2 Chronicles 13: A Short But Much Embellished Reign

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2 Chronicles 13 presents us with quite a different picture of King Abijah’s reign than does his portion of 1 Kings 15. For starters, even the name is different, as Abijah is known as Abijam in Kings. On this, Brant Clements, of Both Saint and Cynic, says:

The name Abijam is made up of two components which mean “father” and “sea.” So “Abijam” means something like “father of the sea” or “the sea is my father.” the components of Abijah mean “father” and “YHWH.” The name can only mean “YHWH is my father.”

I can’t confirm the Hebrew, but this explanation is certainly in keeping with what we are about to read.

But first, there’s another mystery to touch on: That of Abijah’s mother. In 2 Chron. 11:20, her mother was Maacah, daughter o Absalom. This appears to agree with 1 Kgs 15:2, where her name was Maacah, daughter of Abishalom. I noted in my last post, however, that Absalom is said to have had only one daughter, Tamar (2 Sam. 14:27), though it’s always possible that another Absalom was meant, or that Tamar was the only daughter that the author of Samuel felt worth mentioning.

Putting Absalom aside for a moment, there is a far bigger issue here, as 2 Chron. 13:2 gives Abijah’s mother as Micaiah, daughter of Uriel of Gibeah.

The War

Abijah ruled for a measly 3 years (on which both Chronicles and Kings agree). Kings saw little in this short reign worth mentioning, dismissing Abijam as just another sinful ruler who was allowed to rule and to pass on the crown to his son only because of God’s great love for David. Of the conflict between Judah and Israel, we learn only that it continued throughout Abijam’s reign (1 Kgs 15:6-7), but no details are given.

The Chronicler, however, seems to want to make a pious holy warrior out of Abijah. He writes of a great standoff, with a mere 400,000 men on Judah’s side and and a whole 800,000 men on Israel’s side (the numbers, of course, are absurd, likely meant only to represent a great many, and to emphasize that Jeroboam’s great many was a great many manier than Abijah’s).

From the 'Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum', by Guillaume Rouille

From the ‘Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum’, by Guillaume Rouille

Before the battle begins, Abijah stands on Mount Zemaraim, in the hill country of Ephraim, to give a speech. As a side note, I find it interesting that the Chronicler obviously means the northern kingdom when he uses the term “all Israel” here (2 Chron 13:4, 2 Chron. 13:15), whereas in the last two chapters he has frequently used the phrase to underscore the legitimacy of Judah as the true inheritors of the name.

The speech is typically long-winded, and it covers all our bases: God gave kingship to David’s dynasty, putting Jeroboam and the “worthless scoundrels” (2 Chron. 13:7) who follow him in rebellion against God himself. They took advantage of Rehoboam when he was young and unstable in his role, unable to force them back into line.

He berates them for thinking that they can win, just because they have greater numbers and golden calves. After all, he says, they have cast out the priests of God, making their own priests out of any foreigner with the money to buy his initiation.

There are problems with this speech, of course. For one thing, Rehoboam may have been inexperienced and new to his position, but he was not young – he was 41 when he took the crown, according to 2 Chron. 12:13. Abijah also fudges over what Rehoboam did to encourage the rebellion, and that God himself had said that the rebellion was his will. Yet, as we shall see, none of this seems to matter much.

Not only does Jeroboam have the advantage of numbers, he is also able to set up an ambush to flank Abijah’s army in a pincer maneuver. The point the Chronicler is making, clearly, is that it would have been impossible for Jeroboam to lose through natural means, given all his advantages.

When the Judahite soldiers see that they are fighting on two fronts, they call out to God and the priests blow their trumpets. And so God defeated Jeroboam, routing them so that Abijah’s men can make easy slaughter (killing a whole 500,000 of them).

Not quite trusting in his readership to pick up on the subtle themes and messages of his work, the Chronicler makes it clear: Judah won because they relied on God (2 Chron. 13:18).

Cleaning up after the battle, Abijah pursued Jeroboam, taking cities as he went: Bethel, Jeshanah, and Ephron (all, apparently, border towns). Jeroboam never recovered from this defeat and eventually died, while Abijah grew mightily.

Concluding Abijah’s reign, we learn that he had 14 wives, 22 sons, and 16 daughters. For the rest of his deeds and sayings, consult the now lost story of the prophet Iddo.

1 Chronicles 12: Like a magnet

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We continue our coverage of David’s magnetic charisma. The section begins with a group of Benjaminites who defected to David during his stay at Ziklag (the town he was given by the Philistine king Achish in exchange for his raiding in 1 Sam. 27:5-12). The Chronicler makes absolutely certain that no reader can come away from this passage without realizing that the Benjaminites, despite being Saul’s kinsmen, chose to follow David while the two men were in open conflict. The point is clear: Even Saul’s own tribesmen realized that David was the better man.

This is likely why the Benjaminites are listed first, despite the Gadites being the first to join David chronologically. The point of David’s fitness to rule Israel is better made with Benjaminite defectors.

Coronation of King David, from the Paris Psalter, 10th cent.

Coronation of King David, from the Paris Psalter, 10th cent.

Of these Benjaminites, we learn that they were ambidextrous, capable of shooting arrows and slinging stones with either hand. The association between Benjaminites and handedness is nothing new. They are specifically associated with left-handedness in Judges 20:15-16, and the Benjaminite hero Ehud is left-handed in Judges 3:15. As James Page points out, it’s likely that they were left-handed, but forced by superstition to train with their right hands until they came to be known for being ambidextrous.

They were led by Ahiezer and his second-in-command, Joash, both sons of Shemaah of Gibeah. This, too, reinforces David’s powers of attraction, as Gibeah was Saul’s home town.

Other notable Benjaminites to join David include:

  • Jeziel and Pelet, sons of Azmaveth;
  • Beracah;
  • Jehu of Anathoth;
  • Jeremiah;
  • Jahaziel;
  • Johanan;
  • Jozabad of Gederah;
  • Eluzai;
  • Jerimoth;
  • Bealiah;
  • Shemariah;
  • Shephatiah the Haruphite;
  • The Korahites: Elkanah, Isshiah, Azarel, Joezer, and Jashobeam;
  • Joelah and Zebediah, sons of Jeroham of Gedor;
  • And Ishmaiah of Gibeon, who is said to be a leader of the Thirty (1 Chron. 12:4) despite not getting a mention in the last chapter, and the fact that Abishai is named the leader of the Thirty in both 2 Sam. 23:18-19 and 1 Chron. 11:20. It could be an error, or perhaps Ishmaiah led the Thirty at one time, and Abishai at another.

The Gadites

The Gadites come next. They came to David while he was “at the stronghold in the wilderness” (1 Chron. 12:8), which is likely a reference to Adullam. This would make them the first tribe to join David, listed second here because their joining isn’t quite as important, from a propagandic point of view, as the Benjaminites.

They are described as having faces like those of lions, which echoes Moses’s words in Deut. 33:20-21. Their speciality was fighting with shield and spear, and they were as swift as gazelles when in the mountains.

