is probably torture for them, since they are already hungry.

And, to make matters even worse, Jonathan doesn’t know that Saul has made this oath, and goes ahead and eats some of the honey. He doesn’t even eat a lot; he just dips his staff into the honeycomb, and raises his hand to his mouth—at which point his eyes brighten (verse 27). But, as we’ll see, it’s enough. And, as soon as he’s eaten the honey, one of the other men notices, and tells Jonathan about the oath:

Then one of the soldiers told him, “Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, ‘Cursed be any man who eats food today!’ That is why the men are faint.”

Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?”

(verses 28–30)


In any event, the Israelites complete their battle against the Philistines, and as soon as the battle is over, the men pounce on the plunder, and start butchering animals to eat. They’re in such a rush to get food into their bellies that they even eat the food with the blood still in it. This is reported to Saul, and he tells the men that they are breaking faith with God by eating meat with blood still in it; he has a large stone set up, where the animals can be slaughtered properly. He also builds an altar to the LORD, and verse 35 tells us that this is the first time he’s done this.

After this, Saul decides to go back after the Philistines again, that very night, and continue plundering them until dawn. The men tell Saul that they’re with him, to do whatever seems best, but the priest suggests that they inquire of the LORD first. So they do, and Saul asks Him if they should go after the Philistines, but God doesn’t answer.

This worries Saul, and he has all of the men gathered, so that he can find out who has committed what sin, that has caused the LORD not to have favour with them. Saul separates the people into two groups: himself and Jonathan, and everyone else. When lots are drawn, the lot goes to Saul and Jonathan, and then when lots are cast between the two of them, the lot goes to Jonathan.

Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.”

So Jonathan told him, “I merely tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now must I die?”

Saul said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan.”

(verses 43–44)


But the men don’t let Saul kill Jonathan; they won’t let Jonathan be put to death, because he is the one who has brought about this victory over the Philistines. So Saul discontinues his battle with the Philistines, who withdraw to their own land.

We are then told that Saul has enemies on every side: The Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, the kings of Zobah—Zobahites?—and the Philistines. But we’re told that he inflicts punishment on them wherever he turns (verse 48), and that he also defeats the Amalekites, delivering Israel from their hands.

Thoughts

Some disjointed thoughts:

One of the causes of Saul’s problems might be evident in the first quote I cited, when he says that he is avenging himself on his enemies. It seems to me that Saul might have been better off if he’d treated the Philistines as God’s enemies, and seen himself as carrying out God’s revenge, rather than his own.

When Saul makes this rash oath, which really seems like a bad idea, I have to wonder to myself: Is this purely Saul’s foolishness, or is this also partially God’s judgement of Saul, for breaking faith with Him? It’s the type of question you can’t actually answer—you might as well start debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin—but it’s a question that occurs to me anyway.

When Saul admonishes the men for “breaking faith” with the LORD, I have to wonder to myself: is this hypocrisy, after Saul’s own actions, or has he actually learned his lesson? Based on what I know of Saul, I’d lean toward the former; it’s always easier to accuse someone else of their sins than to clearly see your own.

When Saul decides to draw lots, to find out who has committed the sin, it’s rather silly to divide the people into two groups, of himself and Jonathan and everyone else, but I think the reason Saul does this is that he assumes he already knows who has committed the sin. I’m guessing that Saul is assuming that the LORD is angry with the men, for eating meat with blood still in it. So he’s probably taken aback when the lot falls to himself and Jonathan. (And I wonder, when he has the second lots drawn between himself and Jonathan, if he was mentally going back over the day, trying to find a sin of his own that might have made God angry.) That being said, maybe the LORD was angry with the men, for eating meat with blood still in it, even though it was Jonathan’s actions that He was calling attention to.

When I read about Saul saying to Jonathan, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely,” if Jonathan doesn’t die, I think to myself that God will deal with Saul; for this and all of his other actions.

Despite Saul’s mistakes, and the fact that the LORD is no longer favouring him, He does give Saul some success. He may not approve of Saul as a king for Israel, but He will still use him for His purposes, in saving the Israelites from their enemies.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I Samuel 14:15–23

I Samuel 14:15–23: Israel Routes the Philistines

Synopsis

In the last passage, Jonathan and his armour-bearer attacked and defeated a Philistine outpost, and killed a bunch of Philistines. This passage continues on from there.

