Archive for August, 2010

Day 237: 1 Samuel 1

            1-2: We meet Elkanah and his wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Hannah is barren. We have seen this scenario many times: God chooses a barren woman through whom to bring into the world some character the world just could not do without. Hannah is in a long and honorable line, with Sara, Rachel, Rebekah, and the unnamed mother of Samson. The story of Jacob readily comes to mind, with his two wives Rachel and Leah, one who has children, the other who at first cannot.

            3-8: As in the story of Jacob and his wives, Elkanah loves the barren one more than the other, and the relationship between Hannah and Peninnah echoes the rivalry between Rachel and Leah. We learn that Elkanah is a very religious man, that the prescribed place of worship in Israel is presently at Shiloh, that Eli is the head priest, and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas are also priests there.

            9-11: Hannah promises that if God will give her a child, she will dedicate him as a Nazarite from birth. In the case of Samson, his mother does not pray for a child, but an angel announces to her that she will have a child whose hair must never be cut (Judges 13). So, both Samson and Samuel are dedicated to God from birth, but that is where the similarities end.

            12-18: Hannah goes to the temple to pray. It is a simple and specific prayer that she will become pregnant and have a son. Old Eli sees her praying and accuses her of being inebriated, but when Hannah explains her distress he blesses her and adds his prayer to hers. Hannah goes home in peace because she has placed her future in God’s hands and is confident that God regards the meek and lowly with special care.

            19-20: They return home, make love as we might say today, and she conceives. A son is born and given the name Samuel.

            21-28: Hannah does not accompany Elkanah on his annual trips to Shiloh. She has promised to give the child to God, but of course cannot expect the priests at the temple to agree to care for an unweaned child. So, several years pass before she again accompanies her husband. It is common in that culture to nurse a child to the age of four or five or six. When Samuel is weaned, she takes him with her to Shiloh. Elkanah seems curiously detached, but according to the Law of Moses, if his wife makes a vow and he does not negate the vow within a certain time, she must keep the vow. There is another tradition that Elkanah, though living in Ephraim, is actually a Levite (I Chronicles 6:27). That would help explain his religious sincerity and his deep regard for her vow.

            Hannah presents Samuel to Eli and leaves him there. We are not told what Eli’s response is, and are left to wonder whether such arrangements are common. In any case, we must feel for Hannah, for she has made a tremendous sacrifice. Ramah, her hometown, is about 20 miles from Shiloh, and in those day 20 miles was a long journey.

 

Day 238: 1 Samuel 2

            1-10: The prayer of Hannah is often regarded by scholars as the model prayer that influences Mary the mother of Jesus. It is interesting to compare these 10 verses with Luke 1:46-55, the “Magnificat.” Very likely Mary would have been familiar with the story of Hannah and her prayer. It is a beautiful expression of praise to God who is especially attentive to the poor and the meek, who lifts up the downtrodden and restores the fallen.

            11-17: We learn now that Samuel may have been left in a dangerous place. Eli’s sons, who actually administer the daily offerings at the temple in Shiloh, are dishonest thugs who threaten the people and steal large portions of the sacrifices that are brought.

            18-21: Meanwhile, Samuel is learning the ropes of life in the temple. He is given priestly garments to wear when he works there. Hannah and Elkanah come annually as they always have, and Hannah brings Samuel clothes she has made. A relationship has developed between them and Eli, and the old priest blesses them. God grants his benediction; Hannah has five more children besides Samuel.

            22-26: Eli is aware of his sons’ behavior. Not only do they steal from the offerings, but they have prostituted the women who serve as greeters at the temple. Eli chides them, but they ignore him. The text says they ignore him because it is God’s will to kill them. God will not be mocked unceasingly. Meanwhile, Samuel grows in “stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people,” just like Mary’s son, Jesus (see Luke 2:40).

            27-36: An unnamed “man of God” informs Eli of God’s displeasure with him and his sons. The “ancestor” spoken of is Aaron. Eli is told that his sons will die on the same day, and that a faithful priest will be raised up by God who will serve with integrity. That priest, of course, will be Samuel. Eli’s entire family and all his descendants will suffer the consequences of the evil practiced by Hophni and Phinehas.

Day 239: 1 Samuel 3

            1-9: Eli and Samuel are in bed – Eli in his room, and Samuel in God’s room, where the Ark of the Covenant is kept. The lamp has not yet run out of oil, and Samuel is apparently assigned the duty of staying there until it does. The text does not say that Samuel is asleep; the voice he hears is an audible voice, not a voice in a dream. Samuel assumes Eli is calling and runs to his room. This happens three times before Eli realizes that the voice may be God speaking to Samuel. The chapter begins with the statement that the word of God is rare in those days, but it seems that Eli has some familiarity with such an occurrence, because he knows what to tell Samuel to do.

            10-14: The fourth time God calls Samuel the voice is accompanied by the visual appearance of God. What Samuel hears is God’s awful judgment on Eli and his two sons. Their sin is so deep that God will not be dissuaded from destroying them.

            15-18: Samuel does not sleep, but lies there until morning. He opens the doors of the temple, going about his duties as usual. Eli, though, is curious, and calls him. Just as he had done three times the night before, Samuel goes to Eli’s room. The old priest questions him about his nocturnal chat with the Creator of the Universe, and under duress (“May the Lord do so to you and more also.”) he tells Eli everything God says. Eli seems to shrug it off.

            19-21: The prophecy about Eli is not fulfilled quickly. Samuel grows to adulthood. Through the years God is a regular visitor to his room, and the word gets around that Samuel is a prophet, and one to be trusted.

 

Day 240: 1 Samuel 4

            1-4: The old conflict with the Philistines flares up again. The Philistines amass an army at Aphek, some 25 miles west of Shiloh in the coastal plains, 7 or 8 miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea. The Israelites respond with a force of their own, and in the ensuing battle are defeated. The elders counsel together and decide to bring the Ark of the Covenant to the battlefield. Hophni and Phinehas come with the ark.

            5-11: When the ark arrives at the camp, the Israelites raise a cheer that is heard in the Philistine camp. The Philistines’ intelligence tells them that the ark has arrived in the Israelite camp, and they are afraid because they have heard the story of how Israel’s God defeated the Egyptians. Rather than running away, however, the Philistines determine that they must fight even harder. They deliver an even more disastrous defeat to Israel, and capture the ark in the bargain. Eli’s sons, Phinehas and Hophni, are killed during the battle, fulfilling the prophecy given to Eli (2:34).

            12-18: A messenger runs to Shiloh to deliver the news – he covers the 25 miles in one day. Eli asks him to report, and when the man tells him that his sons are dead and the ark has been captured, the old man falls off his seat and breaks his neck and dies. He is 98 years old, and has “judged” Israel for 40 years. The next judge, and the last judge, will be Samuel. He will combine the functions of judge, priest and prophet.

            19-22: The bad news brought by the messenger is so upsetting that Phinehas’ wife dies in childbirth. But to her and to Eli it is apparent that the greatest part of the disaster is not the death of Eli’s sons, but the loss of the ark. They are certain it means that God is no longer with them.

 

Day 241: 1 Samuel 5

            1-5: The Philistines transport the ark to one of their principal cities, Ashdod, near the coast in the center of their territory. The temple of Dagon that is in Ashdod will still be around hundreds of years later: it will be destroyed by Judas Maccabeus in his war to gain independence for Israel (see I Maccabees 10:83-84). The ark is placed near a statue of Dagon. Dagon is a primary god of the Canaanites, adopted by the Philistines when they settle the land. Dagon is a fertility god, and considered in some ancient texts to be the father of Baal.

            It becomes apparent that although the Israelites have been defeated, Israel’s God has certainly not been beaten. Dagon falls over on successive nights, and the second time this happens his hands and head are broken off. The symbolism is obvious: Dagon is not in charge (the head) of anything, and has no power (no hands). The phrase “the hand of the Lord” occurs 4 times in this chapter. God is still very much in charge.

            6-12: The inhabitants of Ashdod are stricken and discern that the presence of the ark is the cause. They pass it on to Gath, where a plague breaks out. The folks in Gath send it on to Ekron, thus exposing three of the primary Philistine cities to the plague. They decide to send the thing back to Israel.

Day 242: 1 Samuel 6

            1-9: We learn now that the strange tumors which appeared in Ashdod were accompanied by an infestation of mice. Tradition has it that they were suffering with bubonic plague, which is carried by fleas infesting the rodents that are carried on ships into ports. The Philistines were originally a sea-faring people. They determine that their troubles began when the ark was captured, and so they decide to return it to the Israelites. They treat Israel’s God with more reverence and respect than Israel has these many years since the time of Joshua and Caleb. The ark is placed on a new cart drawn by fresh animals, accompanied by a guilt offering of golden replicas of the tumors they are suffering and the mice which have become a plague, five of each to represent the five cities of the Philistines. They decide that if the animals draw the cart back to Israel’s territory, they will know that they have guessed correctly the cause of their troubles. Interestingly, they are familiar with the story of the exodus from Egypt, probably because for generations the Israelites and Philistines have been neighbors, and although hostile with one another, undoubtedly there have been some exchanges between them.

            10-12: The cows pull the cart with the ark directly to Beth-shemesh, and the Philistines let it go.

