OT History Part 6: Early Monarchy -- 1106-1011 BC

Table of Contents

Chapter 6.1: The Passing of the Old Guard

1 Samuel 1:1-7 -- The date is roughly 1106 BC. Much has changed these 300+ years after the Conquest. The Law is nearly forgotten and the divine Presence has departed from the Tabernacle at Shiloh. A man of the Kohathite Clan of Temple singers, Elkanah (1 Chronicles 6:33f), lives in Ramathaim-zophim ("Two Peaks of Zuph"). The town is called in other places Ramah and Arimathea and we believe it is a site 12 miles west of Shiloh. Elkanah has two wives. The one, Peninnah ("Pearl"), had several children. The other, Hannah ("Favored" modern Anna) was barren. Peninnah never let Hannah forget it, either. The bitter rivalry was intensified by Elkanah's favortism for Hannah.

1:8-19 -- This Levite was at least faithful in his annual appearance before Jehovah to present a Peace Offering, the only offering wherein worshippers ate a share in the presence of God (Leviticus 7:11-18). After a particularly nasty episode between the wives, Hannah went back into the Tabernacle. She vowed that if the Lord should relieve her barrenness, she would dedicate the boy to lifelong, full-time service in the Tabernacle and adherence to the Nazerite vow. Both of these were more usually temporary. Full Levitical service usually ended at age 50 and the Nazarite vow was normally of a specifically stated time. Obviously she knew of Samson and clearly would be able with one such child to overcome all shame associated with having no others.

This outpouring of a distraught soul did not follow the custom of praying audibly. Her whispering was observed by the current High Priest, Eli and seemed to him a mockery. He rebuked her accordingly, calling her a drunk. Hannah responded truthfully and reverently, so Eli pronounced a blessing on her petition. She returned to the ritual meal with an assurance. While it is implied Eli merely recited a pious wish on her behalf, both Hannah and the Lord took it more seriously.

1:20-28 -- It appears the boy was born at about the time of Elkanah's next annual pilgrimage. Hannah chose the name Samuel (Sh'mua-el "The Lord has Heard"). Rather than use that occasion for her ritual cleansing and his presentation, and perhaps to avoid risking the infant's health, she decided to stay home the next few years until it was time to fulfill her vow and present him to God once and for all. At this time, weaning still took place between three and five years. Samuel's behavior later on indicates the latter is more likely. Elkanah consented to this technical violation of the Law (Exodus 22:29) on the grounds that this was a special case.

Upon his weaning, Samuel was taken to the Tabernacle with much fanfare. The bulls indicate somewhat the status of Elkanah as rather well off and were in part to ensure Eli could afford to raise the boy. One was given as the annual Peace Offering, at which time Samuel was officially presented to Eli. Hannah reminded Eli of the event that he probably had forgotten. Some English translations have Hannah saying she would "lend" her son to God. What we have is a Hebrew pun, as she uses the word twice with a different meaning. The word sha'al pictures a request or demand, but the context changes the thrust of the verb. God loaned her a son, responding to her request. She made on open-ended loan of the boy to God in response to His mercy.

2:1-17 -- The Song of Hannah (vv. 1-10) is loaded with Hebrew imagery. In essence, Hannah feels vindicated and can now walk proudly in public. There is a hint of warning for Peninnah to back off out of reverence for God.

In contrast to this clear call for adoration and obedience of Jehovah, we have the tragic examples of Eli's sons. They cared nothing for their responsibilities as priests and took full advantage of every opportunity to fulfill their hedonistic desires. While it was required in the Law that the priests be fed from offerings (Leviticus 7:29ff), the junior priests had developed a custom that was taking grand liberties with this provision. Instead of an honest poke with a fork to see what it brought up, these two had begun using a three-fingered claw and took away all that it could hold. On the one hand, we can see how a busy priest might not be able to accept all the official invitations to join in a Peace Offering meal, yet the custom by this time had degenerated to sending a servant to make sure the priest's household got the lion's share of every meal possible. This let the priests pick and choose from the best. They would also intercept slaughtered offerings before they had been presented.

2:18-21 -- While the sons of Eli represented the worst of things, we see little Samuel rising up as the best. The term "ephod" is here differentiated from the term for the ritual vest used for divination. Still, the ordinary ephod carried the connotation of being rather light and minimal. It was a distinctive symbol of religious duty and typically went over other garments. As Elkanah continued his annual pilgrimages, Hanna would bring a new robe for Samuel, something considered extravagant as the symbol of high social rank. It was long, loose-fitting and sleeveless, worn by kings and prophets, as a garment unsuitable to one who engaged in physical exertion. Eli would give them special attention and his heartfelt blessings were honored by God. Hannah went on to have 3 more sons, and two daughters.

2:22-26 -- The contrast continues. Eli was aged and would normally have retired by now, but hung on to counter the nightmare his sons had unleashed in the Tabernacle. For example, young women could volunteer to serve at the Tabernacle for a time, performing tasks normally associated with women, but it often included ritual dancing. These two sons of Eli would rape them, knowing that they would be far from home and to whom could they complain? Any sermons from Eli fell on deaf ears. He warned them that when they sinned against a fellow Israelite, they stood a fair chance of escaping punishment because they could argue before judges. But to sin against God was a grave mistake, for there could be no advocate on their behalf. Their behavior was driving the worshippers away from God. Having chosen the path of sin, the Lord hardened them to any chance of feeling the slightest sense of guilt. Meanwhile, Samuel was the complete opposite.

2:27-36 -- Eli's words to his sons rang hollow, because he had not the will to force the issue. Had he brought them before any judgment seat, they would have been executed. Thus, we have the accusation from the unknown prophet that Eli favored his sons over God. Failure to keep the office of priest holy, Eli was guilty by omission. He was warned the end of this matter would be the end of his line of succession. His sons would die without heir and he would follow them. This implied Eli's reluctance in referring them for judgment was because he knew he'd have no heirs. In this, he should have trusted the Lord, for now he would lose all hope of keeping his line alive. Worse, he would die after seeing God's enemies enter the Tabernacle, something that would surely break his heart. The sign of this warning was that both his sons would die the same day, still in their prime. Instead, God would raise up a righteous priest and everyone in Eli's family would have to beg him for a menial job in the Tabernacle.

It is noteworthy here that this prophecy sounds an echo of the Messiah. He would be a Priest like no other: He would have God's own heart. His household would be greater sure than any has ever been, for it would last forever. Anyone wishing partake in God's affairs would have to submit to Him as servant.

Chapter 6.2: Samuel Established

1 Samuel 3:1 -- Tradition says Samuel was 12 when this story took place. We are told there is no official prophet of God. An actual message was exceedingly rare and visions came only to individuals here and there. The writer mentions this because it was Samuel who turned things around. Not only did he begin hearing from Jehovah, but also established several academies to train men in the sort of moral discipline required to be a prophet. You may hear the term "School of the Prophets," and for much of her history following, there was at least one such academy in Israel somewhere.

3:2-10 -- The scene opens with the remark that Eli was now near total blindness. He would need constant attendance from Samuel, so the boy was used to responding to a call. It was near morning, as the menorah, usually filled with enough oil to last until daylight, had not quite burned out (Leviticus 24:2-3). Samuel was in his small chamber near the Holy Place, reserved for priests on duty. When the voice of God called to him, Samuel made the only sensible assumption and responded as if Eli had called. This happened three times and each time Eli insisted he had not called. The third time it dawned on Eli what was happening, so he told Samuel how to respond. The term "hear" implies more of "paying attention" and carries the implication of already committed to obey.

3:11-13 -- What Jehovah claims He will do would hold spellbound anyone hearing it. He reveals to Samuel the word given to Eli some years before by another prophet, declaring the depth of this sin was so great that there no longer remained any acceptable sacrifice to cover it. Dismissing his family from the priesthood was irrevocable.

