1 Samuel 31

The tragic end of Saul and his family. Jonathan too! That hurts.

It’s been gonna happen since Samuel predicted it in chapter 15. Saul has been raging, fighting fate, and terrified of it. 

They lose to the philistines attack. His sons killed in the battle, Saul takes his life. Several Judean towns flee and the philistines take the territory. 

So ends a book that has been an amazing political and human narrative.

What does this say about God? It’s classical, you can’t run from God. Can’t fight him. 

The words of one of Bob Dylan’s christian songs spring to mind “surrender your crown on this blood stained ground, take off your mask”

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1 Samuel 30

Last chapter I concluded that, when you love god, it’s important to have something to do. David gets something urgent to do when he returns to the philistine town he’s been living in and finds the Amelakites have taken everyone and everything they left behind.

He turns to God, first time in three chapters. He finds a priest and consults, and gets his courage in god back.

He gets back all he has lost. He shares the spoils of the raid as one who has been given them by God, not selfishly. 

He re-contacts his old Israelite friends, sending them a gift of “spoils from their enemy”.

David is back!

I’m reminded and I pray to God again today: therefore, go, do stuff!

1 Samuel 29

Holiday in Philistia. 

David, sick of being hunted by mad jealous Saul, has been hiding out in the enemy country. The narrative is disturbingly lacking in editorial comment. I don’t know what it really means. But he seems to be on holiday from God, and from the expectations of being god’s anointed.

The inevitable comes and he’s called upon to fight his own people. Will he? He says so. He and the philistine king exchange all sorts of statements of trust and affection. 

We know from the last chapter though, that he has been lying to the king about how much of a traitor to Israel he’s really been. The philistines generals don’t buy it for a second. Slaughter requires quite some commitment, their instincts are good I think.. He is sent home.

The narrative doesn’t say it’s divine intervention, but I reckon it is. He must have been relieved to avoid that dilemma. The former shepherd seems like a lost sheep. God’s plan has come to a stand still. 

I love that my new church is a doing church. After the service on Sunday, we wrapped parcels for the homeless and poor people they regularly minister to . They preached on the great commission, Jesus last words to his disciples. After all they’ve been through, Jesus says “therefore, go…” …and do something. 

What should I do? I feel a bit like I’m living out my life in enemy territory, not really god’s, not really not god’s? Lying a bit to both.

1 Samuel 28

The philistines prepare to attack the Israelites, with David, convincingly a traitor, bizarrely as the philistine king’s bodyguard.  Saul facing the enemy encampment is deserted by God and terrified.

He has banned and purged all witches and mediums. But in desperation he consults one anyway.  She summons up the spirit of Samuel.  Its all very dramatic, but spirit Samuel doesn’t say anything at all remarkable or new in this scene: Saul is stuffed. He will die. He confirms Saul’s dread.

The portrait of the witch is sympathetic.  She forces him to take some food despite his refusal, she goes above and beyond in generosity.

God is supernatural after all.  She may have been faking Samuel’s appearance, but it may have been real, doesn’t really matter. As so often the message from the other side is the same as the message on this side.  The wise men found Jesus by astrology. It works, and sometimes its the only religion people know.

I think issue with mediums is not always that they are fake, its that its an unnecessary way to approach the supernatural that avoids god’s spirit.  Like a back door to the spiritual for people avoiding God.  God is in our hearts, just pray! I’m sure the devil is happy to talk with people attracted to him, but his overriding aim is your destruction.

Saul is in denial.  When confronted, we’ve seen him acknowledge David’s state of grace and bless it, but rebellion against God’s choice keeps overwhelming him.

It is tempting to see it as unfair that God deserted him even though he so desperate for spiritual guidance. But I don’t think God deserted him.

He’s literally living the old “two ways to live” pamphlet they used to hand out: he’s clinging to his kingship, and denying God’s. It’s not that he doesn’t know God’s will, he just doesn’t like it. So he keeps asking, like there might be a different answer if he asks a different way.

Its a good idea when tempted to pray “why won’t you answer me God?” to ask yourself if in truth he already has.