            13-16: The Israelites receive the ark with rejoicing, use the cart to make a fire, offer the two cows as a sacrifice and set up a makeshift altar on which they place the ark and the gold objects of the Philistines. They then proceed to bring their own offerings and make sacrifices of thanksgiving to God, all under the watchful eye of the Philistines. When the Philistines see the ceremony they are satisfied that they have done all they can to appease God, and return home to Ekron.

            17-18: A note to tell us that the stone on which the cows were sacrificed is still there at the time of this writing. We are not told the final disposition of the golden mice and tumors.

            19-21: But it appears that the ark is a dangerous thing even to the Israelites. Some of the Israelites do not properly receive the ark when it arrives at Beth-shemesh. The “sons (descendants) of Jeconiah” are not properly joyful over the return of the ark of the Lord, and the Lord strikes seventy of them dead. We aren’t told how this happens, but it will not be the last time someone will die for dishonoring the ark. Now the people of Beth-shemesh are in the same position as the people of Ashdod: they want to get rid of the ark, so they summon a neighboring city to come get it.

 

Day 243: 1 Samuel 7

            1-2: Kiriath-jearim obtains the ark from Beth-shemesh after the latter suffers the loss of 70 men. They establish a center of worship, consecrating (?) a priest, Eleazar, to be in charge of it. 20 years pass, and there is some indication that a time of national soul-searching is taking place.

            3-7: The time is right for a leader to step forward, and that is what Samuel does. He calls a national convocation at Mizpah, and demands that the people turn away from the foreign religions they have embraced. His leadership is respected, and they do as he says. They confess their sin, and Samuel serves as their “judge.”

            8-11: The Philistines attack, and Samuel leads Israel to victory, but he does so in a markedly different way than the “judges” who came before. Samuel does not physically lead them in battle. Instead he serves as a spiritual leader, making a sacrifice on their behalf and crying out to the Lord for them. God answers his prayers, and violent thunder confuses the Philistines, but not the Israelites, and the Philistines are defeated.

            12-14: Samuel is obviously the spiritual head of Israel now. He sets up a national monument to mark the victory. The victory is so complete that the Philistines cease their forays into Israel altogether as long as Samuel lives.

            15-17. Samuel serves as a judge in the same way that Moses was a judge: the people bring their disputes to him, and he mediates between the disputing parties.

 

Day 244: 1 Samuel 8

            1-3: Now to our dismay we find that Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abijah, are just as wicked as Eli’s sons had been – Hophni and Phinehas.

            4-9: The tribal leaders ask Samuel to appoint a king to govern them. The reason they give is that Samuel is old and his sons are dishonest. There is a hint in the text that Samuel takes this initially as a rejection of his leadership, but in prayer God assures him that is not the case. Rather, they have rejected God, which is par for the course. Give them a king, says God, but warn them about what they’re getting themselves into.

            10-18: Samuel thus warns them about the ways of a king. He will draft their sons and daughters to serve in the palace, to form a standing army, and to do manual labor for the central government’s administration. Furthermore, he will levy taxes; 10% of all the crops and herds. He will claim your slaves as his own and conscript the best of your beasts of burden to work for him. You will cry out, he says (just as they had cried out under the oppression of the Pharaoh in Egypt).

            19-22: They still insist on a king. Samuel checks with God, and God tells him to give them a king. Samuel sends them home while he ponders the challenge of finding a king for them.

 

Day 245: 1 Samuel 9

            1-2: Saul, son of Kish, is introduced. The only thing he has going for him seems to be that he is impressively tall. That will be enough.

            3-4: Saul is sent by his father to find some stray donkeys. Saul and a young helper practically search the whole country without success. But he’s tall.

            5-10: Saul finally gives up the search, but his young helper has a suggestion: there is a holy man who lives nearby who might be able to help them in their quest. Saul frets that they have no offering to give, but the young man has some cash, so off they go to find the holy man (we already know who that will be).

            11-14: They stop some girls coming out of the town and inquire of the holy man. The girls explain that some sort of festival is going on and the holy man is to appear to bless the sacrifice so they can enjoy the feast – sort of like people today at a pot luck dinner waiting for the preacher or the local politician to arrive and say the blessing. As they enter the town, the holy man is coming out. It’s Samuel, of course.

            15-21: The encounter between Saul and Samuel is revealing. God has revealed to Samuel that he will meet Israel’s king-to-be that day, a man from Benjamin. Samuel immediately knows Saul is the one – he’s so tall, you know. Saul asks him about the seer; Samuel identifies himself as the same and bids Saul go up to the shrine and join him in the feast and spend the night. His donkeys have already been found, says Samuel, a bit of information we have no idea how he’s come by. Then he uses a rather striking expression; “on whom is all Israel’s desire fixed, if not on you and your house?” Saul offers some false humility in return. Yes, Benjamin is the smallest tribe: almost wiped out entirely at the battle of Gibeah, until only 600 men were left. But Saul’s family is nowhere near the humblest of all the families of Benjamin; we were told in verse 1 that Saul comes from a wealthy family.

            22-24: The feast is by invitation only, but Samuel is forearmed with the knowledge that Israel’s future king will be there, so the extra cut of meat has been set aside. Samuel tells the cook to bring it, and sets it before Saul.

            25-27: A bed is prepared for Saul and his young helper. The next night Samuel calls them at daybreak, and as they are leaving Samuel tells Saul to send the young man on ahead. “I will make known to you the word of God,” he says.

 

Day 246: 1 Samuel 10

            1-8: Samuel anoints Saul with oil, kisses him, and announces to him that the LORD has made him ruler over all Israel. He will save them from their enemies, he says. Then Samuel gives Saul certain “signs” that God has indeed chosen him. 1) On his way home two men will meet him and tell him the donkeys have been found and his father is worried about him. 2) Then three men will meet him and give him two loaves of bread. 3) We learn that there is a Philistine garrison stationed at Gibeath, and when Saul approaches that town he will meet a band of prophets coming out, and he will join them in a “prophetic frenzy” and become a “different person.” Verse 8 is mistakenly inserted here; it will be several chapters later before we follow Saul to Gilgal to wait 7 days for Samuel to arrive.

            Here is an interesting explanation of all this beating around the bush: Samuel is not quite certain about Saul, so he has arranged for several tests. He anoints Saul in private just in case he turns out to be a poor choice. Meanwhile, he has arranged for two men to wait at Rachel’s tomb, telling them that when the new king arrives they are to give him news about the donkeys his father lost. These two men don’t know Saul: Samuel wants to see if they immediately see Saul as the king when they meet him (just as Samuel did), thus verifying the choice. A similar thing is to happen at Tabor: Samuel has arranged for three men to meet him, each carrying an identifying item. Samuel simply tells them to wait at a certain place for the king, and give him bread. Again, if they see Saul and conclude he is the king that will be another verification that Samuel has picked the right man. Finally, Samuel has sent word to a prophetic school at Gibeath to watch for a tall man approaching, and to swarm out of the town as he nears it, in a prophetic frenzy. Later, Samuel hears from the prophets how Saul reacted to their procession, again testing whether Saul has what it takes to be king.

            9-13: Saul passes the tests, and Samuel hears the report, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

            14-16: When Saul reaches his home, he dodges his uncle’s question about Samuel, and mentions nothing of the anointing.

            17-19: Samuel summons everyone to Mizpah (not Gilgal; that will come later). You insisted on a king, he says. You have rejected God, he says. So, come to Mizpah and see what you get.

            20-24: Samuel has arranged an elaborate selection process to make it appear that God is choosing their king right before their eyes. Samuel knows that the casting of lots will “choose” the tribe of Benjamin, then the family of the Matrites, then Saul the son of Kish. Saul, however, is nowhere to be found. God has to somehow let them know that their new king is hiding from them! They find him and bring him out, and Samuel says, “Here’s your king!” They are thinking, “My, my, isn’t he tall!” and shout “Long live the king!”

            25-28 Samuel writes down the rights and privileges of the king and sends the people home. Saul goes home to Gibeah (isn’t that where the Levite’s concubine was raped and murdered?). We learn immediately that not everybody is impressed with Saul, but Saul is new to the business of being a king and doesn’t know how to treat such threats, so does nothing.

            The Ammonites under king Nahash, meanwhile, are oppressing two of the northern tribes and putting them under submission by the expedience of putting out their right eyes. 7000 of the men of Gad and Reuben have escaped, however. This is clearly a case for the new king!

Day 247: 1 Samuel 11

            1-4: This is perhaps the most curious battle account in the whole Bible. Nahash the Ammonite seeks to expand his territory further westward, and so besieges Jabesh-Gilead, in the hills about 6 miles east of the Jordan. The Ammonites had been defeated during the time of Jephthah (Judges 11), but had begun to encroach on Israelite territory again. The people of Jabesh-Gilead offer to surrender, but Nahash insists that they all have their right eyes gouged out. They ask for a seven day grace period to look for reinforcements, and he agrees! Having met no resistance thus far, he seems to have become a bit too cocky for his own good.

            Now, remember that in the story of the outrage at Gibeah, where the Levite’s concubine was raped and murdered, there was one town that refused to participate in the punishment of Gibeah that followed. That town was Jabesh-Gilead (Judges 19). Now, the people of Jabesh-Gilead are hoping they will find help in Gibeah.