They were led by Ezer, and the other leaders were, in order: Obadiah, Eliab, Mishmannah, Jeremiah, Attai, Eliel, Johanan, Elzabad, Jeremiah, and Machbannai. Each of these chiefs led a company of at least a hundred men, with the largest company being over a thousand strong.

They crossed the Jordan in the first month, when it would have been overflowing and likely a rather dangerous crossing. Not only that, but they put to flight those on either bank.

James Pate notes that this isn’t the first time the Gadites were first:

The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary believes it is significant that the tribe of Gad was the first Israelite tribe to side with David.  Building on such Jewish sources as Genesis Rabbah 99:2 and the Midrash Lekach Tov, it notes that Gad is notorious for firsts: it was the first tribe to enter the land of Canaan, it was the first to accept David as king when David was still in exile from King Saul, and Elijah (perhaps a Gadite) will be the first to recognize the Messiah.

The Spirit Clothes Himself

While David was staying at a stronghold (again, this seems to be a reference to Adullam, though the place isn’t named), some men from Benjamin and Judah approached and David came out to meet him. This would have been during David’s time on the run, and it must have been concerning if Benjaminites were among those who approached (see, for example, 1 Sam. 23:15-29).

David asks if the men approach as friends – in which case he welcomes them – or as enemies – in which case he hopes that God will punish them (evidence, perhaps, of his dire situation at that point in his political career).

The spirit comes upon Amasai, prompting him to declare the visitors’ allegiance to David, and offering him their help. Interestingly, the literal phrase is that “the spirit clothed himself with Amasai,” which is just a delightful phrase. I’m rather disappointed with the RSV’s decision to render it as “the Spirit came upon Amasai” (1 Chron. 12:18) when such a poetic phrasing was readily available.

David seems to be so moved by Amasai’s declaration that he appoints the visitors as officers over his troops.

Interestingly, Amasai doesn’t appear elsewhere, and it seems that either Abishai or Amasa was meant.

Manasseh’s Defectors

The next group to join David happens in the context of Saul’s final battle against the Philistines, while David was still working for one of the Philistine kings. As was the case in 1 Sam. 29-30, we are assured that David took no part in the battle. However, it’s somewhat disconcerting that, in both narratives, it is not David who asks not to fight against Saul and the Israelites. Rather, it’s the Philistines themselves who express concern that he might defect, and so send him home. Those who would defend David would argue that this was, in fact, David’s plan, but there really isn’t anything in the text (in either place) that indicates this to be the case.

On his way back to Ziklag, David passes through the territory of Manasseh. As he does so, several men desert their tribe to join him: Adnah, Jozabad, Jediael, Michael, Jozabad, Elihu, and Zillethai. They commanded thousands, and they helped David fight an unnamed and unreferenced band of raiders.

And so, day by day, David’s army grew larger.

On To Hebron

Finally, we cycle back to where we were in 1 Chron. 11, with the Israelites meeting at Hebron “to turn the kingdom of Saul over to [David]” (1 Chron. 12:23). Each tribe is listed with the men they brought along:

  • Judah: 6,800
  • Simeon: 7,100
  • Benjamin: 3,000 (the majority of whom were newly converted from Saul’s side)
  • Ephraim:20,800
  • The Cis-Jordan half of Manasseh: 18,000
  • Issachar: 200 chiefs, plus the men they commanded (of Issachar, the Chronicler tells us that they understood the times and knew what Israel ought to do – 1 Chron. 12:32 – whatever that’s supposed to mean)
  • Zebulun: 50,000
  • Naphtali: 1,000 commanders, with 37,000 men
  • Dan: 28,600
  • Asher: 40,000
  • The Transjordan tribes (Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh): 120,000

The Levites are also listed along with the others, but are interestingly divided into two groups: The house of Aaron, led by the prince Jehoiada, had 3,700, and Zadok leading 22 commanders. Paul Davidson (Is That In The Bible) sees this as “evidence in the biblical texts of rival priestly groups vying for control of the temple and other religious positions.”

Brant Clements (Both Saint and Cynic) notes that, “interestingly, the more remote tribes send far greater numbers of soldiers.” The numbers are clearly fictional, but this observation seems like it should be significant. Perhaps even more so if the numbers are not historical.

The Israelites all met with the purpose of making David their king. They stayed at Hebron for three days, during which they feasted and made preparations.

1 Chronicles 11: David’s uncomplicated rise

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Skipping straight from Saul’s death in the last chapter to David’s ascension as king, the Chronicler leaps right over the succession conflicts of 2 Samuel 2-4. In this narrative, David’s rise was effortless and conflict-less.

Right from the start, we see all of Israel congregating in Hebron to declare David as their new king. Repeating their speech almost verbatim from 2 Sam. 5:1-3, they reinforce David’s claim by saying that he had truly been the one leading them from the start, even while Saul was king in name. They make a covenant with David, and Samuel anoints him.

1 Chronicles 11 - Samuel anointing DavidWith all of Israel on his side, David turned toward Jerusalem. The Jebusites taunt David, saying that he will never enter his city. But then, wooops, he conquers it anyway. Parts of the story are copied word-for-word from 2 Sam. 5:6-10, except that all references to David’s hatred for people with physical disabilities are replaced by his vow to promote the first person to kill Jebusites (or perhaps to rush forward at the Jebusites) to the rank of chief and commander. This seems like a fairly awful way to pick leaders, given that leadership skills aren’t terribly correlated with “rush into battle and kill stuff” skills. I get that the point is to reward bravery, but this seems like the Peter Principle in action. The point is only more clearly made when we find out that it is Joab who goes first, earning his place as chief. And we all know how well that turned out (1 Kgs. 2:5-6).

My New Bible Commentary notes that Joab’s promotion here would seem to conflict with 2 Samuel, where Joab is already functioning as commander prior to the taking of Jerusalem. Yet, “the commander-in-chief of the king of Judah would not automatically have become commander-in-chief of the king of all Israel” (p.375). In other words, it’s possible that Joab was already commander, but had to re-earn his position in the new national government. Assuming historicity for a moment, this doesn’t seem unreasonable.

James Pate notes a problematic difference between this chapter and 2 Sam. 5:6-10: Whereas in 2 Samuel, David seems to have chosen Jerusalem as his capitol because it was centrally located and because it did not belong to any particular tribe (therefore avoiding the argument of favouritism), the Chronicler gives David complete support from all Israel before he turns to Jerusalem, and in fact shows a pan-tribal attacking army. So why, then, would David have needed to take Jerusalem? Pate discusses the issue in his post.

Once David took Jerusalem, it began to be known as the city of David. He and Joab then set to work repairing the city (and presumably building it up), and thus did David become ever greater.

The Mighty Men

The rest of the chapter lists the men of David’s elite army. It is nearly identical to the list found in 2 Sam. 23:8-39, though with additional names added to the end. One theory is that the 2 Samuel version ended with Uriah to rhetorically underscore the evil that David had done to him in 2 Sam. 11, whereas the Chronicler may have been working with a more complete list.