Because of the attack on their outpost, the entire Philistine army gets into a panic—a panic which is sent by God (verse 15), and is so bad that the ground shakes. Saul has some lookouts watching the Philistines, and they see all of the commotion, and the Philistine army “melting away in all directions” (verse 16). Saul doesn’t know what’s going on, so he has his troops gathered, looks to see who is missing, and finds that Jonathan and his armour-bearer are gone.

Saul still doesn’t seem to be sure what to do, though, because he then commands the priest to bring the Ark—but even as he is speaking to the priest, the “tumult” (verse 19) is increasing more and more, so he tells the priest to withdraw his hand (a figure of speech?), and instead just summons his men to go into battle.

When the Israelites go into battle, they find the Philistines in total confusion. So badly confused that they’re actually striking each other with their swords! This passage also tells us that there have been some Israelites with the Philistines, but they now rejoin the Israelites, as do all of the Israelites that had previously deserted the army.

So the LORD uses all of these Israelites to rescue Israel, and the battle continues on. It will still be going on when we get to the next passage.

Thoughts

Saul seems to be hesitating to attack the Philistines, and my guess is that it’s fear which is stopping him. (That may not be the most insightful thing I’ve ever said, but the text doesn’t specifically say that he’s scared, so it has to be an inference.) Jonathan seems to be the hero here, not Saul.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I Samuel 13:23–14:14

I Samuel 13:23–14:14: Jonathan Attacks the Philistines

Synopsis

As this passage begins, Saul and six hundred of his men are staying on the outskirts of Gibeah, along with a priest named Ahijah. But one day Jonathan decides to go over to the Philistine outpost, and brings his armour-bearer with him. He doesn’t tell his father, he just goes.

The outpost that Jonathan is approaching is at the top of a cliff, and Jonathan decides to ask for a roundabout sign from the LORD as to whether he should attack, because he knows that, “Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few” (verse 14:6c). They’ll show themselves to the Philistines, and see what they say; if they ask Jonathan and his armour-bearer to stay where they are, then they’ll obey, but if they tell them to come up to the top of the cliff, they’ll consider that a sign that the LORD has delivered the Philistines into their hands.

The armour-bearer is all for it, so they try it. And when the Philistines see Jonathan and his armour-bearer, they ask them to come up. And they do:

Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre. (verses 14:13–14)

Thoughts

I don’t know if it’s important that there is a priest with Saul or not. It might be, simply because God obviously wants to deliver the Philistines into the hands of the Israelites—perhaps the priest should have known that? Or should Saul have been asking him the right questions, to know if he should attack or not?

In any event, this chapter makes Jonathan seem more brave then the other Israelite soldiers. Or maybe he’s just more brash? In any event, whether it’s bravery which is fuelling him or just the bravado of youth, one thing is for certain: it’s the LORD he is trusting in, not his own strength.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I Samuel 13:16–22

I Samuel 13:16–22: Israel Without Weapons

Synopsis

This is a pretty short passage, which makes a simple point: Because the Philistines don’t want the Israelites making swords or spears, they have outlawed blacksmiths in Israel. So any time the Israelites need something sharpened—like plowshares, or axes—they have to go to the Philistines. This means that none of the men gathered with Saul and Jonathan have swords or spears, except for Saul and Jonathan. (The passage doesn’t mention where they got them.)

Actually, the passage also tells us that the Philistines have sent out three raiding parties, towards the Israelites. We’ll have to see in a later passage if these raiding parties are important to the story.

Thoughts

I don’t really have any thoughts on this passage. Since the Israelites don’t have any weapons, this battle, more than any in their history so far, will clearly be won by the LORD, and not by the Israelites. (If the Israelites win at all, of course; we’ll see in an upcoming passage. Are you in suspense?)

Friday, September 12, 2008

I Samuel 13:1–15

I Samuel 13:1–15: Saul messes up

Synopsis

I won’t be covering this chapter in the order presented in the text, but that shouldn’t matter, because anyone who comes here should be reading the passage first, before reading this blog, right? Right???