            5-11: Messengers arrive at Gibeah, Saul’s home, and tells them the situation. Saul hears about it and immediately takes action. He chops his oxen into pieces (the Levite had cut his concubine into pieces!) and sent the pieces to the other tribes and ordered them to muster for battle, threatening them violence if they refuse. They respond, 370,000 strong. Saul’s kingship is off to a grand start! The messengers return to Jabesh-Gilead and tell Nahash that they will surrender the next day. The next day, Saul arrives with his newly conscripted army and routs the Ammonites.

            12-13: Remember the “worthless fellows” who refused to acknowledge Saul at Mizpah? (10:27) Once again, Saul lets them off the hook. Not only is Saul victorious in battle, he is magnanimous to his detractors.

            14-15: A big victory party is thrown at Gilgal and Saul’s kingship is ratified by all the people.

 

Day 248: 1 Samuel 12

            1-5: Saul’s first test convinces Samuel that he can indeed lead Israel, and so Samuel decides it is time to retire. He summons the people and demands to know if anyone thinks he owes them. Remember that Eli’s sons had stolen from the people, and we have already been told that Samuel’s sons were of the same mold, so perhaps that history motivates his demand for a public statement of his innocence.

            6-18: Samuel recounts how God has been with them since the time of Jacob in Egypt, and has sent them saviors every time they were oppressed. But in the recent case of King Nahash of the Ammonites, the people demanded a king, he says, demonstrating again that they do not fully rely on the LORD. But God set a king over you, he says, and if you and your king follow the LORD all will be well. But if you turn away from the LORD, the LORD will turn away from you. Then a thunderstorm strikes and Samuel uses it as verification of God’s anger with them.

            19-25: The people are frightened by the storm. Samuel calms them by promising them that God has made them his own people, and that he, Samuel, will not cease praying for them.

 

Day 249: 1 Samuel 13

            1: This is a formula statement which signals the beginning of an account of a king’s reign. The formula is 1) the name, 2) his age at the beginning of his reign, 3) the number of years that he reigned, 4) sometimes the name of the queen mother, 5) oftentimes the place where his throne was located, (usually Jerusalem or Samaria), and 6) a statement about whether he did what was right or what was evil. Saul is the first king, though, and the information here is truncated. The number of years is missing in his age and in his reign. Literally the text says he was 1 year old when he began his reign and his reign was for 2 years; but in both cases the form of the number used indicates that something comes before it – perhaps he was 21 or 31, and reigned for 22 or 32 years, for example, but his age and the actual length of Saul’s reign is not given. And, since there was at the time no capital city, the place of his reign is not given, either, only that he ruled “over Israel.”

            2-4: After his victory over Nahash, Saul keeps a standing army of 3000, divided into two battalions. We meet his son Jonathan here for the first time, and learn that Jonathan is an adult and is commander over 1/3 of Saul’s troops. Jonathan takes the initiative in overthrowing the garrison of Philistines at Geba, and the existence of a Philistine garrison on Israelite territory tells us that an occupation is in place. The Philistines are informed of Jonathan’s exploits, and Saul summons his army to Gilgal, expecting a fight.

            5-7: The Philistines amass an army at Michmash, and refugees flee the territory to hide in the hills or cross the Jordan. Saul gathers troops at Gilgal, meanwhile. His cry, “Let the Hebrews hear!” is a reference to the Israelites who serve as mercenaries in the Philistine army (see 14:21).

            8-14: Now we learn that Saul is waiting because Samuel has told him to wait for 7 days. Samuel gave those instructions at the time he anointed Saul (10:8), but it seemed out of place then. It is suspected that the verse somehow got misplaced earlier in the text, since clearly it is more appropriate at this point in the story. While Saul waits, his soldiers begin to go A.W.O.L. Saul is getting desperate, and when Samuel hasn’t arrived by the end of the week he decides to wait no longer. He himself acts as the priest making the burnt offerings. Samuel, as luck would have it (or was it deliberate?) walks up just at that point. Saul explains that he fears the Philistines will attack and he needs to ask God’s help. It sounds like a perfectly good explanation to me, but Samuel is livid. Not only has Saul usurped his place as leader of the people, now he has even dared to usurp Samuel’s religious authority! Samuel says, “You have not kept the LORD’s commandment,” but really, isn’t it Samuel’s commandment that has been disobeyed? Samuel stomps off in a huff, declaring that “God” has rejected Saul and has already found Saul’s replacement!

            15-18: Saul’s 3000-man army has dwindled to 600. The Philistines begin their movements, a four-pronged attack that is designed to divide the meager Israelite force even further.

            19-23: Now we learn that the Philistines actually hold the Israelites under a rather severe submission. This catches us a bit by surprise because, aside from the battle with Nahash the Ammonite, the text has given us the impression to this point that the situation with the Philistines has been in a holding pattern. But no, the Philistines have subjected the Israelites to rather strict arms-reduction measures. Saul and Jonathan are the only soldiers in the entire Israelite army who have iron weapons!

 

Day 250: 1 Samuel 14

            1-5: A garrison (a platoon, we would say – 12-20 men) of Philistines leave the main camp to guard a pass. Saul’s son Jonathan decides to have a little excitement. He has already defeated a Philistine garrison (13:3), and knows it can be done. He goes alone with his armor bearer. A place in the pass is identified with landmarks no longer known; two promontories that guard the pass on either side, although it is not clear what role they play in the skirmish about to unfold.

            6-15: Jonathan and his armor-bearer agree on a plan of action. They will show themselves to the Philistines and either wait for them to approach or invite them to come up to their position. The Philistines, in mock camaraderie, invite Jonathan and his man to come to them. “We have something to show you,” they tease. Their bravado is soon turned to terror, though, as the two Israelites unexpectedly pull weapons (they’re not supposed to have any, remember – 13:19) and slaughter the garrison. A panic envelops the nearby Philistine camp as well.

            16-20: Saul hears the commotion and, from his vantage point, can see the Philistines in a panic. When it is discovered that Jonathan is missing, he has the ark of God brought up, tells the priest to step aside, and he and his men engage the fight.

            21-23: The Hebrews, Israelite mercenaries in the Philistine army, now turn against their employers and join Saul and Jonathan. Success breeds success: the refugees who have gone into hiding now swarm out of the hills and join them as well. The battlefield has grown considerably as the Philistines retreat. Saul’s forces have swelled from 600 to about 10,000.

            24-30: In his zeal, Saul issues an order that his troops not stop even to eat. Jonathan isn’t aware of it, and helps himself to honey they find in the hills. When he is told of Saul’s curse, he challenges his father by holding that the order not to eat was counterproductive; the troops fight better if they are allowed to satisfy their hunger, he says.

            31-35: The battle over, the soldiers are so famished they begin eating meat that is not “kosher” (properly prepared according to Jewish dietary rules). Saul is informed of this, and sets up a stone on which to slaughter and cook the meat, and orders his troops to gather there. Then he builds an altar to make offerings to God. It is the first altar to God Saul has built, we are told, and surely Samuel will not be happy!

            36-46: Saul wants to pursue the Philistines, but the priest insists on seeking God’s word first. They probably cast lots to determine God’s will; but in this case God’s advice cannot be determined, and Saul is certain that someone has offended God. He swears death to the offender and lines everybody up over against himself and Jonathan. Lots are cast, and the rest are cleared, but Jonathan is indicated as the offender. Jonathan admits to eating the honey, and Saul is ready to put his own son to death, but the people intervene and Jonathan is spared. Saul is deflated. He allows the Philistines to retreat unscathed.

            47-52: Saul’s reign is marked by warfare against all the surrounding peoples, and he is successful in subduing them all. We are at last introduced to his family. Some of them will play a role later, Jonathan and Abner and Michal in particular. His uncle Abner arises as the overall general of Saul’s armies, and Abner will play a major role in the years ahead. Saul develops a policy of drafting promising young men into his army.

 

Day 251: 1 Samuel 15

            1-3: Samuel approaches Saul and tells him that God demands that he attack and utterly destroy the Amalekites, killing men, women, children and animals. (But is that God’s wish or Samuel’s?) The Amalekites are mostly a nomadic people living in the wilderness areas south of Israel. As Israel made their way through the wilderness after leaving Egypt they were attacked by the Amalekites and defeated them. God vowed to blot out the memory of Amalek (see Exodus 17). In this sense, then, perhaps Samuel really believes he is giving Saul God’s word. But once again we see that the command to slaughter innocent people hasn’t come directly from God, but through someone who claims to be speaking for God.

            4-9: Saul has a vast army now, and arrays them against the Amalekites. He gives another nomadic tribe, the Kenites, permission to withdraw because, unlike the Amalekites, the Kenites had treated the Israelites well during their wilderness trek. He then attacks the Amalekites and kills them all except for their king, Agag, and selected sheep and cattle and lambs.

            10-16: Samuel receives the word of God that Saul has disobeyed. Samuel can’t sleep, and next day goes to confront Saul. Saul has gone to Gilgal, one of the holy sites, and greets Samuel warmly. Samuel is livid, however, and demands an explanation for the animals. Saul begins an excuse, that they brought them to offer as a thanksgiving sacrifice to God, but Samuel cuts him short.