3:14-18 -- By this time, it seems apparent the Tabernacle had been buttressed or replaced by a permanent structure. Rather than a curtain, the entranced had regular doors. Part of Samuel's duty was to open them to worshipers at the appointed time. The phrase implies he began his daily duties. Eli insisted Samuel reveal the whole thing. In the first place, this is excellent training. During those hours, beginning with Samuel bursting in claiming to have been summoned, Eli had been reawakening the memory of proper handling of the Word of Jehovah. That included not holding back the truth, even if it was heart-rending to consider what it meant. "May God do so..." was a figure of speech accompanied by a physical demonstration of dire consequences, roughly equivalent to today's drawing the finger across the throat to signify decapitation. Eli responded with resignation, for how does one dispute with God?

3:19-21 -- This event was a clear signal God intended to make Samuel a true prophet. Not once did something he claimed was a word from God fail to come true. His reputation was firmly established from "Dan to Beersheba," a phrase signifying the whole land of Israel. Further, the glowing presence of the Lord returned to the Holy of Holies. This was a turn of affairs for which many had hoped. Sadly, they did not seek God's Word in everything.

4:1-4 -- Some 20 miles west of Shiloh, in the coastal plain, were the cities of Aphek and Ebenezer. These sat at what was then the northern end of Philistine territory. The occasion of battle is not given, but we can be certain the location gave the Philistines the advantage with their chariots. Naturally they won the first day's fighting. The Israeli leadership decided they needed their sacred talisman, the Ark of Covenant. Their thinking is nearly pagan in flavor, as they assumed God was tied to the box, else He wouldn't have let them fail in battle. While Eli had no power to reject the idea, he did send his two corrupt sons to stay with the Ark, as if it would help matters. Indeed, it was they alone who could touch it to carry it.

4:5-9 -- As the Ark was marched into the war camp of Israel, the spirit of the soldiers revived and their shout of elation was heard across the way by the Philistines. As soon as they knew what had happened, the Philistines trembled. They had never faced the God of Israel. What they did not understand was the the apostasy of the Hebrews was their only advantage. Their real danger was from God's own hand, far greater than the threat of the soldiers claiming His protection. They possessed enough character to insist it was better to die in battle than to lose and serve Israel, as Israel had served them.

4:10-11 -- This fatalistic spirit carried them through the next day's fighting and they slaughtered a larger number than ever. It was decisive, for the Hebrews fled, leaving the Ark to their enemy. As prophesied, the two sons of Eli died that day together.

4:12-18 -- A refugee of Battle, a Benjamite, marked himself with the traditional signs of mourning a great loss: he tore his clothes and put dust on his head. In his haste, he ran past Eli, who was sitting in the gateway of the city awaiting news. The messenger shouted his report for all to hear and the resulting tumult came to Eli's ears, but not the report. So the refugee returned to explain. It was not the death of his sons that shook Eli, but the loss of the Ark. He collapsed and died on the spot. Notice how the messenger reveals the four-fold calamity in increasing order of significance: Israel's flight, the great loss of life, the death of Eli's sons, and the loss of the Ark of Covenant.

4:19-22 -- News of the disaster brought Eli's daughter-in-law into labor. The phrase describes the Egyptian habit they had picked up of kneeling to deliver. Hearing that she brought forth a son was not enough to relieve her distress. There was no glory to be taken to the grave. She managed to mumble something about the glory of God departing before she died. Thus, her son's name was Ichabod: "Where is the glory?" or more precisely, "Where is God?" Here we are reminded yet again how deeply sunk into to pagan thought were God's people. They were so wrapped up in the symbols of His presence they could not separate them from His actual Presence.

Records are silent on the matter of timing, but it is all but certain this event was followed closely by yet another raid by the Philistines, in which the city and Temple of Shiloh were destroyed. It is mentioned by Jeremiah in 7:12-15, 26:6-7. What Jeremiah describes shows it was never rebuilt there. If there was any bloodshed, the site was defiled, neither Tabernacle nor Temple could stand there again. We have some unlikely traditions claiming that the man who brought the bad news to Shiloh was Saul and that in the heat of battle he had tried to protect the Ark, but that Goliath snatched it away. What is not lost on anyone who reads is the clear and obvious reason for the multiple disasters: unfaithfulness to Jehovah.

Chapter 6.3: Breaking the Philistines

1 Samuel 5:1-5 -- Dagon is the chief god of the Philistines. He was adopted from ancient Syria and was envisioned as a fish-man: body of a fish, hands and head of a man. He was generally a god of grain; for the Philistines to raid the standing grain of Israel at harvest time is in part an assertion of that belief. Since all grain is given by Dagon, it is only natural that his true worshipers go forth to take it from those who failed to recognize him. Putting the Ark of the Covenant in his temple was a natural extension of tribute.

However, Jehovah made it quite clear He was no captive of the Dagon or of the Philistines. If making Dagon's image bow to the Ark was not enough, breaking the symbols of his power (hands and head) on the threshold could not be ignored. It is noted a new custom developed among the Philistines from this.

5:6-12 -- Furthermore, Jehovah struck the area of Ashdod with a plague. The Hebrew term for this disease is difficult to translate, but a good guess is that mice or rats swarmed the cities, carrying bubonic plague. They would have devoured the grain crop, further discrediting Dagon and their fleas would pass the disease to humans. Bubonic plague gets its name from the swollen lymph nodes ("buboes") it leaves in the groin and armpits.

Determined to keep their trophy, the Lords of Philistia convened and sent the Ark to Gath, another of the chief cities. Things only got worse there than in Ashdod. The next city they tried was Ekron, but the residents had already heard of the disasters attached to the Ark's presence and wailed that it was brought there to kill them.

6:1-9 -- This business lasted a total of seven months. If we consider the Ark was captured at the beginning of the fighting season (March, so named in English because it is the first month when armies march to battle), we are now approaching harvest. The Lords of Philistia gathered again with their scholars of religion to see what can be done.

The advice first was to make sure a peace offering was made. Since food was out of the question, it was made in the form of gold formed to represent the mice and buboes from the plague, one of each from each of the five lords. Then it must be sent back by the most unlikely means: two milk cows that had never been trained to pull in a yoke. They would not normally be able to pull in unison, but instead would likely turn back to their calves. These two were hitched to a cart loaded with both the Ark and a box containing the offering. If indeed all this was from the God of Israel, the cows would immediately head for the border with Judah nearby, at Beth-shemesh. With this advice the scholars warned the lords not to delay, for the known acts of Jehovah had devastated Egypt.

6:10-18 -- As soon as they had this all ready to go, the cows immediately began mooing loudly and headed straight up the road to Beth-shemesh. As this was indeed the grain harvest, the entire town was out in the fields. When the cows and cart came near, the men of the place immediately began cheering and praising God out loud. The cows could never again be used for a mundane purpose, nor the cart, so the whole thing became a burnt offering to God. The contents of the cart were placed on a huge stone out-cropping. Having witnessed all this, the Philistines knew they were fortunate to have survived as well as they did.

6:19-21 -- Of course, the level of understanding about holiness and the Ark was completely lacking in Israel. The men of Beth-shemesh foolishly touched the Ark and a plague broke out on the city. It is truly difficult to be sure of the numbers here, because there is such a wide variation among the manuscripts available today. At any rate, the loss of just 70 men in this small town would be a major disaster. If it were numbered in the thousands, we are surely referring to men from the whole region, as Beth-shemesh was not that large. They called for the leaders of the largest city nearby, Kiriath-jearim, to come fetch the Ark. This had been the southern-most city of the Gibeon alliance during the conquest and quite large and powerful as the new home of some Israeli nobility.

7:1-2 -- Probably it was a Levite family that took in the Ark. Abinidab had his son, Eleazer, consecrated themselves to handle the Ark and it apparently worked out. The Ark rested there for the next 20 years. That it sat there, with no tabernacle or temple to host it, was the source of great embarrassment for Israel. Its loss, the disasters associated with it and the lack of a proper center of worship, brought about godly sorrow. Along with this was the continued oppression from Philistia.