After Saul’s victory in 11:1–11, he sends all of the troops home, except for three thousand. He keeps two thousand of them with himself, at Micmash, and the other thousand he sends with a man named Jonathan, at Gibeah.

With his thousand troops, Jonathan attacks a Philistine outpost. Saul then sends word throughout Israel, telling them that the Israelites have now become “a stench to the Philistines” (verse 4), and summoning them to join him at Gilgal, to fight them. Saul also makes arrangements with Samuel to join him there, in seven days, so that Samuel can offer a burnt offering to the LORD.

However, the Israelites aren’t the only ones gathering together for war. The Philistines gather together three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and “soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (verse 5). (Actually, the footnote for verse five says that some manuscripts say “thirty thousand” chariots, instead of “three thousand,” but I’m guessing that three thousand is probably correct; it wouldn’t make sense to have thirty thousand chariots and only six thousand charioteers…)

Faced with this massive Philistine army, the Israelites start to get scared. Did I say scared?

When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. (verse 6)

Some even cross the border into another country to hide, and the rest who remain with Saul are “quaking with fear” (verse 7). This worries Saul; he’s losing his troops, and although the seven alloted days have passed, Samuel hasn’t yet arrived to sacrifice the burnt offering, meaning that Saul hasn’t yet sought the LORD’s favour.

So Saul takes matters into his own hands, and sacrifices the burnt offering and fellowship offerings. Just as he finishes, however, Samuel arrives, so Saul goes out to greet him.

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.

Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

(verses 11–12)


Samuel tells Saul that he has acted “foolishly” (verse 13), and that by offering the sacrifices himself, instead of waiting for Samuel so that a priest could do it, he has not kept the LORD’s command. And the consequences are severe: If Saul had kept the LORD’s command, He would have made Saul’s kingship permanent, for all time, but because he hasn’t, God has sought out another man to replace Saul—someone who is after God’s own heart. Samuel then leaves Saul and goes back to his home, and Saul counts the number of men he has left, to fight the Philistines: six hundred.

But, even with Saul’s failure, and Samuel’s prophecy that the LORD has chosen another man—closer to His heart—to be Israel’s king, verse 1 tells us that Saul still ends up reigning over Israel for forty-two years. Or… maybe not. See the Thoughts section below, as there seems to be some confusion.

Thoughts

This is finally the chapter I’ve been waiting for; all along, while reading I Samuel, I’ve been waiting for the chapter in which Saul messes up, and loses the LORD’s favour. It will probably be easier to read the rest of the book, since I won’t have it lingering in the back of my mind anymore.

This chapter also introduces a man named Jonathan. We’ll read a lot more about Jonathan in upcoming chapters. In fact, he and David will become good friends, if I remember correctly.

Note that God tells Saul (through Samuel), that He has already chosen a new king for Israel. He is, of course, an all-knowing God, so it’s not like He was surprised by Saul’s sin. In fact, I think it would be safe to say that His choosing of Saul in the first place was to be a lesson to Israel; they wanted a king for the wrong reasons—to be like the other nations—and He gave them a king that met their qualifications, rather than His. But the next king that He gives Israel will be a man after His own heart, and it will make all the difference.

As mentioned above, the NIV text says that Saul reigned for forty-two years, however, the footnote indicates that this isn’t quite clear. From what I can gather, the text of verse 1 in the Hebrew manuscripts is something like the ESV translation:

Saul was … years old when he began to reign, and he reigned … and two years over Israel. (verse 1, ESV)

That is, the numbers are missing. In the NIV and the NASB, this is translated that Saul was thirty years old when he began to reign, and that he reigned for forty-two years. In the KJV and the NKJV it’s translated completely differently:

Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel, (verse 1, NKJV or KJV)

As shown, the ESV simply skips the issue altogether, and leaves in the blanks, with footnotes indicating that Saul’s age is “lacking” in the manuscripts, and that for his reign, “Two may not be the entire number; something may have dropped out.”

So it’s not really quite clear, from verse 1, how long Saul actually reigned. And, to add to this confusion, we have Acts 13:21, which—in all five of the translations mentioned above—says that Saul reigned for forty years. So I don’t know how long Saul reigned. But it was for a long time—I think the KJV and NKJV gave up a little too easily on the missing numbers—because he continued to reign for a long time, even after God appointed David to be king.