            17-21: Samuel’s words, “though you are little in your own eyes,” reminds us of his first encounter with Saul, when Saul insisted he was from a simple family in a small tribe. Saul seems always to have had some self-esteem issues. “The LORD anointed you,” says Samuel. But, of course, it was Samuel who did the anointing, and we wonder if Samuel might have begun to have delusions of grandeur and think of himself as being on a par with the Almighty. He accuses Saul of disobeying God, and Saul again tries to defend himself by insisting that the animals are for sacrificing to God.

            22-23: Samuel’s reply is a classic statement of the Old Testament’s evolving understanding of God’s will. The idea that obedience is more important than sacrifices will be a popular theme when we get to the prophets – Isaiah (1:10-13), Hosea (6:6), Amos (5:21-24) and Micah (6:6-8) all articulate the same understanding.

            24-31: A pitiful scene follows. Saul gives in and confesses to having sinned against God and Samuel. He asks for pardon, and for Samuel to return with him so he will not lose face in front of his army. He specifically says that he wants to worship the LORD. Samuel tells him that God has rejected him; words that must have been particularly painful to a man who seems never to have been quite sure of his own worth. Samuel turns to go, and Saul pathetically grabs his robe and it tears away in his hand. Samuel uses this as an object lesson of what will happen to him – the kingdom will be torn from his hands and given to a neighbor “who is better than you,” again painfully emphasizing Saul’s inadequacies. Saul again admits his wrongdoing (is it really wrongdoing?). This time, though, he doesn’t ask for forgiveness, but tells the truth; he wants Samuel to honor him in front of his soldiers, and this time he specifically says that he will worship the LORD your God. Samuel relents, perhaps because he realizes that a huge audience is waiting.

            32-33: So, Samuel demands that Agag be brought forth, and he vents all his rage on the Amalekite king, hacking him to pieces “before the LORD.”

            34: Samuel and Saul go their separate ways, Samuel to Ramah, Saul to Gibeah, never to see each other again (but not quite so, we shall see). We are told that God is sorry for making Saul king over Israel.

            But is God sorry because Saul disobeys Samuel? Or is it because of the slaughter of innocent men, women and children? Or is it because giving Israel a king has resulted in a rift between faith and politics – between church and state, as we would say today?

Day 252: 1 Samuel 16

            1-5: But God is prepared to try again, this time with a candidate from the tribe of Judah (Saul is from Benjamin). Samuel is sent to Bethlehem to find him.

            6-13: Jesse’s sons are paraded before the old prophet. He is impressed with the first, Eliab, because he is so tall, like Saul. But God rejects all the sons present. The remaining son is sent for, the youngest, David. So this time the choice is made differently. This time the choice is from the tribe of Judah, which has been separated from the rest of the tribes for some time now (remember Saul’s army was counted in two groups; Judah was one, the rest of the tribes comprised the other – see 15:4); this time the eldest son is passed over in favor of the younger; this time the anointing is not done secretly, but with witnesses; and this time the name of the chosen one is withheld until after he is anointed.

            14-23: But David can hardly become king while Saul still lives, and somehow we have to get David into the public eye. The opportunity comes soon enough. Saul is plagued by an evil spirit. His behavior sounds like what we might call manic depressive syndrome, or perhaps bi-polar disorder. He is by turns melancholy and raging, but all that will unfold later. At the moment he is in a depressive state, and someone suggests soothing music. Saul agrees, and someone suggests David. But this is not the David we met in Bethlehem, a ruddy and handsome lad herding sheep. No, this David is a grown man, a valiant warrior, courageous and wise, who also happens to be a skilled musician.

            However, when Saul sends for him, he refers to him as “your son David who is with the sheep. That’s the David we met earlier. Seems some scribe has confused the boy David with the later valiant warrior. Saul loves him because his music brings relief, and appoints him as armor bearer to the king, although that seems to be a strange job for a harpist to have added to his duties.

            This chapter actually represents only the first introduction we have of David. There is another tradition of how David came to be in Saul’s service, which we’ll get to in the next chapter.

 

Day 253: 1 Samuel 17

            1-11: Israel and Philistia have been at odds for centuries. Sometimes the Philistines have the upper hand, sometimes they live in an uneasy stability alongside each other. Occasionally the Israelites get the best of the Philistines. The situation during the reign of Saul seems to have varied between all those states. We are looking at a time now when the Philistines are again flexing their muscles and encroaching on Israelite territory in the tribe of Judah. The two armies line up across a valley against each other. The Philistines send out their champion, a huge warrior named Goliath, and challenge the Israelites to do the same. Saul and his generals are anxious about the situation, to say the least.

            12-18: Now we step back from the battle scene for a moment to introduce David, son of Jesse in Bethlehem. The account reads as though we have never heard of David before, and is obviously a separate tradition that eventually was simply added alongside the anointing story. In this account Jesse is a very old man. The three oldest sons named in the last chapter – Eliab, Aminadab and Shammah, are off at war with Saul. David is a shepherd keeping his father’s sheep as in the last chapter. Meanwhile at the battle site, the Philistine has harangued the Israelites for forty days. The number 40 represents a period of testing. Jesse sends David to the front to take supplies to his other sons. We leave this paragraph with the clear impression that the time of testing is coming to an end.

            19-23: David arrives at the camp as the armies are taking up their positions for the day’s posturing. Goliath (there are only two places in the text where the name is given – here and in verse 4) comes forth to issue his challenge, and David hears it.

            24-27: The soldiers are afraid of Goliath, but David hears them talking about the reward Saul has promised to the one who kills him. David is curious. One of the rewards is freedom: perhaps an indication that Saul has forcefully drafted his infantry.

            28-30: David is accosted by his brother Eliab, but goes on circulating through the ranks talking his big talk.

            31-37: David’s brave words are reported to Saul, who summons him. Saul refuses his offer to fight the Philistine, but David convinces Saul that he just might be able to do something.

            38-40: David can’t wear Saul’s armor, it’s too heavy. (In the last chapter he was Saul’s armor-bearer!) He goes out to engage the Philistine with his staff, five stones and a sling.

            41-51: The Philistine approaches David with disdain and curses him and his God. David answers the challenge. He slings a rock and hits the Philistine in the forehead, stunning him so that he falls on his face. David takes the Philistine’s own sword and kills him with it, then cuts off his head.

            48-53: The Philistine army turns and runs when their champion falls. Now the account becomes somewhat garbled. The Israelites give chase and pursue the Philistines all the way to their major cities of Gath and Ekron, then return and take all the booty from the Philistines’ abandoned camp.

            54: A curious verse: There is as yet no Jerusalem, David does not wear any armor in the fight, nor does he have a tent, and the head of Goliath is given to Saul in the next verses.

            55-58: Saul inquires about David’s identity. There is no indication of any knowledge of David having ever played the lyre in Saul’s presence or ever serving as Saul’s armor-bearer. General Abner brings David to him and David tells Saul that he is Jesse’s son from Bethlehem.

Day 254: 1 Samuel 18

            1-5: They are still in the field. Jonathan, you will recall, has already exhibited courage in the fight against the Philistines, and now David has done the same, and the two young men (although David is painted as a boy in the Goliath story, here he is clearly a bit more mature) bond as comrades and friends. David can’t wear Saul’s armor but seems comfortable in Jonathan’s – perhaps the king’s armor was much heavier, being designed to protect the country’s ruler. Saul makes him commander over the army – but surely not the head general; that job still belongs to Abner, and Jonathan has some command responsibilities as well. When the text says “all the people approved,” it means all the soldiers, not the general populace.

            6-11: But now things quickly change. When they return from the battlefield, at each little town along the route they are greeted. The women sing praises to Saul and to David, but David’s praise is more grandiose, and Saul is jealous. He is thrown into a black mood in which he actually tries to kill David, but his aim is off. Here we are told that David plays the lyre for Saul as he did in the earlier account from chapter 16.

            12-19: Saul’s suspicions and fears grow as David’s fame grows. He puts David over a battalion because David can produce the results he needs, but with each victory David wins in the field, Saul becomes more convinced that God is abandoning him in favor of David. Perhaps as a political ploy he offers his daughter Merab to David, and David seems flattered. When the time comes for a public announcement to be made, though, Saul gives the girl to another man.

            20-29: The palace intrigues only intensify as the field is now left clear for another daughter, Michal, to claim David. Saul is pleased with this because he sees it as an opportunity to goad David into greater deeds of daring against the Philistines and get himself killed. (This is the reason given for marrying him to Merab, so you have to wonder if there are two David/princess tales that are getting tangled up here.) He sends word that, for Michal’s hand, David is to go on a quest and present 100 Philistine foreskins as a bride price. I suppose that is the equivalent of scalping on the American frontier. I think I’d rather be scalped. David is delighted at the challenge and succeeds in the quest, counting out all 100 of them one by one in Saul’s presence. He marries Michal and becomes the king’s son-in-law, but the king, as is sometimes the case with fathers-in-law, becomes an arch enemy.

            30: The war with the Philistines still rages, but David and his battalion are never defeated.