We begin with the elite of the elite, known as the Three. The group’s leader was Jachobeam, a Hachmonite, who once killed 300 enemies with his spear at one time (the number is 800 in 2 Sam. 23:8, but the difference could be caused by confusion with another warrior, Abishai, who killed 300 in 2 Sam. 23:18 and 1 Chron. 11:20).

The other two members of the Three are mashed together here, apparently due to a scribal error. In 2 Sam. 23:9-12, we learn of two members of the group: Eleazar son of Dodo the Ahohite and Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. In the 2 Samuel version, Eleazar was with David when they defied the Philistines. The Israelite army was routed, but Eleazar kept fighting until his arm grew weary – long enough to win the battle. When the Israelites returned, it was only to strip the dead. As for Shammah, the Israelite army was again routed, but Shammah stood in a plot of lentils, defending it until the Philistines were defeated.

The Chronicler’s version, however, tells us only of Eleazar, and how he was with David at Pasdammim when the Philistines gathered against them. Even though the Israelites were routed, he stood his ground in a field of barley and defeated the Philistines. It’s rather easy to see how a scribe’s eye might skip in two such similar stories.

Before getting into the Thirty, we learn of three men from the band of Thirty (there’s no indication that they are the Three) who came to David while he was in hiding in the cave of Adullam (his stay is narrated in 1 Sam. 22:1-5) while the Philistines occupied Bethlehem.

David seems to have been feeling rather sorry for himself, and said (with much sighing, I imagine) that he wished he could have some water to drink from one of the wells of Bethlehem. These three members of the Thirty heard him (or perhaps overheard him, depending on the interpretation) and took it upon themselves to go fetch that water for David. So they snuck through the Philistine guards, into Bethlehem, and drew the water.

When they returned, however, David refused to drink it. Instead, he poured it onto the ground, saying: “Shall I drink the lifeblood of these men?” (1 Chron. 11:19). How David looks in this story depends entirely on the reader’s interpretation. If he had asked his men who fetch him the water, then his actions are just awful. But if he was just moping about, feeling sorry for himself, and they happened to overhear him and did something foolish that he hadn’t wanted them to do, then he is some degree of less awful. At least no Beckets were killed this time.

The chief of the Thirty was Abishai, Joab’s brother. Like Jachobeam, he too killed 300 enemies at one go with a spear. The other member of the Thirty whose deeds are worth mentioning is Benaiah son of Jehoiada, of Kabzeel, the captain of David’s bodyguards. He killed two whole ariels of Moab, which I’m sure is very impressive whatever an ariel is. He also killed a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen, the significant of which is lost on me, but I’m sure that too is very impressive. He also duelled a very large Egyptian who wielded a spear like a weaver’s beam. Benaiah lunged in with his staff and, snatching the oversized spear from the Egyptian’s hands, killed him with his own weapon.

The rest of the Thirty are given as a simple list:

  1. Asahel brother of Joab
  2. Elhanan son of Dodo of Bethlehem
  3. Shammoth of Harod
  4. Helez the Pelonite
  5. Ira son of Ikkesh of Tekoa
  6. Abiezer of Anathoth
  7. Sibbecai the Hushathite
  8. Ilai the Ahohite
  9. Maharai of Netophah
  10. Heled son of Baanah of Netophah
  11. Ithai son of Ribai of Gibeah, of the Benjaminites
  12. Benaiah of Pirathon
  13. Hurai of the brooks of Gaash
  14. Abiel the Arbathite
  15. Azmaveth of Baharum
  16. Eliahba of Shaalbon
  17. Hashem the Gizonite
  18. Jonathan son of Shagee the Hararite
  19. Ahiam son of Sachar the Hararite
  20. Eliphal son of Ur
  21. Hepher the Mecherathite
  22. Ahijah the Pelonite
  23. Hezro of Carmel
  24. Naarai the son of Ezbai
  25. Joel the brother of Nathan
  26. Mibhar son of Hagri
  27. Zelek the Ammonite
  28. Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab and son of Zeruiah
  29. Ira the Ithrite
  30. Gareb the Ithrite
  31. Uriah the Hittite
  32. Zabad son of Ahlai
  33. Adina son of Shiza, the Reubenite, who was a leader among the Reubenites and was accompanied by 30 of his brethren
  34. Hanan son of Maacah
  35. Joshaphat the Mithnite
  36. Uzzia the Ashterathite
  37. Shama son of Hotham the Aroerite
  38. Jeiel, Shama’s brother
  39. Jediael son of Shimri
  40. Joha, brother of Jediael, a Tizite
  41. Eliel the Mahavite
  42. Jeribai son of Elnaam
  43. Joshaviah, also a son of Elnaam
  44. Ithmah the Moabite
  45. Eliel
  46. Obed
  47. Jaasiel the Mezobaite

These are, of course, way more than thirty men. It seems that the name of David’s elite company was chosen for its neat roundedness (or perhaps its accuracy at some earlier date).

2 Samuel 22-23: Of champions and praise

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The following chapters contain two poems (one in each), followed by a list of David’s champions. The first poem, found in 2 Samuel 22, is nearly identical to Psalm 18. There are also several similarities to the poems of Moses from Deut. 32 and Deut. 33, such as the references to rain and the comparison between God and a rock.

The first poem

The first poem is a song of thanksgiving to God for delivering David from his enemies. Given the specific mention of Saul as one of them, my impression is that the poem was meant to have been written shortly after Saul’s death.

"[God] rode on a cherub" (2 Sam. 22:11)

“[God] rode on a cherub” (2 Sam. 22:11)

God is variously described as a rock, a shield, and the agent of David’s delivery. He also seems to be described as a sort of storm god, which may be an insight into early conceptions of Yahweh.

It’s all well and good until we get to the bit about why God did all these things and it becomes rather clear that David is either delusional, or he wrote this very early on:

He delivered me, because he delighted in me. The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. (2 Sam. 22:20-22).

You know, except that bit where God cursed him to be endlessly troubled after he stole another man’s wife and then had him killed.

Whether or not it was actually written by David, however, is highly questionable. There is, for example, a reference to the Temple in 2 Sam. 22:7, which won’t be built until after David’s death. That makes the insistence that David’s enemies were smashed because of David’s perfect righteousness all the more headscratchy, since the business with Uriah must have taken place already. It seems that the propaganda machine was well underway in Ancient Israel.

The second poem

The second poem claims to have been composed by David as his last words (like Jacob’s words in Genesis 48, or Moses’s final blessing in Deuteronomy 33). In this poem, he claims to be channeling God directly – something that David has otherwise been unable to do, relying instead on priests and prophets. In this poem, it seems that David is claiming to actually be a prophet.

My study Bible notes that this poem appears to have been corrupted and may be only a fragment. It describes the benefits of a worthy ruler, reiterates the “everlasting covenant” (2 Sam. 23:5) that God has made with David, and condemns “godless men” (2 Sam. 23:6) that must only be dealt with using violence.

