Sunday, May 04, 2008

1 Samuel 17-22: Underdog Makes Good!

The story of David and Goliath, told in 1 Samuel 17, is remarkable in being exactly what I remembered from Sunday school. Young David is sent to the battlefield to bring bread to his older brothers, who are serving in the army, and there he sees how terrified the troops are of the Philistine champion, Goliath. I'd be terrified too. Goliath is 9 feet tall, wears 125 pounds of armor, and wields a spear with a 15 pound tip. This is not a small man. But the little shephard beans him in the forehead with one shot from his sling, and down he goes.

Caravaggio, David and Goliath
Interestingly, this clash of champions only kicks off the battle, rather than serving as a way of avoiding it. The whole idea of a battle between champions is that the side whose champion wins will get the privileges of winning without the necessary bloodshed, but when David saws off Goliath's head to finish him off, the Philistines run in panic and the Israelites make chase and attack them. So, although David taking out Goliath swings morale and initiative to the Israelites, it can't really be seen as decisive to the battle. After all, he only killed one guy out of a whole army.

Rembrandt, David Presents the Head of Goliath to King Saul
Anyway, after his high-profile triumph, David is a real hero. The people become increasingly fond of him, and he befriend's King Saul's son Jonathan. But Saul himself grows jealous of the young boy. He gives David increasingly dangerous military missions, hoping that he'll die in action, but David always prevails. Raising the stakes, Saul promises his daughter Michal (no relation) in marriage to David if he will produce 100 Philistine foreskins. Never one to shrink from a challenge, David goes out and kills 200 Philistines, cuts off their... well, you get the idea. Not only does David survive the mission, Saul has exchanged the princess for a bucket of foreskins. He could have done better.

Note: The battle of David and Goliath are a popular subject for children's tales, but they never mention the bucket of foreskins. Why do you suppose that is?

The Psyche of Psaul

It's hard to diagnose people who lived thousands of years ago -- especially since, technically, I'm not qualified to diagnose anybody -- but you have to wonder is Saul has some organic mental health issues. He needs David around to soother him during his frequent bouts of possession by evil spirits, but he's also so jealous that he's trying to have the boy killed. Saul also has extreme anger-management issues, on two occasions attracking David with a spear and completely freaking out on his son when the young man intervenes on David's behalf.

It's a bad scene, and after the second spear incident David gets the heck out of Dodge. Jonathan and his wife Michal help him escape. Saul, however, has really lost it at this point, and he goes chasing David into the wilderness. Learning that a priest has innocently given David some bread and Goliath's old sword, Saul explodes with rage. The priest had no reason to think that David was not still in the king's favor, but no matter. The hapless guy is executed, along with 85 other priests, all of their families, the entire population of their town, and all of the livestock.

Chagall, David Saved by Michal
David, meanwhile, has been keeping himself scarce, hanging out in such places as the Cave of Adullam, the court of the Moabite king, the Forest of Hereth, and Bag End in the Shire. No, just kidding with that last one. Saul's increasingly erratic and draconian reign is increasingly alienating and displacing more and more people, and many of them find their way to David's hideouts. By the end of today's reading, he seems to have a small rebel army in the making.

Next time: Usually, when there's a rebel army gathering, rebellion is a safe bet.

1 comment:

jessica said...

when we see the work of painting the story of David and Goliath we will carry over the scene. very charming ...