7:3-6 -- By now, Samuel had been fully established as the Judge of Israel. He advised the leaders of Israel that if they were truly ready to return to Jehovah, there was a proper way to do it. First, they must commit to faithfulness, completely breaking the habit of the old Canaanite gods. The worship of Baal was very similar to that of Jehovah, so early on a blended worship set in with Israel. Also, the word here for Baal's consort, Ashtoreth, is a Hebrew pun. Most likely the proper pronunciation approached "ash-tart" but the Hebrews often combined the names for pagan gods with variations of bosheth, the word for "shameful." As the goddess of sex, among other things, her worship would include some fairly depraved behavior. In solemn convocation, the leaders met to repudiate all this.

7:7-12 -- The nation met at Mizpeh (or Mizpah). Depending on the exact location of this meeting area, it may have been a large flat space on top of a ridge, not far from Jerusalem. This all happened soon after the Ark had returned to Israel and during or just after harvest. This was the usual time for Philistine raids and having the leadership gathered at this prominent open place could easily be taken as preparation for war. So the Philistines made ready to attack this place first. In response to the leadership's cry for Samuel to pray seriously for God's protection, he made a simple whole burnt offering, and then told them to watch for Jehovah's deliverance. His promise indicated the Philistine power was about to be broken for good.

Sure enough, by some miracle of God's hand alone, the Philistines were put to flight. It would appear their camp was struck repeatedly by lightening, because they were described as badly broken. The fleeing invaders were pursued and cut down for quite some distance. We cannot currently identify the location, but Samuel raised up a memorial stone and called it Eben-ezer -- "The Stone of (God's) Help." Such monuments usually took the form of a large flat section of rock, stood on end and braced by smaller stones. Such markers would have been universally recognized as a monument to some great event.

7:13-17 -- From that time on, the Philistines did not recover enough power to invade Israel again. While not completely driven out just yet, some of their cities were taken by Israel and their acknowledged border collapsed inward a great deal. To add some confusion about the location of places named Mizpeh, it would appear that Samuel's annual circuit, in the absence of a temple or other central gathering place for worship, would include a path across the middle of Israel ending in Mizpeh of Gilead. Gilgal returned to prominence and Bethel rose with it. Samuel's altar back home in Ramah was accepted by God, though technically a violation of Moses' Law (Deuteronomy 12:5, 13). This is clearly a case of accepting the man for his holiness and the frank inability to keep the Law on that point.

Chapter 6.4: Saul is Chosen as King

1 Samuel 8:1-3 -- One might get the impression great men of God used up all the family supply of holiness, leaving none for their sons. First Eli, then Samuel, but there's more like it to come. We don't know enough of Samuel's personal life to guess why, but his two sons were nothing like him. They judged from the southern city of Beersheba and were infamous for taking bribes.

8:4-22 -- This trouble became the excuse for the tribal leaders of Israel to demand that Samuel choose and anoint a king. Here they are demanding a clean break between civil and religious rule in their lives. Previous to this, engaging in politics was a purely local occupation. National government ostensibly permitted no politics. In one sense, it might be said they wisely saw their inability to stand before God faithfully and rule themselves on the basis of their adherence to the Law of Moses. In another sense, they were completely foolish in thinking this would make any difference. Instead, the nature of monarchical rule called for taxation they had never seen. Rather than foreigners pillaging them when they sinned, they would have a king pillage them regardless of good or bad. Samuel, after conferring with God, went to great lengths to detail for them the nature of that taxation. Surely, a king must live a kingly lifestyle and would exercise harsh power over every detail of their lives. They weren't willing to listen to God in their religion, nor were they willing to listen to His prophet. After receiving assurance from Jehovah that He planned to grant them their request, Samuel dismissed the assembly of leaders.

9:1-2 -- Saul is introduced by his lineage. His family was Benjamite, notable for their warriors. Saul was no different, except he possessed that advantage of being roughly a cubit taller than average -- quite large, indeed. An established man, he had has own teenage son by this time.

9:3-10 -- Saul, as the good son of his father Kish, went out with one of the household servants to find where the herd of asses had wandered. This was before the introduction of horses in Canaan and asses -- also known as onagers -- were rather larger than donkeys, but just shy of the size of modern horses. These had been in use for some time by Mesopotamia, Akkadia and the Hittites for pulling chariots. They could be ridden unsaddled as one might donkeys. They were quite valuable and seldom owned by anyone but nobility.

We cannot positively identify Shalim and Shalisha, but it seems Saul's search took him north from Gibeah as far as Shechem, and then down slope into the edge of the Plain of Sharon. From there he went down through the low rolling hills as far as the Valley of Sorek, turning back upland and passing through the length of Benjamin. From there they circled back toward Ramah. At this point, Saul despaired of finding any trace of the herd and felt it was best to report back to this father. The servant suggested they visit the seer in that region. It would appear Saul knew not who this was, but did know the custom of presenting a gift when approaching a superior. Even so much as a pita loaf would have been sufficient, but theirs was gone. The servant had some coins amounting to one-quarter shekel and that seemed appropriate.

9:11-17 -- Like most cities, Ramah was built on high ground, but not on top of the hill. Hilltops had long been reserved as places of worship. The well was typically just outside the gate, where the men met young women coming out to draw water, usually in the evening. One of the rare occasions when a man might address a strange woman in public, Saul asked them if "the Seer" was in town. Not only was he there, but had just returned in time for a festival. This festival would not proceed without his offering a blessing over the food. This apparently was the sort of offering one "ate in the presence of the Lord" because there is no other mention of a priestly blessing at mealtime in Scripture. If Saul was to catch Samuel in time to finish his errand, he would have to find him immediately. Once engaged in the festival ritual, it would be unthinkable to pull him away for something so trivial.

As they came into city square, they saw him opposite them. This was a moment of high drama, in spite of its apparent humble nature. Just the day before, Samuel heard from Jehovah that as evening approached on the day of the festival, he would meet the man whom the Lord intended to be the "captain of My people" in war against the Philistines. Here we see that the nature of the king's office is rooted in the need for a battle leader, a warlord. At the sight of them, Samuel received yet another word that this was the new King of Israel.

9:18-27 -- By now all the important people of the city would be assembled at the high place. This seer would have been dressed as a man of privilege and Saul addressed him courteously, asking where to find the prophet. Samuel answered that he was indeed the man Saul was seeking and to go up and wait for him at the high place. They would enjoy the festival meal and tomorrow Saul could be on his way. Anything he might be willing to ask would be dealt with then. Meanwhile, he told Saul to forget the onagers; they had been found. Further, Saul was the most important man in Israel!

Saul was stunned. His family was Benjamite, the smallest tribe, especially after that business in Gibeah a couple of generations back. Furthermore, Saul's family was the smallest and lowest ranking of the noble families in Benjamin. Like many men in Israel, Saul had probably dreamed of finally breaking the Philistine oppression and was now being told he was indeed the key to that relief. At the banquet hall, Samuel directed Saul to sit in the seat of honor. Then, Samuel told the cook to bring out the priest's portion and serve it to Saul. This would later become known as the "royal portion." We can just imagine Saul's mind spinning, full of a thousand questions about all this fuss over him.

Those questions were answered. After the ritual meal, they left the banquet hall and went up on the roof of Samuel's home. There they talked long into the night. We can safely assume that Samuel taught him about being a king and what was required of him, among other things. The term used here in Hebrew is based on the idea of putting all things in order. This open rooftop was also the favored sleeping area for honored guests. Early in the morning, the three men set out together. Samuel asked Saul to send his servant ahead so he could share a private word from Jehovah.

10:1-8 -- The two men came to a stop and Samuel then produced olive oil and anointed Saul as king. The kiss was a personal sign of high honor, an act not required in ancient times when greeting royalty. Samuel was personally invested in this man's future. He then described to Saul events that were to shortly take place. This would serve to ensure Saul learned to trust the word of Samuel and to believe that all this business of being king was not some wild dream.