 

Day 255: 1 Samuel 19

            1-7: Saul speaks of killing David, but Jonathan defends him, reminding Saul of David’s victory over Goliath. Momentarily Saul relaxes and David is able to go about freely.

            8-10: A lot happens in these three verses. War flares again with the Philistines. David drives them back in a pitched battle. Then, obviously much later, David is playing music in Saul’s presence and Saul slings a spear at him, but David dodges it. This is not the first time Saul’s rage has become murderous (see 18:11). David runs out of the house.

            11-17: Saul has David’s house watched, but Michal helps him escape. In a scene that should throw up all kinds of red flags, she places an idol in the bed to make it appear David is sleeping. The life-sized idol is a teraphim, a totem-pole style representation of a pagan Canaanite god. Since the time of Jacob and Rachel household gods have been worshiped by the Israelites. They have never been able to completely rid the land of the worship of other gods. What’s worse for David at the moment is that his wife has told her father that he threatened to kill her if she didn’t help him escape. You just don’t tell your father that your husband has threatened to kill you if you’re trying to protect your husband!

            18-24: What a strange story! David is at Naioth in Ramah with Samuel. Saul sends messengers to take him, but as soon as they arrive they are overcome by a “prophetic frenzy” and cannot carry out their orders. A second group is sent with the same result, then a third. Finally Saul himself goes, but before he arrives at Naioth he, too, is in the same kind of trance, and falls naked and impotent at Samuel’s feet. Thus the statement made earlier (15:35) proves inaccurate.

            Saul has been in a prophetic frenzy before (see 10:10ff). That time the people ask, “Is Saul, too, among the prophets?” The rhetorical answer seemed then to be, “perhaps so.” But now he seems to have completely lost his sanity, and when the people ask, “Is Saul, too, among the prophets?” the rhetorical answer seems to be, “No. Saul is a sad, royal madman.”

 

Day 256: 1 Samuel 20

            1-11: David confronts Jonathan with Saul’s plans to kill him, but Jonathan does not believe his father has such plans. David suggests a test: he will be absent from the king’s table at a time when he is expected. If the king accepts the excuse he offers, all is well. If the king is angry, Jonathan will know that Saul regards David with murderous intent. Jonathan seems to be reluctant to such a test, although fervently declaring his friendship with David. The last line in verse 11 gives an ominous effect. “Come, let us go out into the field,” the same words we think Cain said to Abel!

            12-17: We are relieved to find that the reason for going out into the field is to obtain privacy for their conversation. Jonathan means David no harm, and is even willing to risk his own life to find out what Saul’s real disposition is toward him. In return he wants David to swear to protect his family (presumably he is married with children) if he is killed, implying that he is well aware of his father’s unpredictable rages.

            18-23: Jonathan devises a strange and seemingly unnecessary signal to let David know Saul’s reaction to his absence at the feast. Why not leave his boy behind and just go and tell David? The plan is similar to the one Jonathan outlined in 19:2-3.

            24-29: David is absent at the new moon dinner – probably an administrative routine, a sort of monthly staff meeting with Saul and his military leaders. A new moon sheds no light, making that a safe time for them to meet, since an enemy would not be likely to attack without at least moonlight to see by. Saul notes David’s absence but doesn’t bring it up on the first day. The next day he asks about him, and Jonathan gives the planned explanation.

            30-34: Saul is enraged – but not with David; rather, with Jonathan! A tense scene follows. Saul curses his own wife and son. He instinctively knows that David is his chief rival for the throne, and accuses Jonathan of collusion with David to his own detriment as the heir. He slings a spear at him – his preferred way to dispel his rage – and misses just as he has on other occasions with David. (Do you think he is not really aiming very carefully?) Jonathan leaves the table in anger.

            35-42: Jonathan goes to the field the next day to exercise the plan to let David know of Saul’s intent. The plan is pointless, for as soon as the boy gathers the arrows Jonathan sends him back to the city and he and David meet face to face! Why use the boy and the arrows at all? In any event, David is warned. He and Jonathan repeat their covenant of friendship, knowing the days ahead are fraught with dangers.

Day 252: 1 Samuel 16

            1-5: But God is prepared to try again, this time with a candidate from the tribe of Judah (Saul is from Benjamin). Samuel is sent to Bethlehem to find him.

            6-13: Jesse’s sons are paraded before the old prophet. He is impressed with the first, Eliab, because he is so tall, like Saul. But God rejects all the sons present. The remaining son is sent for, the youngest, David. So this time the choice is made differently. This time the choice is from the tribe of Judah, which has been separated from the rest of the tribes for some time now (remember Saul’s army was counted in two groups; Judah was one, the rest of the tribes comprised the other – see 15:4); this time the eldest son is passed over in favor of the younger; this time the anointing is not done secretly, but with witnesses; and this time the name of the chosen one is withheld until after he is anointed.

            14-23: But David can hardly become king while Saul still lives, and somehow we have to get David into the public eye. The opportunity comes soon enough. Saul is plagued by an evil spirit. His behavior sounds like what we might call manic depressive syndrome, or perhaps bi-polar disorder. He is by turns melancholy and raging, but all that will unfold later. At the moment he is in a depressive state, and someone suggests soothing music. Saul agrees, and someone suggests David. But this is not the David we met in Bethlehem, a ruddy and handsome lad herding sheep. No, this David is a grown man, a valiant warrior, courageous and wise, who also happens to be a skilled musician.

            However, when Saul sends for him, he refers to him as “your son David who is with the sheep. That’s the David we met earlier. Seems some scribe has confused the boy David with the later valiant warrior. Saul loves him because his music brings relief, and appoints him as armor bearer to the king, although that seems to be a strange job for a harpist to have added to his duties.

            This chapter actually represents only the first introduction we have of David. There is another tradition of how David came to be in Saul’s service, which we’ll get to in the next chapter.

 

Day 253: 1 Samuel 17

            1-11: Israel and Philistia have been at odds for centuries. Sometimes the Philistines have the upper hand, sometimes they live in an uneasy stability alongside each other. Occasionally the Israelites get the best of the Philistines. The situation during the reign of Saul seems to have varied between all those states. We are looking at a time now when the Philistines are again flexing their muscles and encroaching on Israelite territory in the tribe of Judah. The two armies line up across a valley against each other. The Philistines send out their champion, a huge warrior named Goliath, and challenge the Israelites to do the same. Saul and his generals are anxious about the situation, to say the least.

            12-18: Now we step back from the battle scene for a moment to introduce David, son of Jesse in Bethlehem. The account reads as though we have never heard of David before, and is obviously a separate tradition that eventually was simply added alongside the anointing story. In this account Jesse is a very old man. The three oldest sons named in the last chapter – Eliab, Aminadab and Shammah, are off at war with Saul. David is a shepherd keeping his father’s sheep as in the last chapter. Meanwhile at the battle site, the Philistine has harangued the Israelites for forty days. The number 40 represents a period of testing. Jesse sends David to the front to take supplies to his other sons. We leave this paragraph with the clear impression that the time of testing is coming to an end.

            19-23: David arrives at the camp as the armies are taking up their positions for the day’s posturing. Goliath (there are only two places in the text where the name is given – here and in verse 4) comes forth to issue his challenge, and David hears it.

            24-27: The soldiers are afraid of Goliath, but David hears them talking about the reward Saul has promised to the one who kills him. David is curious. One of the rewards is freedom: perhaps an indication that Saul has forcefully drafted his infantry.

            28-30: David is accosted by his brother Eliab, but goes on circulating through the ranks talking his big talk.

            31-37: David’s brave words are reported to Saul, who summons him. Saul refuses his offer to fight the Philistine, but David convinces Saul that he just might be able to do something.

            38-40: David can’t wear Saul’s armor, it’s too heavy. (In the last chapter he was Saul’s armor-bearer!) He goes out to engage the Philistine with his staff, five stones and a sling.

            41-51: The Philistine approaches David with disdain and curses him and his God. David answers the challenge. He slings a rock and hits the Philistine in the forehead, stunning him so that he falls on his face. David takes the Philistine’s own sword and kills him with it, then cuts off his head.

            48-53: The Philistine army turns and runs when their champion falls. Now the account becomes somewhat garbled. The Israelites give chase and pursue the Philistines all the way to their major cities of Gath and Ekron, then return and take all the booty from the Philistines’ abandoned camp.

            54: A curious verse: There is as yet no Jerusalem, David does not wear any armor in the fight, nor does he have a tent, and the head of Goliath is given to Saul in the next verses.

            55-58: Saul inquires about David’s identity. There is no indication of any knowledge of David having ever played the lyre in Saul’s presence or ever serving as Saul’s armor-bearer. General Abner brings David to him and David tells Saul that he is Jesse’s son from Bethlehem.

Day 254: 1 Samuel 18

            1-5: They are still in the field. Jonathan, you will recall, has already exhibited courage in the fight against the Philistines, and now David has done the same, and the two young men (although David is painted as a boy in the Goliath story, here he is clearly a bit more mature) bond as comrades and friends. David can’t wear Saul’s armor but seems comfortable in Jonathan’s – perhaps the king’s armor was much heavier, being designed to protect the country’s ruler. Saul makes him commander over the army – but surely not the head general; that job still belongs to Abner, and Jonathan has some command responsibilities as well. When the text says “all the people approved,” it means all the soldiers, not the general populace.