Two great sinners, David and Saul.  Only one has truth in his heart.

 

 

1 Samuel 27

What? David the lying murderous soldier of fortune!??!!

In this chapter David goes off and becomes a mercenary solider for the philistines, the enemy he has been defending Israel from since killing Goliath.

He lives in a philistine town with permission of the king. He spends his time attacking other enemies of the Israelites, so in practice if not appearance he remains loyal to Israel.

The worst bit, he lies to the philistine king. He tells him he’s a traitor attacking his own people, raiding towns in Judah. To prevent the lie being discovered he kills everyone in the towns he raids.

So he goes in, takes all the valuable livestock etc. Then kills every man woman and child, so no one can report to the king that he was raiding an enemy of Israel, not an enemy of the philistines.

This episode of his life lasts a year and a half.

The chapter follows the pattern I thought observed in 25. After a story of great grace and heroism, we have a story that shows David much worse.  One chapter on, one chapter off.

There’s a few theories about how to comprehend this.

He could have abandoned God. He’s bitter and cynical. He’s hunted a as a criminal in his home, after being anointed king by Samuel. He’s had chances to kill king Saul, however his respect for god’s anointed didn’t let him.  And now his life makes no sense.

He’s tired of living on the run unfairly, so he forgets God and takes matters into his own hands, doing the only thing he’s good at: war and killing. Being a coldly brilliant and effective commander.

The collateral damage, the lives he takes to cover his lies is a chilling echo of his more famous sin, organising the “accidental” death of the husband of the woman he wants.

The second interpretation I think of as the nationalist one. It’s harder for modern people to take. In this view we the reader are supposed to applaud what he does.

He’s completing the work god’s chosen people never had the stomach for, getting rid of all the original inhabitants of the promised land, and what’s more doing it smart right under the nose of his enemy.

On this view lying to an enemy is acceptable to further god’s work.  It’s all about the holiness of god’s people, no one else counts.

The narrator makes no editorial content on David’s actions. Except two things.

David makes the plan in his “own heart”, usually it mentions him finding god’s will for his actions.

Also he takes the plunder from his raids. When the Israelites were occupying the promised land they took nothing for themselves. That was a very hard and fast rule.

So I don’t believe we are being told to applaud David here. They are just telling us what he did. And it is shameful.

Thinking a lot about christian leaders recently in the context of the u.s. presidential election and closer to home. There is the tendency to admire them too much or demonise them too much.

David would later write:

Free me from the guilt of murder, of shedding a man’s blood,  O God who saves me.  Now my tongue, which was used to destroy, will be used to sing with deep delight of how right and just You are. Lord, pry open my lips  that this mouth will sing joyfully of Your greatness.

I would surrender my dearest possessions or destroy all that I prize to prove my regret, but You don’t take pleasure in sacrifices or burnt offerings.  What sacrifice I can offer You is my broken spirit because a broken spirit, O God, a heart that honestly regrets the past, You won’t detest.

1 Samuel 26

I wonder if Saul will be in heaven? Even yahoo answers does not know. I know it is for god to judge not me, but it’s interesting to think about his relationship with God. 

His dance with his demons is a lot like the cycle of failure and forgiveness we are all in. David treats him with grace the way God treats us.

In this chapter David continues to be pursued like a criminal by Saul with murderous intent.

God is on David’s side, and he once again is given the opportunity to kill Saul or show mercy, chooses mercy, and Saul breaks down and begs forgiveness for foolishly and needlessly pursuing David.

He realises he is a sinner, is humble and asks forgiveness. But then he seems to wake up with hatred of David in his heart. Such a tortured guy.

But aren’t we all when it comes to sin.

1 Samuel 25

An odd chapter. I’m flying solo on it, I haven’t read any commentaries. 

Starts with Samuel dying, very flatly reported and not referred to again. But the chapter is then about what kind of man is David. Samuel has been the voice of God, announcing god’s will. David is now on his own. 

And the episode we’re thrown into has uncomfortable echoes of his greatest sin, his desire for Bathsheba. 

In the last chapter David was noble and godly, full of grace. This chapter seems to exist to tell us not to get too carried away with him.