First, he would come upon some men telling him the onagers were safe and that now Saul's father was worried about him. Next, he would pass the Oak of Tabor where Deborah sat (Judges 4:5), a well known landmark, one normally associated with religious instruction. Deborah had been as much a teacher of Jehovah as a prophetess. There he would meet some fellows carrying offerings toward Bethel, probably in anticipation of meeting Samuel there for worship. They would salute him with reverence give him enough bread for a meal. Then, he would pass the Philistine garrison near the "Hill of God." Given the circumstances, that might mean any number of places ranging from Mizpah, scene of recent gatherings in the presence of God, or as far as south as Mount Moriah, which had been a shrine of worship to Jehovah since before Abraham and was just above the old Jebusite fort. The former is more likely, purely on the grounds of Saul's probable route home. Coming down from the high place, Saul would meet one of Samuel's academy of prophets. They would be praising God with instruments and prophesying on His behalf; that is, they would be calling people to turn to Him purely, as was their purpose. For a brief time, Saul would become a totally different man, moved by the Spirit of God to join the prophets. At that point, he would be given an opportunity to do something for God and it would be obvious at that moment what that should be. Then he was to turn and head to Gilgal, to await Samuel's arrival there, seven days later.

10:9-16 -- It didn't wait for the meeting of the School of the Prophets for Saul to experience a change of heart. God endowed him with the courage and sense of purpose necessary to carry the burden of kingly rule. Nonetheless, the meeting itself so astounded everyone that, from then on, the event gave rise to a figure of speech expressing total surprise at some unexpected turn of events: "Is Saul also among the prophets?" It appears the servant that had been with him up to now went on home. When questioned by Saul's uncle on their extended absence, the servant told all except the matter of Saul's anointing as king.

Chapter 6.5: Saul Begins Auspiciously

1 Samuel 10:17-27 -- Saul had been instructed to wait for Samuel at Gilgal. However, we next see Samuel calling a national assembly at Mizpah. Again, we do not know which Mizpah, but it's a safe guess it was the one in northern Benjamin, the high flat ridge just north of Gibeah. There Samuel goes through the rigmarole of showing divine election by the casting of lots. First, the tribe of Benjamin, then the clan of Matri, then the family of Kish was chosen. When the lot fell to Saul, he wasn't in sight. The Lord Himself reveals Saul was hiding in the baggage brought by those who had traveled from afar to the assembly. The mere site of this tall man, yet shy, was quite moving to those assembled. Samuel described the laws of God regarding kings, writing it on a scroll. We have never found a trace of this royal charter, but it was clear that one existed.

The assembly was dismissed and Saul went back home. There was no palace, no grand city of the king. He simply ruled from his farm, though he gained that day a retinue of men. These were moved by Jehovah to establish what served as a cabinet, the beginnings of a royal court. These first would have served at their own expense, leading powerful men of the various tribes. That there was an opposition party willing to give offense, defying tradition regarding gifts of homage, brought no response from Saul. This was a very noble start, indeed.

11:1-3 -- There arose a king over the Ammonites, whose name was Nachash ("Snake"). He gathered his forces and set siege to the city of Jabesh-gilead. This is the large city in the Jordan Valley, on the East Bank, that had refused to send troops against Benjamin back in Judges 21. The population had been decimated and the surviving virgins given to the remnant of Benjamin, because of the oath the national leaders had taken. The town had been repopulated by a nobler group.

When the people of the city asked terms of peace, Nachash stated he had determined to humiliate the Nation of Israel. He would do this by putting out the right eye of every man in the city. They promised to get back to him in seven days. Bear in mind that most cities were prepared to wait out a siege at least that long. Ancient battles over cities were often a matter of which side could out-wait the other. If the walls and gates were particularly well-built, there was little to gain by attacking directly with Bronze Age weapons. Barring some heroic deed of entry, or simply finding a secret entrance, it was a dreary affair. In this case, given the fertile Jordan, well-watered, the invaders had an advantage. The city had said if no relief came in seven days, they would surrender.

11:4-11 -- The messengers from the city would have made it to Gibeah in two or three days, traveling hard. When Saul's court heard the news, they wept aloud. Even today, in times of disaster, it is common to see in Middle Eastern cultures that folks put on quite a loud display of sorrow. It's not fake; the demonstration is appropriate for the occasion. Saul, going about his daily business of farming and ranching, comes upon this scene and naturally asks what it's about. When he's told of the siege of Jabesh-gilead, he takes royal action. First, he carves up a pair of oxen and sends the butchered parts across the nation by messengers. With this ghastly symbol is the warning that he would take forceful action to do the same to everyone's oxen if they didn't send troops for the defense of the city.

Since Saul had done this under the urging of Jehovah's Spirit, that same Spirit ensured the message struck home to all. They mobilized quickly. The assembly was called for Bezek, a city on the West Bank ridge just above the besieged Jabesh-gilead. It is noteworthy that they are numbered separately for Israel -- the northern 10 tribes -- and for Judah, which included Simeon. The total muster was 330 thousand. The messengers of Jabesh were told to report back that by the heat of the next day, it would all be over. This news was quite joyfully received by the leaders of the city and they promised to Nachash they would capitulate at about that time.

Saul divided his army into three huge waves and struck the Ammonite camp at dawn. The fighting continued until midday, at which point the surviving Ammonites were too thinly scattered to make a pair of them anywhere in the area.

11:12-15 -- With this first successful act as king of the nation, Saul's supporters were ready to execute the opposition party. They demanded of Samuel that they be officially identified before the assembly. If Samuel were to point them out, no one would argue. Rather, Saul took the noble course of halting this action. His reason was that the Lord had given them a great deliverance and it would not be fitting to execute anyone, criminal or otherwise, on such a holy day. To forestall further political turbulence, Samuel suggested they renew the royal charter in the presence of Jehovah at Gilgal. The resulting scene of sacrificial offerings and celebration left everyone feeling quite warm and fuzzy about having such a fine king.

12:1-25 -- Samuel brought the assembly back to earth quickly. First, he demanded that any with a complaint against him should bring now the evidence against him, so that he could settle accounts and retire. There was, of course, nothing against him. He then delivered a long, impassioned message of how this Nation of Israel had sinned repeatedly, been punished for it, been delivered repeatedly and still acted ungratefully. From the time of Israel, the man himself, the nation was quick to stray from the high calling of Jehovah. To impress upon them the certainty that this was the Word of God, Samuel called for a storm, at a time when such was rare. Wheat was harvested in late June or early July.

At this, the assembly repented and asked forgiveness for daring to seek a king, contrary to God's revealed will. They had rejected Him who made them and felt the sting of shame. Samuel reminded them that in spite of this sin, God was gracious and would use their sin for His own glory. He would continue to prosper this king's reign, but they must devote themselves whole-heartedly to serving the Lord faithfully. It was clearly implied that the throne could easily be taken out from under the king if he failed in this, as well.

Chapter 6.6: Defeat in Victory

It is essential that we see a picture of Saul as a national king, ruling over a people, but not necessarily over the territory they occupy. The acknowledged borders of Israeli land were still in a state of flux. Though Saul is indeed King of Israel, his authority is far closer to that of the judges than to a genuine monarch. Thus, his is the rule of a warlord, closely linked to the primordial function of what we now refer to as a king. He had no administrative offices in his court, only a collection of lieutenants to his command of troops. Records are poorly kept, if at all and there is no evidence whatsoever of any official chronicles. They are conspicuous by their absence.

We also see that his rule seems at times to be rather tenuous and he relies much on threat of punishment. The nation had begged for a king, but was not yet ready to accept the daily assumptions of life under a monarch. His first muster for battle at Jabesh was based on a threat for non-compliance. While the Lord continued to grant him military victories until the end, the flaw in his character begins to show. He was somewhat noble, but never regal.

1 Samuel 13:1-4 -- This and the next chapter have proven quite difficult to translate and suffer much from manuscript variations. Saul's one effort to begin an organized defense of the people was to establish a full-time army. Of the 3000 selected, most were quartered at Michmash, a hilltop town overlooking a major trade route that ran more or less north-south through the hill country. Just to the south a few miles lay Geba, sitting astride a crossroad with another major trade route, running east-west from the coast to the Jordan. We are then told how it came about that Michmash was taken from the Philistines, who had a garrion there up to this time.