            6-11: But now things quickly change. When they return from the battlefield, at each little town along the route they are greeted. The women sing praises to Saul and to David, but David’s praise is more grandiose, and Saul is jealous. He is thrown into a black mood in which he actually tries to kill David, but his aim is off. Here we are told that David plays the lyre for Saul as he did in the earlier account from chapter 16.

            12-19: Saul’s suspicions and fears grow as David’s fame grows. He puts David over a battalion because David can produce the results he needs, but with each victory David wins in the field, Saul becomes more convinced that God is abandoning him in favor of David. Perhaps as a political ploy he offers his daughter Merab to David, and David seems flattered. When the time comes for a public announcement to be made, though, Saul gives the girl to another man.

            20-29: The palace intrigues only intensify as the field is now left clear for another daughter, Michal, to claim David. Saul is pleased with this because he sees it as an opportunity to goad David into greater deeds of daring against the Philistines and get himself killed. (This is the reason given for marrying him to Merab, so you have to wonder if there are two David/princess tales that are getting tangled up here.) He sends word that, for Michal’s hand, David is to go on a quest and present 100 Philistine foreskins as a bride price. I suppose that is the equivalent of scalping on the American frontier. I think I’d rather be scalped. David is delighted at the challenge and succeeds in the quest, counting out all 100 of them one by one in Saul’s presence. He marries Michal and becomes the king’s son-in-law, but the king, as is sometimes the case with fathers-in-law, becomes an arch enemy.

            30: The war with the Philistines still rages, but David and his battalion are never defeated.

 

Day 255: 1 Samuel 19

            1-7: Saul speaks of killing David, but Jonathan defends him, reminding Saul of David’s victory over Goliath. Momentarily Saul relaxes and David is able to go about freely.

            8-10: A lot happens in these three verses. War flares again with the Philistines. David drives them back in a pitched battle. Then, obviously much later, David is playing music in Saul’s presence and Saul slings a spear at him, but David dodges it. This is not the first time Saul’s rage has become murderous (see 18:11). David runs out of the house.

            11-17: Saul has David’s house watched, but Michal helps him escape. In a scene that should throw up all kinds of red flags, she places an idol in the bed to make it appear David is sleeping. The life-sized idol is a teraphim, a totem-pole style representation of a pagan Canaanite god. Since the time of Jacob and Rachel household gods have been worshiped by the Israelites. They have never been able to completely rid the land of the worship of other gods. What’s worse for David at the moment is that his wife has told her father that he threatened to kill her if she didn’t help him escape. You just don’t tell your father that your husband has threatened to kill you if you’re trying to protect your husband!

            18-24: What a strange story! David is at Naioth in Ramah with Samuel. Saul sends messengers to take him, but as soon as they arrive they are overcome by a “prophetic frenzy” and cannot carry out their orders. A second group is sent with the same result, then a third. Finally Saul himself goes, but before he arrives at Naioth he, too, is in the same kind of trance, and falls naked and impotent at Samuel’s feet. Thus the statement made earlier (15:35) proves inaccurate.

            Saul has been in a prophetic frenzy before (see 10:10ff). That time the people ask, “Is Saul, too, among the prophets?” The rhetorical answer seemed then to be, “perhaps so.” But now he seems to have completely lost his sanity, and when the people ask, “Is Saul, too, among the prophets?” the rhetorical answer seems to be, “No. Saul is a sad, royal madman.”

 

Day 256: 1 Samuel 20

            1-11: David confronts Jonathan with Saul’s plans to kill him, but Jonathan does not believe his father has such plans. David suggests a test: he will be absent from the king’s table at a time when he is expected. If the king accepts the excuse he offers, all is well. If the king is angry, Jonathan will know that Saul regards David with murderous intent. Jonathan seems to be reluctant to such a test, although fervently declaring his friendship with David. The last line in verse 11 gives an ominous effect. “Come, let us go out into the field,” the same words we think Cain said to Abel!

            12-17: We are relieved to find that the reason for going out into the field is to obtain privacy for their conversation. Jonathan means David no harm, and is even willing to risk his own life to find out what Saul’s real disposition is toward him. In return he wants David to swear to protect his family (presumably he is married with children) if he is killed, implying that he is well aware of his father’s unpredictable rages.

            18-23: Jonathan devises a strange and seemingly unnecessary signal to let David know Saul’s reaction to his absence at the feast. Why not leave his boy behind and just go and tell David? The plan is similar to the one Jonathan outlined in 19:2-3.

            24-29: David is absent at the new moon dinner – probably an administrative routine, a sort of monthly staff meeting with Saul and his military leaders. A new moon sheds no light, making that a safe time for them to meet, since an enemy would not be likely to attack without at least moonlight to see by. Saul notes David’s absence but doesn’t bring it up on the first day. The next day he asks about him, and Jonathan gives the planned explanation.

            30-34: Saul is enraged – but not with David; rather, with Jonathan! A tense scene follows. Saul curses his own wife and son. He instinctively knows that David is his chief rival for the throne, and accuses Jonathan of collusion with David to his own detriment as the heir. He slings a spear at him – his preferred way to dispel his rage – and misses just as he has on other occasions with David. (Do you think he is not really aiming very carefully?) Jonathan leaves the table in anger.

            35-42: Jonathan goes to the field the next day to exercise the plan to let David know of Saul’s intent. The plan is pointless, for as soon as the boy gathers the arrows Jonathan sends him back to the city and he and David meet face to face! Why use the boy and the arrows at all? In any event, David is warned. He and Jonathan repeat their covenant of friendship, knowing the days ahead are fraught with dangers.

Day 257: 1 Samuel 21

            1-6: In his flight David passes through Nob where Ahimelech, a grandson of Eli, is the chief priest. Ahimelech is alarmed at seeing one of Saul’s commanders fleeing alone and unarmed, but David fabricates a story about being on a secret mission for Saul. He asks for bread for himself and his imaginary men. After ascertaining that David is ritually pure, Ahimelech gives him holy bread. (Jesus refers to this episode in his teachings about the meaning of holiness – see Mt. 12:3-4, Mk. 2:25-26, Lk. 6:3-4.) The “bread of the presence” was placed before the ark, the throne of God, weekly, and was to have been eaten only by the priests.

            7: The Edomites are traditional enemies: Doeg’s witness of the transaction bodes ill for the future, as we will see.

            8-9: Now we learn that David is unarmed. Ahimelech offers him the sword of Goliath. We are thus reminded of David’s earlier successes even as he is running for his life.

            10-15: He flees to Philistine territory, and we are surprised by such a bold strategy. Does he think he will be unidentified? The Philistine citizens recognize him immediately. They even know the songs sung about him! They report to the king, Achish, who will play a more prominent role later. Notice that they refer to David as “the king of the land.” Everybody but Saul, it seems, knows David has been anointed. He is arrested and brought to Achish. His defense is to pretend insanity, and it works. Achish releases him. (One aspect of the story is the slur against the Philistines – apparently insanity is common among them!)   

 

Day 258: 1 Samuel 22

            1-2: David flees to the “cave of Adullam,” an unrecognized location, but probably in the territory of Judah. His family and others begin to gather around him until he has his own little militia of 400 men, all of them outcasts in Saul’s country.

            3-5: David goes across the border into Moab, an ally (David’s great-grandmother was Ruth, a Moabite woman), and seeks protection for his parents. Now we learn that David has an advisor in his entourage, a prophet named Gad who appears later in David’s royal court (II Samuel 24:11-19).

            6-10: This passage is important because it shows us how completely Saul’s authority has been eroded. His own son is against him. He suspects just about everyone else of protecting Jonathan or of being in collusion with David. At the least he suspects them of not supporting him as their king. It is fascinating that, among all his servants, it is a foreigner, Doeg the Edomite, who offers information to lead to David’s capture. Doeg was at Nob when David took the holy bread (21:7).

            11-15: Saul summons Ahimelech and all the other priests from Nob – a few miles southwest of Gibeah. He accuses them of helping David, and Ahimelech denies knowing anything about David’s opposition to Saul

            16-19: Saul orders the guards to kill the priests, but they refuse – more evidence that his authority is slipping away. The foreigner Doeg the Edomite, however, is eager to please the king and does the work himself, killing 85 priests and then leading an attack on Nob in which every citizen is slaughtered.

            20-23: But one of Ahimelech’s sons, Abiathar, escapes and flees to David’s camp in the Judean forests. David takes responsibility for the massacre of innocents in Nob and offers Abiathar asylum. Abiathar will continue in David’s service throughout his reign, and into the reign of Solomon.

 

Day 259: 1 Samuel 23

            1-5: We don’t know who “they” are in verse 1, but we have to wonder why “they” don’t tell Saul, the king. David is more and more being accepted as the country’s leader, even though he’s in hiding. Perhaps it is because Keilah is in Judah, and David is from that tribe. In any event, the Philistines are attacking Keilah and David, who has a sizable militia, is summoned to help. He “inquires of the Lord.” Remember that he has now in his camp Abiathar, the high priest now that Ahimelech has been killed, and the prophet Gad. God says “go,” his rag-tag army says, “Ask again,” and God says “go” again. They go, and are victorious.