It’s rather ironic, and perhaps intentional on some editor’s part, that the poem describes a just ruler as being “like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth” (2 Sam. 23:4), given the story we just had in 2 Sam. 21 about a famine that may have been caused by a drought. Since it was determined to be Saul’s fault, the placement of this poem appears to be a little dig at Saul’s expense.

David’s champions

The second half of 2 Sam. 23 lists David’s various champions, organized into two groups: an elite force called The Thirty, and a super elite force called The Three.

The Three:

  1. Joshebbasshebeth the Tahchemonite has the honour of being both the chief of The Three, as well as the member of David’s entourage with the most unpronounceable name. He killed eight hundred men at the same time using only a spear.
  2. Eleazar, son of Dodo, son of Ahohi, stayed at David’s side when the Philistines attacked and the other Israelites fled. Together (though presumably with a bit of help), they managed to defeat the Philistines and win the day.
  3. Shammah, son of Agee the Hararite, also stayed at David’s side in a similar encounter against the Philistines (or perhaps the same one). Once again, they won despite the odds.

Before we launch in to the names of The Thirty, we’re first told a story in which there was a Philistine garrison in Bethlehem, David’s home town. This may refer to the same conflict we read about in 2 Samuel 5:17-26.

Around harvest time, David wished out loud for some water from the Bethlehem well. He was overheard by the top three of The Thirty, here unnamed, who then sneaked into Bethlehem, drew water from the well, and brought it back to David. In a bit of a jerk move, David poured it on the ground instead of drinking it, saying that he was offering it to God rather than drinking “the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives” (2 Samuel 23:17).

After that story, we get a list of The Thirty:

  1. Abishai, Joab’s brother, is the chief of the band. Though he was able to kill three hundred people with a spear, this was not enough to make the cut for The Three.
  2. Joab’s other brother, Asahel, is named as one of The Thirty, suggesting that either David’s champion order began really early (since Asahel was killed in 2 Sam. 2:23, before David became king of Israel), or, according to my study Bible, he may have been included “on an honorary basis” (p.410).
  3. Benaiah, son of Jehoiada of Kabzeel, killed two “ariels” of Moab. My study Bible merely notes that the word’s meaning is unknown, though my New Bible Commentary says that the literal meaning is “lion of God” – guessing that Benaiah either fought literal lions, or else there was a kind of Moabite warrior that was “referred to metaphorically as lions” (p.314). He also fought a lion that was definitely literal, in the snow no less! Then topped it all off by killing a handsome Egyptian. The Egyptian had a spear while Benaiah had only staff, but he managed to wrestle the spear away from the Egyptian and kill him with it. This is presumably the same Benaiah who had charge of the Cherethites and Pelethites in 2 Sam. 8:18 and 2 Sam. 20:23.
  4. Next is Elhanan, son of Dodo of Bethlehem – who is either the brother of Eleazar or there were two guys named Dodo running around.
  5. Shammah of Harod.
  6. Elika of Harod.
  7. Helez the Paltite.
  8. Ira, son of Ikkesh of Tekoa.
  9. Abiexer of anathoth.
  10. Mebunnai the Hushathite.
  11. Zalmon the Ahohite.
  12. Maharai of Netophah.
  13. Heleb, son of Baanah of Netophah.
  14. Ittai, son of Ribai of Gibeah, of the Benjaminites.
  15. Benaiah of Pirathon.
  16. Hiddai of the brooks of Gaash.
  17. Abialbon the Arbathite.
  18. Azmaveth of Bahurim.
  19. Eliahba of Shaalbon.
  20. The sons of Jashen.
  21. Jonathan.
  22. Shammah the Hararite.
  23. Ahiam, son of Sharar the Hararite.
  24. Eliphelet, son of Ahasbai of Maacah.
  25. Eliam, son of Ahithophel of Gilo. This may be the same Eliam who is named as Bathsheba’s father in 2 Sam. 11:3.
  26. Hezro of Carmel.
  27. Paarai the Arbite.
  28. Igal, son of Nathan of Zobah.
  29. Bani the Gadite.
  30. Zelek the Ammonite.
  31. Naharai of Beeroth.
  32. Joab’s armour-bearer.
  33. Ira the Ithrite.
  34. Gareb the Ithrite.
  35. Uriah the Hittite. I wonder if a clever author/editor placed Uriah last on the list to draw attention to him, given the story we have involving him.

The text closes off by telling us that there were thirty-seven in all. This appears to have been an editor’s insert, perhaps attempting to explain that the name, The Thirty, was a rounding. Even so, arriving at that number involves a bit of guesswork. For example, it could be that Joab, as the commander of all David’s forces (2 Sam. 20:23), was implicitly included. With him and the assumption that Jashen had two sons, we arrive at thirty-seven.

According to my New Bible Commentary, Jonathan (#21) should be the son of Shammah, which would remove Shammah from the list. The book also suggests that The Three should be included in the number. It’s all very muddled.

1 Samuel 26: History repeating itself

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In this chapter, we get what is essentially a repeat of the story from 1 Sam. 24. A few details are different, but many are the same. In several places, the wording is even identical.

We begin once again with the Ziphites reporting on David’s whereabouts to Saul. When I read chapter 24, the wording had suggested to me that they were complaining to Saul and asking him to do something about David. When I got a different vibe from chapter 26, I read back again and realized that I’d brought my own assumptions into the chapter 24 narrative. It seems that the Ziphites are merely betraying David’s whereabouts to their king. This doesn’t preclude my original reading, but it makes it by far the less obvious one.

Saul heads into Ziph, again with his 3,000 soldiers, and David can apparently feel his approach. He sends out spies to confirm his intuition. When Saul makes camp for the night, David finds out that he is sleeping in the middle of the camp.

There’s a note here about some of David’s followers, which includes an Ahimelech the Hittite. I think it’s safe to assume that this is a different Ahimelech, not the priest. The characters are named as though they should be familiar to the reader – Abishai is named as “Joab’s brother” and “the son of Zeruiah” (1 Sam. 26:6). Of his companions, it is this Abishai that David decides to take along with him.

Together, they sneak into the camp and stand over Saul’s sleeping body. Abishai urges killing Saul, now that they have him so vulnerable. David, however, refuses – “who can put forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be guiltless” (1 Sam. 26:9). Though he has lost God’s favour, Saul is still the anointed king. If God wants him gone, he’ll have to take care of it himself. Not to skip ahead in our narrative, but David displays quite a bit of prescience when he suggests that perhaps God will take care of the monarchy problem by having Saul die in battle (1 Sam. 26:10).

David Sparing Saul, by C.F. Vos

David Sparing Saul, by C.F. Vos

Instead of killing Saul, or perhaps cutting off a piece of his robe, this time David takes a spear and a jug of water that had been placed by Saul’s head. I can’t help but wonder if the taking of Saul’s spear might not be a nod to 1 Sam. 18:10-11, 1 Sam. 19:10, and 1 Sam. 20:33. Finally someone thinks to take Saul’s spear away from him!