Saul's eldest son Jonathan was quite the valiant warrior. The Philistines had risen once to oppress Israel. The tension was sure to result in some kind of provocation. For whatever reason, Jonathan attacked and killed the Philistine tax officer in Geba, along with the guards. It was this toll station that the garrison just north, in Michmash, was to protect. It amounts to an assassination of an official representative of the Philistine government. While their armies had been soundly defeated and some of their peripheral cities taken back by Israel, it would seem they sought to reassert their former rule. It was at best an uneasy truce that left various Philistine officials here and there collecting tolls and taxes of various kinds. Naturally Jonathan's action was reported to the Philistine lords down on the coast and they began to mobilize. Saul stood by his son's actions and conducted his own mobilization. Israel assembled at Gilgal. Reading between the lines, this follows Samuel's teaching that battle is joined at the command of Jehovah and the King of Israel had to seek His counsel as the True King.

13:5-7 -- The number of Philistine troops is exceedingly difficult to establish from textual evidence, but the point is it hardly mattered. They were enough to form a credible threat, causing fear in the whole nation. This came at a time when there was already considerable fear. The people quickly reverted to the mode of life they had under the Midianite oppression (Judges 6:1-4), living in caves and such. A significant portion moved out of the reach of Philistine interest, on the East Bank of the Jordan, in Gilead. Thus, when the mustered troops met Saul at Gilgal, they were quite nervous about the whole thing.

13:8-10 -- By pre-arrangement, Saul was waiting seven days for Samuel to arrive. Keep in mind that each side in this looming battle had runners and spies keeping an eye on each other. While the Philistines were ostensibly massing reinforcements at the point of conflict, in the toll district of Michmash, it was clear they were prepared for full combat. If the assassination in Geba was a local guerilla act, then the troops there would simply grind the locals into the earth. If it was the signal for a genuine national conflict, this local harassment would surely bring the Israeli army out to fight. Saul began by obeying the command from God's man, by waiting until His plan was revealed. But the general fear of the troops caused many to slip away in the face of apparent inaction.

Finally, in exasperation, Saul presented the offering himself. Since it is known that both David and Solomon did this without rejection by God, we must assume it was not the act of offering itself that was Saul's sin. As we see from Samuel's response, it was something more subtle, more substantial than the act of offering alone.

13:11-15 -- Immediately after the offering ceremony, Samuel was spotted and Saul went out the meet him. When Samuel confronted him with his sin, Saul overstated the excuse about desertion of troops. It is quite unbelievable that Samuel had not already taught him, and the witness of history had shown, that whole nations could be defeated by God alone, without man's help. If the Lord had held Saul in place until only his devoted friends were left, that would be enough. The statement that Saul feared the Philistines might descend on Gilgal was most likely a lie. Either way, the sin was in disobeying God's command to stay and wait on His command. Rather than an opportunity for Jehovah to establish a dynasty from Saul, it was the beginning of the end for his reign. Having no further reason to stay at Gilgal, Samuel went back up to Gibeah to pray over the coming battle. By now, Saul had a mere 600 men.

13:16-18 -- This rather small force joined Samuel at Gibeah. By this time, the Philistines had begun their rape of the countryside, sending out raiding parties. One company headed north toward Shiloh. Another headed back west toward Beth-horon. The third took the route south or southeast, but their apparent destination -- Zeboiim Valley -- is not certain. A good guess might be in the direction of the Wilderness of Judea, along the western shore of the Dead Sea.

13:19-23 -- We are told pointedly that Israel still relied on bronze weapons. The Philistines had kept iron-smithing a secret and used it to extort high fees from Israelis for working on iron implements. Perhaps captured in battle, Saul and Jonathan alone had iron weapons. Those Philistine troops not assigned to raiding teams then took up a position to block the pass running through Michmash. The town itself sat on a hilltop just above the pass and held a commanding view as the highest point on a ridgeline pierced by the trade route. To the southwest, the road dropped into a steep gorge, which gorge runs northwest-southeast at that point, then followed a winding valley cutting up into the opposite ridge toward Geba. On it's way to Geba, the road passed in the shadow of Migron, which was also opposite Michmash, but almost straight west.

14:1-3 -- While Saul is deciding how to make a useful attack, Jonathan ordered his equipment steward to join him on a scouting mission. This younger man would have been responsible for hauling whatever equipment a warrior needed that he did not wear on his body. On long hikes, that would mean carrying the shield until making enemy contact. During actual fighting, this steward would then strike any necessary final killing blows for the enemy troops dropped by his master. While grisly to imagine, it shows that a professional soldier counted on slashing his way into the enemy line, with but a minority of his blows being fatal, but mostly enough to take his opponents out of battle, leaving them for the steward to finish.

By this time, Saul had moved his forces up to Migron, in sight of the Philistines across the gorge. He had with him the last survivor of Eli's household, acting as priest, wearing the ephod containing the sacred lots for seeking word from God. Jonathan had not discussed his mission with anyone but the steward with him, so no one knew they had left.

14:4-5 -- We cannot know what route Jonathan took to get there, but it was most likely off the beaten path to the east, because it seems he approached the eastern wing of the Philistine lines. There was a secondary route that followed the gorge around from the east, and then went up to a separate, smaller pass that joined the main road at the highest point, on the far side of Michmash. There was a ridge between the two and at one point this lesser path ran between two sharp bluffs. The cliffs were named Bozez and Seneh; the cut ran almost east-west at that point and the latter cliff was on the north, where the Philistines had a lookout.

14:6-14 -- Clearly Jonathan understood the principles lost on his father, that God could use as many or as few as He wished to deliver His people. When he suggested to his steward they attack the Philistines on the opposite bluff, the steward was all for it. Confirmed in his intent, Jonathan decided he would take them on whatever terms the enemy chose, because perceived advantage would not matter. He had the assurance of God's hand. When the Philistines dared Jonathan to come up after them, he and his steward literally crawled up the face of the rock. Even with this disadvantage, Jonathan managed to mow them down. In the small space atop the bluff, he killed about 20 Philistines.

14:15-23 -- It seemed God Himself was celebrating this victory, as the earth began to quake. The Philistines scattered, as their position was particularly unsafe in the shadow of the high ridge. Flawed though he was, Saul knew what this scene meant. He had the troops assembled for roll call and found his own son had gone. Having brought out the Ark of Covenant with them, Saul called for the priest to bring it before him. Before the priest could complete the ceremony, Saul decided the time to strike was nearly past. The small army of Israel plunged down the slope of the gorge, coming up on the backside of Michmash. All along the way, they slaughtered the frightened Philistines. The turn of battle caused the Israeli traitors in the Philistine camp to turn back their own side. As the pursuit wore on, those who had fled Saul at Gilgal also joined the battle. The bulk of the Philistines fled north toward Bethel (called "Beth-aven" here) and attempted to regroup.

14:24-30 -- Showing the early stages of his later insanity, Saul made a foolish demand that no one stop to eat until he had called a halt to the fighting. Jonathan, having forged ahead with his own attack, had no knowledge of this command. As the pursuit passed through a forest, Jonathan stabbed the end of his battle staff in some honeycomb and licked it off as he moved. Obviously this would provide an instant energy boost for a man weary from fighting and chasing all day. When one of the troops told Jonathan of his father's edict, he spoke of how foolish it was and why it would have been better to let the soldiers graze on the supplies of food abandoned by the fleeing enemy.

14:31-35 -- The result of this battle was a return to the old status quo, wherein the Philistines never ventured east of Aijalon in that area. The effort was exhausting and Saul's edict left them starving. As soon as the halt was called, they were so ravenous they even ate some of the plundered meat raw without proper preparation. When word of this got back to Saul, he had reprimanded his commanders for not supporting him better. Then he issued the order that everyone must bring their meat animals back to his camp and eat properly in his presence. He then stacked up stones to make an altar to God. This was the first time he had done so and it was proper, since there was as yet no temple.

