Saturday, May 10, 2008

1 Samuel 23 - 31: The Many Moods of Young King David

So, to bring us up to date: After centuries of loose rulership by "Judges," the Israelites asked the religious leader Samuel to appoint them a king. Samuel picked Saul, who has proven to be a good military and administrative leader, but who has fallen out of God's favor for neglecting the details of His instructions. Samuel has privately annointed David as a replacement king, and although nobody knows about that he's the king-in-waiting David has become very popular after his colorful dispatching of the Philistine champion Goliath. Saul sees David as a rival to the peoples' affection, accurately enough, and has made several attempts on his life. Because of this, David has fled out into the desert, where he has begun to attract a band of followers.

It's an unstable political situation that all this is going down in, and things don't get any more stable in the final chapters of 1 Samuel. Here's what happens:

1 Samuel 23 -- David, the Heroic!

David hears that an Israelite city called Keilah is under siege by the Philistines, and rides down to save the town. He is victorious, but Saul, hoping to trip David inside the walled city, then leads the army toward the site. David escapes into the countryside, but the locals tell Saul (who is the King, after all) where David is hiding. We're on the verge of a showdown when Saul has to move his army elsewhere to deal with a fresh Philistine incursion. David establishes a secure hideout in caves near the Crags of the Wild Goats.

1 Samuel 24 -- David, the Merciful!

With the Philistines taken care of, Saul continues the search for David up in the hills. One day, Saul steps into a cave to take a leak, unaware that the cave is crawling with David and his well-armed henchmen. However, David merely cuts off a little scrap of Saul's robe; the king never even realizes there are other people in the cave.

After Saul leaves, David goes out and shouts at him. See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! he says. I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. (11) David claims that he is not a rebel, and just wants to be back in the king's good graces. Ashamed of his behavior, Saul admits he has been being a jerk, and says may the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands (19-20) David is reassured, but is nervous enough to stay in the caves rather than going back home.

1 Samuel 25 -- David, the Thug!

Samuel dies. I guess we won't be seeing any more of him. OR WILL WE.....?

Meanwhile, David moves into the Desert of Maon. There is a household living nearby headed by a couple named Nabal and Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, we learn, but her husband... was surly and mean in his dealings (3), not unlike the situation here at Castle5000. David's gang has been providing protection for the area, making sure that nothing gets stolen, but when he sends the boys around to ask for food, Nabal tells them to get lost. David, keen to find a workable solution to the standoff, decides to kill Nabal and everyone in his household for this injustice.

Word of this gets to Abigail, who leaps into action, puts together as much food as she can scrounge up, and meets David and his death squad en route. She eloquently offers up the food, and David is grateful both for being fed and for being deterred from making the hit, which he realizes -- a bit belatedly, it seems to me -- would have been a sin. He is so grateful, in fact, that after Nabal dies of natural causes a few weeks later, he takes Abigail as his third wife. Hmmm....

1 Samuel 26 -- David, Who Doesn't Believe in Regicide!

Saul saddles up his army and rides out against David again. This is presented as duplicity or malice, but one notes that David has been running something of a protection racket out in the hills, so this might also be interpreted as the kind of legitimate anti-briggandage activity you want from your king. Whatever. David sneaks into Saul's camp at night and takes the spear and water jug from beside him as he sleeps. Having left the camp, he scolds the king's men at a distance for not having given their master adequate protection, and lets Saul know that his life has been spared a second time. The Lord delivered you into my hands today, but I would not lay a hand on the Lord's annointed, he yells. (23) Saul is again moved, gets choked up, blesses David and predicts that great triumphs are in the young man's future.

1 Samuel 27 -- David, Slayer of the Innocent!

David sees the writing on the wall, however -- to use a Biblical reference we haven't got to yet -- and determines to leave Saul's lands before the king changes his mind again. He sets up household in the land of the Philistines, where his band makes their living by looting and killing. Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. (8) This is not, I might add, because of any special instructions from God. Instead, David is just killing anyone who might inform on him to the Philistine authority. (11)

I hadn't known much about David before this reading, but had always had an impression of him as a heroic and morally upright figure. I am surprised to see that, here in his adult life, he is so far a minor warlord noteworthy mostly as an extortionist and a murderer. You learn a lot when you read the Bible.

1 Samuel 28 -- The Witch of Endor

Saul is fighting with the Philistines again, and he's nervous that God will no longer talk to him. He disguises himself and goes to a witch in Endor, who raises Samuel from the dead. Samuel tells Saul that he is doomed and will die in battle against the Philistines the next day.

This chapter is so downright weird that I looked into it a little bit. Apparently, this little black-magic ghost story was always seen through the ages as a fairly obvious example of how you can't take the Bible literally, before the big 20th Century boom in fundamentalism. Also, it's the probable source of the name of Endora, in Bewitched. Again, you learn a lot....

1 Samuel 29 -- David, Traitor to His People!

The King of the Philistines leads his army against Saul, and David enlists himself and his men... on the Philistine side! The Philistine generals don't trust him, though, so the Philistine king sends him packing home, grumbling.

1 Samuel 30 -- David suffers a setback, but comes out smelling like a rose

When David and the men get back to the settlement where he has been living, he finds that Amalekites have raided it while they were gone, burned it, and abducted all of the women and children. After having wept aloud until they had no more strength to weep, David and the guys take off in pursuit. Through a lucky break or two, they find the Amelekites a few days later, and fight a day-long pitched battle, after which they recover not only their wives and children and property, but also the phat loot that the raiders had been stealing from everyone else in Judah. There is great rejoicing as David splits the bounty with great fairness among his men, sending portions also to various local rulers and political connections.

1 Samuel 31 -- Saul's Unhappy End

The Philistines turn out not to have needed David and his men anyway. They triumph easily over the Israelites. All of Saul's sons -- including David's buddy Jonathan -- are killed in the fighting, and recognizing his situation as hopeless, Saul falls on his own sword. The Philistines lop off his head when they find his body, then tack his headless corpse up on a city wall to advertise their triumph. Bad form. No one likes a gloating winner.

...and that brings us to the end of 1 Samuel. With Samuel having died -- although we can't really say he's been resting comfortably in his grave, what with the necromancy -- it is a little surprising that the next book is called 2 Samuel. Maybe we'll find out why! Or maybe it's just a random naming convention.

Next Time: We start 2 Samuel!

1 comment:

marie said...

David is not the peaceful shepard boy I thought he was.
That witch at Endor really threw me, with dead people coming out of the ground and telling the future and all. I would be interested in more explanation of that. I remember a sunday school lesson that explained how Saul lost the battle the next day because of the sin of seeking a medium, but it seems from reading the whole text that the sin was prior to that. Samuel seemed a little upset at being disturbed though.