More cautious this time than in chapter 24, David stands at a safe distance before he he calls out – this time to Abner, Saul’s general. He taunts Abner, showing him the jug and the spear, berating him for having failed to keep adequate guard over his king. “As the Lord lives, you deserve to die, because you have not kept watched over your lord, the Lord’s anointed” (1 Sam. 26:16).

Saul overhears David’s yelling at Abner and recognizes his voice. In identical words to those used in 1 Sam. 24:16, he asks: “Is this your voice, my son David?” (1 Sam. 26:17).

As in chapter 24, David reproves Saul for being such a meanie, asking him what he’s done to deserve such treatment. This time, there’s an added detail: David argues that by driving him out, Saul is cutting him off from the assembly of God, sending him into the arms of foreign gods (1 Sam. 26:19).

If I understand correctly, David is talking about being cut off from the sanctuaries of YHWH – either because it’s too dangerous for him to show his face in such places (as the episode at Nob in 1 Sam. 22 amply illustrates), or it’s a reference to David’s later defection to Philistia. It’s a hint that perhaps David’s faith wasn’t quite as unwavering as the account otherwise portrays.

As before, Saul agrees that he has done wrong, and he promises that he will not try to harm David again. This seems rather silly following, as it does, so closely on the heals of a nearly identical reconciliation that clearly amounted to very little. Those who argue against the multi-source cobbling hypothesis use this as evidence of Saul’s mental instability, though that does not exactly explain David’s apparent memory problems.

With that, Saul and David part ways.

1 Samuel 23-24: The Proclaimed King-To-Be

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David is informed that the Philistines have been harassing the citizens of Keilah, a town in Judah. David asks God if he should go help them, and God says yes. Abiathar has brought his ephod, so this conversation takes the form of divination (notice God’s “yes/no” answers in these chapters – God is not having lengthy, direct conversations with his adherents here).

David’s followers, however, have different ideas. Their argument seems to boil down to the fact that they are already on the run from Saul, so why draw attention to themselves as the enemies of Philistia as well? David asks God again if he really should go, and God maintains that he should.

This story seems to serve two purposes. The first is to contrast David against Saul. Saul, too, has been defied by his followers. In 1 Sam. 15:24, Saul disobeys Samuel’s instructions out of fear of his people and, in 1 Sam. 22:17, he couldn’t get his guards to obey his orders. Yet here, when confronted by the same refusal from his followers, David chooses to follow God instead. The message is a clear one: David is a strong leader, Saul is a weak one; David is a God-centred leader, Saul is a people-centred one.

The second point seems to be that David is behaving like a king – at least in Judah. When a town is harassed by Philistines, a good monarch should come to their aid. Yet where is Saul? He will have no trouble coming to Keilah with an army once he hears that David is there, but displays no intention to come relieve the citizens of the town from the Philistines. Alternatively, this may support my reading that the antagonism between David and Saul was one between two tribal leaders trying to establish their own tribe as the rulers of a confederation.

So David heads out to Keilah with his 600 followers (an increase from the 400 he had in 1 Sam. 22:2) and fends off the Philistines, then apparently takes up residence in Keilah.

When Saul hears that David is in Keilah, and he assumes that God must have delivered David into his hands (since Keilah, apparently a walled town, can easily become a prison in a siege). At this point, Saul clearly still believes that God is on his side, despite his conflicts with Samuel.

David hears of Saul’s coming and consults Abiathar’s ephod to confirm the rumours. He then asks if the people of Keilah will surrender him, and God says that they will. No explanation is given for future-betrayal, but it may be assumed to be related to the slaughter at Nob (having heard of it, it would make sense for people to be rather wary of sheltering David). So David and his followers leave and go instead to the wilderness of Ziph.

While Saul has had so much trouble locating David, Jonathan seems to have no difficulty whatsoever. He goes out to David in the wilderness of Ziph to reassure him. He also assures David that: “you shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you” (1 Sam. 23:17). Apart from Samuel’s visit to Bethlehem, this is the first we hear about David’s future as king, and it seems odd given the circumstances that he does not deny or seem surprised by Jonathan’s words. It changes the tone of the story, suggesting that David is not so much a fugitive on the run from a king possessed by an evil spirit, rather than a rebel and explicit contender for the throne. It suggests that Saul’s hatred and fear of David may not be quite so irrational as they have been made to seem.

Jonathan and David reconfirm their covenant, and Jonathan returns to Saul.

Gotcha!

The Ziphites in the area where David is staying appeal to Saul to help them get rid of David. It seems strange unless we’re supposed to understand David as a sort of bandit leader figure, since the request is similar to that of towns like Keilah.

Saul sends the Ziphites home to confirm David’s whereabouts. He’s concerned that David is “very cunning” (1 Sam. 23:22), so he wants absolute confirmation before he brings out his army again.

Once the Ziphites confirm David’s location, Saul heads out and chases David to the wilderness of Maon. There, he is closing in when, suddenly, he receives a message that the Philistines are raiding. As king, he must repel them, so he abandons the hunt for David.

This complicates our image of Saul. He is not possessed of an “evil spirit” that causes him to hunt David single-mindedly. Rather, he is still – at least in this instance – willing to abandon the hunt, even when he is so close, to go fulfil his duty as king and protect his people.

With Saul distracted, David escapes to Engedi.

Saul returns from fighting the Philistines and hears of David’s move, so he takes 3,000 soldiers along (to fight David’s 600). As they march along, Saul stops in a cave to relieve himself. Because Saul’s dignity is clearly not a concern for the authors.

Unfortunately, Saul ha the worst luck ever. The cave he chooses happens to be the one David is hiding in and, while Saul is doing his business, David stealthily cuts the skirt off Saul’s robe. He then feels terribly guilty for having done even that much and stays his hand against further mischief.

Saul, apparently not noticing that the skirt of his robe is gone, finishes up and leaves the cave. The mental image will have me giggling for weeks, I think.

David spares Saul, Maciejowski Bible, c.1250

David spares Saul, Maciejowski Bible, c.1250

David chases after Saul, waving his skirt. “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Behold, David seeks you hurt’?” (1 Sam. 24:10). The obvious answer might be that Saul’s own son and David’s closest friend, Jonathan, is one of them. By declaring David the next king, he is strongly implying that David will either kill Saul or, at least, prevent Saul’s descendants from taking the crown.

But in this case, David has evidence on his side. He presents the skirt he cut from Saul’s robe, saying that he came that close yet Saul remains unharmed.

David then launches into a big speech in which he apparently admits that he and Saul are pitted against each other, but calls on God to arrange all of the fighting on his behalf. He refuses to raise his own hand against Saul (1 Sam. 24:12-15). The apologetics of such a speech placed in the mouth of someone who will usurp the crown are rather obvious.

Saul acknowledges that David is the more righteous between them, and he calls on God to reward David for his mercy. He admits that he knows now that David will be king (1 Sam. 24:20), and even that it will be David who will truly establish “the kingdom of Israel” (1 Sam. 24:20) – further supporting my pet theory that Saul was king only of the Benjaminites (and possibly the odd vassal tribe). He asks only that David swear not to cut off his descendants and destroy his name.