14:36-46 -- It occurred to Saul that he could follow up on this victory by pressing the attack further on the Philistines, by attacking their camp at night and perhaps finishing off the whole of their troops. When he inquired of God, there was no answer. Remembering at least some of what Samuel had taught him, he knew it was because of a particular sin. His edict to refrain from food was made in the form of an oath before God. Perhaps to teach him better, God was holding him to the conditions of the oath, that whoever ate food before the halt would be executed. Saul addressed his commanders, declaring he knew someone had broken that oath and it didn't matter if it was his own son. Nobody spoke up. So Saul, in anger stood him and his son on one lot and rest of Israel on the other. He asked the Lord to make it clear whose was the guilt. The lot fell to him and his son. Then a second lot was cast between him and Jonathan and it fell to Jonathan. When Saul demanded a confession, Jonathan told of the honey in the forest, and then stated he must now be executed. Clearly beside himself, Saul made yet another oath that he would surely execute Jonathan himself.

The troops watching made it clear how silly this whole thing was, since Jonathan was the hero of the day. Had he not gone out in faith, it's doubtful anything would have gone right. As it was, Jonathan's trust in Jehovah was sufficient to slaughter superior numbers. More importantly, it brought God into the battle Himself. His act was holy, implying that Jonathan himself was holy, at least that day. They shamed Saul into backing down on the execution. Thus, the remaining Philistine soldiers were spared for another day. However, God did not forget Saul's second oath. God most certainly did "do so" to Saul, when Saul's job was finished.

14:47-52 -- What follows is a summary of Saul's rule. His whole reign was consumed in carving out the land rights of Israel and suppressing everyone on the borders. Anytime Saul spotted a manly fellow, he was drafted for the army. Here we finally have an effort to record the basic biographical details of this first King of Israel. It was clearly written in retrospect. Because of textual problems, there is some confusion about the names and number of his sons. Knowing that many Hebrews might carry more than one name, we still have difficulty knowing for certain if the second son, here called "Jishui" or "Ishvi", is the same as Abinadab or Esh-baal in 1 Chronicles 8 & 9. While it is probably the latter, we have yet another reminder: On the one hand, we cannot claim to have a perfect record; on the other, we can be certain that nothing critical is in dispute in God's Word. Several minor details are missing or don't match the record elsewhere. We can rest assured that what is uncertain is also unimportant.

Chapter 6.7: Saul's End

1 Samuel 15:1-5 -- As if it were a test, Samuel told Saul that Jehovah had determined to exterminate the Amalekites, a tribe descended from Esau. These folks were wholly despicable, opportunists and the proto-typical devious Arabs. They had attacked from the rear during the Exodus (Exodus 17:8), where the guard was lighter and where one would find the animals, as well as the aged, children and pregnant women. For this and similar crimes, they were marked for genocide, to include all their herd animals. The Hebrew term is cherem -- in this context, "devoted to destruction."

Saul mustered his troops at Telaim (or Telem), a location unknown today. We can safely assume it is down on the southern end of Palestine. The wording is a little uncertain, but it appears only Judah sent troops for this and the numbers are, as usual, not clear from the various manuscripts. However, the count is given in the standard: so many conscripts and so many professional soldiers. His plan was to approach their main city at night, then prepare to assault from the valley below.

15:6-9 -- First, Saul sent word to the Kenite leadership to separate themselves from the more numerous Amalekites, among whom they lived. The Kenites were old allies, the tribe of Jethro, Moses' father-in-law. The Kenites had remained Bedouin in lifestyle, so moving out of the area was no big hardship for them. Once they were clear, Saul attacked, pursuing this enemy of Israel all the way to Shur, beyond which was under Egyptian control. However, Saul failed to go the whole way in obeying God's command. He allowed their king, Agag, to live. He also joined in his people's plundering of the finer specimens of domesticated animals. They had no trouble destroying everything else. Furthermore, a few Amalekites survived until the time of Hezekiah, probably after taking refuge in the Sinai awhile.

15:10-16 -- Samuel, still God's prophet to the nation, got word that Saul no longer had a zeal to obey. Jehovah found Saul unworthy of ruling His people and was determined to replace him. Samuel wept all night in prayer, in a final attempt to stay God's judgment, but the Lord had removed His Spirit from Saul. The next morning, Samuel received word that Saul had returned and set up a monument to himself at a place named Carmel (not the mountain far to the north) and was waiting at Gilgal.

When Samuel arrived, Saul was all cheery, declaring he had done God's will. The racket from the animals was obvious testimony Saul was less than truthful. Saul began to bluster piously about offerings to honor God, but Samuel cut him off abruptly. Taken aback, Saul dutifully awaited the message from God that so obviously weighed on Samuel's mind.

15:17-23 -- Using Saul's own expression from that day back when Samuel first anointed him king near the gate of Ramah, the priest brought that scene back to Saul's mind. Was it not God Himself who had promoted this nobody, Saul? It's not as if God was asking so much in wishing to destroy the Amalekites. They were already delivered into Saul's hand and would be unable to resist. Saul insisted he had done so, but that he couldn't restrain the people from keeping some plunder, with the false justification of planning to offer them up to God. Samuel responds with a bit of Hebrew poetry that has been widely memorized in many languages. Piety means nothing without full obedience. So, inasmuch as Saul rejected strict obedience to the command of God, so God rejected Saul as king.

15:24-33 -- Saul's admission of sin is obviously superficial. He cared only about the honor from the people. He pressured Samuel to stay on for this one ceremony, so as not to be publicly humiliated. When Samuel turned to go, Saul grabbed the edge of his priestly robe, which tore. This prompted Samuel to utter that just so, had God torn the throne from the hand of Saul and would pass it to a better man. Even though Samuel could be persuaded to play along, Jehovah was not a mere man who could be cajoled into anything. As a part of the ceremony, Samuel demanded the captive Amalekite king be brought before him. Saul had no doubt planned to keep Agag around as a living trophy in his palace, a common practice in ancient times. Agag was nervous, but hopeful of his own life. Samuel pronounced and then executed God's judgment.

15:34-35 -- Once Samuel left and got away from Saul, he was able to maintain proper decorum. His love for the man remained strong to the end. Still, he would have to act on the judgment of God and not appear with him ever again in public.

16:1-5 -- Though Samuel mourned for Saul, the Lord told him to get over it. The time came to anoint another king. This one would be in Bethlehem, to a son of Jesse, who was of the royal tribe of Judah. Samuel's question was not an objection, but a simple request of how to carry this out without raising Saul's suspicion. Saul had already demonstrated his willingness to sin for personal gain and might not hesitate to kill God's prophet. We might say Saul had become a psychopath. The Lord's reply was for Samuel to go with the pretense of making another of those numerous visits he once made as a judge over the nation. He was to take along a heifer to sacrifice as a ritual meal before the Lord. He was to invite Jesse as the guest of honor. The man would naturally present his sons and one of them would be chosen king.

His arrival was at first worrying to the local leaders. They feared Samuel had come to pronounce judgment on some sin. Their question implied, "Are we in trouble?" Samuel answered that he came for a celebration and that he wanted them to join him. Naturally, this required they pass through some purification rituals. These rituals in the Law of Moses echoed what was required throughout that part of the world when one came into the presence of a ruler or a god. While in our Western culture this smacks of putting on a false front, to the Eastern mind it was a matter of treating this as a special occasion, reverencing some higher power. A special effort went into preparing Jesse for the seat of honor at this feast.

16:6-13 -- While Samuel's eyes saw the man, God saw the heart. The first born would naturally be the preferred candidate. Yet God passed over all seven of the men Jesse brought before Samuel. When Samuel asked if there were anymore, Jesse offered that his youngest was out with the sheep. While it is fair to see here that David was being left out of things because he is the youngest -- and therefore least important -- it also foreshadows David's virtue. David was a shepherd at heart and we can safely assume he was hardly offended at being left out of the festivities when someone has to watch the flock. Samuel declared that the feast could not begin while David was absent, so they must fetch him. He is described as handsome, with obvious intelligence. Upon his appearance, God declares him the one and Samuel anointed him in front of everyone. From that time, the same royal spirit torn from Saul now rested on David; though imperfect, he was considerably more cooperative with God's plans.