            6-14: We now learn that Abiathar brought with him the trappings of his office. We don’t know exactly how the ephod (breastplate) was used in divining God’s answers, but David hears that Saul is going to march on Keilah to capture him, and God confirms the information. He then asks if the people of Keilah will turn him over to Saul, and again God answers in the affirmative. He now has 600 men with him, and they leave Keilah and move about through the wilderness of Ziph to the south.

            15-18: David has an important ally in the royal house: Prince Jonathan. Jonathan informs David of Saul’s plans, and acknowledges that David will be king over Israel, and accepts second place. Jonathan is a better man than his father.

            19-29: David has his enemies, though, and some of them are spying on him and offer to help Saul capture him. With their help Saul is nearly successful. Only news of a Philistine raid that draws Saul north saves David from capture. He leaves the wilderness of Maon and moves on to the Dead Sea, camping at the oasis known as En-gedi on the west bank of the southern end of the sea, also known as the Salt Sea.

 

Day 260: 1 Samuel 24

            1-7: Saul’s campaign against the Philistines conclude and he resumes his pursuit of David. He clearly sees David as a threat to his throne. Informants tell him David is at En-gedi, so Saul assembles a 3000-man unit and goes after him. The scene assumes a comic posture; Saul goes into a cave to relieve himself, and it is the very cave in which David and his men are hiding. But David refuses to take advantage of the situation. He cuts off a piece of the tunic Saul has tossed aside and withdraws, letting Saul leave the cave safely. Ironically, David is one of the few people left who honor Saul as Israel’s anointed king.

            8-15: David follows Saul outside and reveals himself. His speech is well organized and touches on several points: he acknowledges Saul’s kingship; he displays the piece of cloth to prove his proximity to Saul in the cave; he cleverly uses the name of God to affirm Saul and also to affirm his own innocence. When he asks God to judge between them he is calling on the very God who has anointed them both!

            16-22: Saul’s rejoinder is also remarkable for several elements. His emotion is unexpected, but in keeping with what we’ve already seen of his deteriorating mental condition. As David has called him “father” (verse 11), now Saul calls him “son” (verse 16). And he seems to completely capitulate, acknowledging that David will be king and asking David to treat Saul’s family favorably! Is it too good to be true? We will soon find out. For his part, David does not return to Saul’s house.

 

Day 261: 1 Samuel 25

            1: This is perhaps the most surprising verse in the entire book; not for its content, but for its brevity. Samuel’s death and burial get only half of one verse of the Bible. The second half of the verse confirms that David is still an outlaw.

            2-8: Maon is a village 6 miles or so west of the Dead Sea’s southern part and perhaps 20 miles south of Jerusalem. Carmel (not to be confused with Mt. Carmel in the north) is a couple of miles north of Maon. We meet a man named Nabal. Nabal means “fool,” so as the story is told around campfires in old Israel the hearers immediately draw some conclusions about the man’s character.

            We also learn something about David; he supports himself by providing “protection” for wealthy cattlemen in the region.

            9-13: Nabal may be a fool, but he is no pushover. He refuses to give in to David’s demands. David is infuriated and prepares to punish the wealthy rancher.

            14-17 One of Nabal’s shepherds intervenes with Abigail, Nabal’s wife. It seems that David’s protection really has been helpful to them even if it was unasked for. In this David is clearly in the wrong because the people he “protects” have not had the opportunity to agree in advance what such protection will cost. But the young shepherd has enough field smarts to know that David will not let Nabal’s refusal go unpunished.

            18-31: Abigail proves to be a better wife than Nabal deserves. She moves quickly enough that she meets David before he reaches their settlement and appeases him with a rather extravagant collection of gifts. She lauds him with every imaginable accolade and treats him as, well, as a king.

            32-35: David is suitably impressed and accepts the gift and disaster is avoided for Nabal.

            36-38: Abigail waits until Nabal is sober to tell him what she has done, and at the news he apparently has a stroke which results in his death ten days later.

            39-42: David loses no time in moving in and offering Abigail his hand in marriage. She accepts, quite hastily it seems.

            43: Just a parting note to let us know that David has another wife, Ahinoam, and that Saul has given Michal to some guy named Palti even though at their last meeting Saul and David seemed to have patched things up between them. Apparently not.

 

Day 262: 1 Samuel 26

            1-5: Although Saul and David seem to have patched things up in chapter 24 we learn that things between them are still unsettled. Again locals inform Saul of David’s whereabouts, perhaps hoping for a reward. Again Saul assembles a force of 3000 men to track David down and capture him. And again, David’s intelligence is just as effective, and David knows where Saul’s army is camped and where he is within the camp.

            6-12: David and Abishai slip into Saul’s camp undetected (their stealth aided by God’s interference as stated in verse 12). Again David’s comrade sees the opportunity to kill Saul, but David refuses, citing Saul’s status as the LORD’s anointed. Saul’s time will come eventually, he says, but for now just take his spear and water jar. They slip out of the camp as quietly as they have come into it.

            13-16: Once out of the camp David taunts Abner, Saul’s uncle and chief military commander.

            17-20: Saul recognizes David’s voice as before. This time David does not refer to Saul as “my father,” but only as “my lord the king.” David wonders why Saul pursues him, and offers two possible explanations. If God has stirred up Saul, surely their relationship can be restored by simply making an offering. But if others are inciting Saul against him, then they are responsible for forcing David to run to other lands that serve other gods. He even makes the shocking hint that he himself is being driven to other gods. He makes himself out to be unimportant in the scope of things: the king is using cannon to shoot a flea.

            21-15: Saul is recalcitrant. He again insists on referring to David as “my son.” Again David is reluctant to believe him, and insists that Saul send someone to get the spear rather than bring it himself. Saul’s affirmation of David is not nearly as strong as it was in their last encounter. There he said to David, “Now I know that you shall surely be king!” (24:20). Here he only says, “You will succeed in many things.” But when the encounter is over, David does not return with Saul: once again they go their separate ways.

Day 263: 1 Samuel 27

            1-4: David decides to leave Saul’s territory altogether and seek refuge in Philistine territory. We met king Achish of Gath at the end of chapter 21, when David fled to Gath after being warned by Jonathan of Saul’s intentions. He pretended to be insane and Achish left him alone. Now he’s back in Gath with 600 men and their families! No explanation is given as to why Achish would allow them to settle there – although we know from 14:21 that Hebrew mercenary soldiers sometimes fought for the Philistines. Obviously the situation with the Philistines is more complicated than the text reveals.

            5-7: Achish awards David the town of Ziklag. Again no explanation is given: the Philistine king’s sheltering of David goes beyond hospitality. We are told that David stays there for a bit more than a year, and from that time on Ziklag is considered part of Judah.

            8-12: David raids settlements of Philistine allies, leaving none living to tell the tale. He lies to Achish, saying that he is raiding allies of Judah. Achish begins to trust him more and more.

Day 264: 1 Samuel 28

            1-2: Achish plans to attack Israel and invites David to go with them. David accepts the invitation, which solicits an almost gushing response from the Philistine king. Make David his bodyguard for life? What is he thinking?

            3-7: Saul is alarmed at the Philistine army gathering at Shunem, and gathers his forces at Gilboa. But Samuel is dead now and God is silent with Saul, which alarms him even more. He decides to seek guidance elsewhere, and asks for a medium even though he has expelled them all from the land. He obviously knows not all of them have gone.

            8-14: This is a crazy scene, of course, and we wonder what is really going on with the witch of Endor. The likelihood is that she recognizes Saul at once, and at first refuses to cooperate, but once he assures her that she will not be prosecuted she is content to take his money. Like all successful seers, she is well informed about what is going on, and knows that Saul is in distress about the Philistines. And she knows the history of the strife between Saul and Samuel, so when Saul asks her to conjure up Samuel that is exactly what she does, and is surely pleased when Saul reacts by doing obeisance at her description of the apparition. For her part, she can now reveal that she knows exactly who her customer is, and by so doing gains some additional protection for herself.

            15-19: The woman is not about to let Saul off easily; her business has suffered far too much for that! She knows the story of Saul tearing off a piece of Samuel’s robe, and Samuel using that as a metaphor for God tearing the kingdom from Saul’s hands (15:27-29). She knows that Samuel was angry with Saul for not following his orders with regard to the Amalekites. She simply plays on that information and has Saul think that Samuel is pronouncing doom on Saul and his kingship and his army.

            20-25: The effect on Saul is even more powerful than she imagined, and now the witch is alarmed that he might expire right there in her tent, which would not bode well for her. So she feeds him and the two men with him, and sends them on their way. Quickly, we suspect.

Day 265: 1 Samuel 29

            1-5: Achish has accepted David and his men as Hebrew mercenaries (see 14:21), but his Philistine commanders aren’t buying it. They remember the prowess of David in the past against them and demand that he be sent back to Ziklag.

            6-11: Achish dismisses David and his men. David at least pretends to be upset (we have to wonder what his real motives are for being there in the first place) but really has no choice but to do as the king says and return to Ziklag.

Day 266: 1 Samuel 30

            1-6: When they arrive at Ziklag they find that the Amalekites (the very people David had raided and whose women and children David had slaughtered [27:8-12]) have raided the town and carried off the women and children. David’s men are distraught, and angry with David. But note that the text now says that God is David’s God, no longer Saul’s.