There may or may not be secondary intended aspect to this story. When David runs out of the cave to talk to Saul, he puts himself at the mercy of Saul’s 3,000 men. It’s never explicitly said, so I don’t know if it’s intended or not, but Saul shows just as much restraint here as David in not taking advantage of the parlay to capture or kill David.

In the end, Saul heads home and David goes to a stronghold.

1 Samuel 22: The Nob Slaughter

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Having escaped from Gath, David hides himself in a cave near Adulam. He is, apparently, the worst at hiding, because his family hears that he’s there and come out to meet him. As do approximately 400 people in distress, in debt, and in discontent (the three Ds of any rebel army worth its salt). David becomes their leader.

He then makes his way to Mizpeh, in Moabite territory, and asks the king of Moab to look after his parents for a while, at least until David has a chance to figure out where his little rebellion is heading. According to the Book of Ruth, David is related to the Moabites, so he may have been able to claim kinship for the favour.

David leaves Mizpeh when a prophet, named Gad, tells him to. Again, we see that David is positively aligned with religious figures. From there, he then goes to the forest of Hereth, which would place him in the territory belonging to the tribe of Judah.

Saul, in Gibeah, hears about David. Unfortunately, we know he’s in a bad mood because he is described as having “his spear in his hand” (1 Sam. 22:6). He asks his court what they think David will offer them for defecting, since none of them had told him about Jonathan’s alliance to David (though 1 Sam. 20:30 makes it quite clear that he knew).

His speech makes the conflict sound inter-tribal to my eyes. He addresses his court as “Benjaminites” (1 Sam. 22:7), for example. This could simply imply that his close court is comprised of Benjaminites, but David’s position makes it clear that exceptions were made. The fact, also, that Saul is in Gibeah and David in the forest of Hereth suggests a possible border issue (Benjamin and Judah were neighbours). If I go out on a limb, I might wonder if perhaps what we are seeing is a story of tribes competing with each other for supremacy, with Saul declaring himself king of Israel as leader of Benjamin and David declaring himself king of Israel as leader of Judah. This would certainly explain why the Philistines in 1 Sam. 21:11 believed David to be king.

It could also be that the united monarchy was not a single event, one in which loose tribal alliances become a single nation overnight with the popular acclaim of a single leader. Rather, perhaps Saul ruled Benjamin, and perhaps he had a protector/vassal agreement with a few other tribes. It would make the transition more gradual, and help to explain why Saul refers to his entourage as “Benjaminites.”

It’s also worth noting that Saul’s rave paints David as a revolutionary, not as a fugitive. From his perspective, David is raising an army with intent to overthrow him. And it is certainly true that David is raising an army! Only, the authors, who aren’t necessarily trying to paint David as perfect but certainly think he’s a pretty cool dude, have soldiers simply flock to David of their own volition, presumably intending later on to force David’s hand into overthrowing Saul. So far, he has consistently been painted as defensive in his relationship with Saul.

Doeg the Edomite, whom we met in 1 Sam. 21:7, is the only one in Saul’s entourage who speaks up. He says that he saw David at Nob, and that Ahimelech fed him, consulted God for him, and armed him.

The slaughter

Saul is understandably furious. He has just found out that the high priest of his nation has just been helping a traitor and enemy of the state. We might see Ahimelech as a good guy because history remembers David as a good guy, but I think that if the same situation were to play out today, Ahimelech would, at best, be a controversial figure.

Doeg kills Ahimelech, from the Macclesfield Psalter, c.1330

Doeg kills Ahimelech, from the Macclesfield Psalter, c.1330

Of course, none of that excuses what Saul does next.

He summons Ahimelech and asks him why he conspired with David against him. Ahimelech turns it around, arguing: “And who among all your servants is so faithful as David” (1 Sam. 22:14). Not only does this explain his own behaviour (since David is such a loyal servant, how could Ahimelech possibly have known that they had fallen out?), it also argues in David’s favour (if David is faithful, then the responsibility for the rift falls on Saul).

Saul goes straight for the ultra-baddie title and orders his entourage to kill Ahimelech and all the priests. Showing just how tenuous Saul’s grasp on the throne is (or has become), his entourage refuses. This also fits with the portrayal of Saul that we saw, for example, in 1 Sam. 15:24 – a king with very little authority.

Only Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s little Renfield, is willing to raise his hand against the priests. He kills Ahimelech and 84 other priests. Apparently all on his own, he also slaughtered the people of Nob – men, women, children, infants, and even livestock. It’s rather hard to imagine how he would have managed this. Only one man, Ahimelech’s son Abiathar, escapes and flees to David’s side.

When he tells David what happened, David is suitably contrite, realizing that he shares some of the responsibility for what had happened. He invites Abiathar to remain with him and promises him protection.

The slaughter of the priests is apparently a continuance of the prophecy in 1 Sam. 2:31.

As an aside, I’ve noticed that Saul seems always to use “son of” designations, avoiding the use of personal names. He seems to be the only character who does this so consistently, but I don’t know what that means.

1 Samuel 15: The Sundering

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The relationship between Samuel and Saul is an interesting one, because it looks an awful lot like a power struggle between the secular and cultic leadership structures.

So we see, for example, Samuel directing political decisions by being God’s mouthpiece: he tells Saul to go after the Amalekites, to punish them for “opposing them [the Israelites] on the way, when they came up out of Egypt” (1 Sam. 15:2). In a sense, he is trying to direct the military aspect of governorship by proxy.

There is, however, a condition; the Israelites must kill all the Amalekites, even women and infants, even their livestock. Samuel is invoking the rules of holy war outlined in Deut. 20.

Interestingly, the incident Samuel is referencing (also outlined in Deut. 25:17-19) is narrated in Exodus 17:8-16. There, Joshua battled the Amalekites while Moses lead the cheers from the sidelines. Though the Israelites won, God promised to destroy them all later. Now he’s going to give it a go.

Saul musters 200,000 soldiers. That number either includes or is in addition to 10,000 soldiers from the tribe of Judah. This is the second time the soldiers of Judah are counted separately (the other time was in 1 Sam. 11:8), and I don’t know why that is. It could be that the source came from Judah, so they recorded their own numbers in the stories as a matter of interest.

When they reach the city of Amalek (probably not an actual city since it seems that the Amalekites were at least partially nomadic – I imagine that this is more likely a fortified base/trading centre), Saul reaches out to the Kenites who are living among the Amalekites, telling them to get out lest they be killed as well. According to the Deuteronomist histories, the Kenites are associated with Moses’ father-in-law (whatever his nom du jour happens to be – Judges 1:16; 4:11). Clearly, they were a group viewed favourably by the Israelites. The Kenites obey.