16:14-18 -- Bereft of God's guiding presence, Saul is left instead with a demon. The author brings us back to look upon the fallen king as now an object of pity. Whatever flaw in his character led him astray was now magnified. At times he would be someone else entirely. The symptoms are today known as schizophrenia, or "split personality." A primary symptom is for the milder self to forget everything that happened while the demented self is manifest. It was known then, as now, that music could help to calm raging passions and restore clear thinking. Saul's counselors advised him to find a good musician who could play the lyre and sing. When he put out the word to find one, somebody recalled meeting a young fellow named David who would fit the bill and was quite a valiant warrior, as well.

16:19-23 -- David was sent with proper supplies and gifts. He was indeed quite the musician, but in this case, it is more a matter of David singing praises to God that drives Saul's demon away. His manners fit him well for Saul's court and his debut as royal demon-tamer was successful. Saul was so delighted with him as to appoint him as his armor steward, at this a point a position with many additional ceremonial duties. This was the best excuse possible for keeping him at hand. Saul sent word asking that David be released for royal attendance, though it is wholly likely he himself never paid attention to who David's family was. We see a man quickly becoming ever more dependent on others. Saul was a deeply troubled soul and left many details of his life to others.

Chapter 6.8: David's Rising Star

The one thing Saul valued most was the love and admiration of his subjects. He had already proved this mattered more to him than obeying God. He thus allowed the people to rule him. As he begins to lose even this, Saul shows himself a desperate man.

1 Samuel 17:1-3 -- The Valley of Elah makes several sharp bends near the City of Sochoh, on its way down to the flatlands and the Mediterranean. The Philistine-Israeli border was in flux and this represented disputed territory. The presence of the Philistine army is a provocation. They take up the high ground on the north side of the valley, but because of the sharp twisting, find themselves looking down on the village of Azekah almost from the east.

Saul mobilizes his troops and takes up a strategic position on the opposite hilltop, almost due west of the Philistine, cutting off their direct route home, but exposing their backs to Philistine territory. Thus, both armies are in effect isolated from support. In the ancient ways of war, this would set the battle to take place on a rather flat valley floor, right out in front of the little village of Azekah.

17:4-11 -- For the Philistines, it was quite a gamble, having suffered defeat a great deal against Saul. They brought out a champion, someone probably known to Saul. Goliath was one of the Anakim refugees, which Joshua had driven from the hill country of Judah. They had settled in several of the Philistine cities and this one had joined their army. Saul knew him to be a veteran of battle. As king and one of the tallest fighters in the camp of Israel, it would be his responsibility to face Goliath himself. This challenge to decide the battle one-on-one was not something Israel could easily turn aside. While the two sides faced off just outside sling and arrow range, this giant -- something over nine feet tall (nearly 3 meters) -- issued his challenge as an insult to Jehovah. Yet there was no Israelite with enough faith in the Lord to face Goliath. From a human perspective, there was no hope of fighting him in single combat. Just the weight of his combat gear was enough to stagger most men: a coat of plates down to the knees weighing roughly 110 pounds (50kg), not to mention the helmet, greaves and shin guards; a spear whose head weighed 13 pounds (6kg) and an assortment of other weapons. His defense weapons were all bronze, the offensive were iron. All told, this approximates to a 600 pound (270kg) human juggernaut. People rode animals smaller than that.

17:12-19 -- David is brought back into the picture. David was not yet old enough to go to war, which was traditionally 20 years. Thus, he couldn't be drafted for any official duty as a man. Ostensibly a full-time member of Saul's court, he occasionally returned to the family home to take his turn at shepherding. While thus occupied, Jesse asks this youngest of his sons to take food to the battle front for his three eldest brothers. Jesse was too old to go himself, but was eager for news. Not every confrontation of ancient armies resulted in an immediate clash. Negotiations might take place, minor skirmishes, or various contests of honor, all before a major battle, or even without one. This ties up lots of bodies and someone had to feed them. While Saul should have had no trouble demanding taxation-in-kind, what Jesse sends represents the best of home food. Parched grain was roasted on a pan the same day it was harvested and is still a favorite today in that part of the world. The bread would be flat disks of pita and the cheese would be the soft, white sort, kept in a cool cellar. All these would be in short supply to troops in the field.

As always, the phrase "forty days" is not to be taken literally. Still, this was quite some time, the face-off dragging on interminably. To say they were "fighting with the Philistines" means simply that they remained on full alert, ready to fight and within sight of the enemy.

17:20-27 -- At 17 miles (27km) by air, but considerably more by ancient roads, it took David all day to get from Bethlehem down to Azekah. He would have left the loaded onager with the baggage stewards, somewhere to the rear of the battle formation. In obedience to his father's wishes, he met with his brothers. Then while observing the situation, Goliath made his daily appearance. The forward pickets would flee as he strode boldly within hailing distance and shouted his defiance. The troops standing nearby mentioned the terms of the challenge and Saul's offer to anyone daring enough to even try facing Goliath: instant wealth, the hand of the king's daughter and his family property becomes tax exempt.

17:28-30 -- As David asked a few others to confirm the story, his brother Eliab lashed out at him. He knew David was just the sort of fellow to respond to any insult against God, regardless how improbable it might be. He obviously feared being upstaged by his youngest brother. If Eliab was such a real man himself, he would have already volunteered and David's question branded him a coward. David's response was a subtle reminder he was there in obedience to their father's command, indicating the two had shared harsh words often in the past: "What did I do now? As if you needed any excuse..." David ignored his brother and continued his conversation with the troops nearby.

17:31-37 -- Surely everyone was looking for a way out of this impossible situation. As soon as David inquired about Saul's promises, it was reported to the king. Was there a volunteer at last? Indeed, David made it clear he was quite ready to fight on God's behalf. Saul said more than he realized, when he warned David that Goliath had been a warrior at least as long as David had lived. David described how his faith in Jehovah had seen him kill many predators of the flock. Bad as the cougar-sized lions of that area were, the Syrian bears were even worse. He saw this situation in the same light. If the soldiers of Israel were going to act as sheep, then they needed a shepherd and David was as good as any, regardless of age. The same God who delivered bears and lions into his hand would do the same with this Goliath.

17:38-39 -- Saul gave David his armor. It was a high honor, marking David as his personal champion. It was also the only edge he could give David against a warrior he probably had met in battle before. But David had not trained in armor -- any armor, much less this armor. Whether David was anywhere close to Saul's size would make no difference, though it appears he was close enough. David opted to wear his faith as his only armor.

17:40-47 -- David took up his shepherd's staff and selected good round stones from the wadi bed running across the battlefield between the armies. Many commentators make much of his taking 5 stones, given that Goliath had four brothers. While that may be true, it's more likely the standard load for a slinger. In typical battle conditions, a slinger would have time to launch only a few missiles before the confusion of mass melee would make it too hard to select a target. Samples of these stones have been found in piles by archaeologists. They ranged up to a 4-inch (10cm) and weighing two pounds (1kg); we have already seen how the Benjamites were deadly accurate with them. Still in use some today, the maximum range is about 600 feet (180m) and terminal velocity exceeds 146 feet per second (45m/sec). It was altogether deadly, regardless whether the target was armored.

Goliath did his utmost to insult David, even cursing him by his pagan gods. David responded that his faith in Jehovah was more than enough armor and weaponry to defeat any foe. David then promised to carry Goliath's head away as a trophy and the whole Philistine army would be left as carrion for birds and beasts. The God of Israel could do this with anyone, even a shepherd boy.