            7-10: Unlike Saul, David has God’s counsel – the high priest and the ephod to discern God’s will. He seeks and gains God’s approval for pursuing the Amalekites. Along the way 200 of his men collapse with exhaustion, leaving him with 400.

            11-15: They come across an Egyptian slave in the wilderness. It turns out that he has been part of the group that raided Ziklag! In exchange for his safety he agrees to lead them to the Amalekite camp.

            16-20: David attacks the camp and kills all but 400 of the Amalekites, and recovers his wives and all the families of his men, along with all their animals and other belongings that were taken.

            21-25: Returning to the wadi where they left the 200 men behind, there is a brief disagreement about whether those men should benefit from the battle. David institutes as a general rule that that all the troops would be paid the same whether they were in combat or merely providing support.

            26-30: It was recognized earlier that whatever wealth they gained in the battle belonged to David (verse 20), and now David puts it to good use. The Amalekites had ravaged the countryside of Judah, and now David acts as benefactor, restoring to the people of Judah much of what they had lost. His political skills are obviously considerable. He will benefit from this later, of course.

Day 267: 1 Samuel 31

            1-7: The prediction of the witch of Endor is accurate. Saul is so frightened after his audience with her that he cannot have been an effective leader during the battle. Three of his sons are killed, including David’s best friend Jonathan. Saul is seriously wounded, and decides it is time to die. No surprise there. His armor bearer (who used to be David!) refuses to do the deed, so Saul commits suicide. Again, no surprise. His armor bearer follows suit, unfortunately. The Philistines rout the Israelites and take over a considerable part of the countryside.

            8-13: The Philistines find Saul’s body and those of his sons. They decapitate Saul but apparently leave his sons’ bodies intact. The men of Jabesh-Gilead steal into the Philistine stronghold at night and take the bodies down from the wall on which they are being displayed, and bring them back to Jabesh where they are cremated and buried with honor. Thus Saul’s story comes full circle. His first military victory had been to rescue Jabesh-gilead out of Philistine hands (chapter 11), and they never forgot it. Now they have repaid him the debt. May he rest in peace.

         

Day 233: Ruth 1

            1-5: We are taken back to the time of judges. The setting is once again Bethlehem, but this time the story will be easier to read. A famine causes economic hardship, and a man named Elimelech immigrates to Moab with his wife Naomi and their two boys, Mahlon and Chilion. Soon after, Elimelech dies. Naomi stays in Moab, and the two sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Tragedy strikes the family again when the two sons die, leaving Naomi completely bereft.

            6-14: Naomi determines to return to Bethlehem when she hears that the famine is over. She advises her two daughters-in-law to return to their mothers’ houses and remarry. They insist that they will go with her, to her people. A moving scene ensues as the two young women cling to her and they all weep together. Orpah finally leaves, but Ruth still lingers.

            15-18: Naomi insists that Ruth return also, noting that Orpah has gone back to her people and to her gods. Ruth refuses to leave, telling Naomi, “your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” At this, Naomi relents.

            19-22: They arrive at Bethlehem and attract attention from the townspeople. The women recognize Naomi, but she still bears her grief, and says her name is no longer Naomi, which means “Pleasant,” but rather Mara, which means “Bitter” (see Exodus 15:23). They arrive at the beginning of the barley harvest, a very well chosen time to come home.

 

Day 234: Ruth 2

            1-7: The barley harvest is in full swing, and Ruth goes to the fields to glean – pluck whatever is left over by the harvesters. She winds up in the field of Boaz, Naomi’s husband’s wealthy next-of-kin. He arrives and greets his workers in such a way that assures us that he worships the true God, as do they. Ruth is in a safe place, and we are relieved. Boaz notices her and asks about her, and is told that she is with Naomi, and that she is a hard worker. Everybody is impressed with Ruth.

            8-13: Boaz approaches Ruth (it’s about time!) and gives her permission to glean in his fields where he assures her she will be safe. He tells her that he is familiar with her story, and that she has come to a place of refuge under God. She is grateful.

            14-16: Boaz is obviously taken by her, and gives her special treatment among the reapers. He instructs them to let her reap among the standing grain rather than glean from the grain they’ve already stripped. Things are definitely moving along nicely here.

            17-23: Naomi is thrilled at Ruth’s success in the fields this first day, and even more thrilled when she hears about Boaz. Now the wheels are turning; Naomi has plans for Ruth and Boaz. She tells Ruth to stick to the fields of Boaz, and only to the fields of Boaz.

            As the chapter comes to a close, so do the wheat and barley harvests. Already we can see that the relationship between Ruth and Boaz will be nothing like the relationship between the Levite and his concubine. After Judges, Ruth is refreshing! The story of Ruth will heal us of that awful chapter in Israel’s history.

Day 235: Ruth 3

            1-5: The harvest season is ended, and now the threshing begins. Boaz doesn’t know it yet, but he has been harvested by Naomi for Ruth. Naomi knows enough about his whereabouts to know that he will be at the threshing floor on a particular night. She tells Ruth to bathe, put on perfume and her most fetching outfit, and go to the threshing floor. There she is to watch and wait until Boaz lies down, and she is to go lie down with him. Basically she is to throw herself at him with unmistakable intentions.

            6-13: Boaz works at his threshing, then has his dinner and lies down and goes to sleep. Ruth “uncovers his feet” and lies down beside him. He awakens at midnight and is startled by her being there. She tells him to “spread his cloak” (literally his ‘wing’) over her for he is next-of-kin. In that culture, if a married man dies before having children, his brother or next-of-kin is to marry his widow and produce children who will be his heirs. The entire episode is filled with sexual double entendres that don’t come across in English translation. In Hebrew, “feet” can be a euphemism for “private parts,” for example. Boaz appreciates her situation, but plays the gentleman and informs her that another man is more closely related to Mahlon (Ruth’s deceased husband). He will pursue the matter the very next morning, he says, and if the other kinsman passes on the opportunity he will marry her.

            14-18: Morning comes and Ruth prepares to go home before it is light enough to be recognized. Boaz insists on giving her a gift of the barley he has threshed. Naomi’s question in verse 16 (“How did things go with you, my daughter?”) can be variously understood. Literally she asks, “Who are you, my daughter?” It is still quite dark, and she may not have recognized Ruth. Or, she may be asking, “Who are you now?” meaning, “Has your status changed?” Naomi is certain that the matter will be settled that very day.

 

Day 236: Ruth 4

            1-6: Boaz wastes no time, but goes directly to the city gate, the place where public legal transactions are made. The kinsman soon appears, and Boaz has him sit while they gather the required number of witnesses to a legal transaction. Boaz has been thinking things over carefully, and begins the conversation with a diversionary tactic. There is, he says, a parcel of land belonging to Elimelech, now deceased, that his widow Naomi wishes to sell. As next-of-kin, do you want to buy it, he asks. The kinsman agrees to buy the land. Then Boaz drops the other shoe. Buy the land, marry the widow. The kinsman balks at that, although we cannot be sure why such an arrangement would damage his inheritance. Perhaps, since the land would pass to Ruth’s child, he considers that he will lose the price of the land to his own estate that would otherwise go to his own children. In any case, he says no thanks, and Boaz is left a clear field to pursue Ruth himself, which is what he has obviously wanted to do for awhile now.

            7-12: The deal is sealed. Boaz has the land and the lady, and the townspeople offer their blessing. Now here is another interesting and perhaps comical twist: they say, “May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel.” Rachel and Leah were the wives of Jacob who bore twelve children. So this blessing means, in effect, “May you and Ruth have a lot of children.” But the second part of the blessing is curious: “Through the children that the Lord will give you by this young woman, may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” Judah was the son of Jacob, of course. Tamar was his widowed daughter-in-law who pretended to be a harlot in order to get Judah to make her pregnant (see Genesis 38). She bore twins: the first was Perez, although the other, Zerah, had appeared to be ready to come out of the womb first. Are the townspeople subtly letting Boaz know that they know about Ruth’s nocturnal visit to the threshing floor? Or are they equating Boaz, the second in line to acquire the field (and the widow), with Perez, who appeared to be the second born, but came out first? I imagine when the story of Ruth is told around the campfires of Israel, the listeners greet this “blessing” with wry smiles.

            13-17: Ruth and Boaz are married and have a son. Naomi is the child’s nurse, and it is clear that Naomi has greatly benefited from Ruth’s marriage to the wealthy Boaz. The women of Bethlehem name the baby Obed, and we are told that the baby will be the grandfather of King David.

            18-21: The narrative now traces the genealogy back to Perez (twin son of Tamar and her father-in-law, Judah), and lists the generations down to Boaz and Obed and on to David, about whom we will read in just a couple of weeks.

            In the midst of the steady moral decline of Israel we saw throughout Judges, there are still good people who worship only God and who in turn are blessed. Ruth is a stellar example of a foreigner who accepts the God of Israel as her God, and in so doing becomes an heir of God’s promises. This is, of course, in contrast to the examples in Judges of the Israelites who forsook the covenant with God and worshiped the pagan deities of other peoples, and lost God’s promises.