Saul defeats the Amalekites and (mostly) follows Samuel’s instructions. However, as we saw in the narrative of the battle of Ai, mostly doesn’t cut it. Saul keeps alive the Amalekite king Agag and a selection of the very best livestock, claiming that he wished to sacrifice these at a proper altar. He doesn’t seem to understand that this is disobeying Samuel’s commands, however, presumably figuring that he is going to kill them all anyway, wouldn’t it be better to do it in a ritualistic way rather than just slaughtering everything right away in the field?

When Samuel finds out, he is furious, and God “repents” of his choice of king. Samuel tries to confront Saul about it, but Saul has already left (after building himself a monument at Carmel) for Gilgal. Samuel heads after him.

The Confrontation

When Samuel catches up to Saul, Saul is just beaming like a puppy super proud of himself for defending his owner from the danger of a pair of slippers. He boasts, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:13). Samuel gets snarky, answering: “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” (1 Sam. 15:14)

Since Saul did, by all indication, intend to follow out the command and to do so in a pro-God way, his error is not really heresy or disobeying God’s orders. Rather, the issue is that he did not perfectly follow Samuel’s orders – he tried to retain agency and to make his own decisions in the worship of YHWH. So what we are seeing is a prophet who is trying to direct secular matters, and a king who is trying to direct cultic matters.

Of course, since the authors knew that Saul did not establish a dynasty, it would have been easy for them to read in (or even write in) a defense of religious meddling in secular governance.

1 Samuel 15Or, as Samuel puts it, “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Sam. 15:22).

Saul’s defense is that, “I feared the people and obeyed their voice” (1 Sam. 15:24). If true, it makes him a weak king. If a lie, then he is failing to take ownership of his own actions. This is not a flattering portrait of the king. He begs for a second chance.

Samuel turns to leave and Saul grabs after him, accidentally tearing Samuel’s robe (apparently, some translations are less clear – seeming to indicate that it is Samuel who tears his robe, presumably for dramatic effect). To this, Samuel says: “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day, and has given it to a neighbour of yours, who is better than you” (1 Sam. 15:28).

The obvious interpretation is that this is a second version of Saul’s fall from grace. It’s possible, however, that this is an escalation. It could be that the punishment in 1 Sam. 13:13-14 is the loss of a dynasty only, whereas here God is withdrawing support from Saul’s own rule. It’s the difference between “we won’t be renewing your contract” and “please pack up your stuff.”

Samuel then calls for King Agag to be brought to him and, with a witty one-liner (or two-liner, I suppose, depending on your formatting), hacks the enemy king to pieces. This is yet another example of the secular vs religious authority battle, as it gives Samuel the final deciding military victory. It is the prophet who, in the end, is the one who literally defeats the baddies.

In the end, Samuel and Saul part ways, the former going back to Ramah while the latter goes to Gibeah. The narrative tells us that they will not see each other again until one of them (the language is ambiguous as to which) dies.

Even so, Samuel is said to grieve over Saul. I think that this is meant to show that it isn’t personal, or perhaps to highlight that the butting of heads is between God and Saul, not Samuel and Saul. It is the religious authority throwing their hands up and saying “Oh I‘m not the one who wants power, this is just about what God wants!” Or, more charitably, it points to a complex relationship in which Samuel is bound by the law regardless of his personal feelings, as in the story of Jephthah where he must kill his beloved daughter.

1 Samuel 14: Rambo has a bite of honey

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When chapter 14 opens, Saul is hanging out by “the pomegranate tree” near Gibeah (evidently a once-known landmark) with his 600 men. It occurs to me that perhaps the 600, down from the 3,000 he began 1 Sam. 13 with, may be all that are left after the desertions in the last chapter. If so, it makes his decision to proceed with the sacrifice without the tardy Samuel seem quite a bit more reasonable. With his army is Ahijah, the great-grandson of Eli (via Phinehas) and evidently the new high priest as he is said to be carrying the ephod.

I had gotten the impression that the high priest status had transferred to Samuel at Eli’s death because Eli’s sons were corrupt, but it apparently merely hopped that generation. There’s also no hint here of how the priesthood survived the destruction of Shiloh, or if the office has relocated to Kiriath-jearim to be with the ark, if the ark has been moved (it was only supposed to be there for 20 years – 1 Sam. 7:2), etc.

Jonathan and his unnamed armour-bearer decide to sneak out of the camp and assault a nearby Philistine garrison, Rambo-style. They tell no one that they are leaving.

1 Sam 14When they reach the outskirts of the Philistine camp, they decide to reveal themselves. If they Philistines tell them to wait there, they agree that they will do so. If they Philistines beckon them over, they will approach. The latter will be taken as a sign that God has delivered the garrison to them, for some reason.

The Philistines chide them, saying “look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hid themselves” (1 Sam. 14:11), referencing 1 Sam. 13:6. It seems that they believe Jonathan and his armour-bearers to be defectors. So the Philistines call them over, promising to “show you a thing” (1 Sam. 14:12). What the “thing” is, or whether it’s part of their teasing, is never revealed, because Jonathan and his armour-bearer go full River Tam as soon as they get near, killing 20 Philistines.

This causes a panic among the Philistines, no doubt fanned by a timely earthquake.

Saul’s watchmen see the Philistines running about, so he orders a headcount and discovers that Jonathan and the armour-bearer are missing. Having apparently figured out what’s going on, Saul decides to press his advantage. He tells Ahijah to bring the ark. Maybe. Apparently, the LXX has Saul call for the ephod here, which makes more sense in context.

Before Ahijah can do anything, they hear the tumult growing in the Philistine camp, and Saul tells Ahijah to “withdraw your hand” (1 Sam. 14:19). This suggests that Saul wanted to go after the panicking Philistines, but he wanted to check in with God for permission first (presumably by using the Umim and Thummim kept in the ephod for divination). When it became obvious that the Philistines were easy pickings, he decided to just go for it.

The battle depiction is rather confusing, but what I take from it is that the Philistines are just completely irrational in their fear and are fighting each other as much as they are fighting the Israelites. The battle is so one-sided that the Israelites who had hidden all come out, and even the Israelites who had joined the Philistines switch back to Saul’s side.

The lack of weapons among the Israelites is, apparently, no longer a concern.

The Bite

For reasons not given, Saul makes an oath: “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies” (1 Sam. 14:24). Here are a few possible reasons for the vow:

  • The narrative chronology is muddled, and he actually made this vow before going into battle in the hopes that it would ensure his victory (fasting as a prayer amplifier is far from unknown). The fact that the Israelites are already faint from hunger before the Philistines are defeated suggests that this may be the case.
  • I’ve seen it argued that the vow is meant to expunge his earlier faux pas with the sacrifice. This would be ironic since – as we shall soon find out – this too is a rash decision that meddles in cultic matters and will end up backfiring.
  • Or the point is just to show that Saul keeps doing stuff that fall under religious jurisdiction without consulting the proper authorities, reinforcing the rationale for denying him his dynastic posterity.

Unfortunately, Jonathan doesn’t get the memo. If we accept the explanation that Saul made his vow before going after the Philistines, it could be that Jonathan is still returning from his Ramboing and, therefore, didn’t hear it.