A greedy man, Nabal  is married to a woman, Abigail, David finds attractive. So you gotta wonder about David’s motives when he sets a test to expose what a scoundrel nabal is, and then resolves to destroy him because of it.

God has given David power, military strength and resources to be king. Not to kill selfish men with gorgeous wives.

The intervention of God in the story saves David from his own abuse of power. First Abigail comes and pleads for nabal with gifts and apologies. Her eloquent beautifully brave persuasion is the heart of the chapter. I’d marry her myself! 

David attributes her intervention to God saving all of Nabals men from slaughter.

Then in a convenient and literal Deus ex machina twist Nabal dies of a mysterious disease, which is also attributed to God. So, happy ending, David gets to marry Abigail, after she has demonstrated her worth, without a corrupting slaughter. 

Yet. But his tendency towards lust and abuse of power has been foreshadowed.

And the narrative coolly notes that David married another wife as well, and that Saul traded his first wife Michal off to another king (remember her… She engineered his escape from the palace a few chapters ago).  A reality faceslap worthy of Jane Austen, just when you were feeling all romantic. 

A woman, Abigail, is the hero and voice of God in this story, but their lives, even the daughters of kings, pretty much sucked.

1 Samuel 24

Classic story of grace. David gets Saul cornered when he wanderers into the caves they were hiding out in. But he won’t kill him and Saul walks free.

David has the opportunity to talk with Saul and explains that he won’t act against him as the lord’s anointed. Saul is shamed and promises to stop attacking David if David just agrees not to obliterate his line.

Saul appears, at least here, to be as jonathan said in the last chapter. Ultimately he accepts that God is in charge and can make David king. 

David does not have what Donald trump would call a winning temperament. He doesn’t hit back twice as hard when hit. What he displays here is a profoundly godly temperament. His behaviour has nothing to do with his own victory or power and everything to do with god’s.

It’s refreshing. It’s like learning to believe in good again, truth will out, fair play will triumph. 

With a wave of backlash around the world, the gospel of putting yourself first, this is a prayer I suddenly want to pray with passion.

1 Samuel 23

Complicated time in Israel’s history, Saul and David are conducting a civil war with constant breaks for international war against the philistines.

David has learned his lesson about involving people in his fight against Saul. He takes a side quest to save a city from the philistines. he then leaves the city before Saul can come and start killing the inhabitants for associating with him. 

David’s group, on the run, is nearly encircled by Saul’s forces, but Saul is called away to yet another philistine aggression.

This while episode is about Saul’s refusal to accept god’s will if it means losing earthly power. Saul struggles to find David, but Jonathan, who shares in god’s grace with David, is mysteriously able to visit him at will. He reports that Saul knows David will inevitably be king. 

I was struck with David’s easy relationship with God. He talks conversationally with him, and also consults a priest to discern the will of God. I’m puzzled by the varying methods. But the message is clear: god is with David, every step. 

Saul praises god when a city informs on David’s whereabouts during the manhunt: both sides of a war always claim God. 

But Saul’s quest is defiant, his religion empty and self serving.

1 Samuel 22

So David goes into full fugitive mode, taking his parents away to a safe haven in another country, and returning to Israel to hide out in a cave. 

Saul in full murderous paranoid mode tracks down the priests who gave David bread in the last chapter. The lie he told them disguising his falling out with the king does not wash and the king has them killed for supporting David. 

One son of the priest escapes and makes it to David who is full of regret that his lie and contact with the priest caused the deaths of the priest’s whole family. 

A rebel army of those who have an issue with the king collect around David. A rag tag army of 400. 

It’s him or Saul. 

And Saul already knows it will be David. Samuel told him chapters ago. All this murderous rage is in defiance of God.

David thought he needed to lie to live out god’s destiny. Not so. We’ll never know what would have happened if he’d not lied to the priest, but surely god is strong enough to have protected his anointed, and David would not have had the priest’s blood on his hands. 

Saul should have known that his defiance of God was futile, but shouldn’t we all, shouldn’t we all.

God’s will is done despite our faithlessness. Our task is to accept it.