This is important, because the army finds a honey field (a forest with honey, according to my translation, but I’ve seen arguments that the term for “forest” could also mean hives. It’s possibly, then, that they stumbled upon an apiary). Jonathan pokes at a honeycomb with his staff and has a taste. Much like me when I eat chocolate, Jonathan’s “eyes became bright” (1 Sam. 14:27).

A companion tells him about Saul’s vow, but Jonathan seems not to interpret this as a danger to himself. Rather, he argues that the vow was a bad idea because now the soldiers are so hungry that they are too weak to slaughter the Philistines. In his argument, Jonathan says that it would have been “better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found” (1 Sam. 14:30).

The argument seems strange given the prohibition on taking spoils during a holy war (a prohibition illustrated in Joshua 7, though one that has already been applied inconsistently elsewhere). Still, the story seems to mirror the story of Jephthah’s vow, and Jonathan seems to highlight that it is not a good idea to make rash oaths.

The soldiers are so starved (after only a day, albeit one of battle) that they “flew upon the spoil” (1 Sam. 14:32). Unfortunately, in their hurry, they eat the Philistine livestock with the blood – prohibited in Gen. 9:4, Lev. 19:26, and Deut. 12:16. Additionally, it seems that they are slaughtering the animals as they find them, rather than having priests do it on altars.

Saul tries to remedy the issue by having a rock brought, making a an altar for the people to bring the livestock to for slaughtering.  With that, the issue seems resolved.

Saul then suggests a night attack on the Philistines, but the priest says that should be hanging out with God instead. Saul calls on God, asking him if they should proceed against the Philistines, but God does not answer him. They assume that this is a result of some unknown sin.

Using the Umim and Thumim, they first ask whether the sin is in either Saul or Jonathan, or in the people. The Umim is drawn, indicating that it is either in Saul or Jonathan. The stones are drawn again, revealing that the sin was in Jonathan. This prompts Jonathan to confess to the honey-eating.

It seems that the story about the soldiers eating livestock without draining the blood was an insert, or else the chapter loses narrative continuity. Presumably, it was intended to explain the origins of an altar associated with Saul.

Both Jonathan and Saul agree that Jonathan should be put to death, but the people protest. According to my New Bible Commentary, this shows Saul to be “an insecure king outvoted by his troops” (p. 294). Surprisingly, God is apparently okay with the people ransoming Jonathan’s life, presumably by substituting an animal as in the story of Abraham’s son, Isaac, in Genesis 22.

Saul’s deeds and family

The chapter closes with a brief summary of Saul’s deeds and a listing of his nearer relatives.

We are told that he fought enemies on all sides: The Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, the Philistines, the Amalekites, and the kings of Zobah.

We are told about his children: his sons Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchishua, and his daughters Merab and Michal.

Saul’s wife is named Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz. His army commander is his cousin, Abner, the son of Ner (Saul’s uncle).

1 Samuel 13: The Great Falling Out

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The chapter opens with something of a mystery. According to John Hobbins’s translation, the opening line reads: “Saul was a year old when he became king, and he was king over Israel for two years.”

Clearly, Kish didn’t send his one-year-old out to fetch donkeys, and I think we can assume that a one-year-old can’t have a son out leading armies (we will be meeting his son Jonathan shortly). Even if we accept the possibility of a narrative jumbling – in which case the events in which Samuel is clearly an adult may have taken place after his coronation – it would be too unusual for an infant to be a dynasty founder without it getting a mention.

Far more likely, we have a corruption of the record. It could be that the earliest text had correct figures that were later dropped, or perhaps the original author didn’t know and used these numbers as a place-holder.

Hobbins goes on to mention other variations of the passage that contain more realistic figures:

There are ancient witnesses that supply a plausible age for Saul at the beginning of his reign – the Lucianic recension of the Old Greek has 30 years; the Syriac has 21 – but there are no grounds for thinking that either goes back to an earlier stage of the text in which Saul’s age when he became king was not lacking.

If anything, the presence of different figures suggests, to me, that later scholars were concerned about the absence of realistic figures and included their best guesses – arriving at different conclusions or possibly drawing from different traditions.

If we assume a late composition date, it’s not unreasonable for the author not to have access to the actual figures. Which raises the question of why he would bring up the topic at all. It could be that the point is to indicate that these events aren’t occurring right after the events of 1 Sam. 12. Rather, time has passed, perhaps quite a few years.

Saul at war

Saul selects 3,000 soldiers, sending the remainder home. He keeps 2,000 of them with him at Michmash while his son, Jonathan, leads the remainder in a raid against the Philistine garrison at Geba.

Saul reproved by Samuel for not obeying the commandments of the Lord, by John Singleton Copley, 1798

Saul reproved by Samuel for not obeying the commandments of the Lord, by John Singleton Copley, 1798

For all that the Philistines are the baddies in these stories, Saul is clearly on the offensive. When Jonathan wins, Saul blows a trumpet to signal that the tides have turned, and to call the people to Gilgal (raising the question of why he’d dismissed them in the first place).

When they hear of it, the Philistines muster 30,000 charioteers, 6,000 cavalry, and innumerable footsoldiers. They gather at Michmash, where Saul had so recently been.

The number of Philistines has the Israelites quaking in their boots, and many hide “in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns” (1 Sam. 13:6). In apparent reference to 1 Sam. 10:8, Saul waits seven days for Samuel, but Samuel doesn’t show. Saul, seeing his people starting to desert and having no idea where Samuel is or if he’s even coming, takes matters into his own hands. He orders that a sacrifice be performed without Samuel.

When Samuel arrives, he is furious. He declares that, by crossing the church/state barrier, Saul has broken God’s commandments. “But now,” he says, “your kingdom shall not continue” (1 Sam. 13: 14).

There’s the impression that Samuel may not have taken too well to the loss of his secular authority. We see a hint of this in 1 Sam. 8:7, where God tries to reassure Samuel that it is he who is rejected, not Samuel. Now that we see Samuel so furious, I wonder if it’s not because Saul has attempted to erode his last little corner of power.

Or, if we read in some allegory, it could well be that this story presents a conflict between secular and religious authorities at a time when secular authorities were just forming in the region. It seems that Samuel, as a stand-in for religious authority, is attempted to create and preserve a role for his “team” within the context of the new monarchy.

We now learn that the Philistines have, in their attempt to control Israel, forbidden smithing (not an unknown strategy – when she defeated the Oirats, the Mongolian queen Mandukhai forbade the use of knives even for eating). This indicates a power well beyond that suggested so far. Or, perhaps, it is hyperbole intended to ramp up the suspense of the story.

As a practical detail, we learn that the Israelites have had to turn to Philistine smiths to tend their tools, paying a pim (1/2 shekel) for work on ploughshares and mattocks, and 1/3 shekel for sharpening axes and setting goads.

Only Saul and Jonathan are armed with proper weapons. Which all makes it rather impressive that Jonathan was able to defeat the garrison at Gibeah.

 

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