17:48-54 -- The two mismatched combatants approached. As a slinger, David had one natural advantage: he could strike first, well before any of Goliath's weapons could be useful. Indeed, Goliath never had a chance to use them, because David's first shot was fatal, striking Goliath on the head and crushing his skull at the exposed forehead. Before the watching armies, David used Goliath's own sword to behead the carcass. The Philistines melted in confusion and Israel stormed down the hillside in attack. The pursuit pushed the Philistines to their very city gates. Returning from the pursuit, Israel plundered the Philistine camp. Each time this happened, more iron weapons passed into Israeli hands. David's share of plunder as the champion was everything Goliath owned. The value of the metal alone was considerable. Goliath's head was displayed at Jerusalem, the city outside the Jebusite stronghold. Perhaps this was David's way of warning the Jebusite garrison their days were numbered.

17:55-58 -- Saul had never really known much about the young man who often played the lyre in his court. He asked his general, Abner, to find out. Since Saul had promised to make Goliath's killer his son-in-law and was going to make his family tax exempt, he had to know who that would be. Abner went down to the celebrating troops and escorted David to the king. In front of official witnesses, David identified the household to receive this bounty.

18:1-4 -- Saul decreed that David was now a man and could no longer be called home by his father. Jonathan knew immediately that he and David were the same sort, the same kind of faithful servant of Jehovah. It's only too natural there would be a powerful bond between them. In the Presence of the Lord, they made a covenant that essentially places each in the highest position of the other's life. Among humans, there would be no higher loyalty for these two. Though David had nothing to offer except his sling, Jonathan exchanged armor with David, the same as saying, "I will protect you as my own skin; my life for yours."

18:5-9 -- David was the type of fellow who seldom made mistakes that mattered. His wisdom was beyond his years and his insight into human nature made him everyone's favorite. As was common in ancient Semitic culture, wives and daughters would celebrate their soldiers' homecoming with dancing, including mimicking their warfare, as a means of praising their exploits. They would typically chant a simple refrain. If the knew the hero's name, he would be the subject of the chant. While Saul was quite a warrior, David was praised as even better. Saul instantly regretted the whole thing. He had made extravagant promises and someone had taken him up on it. Now he was stuck with a protégé whom, he felt, was also his worst enemy, a rival for the one thing that mattered to him: the people's affection and his throne.

18:10-11 -- The next time Saul came under attack from the demon, David began performing his regular duty of playing the lyre. As many ancient kings, Saul held a spear or javelin as his scepter. He still operated as the warlord-king. Seized by this demonic fear of David's threat to his position, he attempted to pin David to the wall by throwing the spear. This happened twice, but David escaped both times.

18:12-16 -- The writer reminds us that Saul was not blind to the spiritual issues involved. He knew full well that the royal Spirit of God had left him and rested on David. To alleviate the nagging reminder, he gave David a job that would keep him away from the court. David became a troop commander and was frequently on various missions with his soldiers. He came and went in full view of the public and they loved him. His leadership was flawless and troops and elders loved him. As usual, David acted in the wisdom of the Lord, making Saul all the more worried. David acted like a king, nobler than Saul.

18:17-21 -- Finally, it was time for Saul to make good on his promise to marry David to his daughter, Merab. This would be a promotion for David and the news would surely come to Philistia. Thus, Saul could legitimately let David take his place as the primary leader in war and as the Philitine's number one target. David resisted, giving the excuse he was a nobody and too poor to pay any dowry. When it came time for the wedding -- probably in connection with a birthday -- David was still not ready, so the girl was passed to another. However, Saul had another daughter that was deeply in love with David. When Saul heard of her affections, Saul was tickled. Here was another chance! Once more, Saul announced his intention to make David his son-in-law.

18:22-27 -- This time, Saul got his servants in on the effort. They whispered to David about how Saul really did want David as his son-in-law and turning him down was quite an insult. David complained he just couldn't afford the dowry. When they reported this back to the king, Saul saw his chance. He didn't have any use for a dowry of money or property. All he really wanted was the death of 100 Philistine men. Since Philistines didn't practice circumcision, the best symbolic proof of this feat would be to bring back their foreskins. This mutilation of the dead would also be a gesture clearly understood by any Philistines finding their bodies -- Israel had killed these men they considered filth. Thus, David and his men could keep any battle plunder for themselves.

When the servants relayed this to David, the whole idea seemed splendid. Kill some Philistines, rub their leader's faces in it and bring glory to God. The next morning, David took his troops out. As usual, he went in faith; he brought back twice the prescribed number of trophies and insisted they be counted out before the king. While Saul gained either way, it was not what he expected. Still, he married his daughter Michal to David.

18:28-30 -- So it went for Saul. He looked ever more the crazy fool, while his new son-in-law seemed ever more kingly. His own family was turning one by one in favor of David. When the Philistine lords dispatched their troops for raids on the Israeli grain harvest, David was there and frustrated them to no end. He frustrated Saul as well, but for different reasons. David was God's man and quickly became Israel's man.

Chapter 6.9: David and Jonathan

Scripture says little of on nature of demons. This one had permission from God to oppress and provoke Saul to folly. As time passed, the demon appears to have made himself a home in Saul's heart, as Saul's state worsens. He determined to murder David. At the same time, the spiritual fellowship between David and Jonathan deepens. Jonathan clearly sees that David will displace him as the next king, yet David has no such pretensions.

1 Samuel 19:1-3 -- Saul orders the death of David. In this context, it was yet another momentary raving of a man living with a demon. The order would have been an urgent command to do so that day. Saul is not yet fully aware of the covenant between David and his son, so includes Jonathan in the plan. Jonathan warns David to disappear until dawn. He further promised to approach his father and seek a reversal of this order.

19:4-7 -- Jonathan reminded his father of all the things David had done right, especially in royal service. If Saul could rejoice when David, at great personal risk, faced Goliath alone, how could he now order his death? David only did as Saul had asked and saved his kingdom from slavery. Saul relented, or so it appeared. The author constantly alludes to the spiritual forces at work. The demon's greatest enemy at this point is David, who is an agent for God's power and presence. If the demon can persuade Saul to kill David, there is little to stand in the way of full possession.

19:8-17 -- As was David's routine, he went out to meet a Philistine assault and defeated them sorely. Afterward, while David celebrated God's victory in song, the demon provoked Saul to skewer him with his javelin. Saul missed and the weapon lodged in the wall. As it was evening, David escaped into the darkness. Saul ordered soldiers to lie in wait outside David's house in the city, to ambush him as he came out the door in the morning. Michal knew her father well enough to insist David escape completely from the city. Apparently their home was on the wall and she let David down through a window that faced out over it.

Like many women in Israel, Michal secretly kept a wooden Asherah image. It was a common thing for women who were barren. She used this wooden image and some goat hair to simulate David in his bed. When David did not come out that morning, Saul sent messengers to the house itself, to arrest him and bring him out. Michal lied that David was ill and a glance in his bedroom presented a plausible image to the soldiers. Upon their report to Saul, the king demanded they bring the bed with David on it. All the better, since a man so ill would not resist when Saul performed the execution himself. At this point, it seems obvious Saul would not have dared to fight David one on one. Discovering the ruse, the soldiers brought Michal before her father. Upon demanding why she was conspiring against him, Michal claimed David had threatened her. If in this state Saul believed her, it shows how much he was out of touch with reality.

19:18-24 -- David took refuge with Samuel in Ramah. Samuel took David with him down to the Prophet's Academy, a place called Naioth ("Residence"). Most likely this was one or more buildings, either in town or near it, dedicated to housing the students and their training sessions. Saul got wind of it and sent soldiers to arrest David. As they approached the academy, they saw Samuel standing in leadership of the academy, which was actively engaged in prophesying as a group. While public prophecy might take any number of forms, it was often something dramatic, as a means of calling the heart to ponder sin. Such demonstrations might last days. As soon as the soldiers got close enough, they were seized by the Holy Spirit and joined the group in prophecy.

Again, Saul got a report, this time of how his deputation had been co-opted by the school. This happened twice more. Finally, Saul went himself. As he had done once long ago, Saul stopped at the great well outside the city gates of Ramah and asked where he could find Samuel and David. The text names this place outside the gates as Sechu ("Climbing" Place), which accords well with an image of the city built up the side of a hill, with its main entrance on the low side. When he was told they were at the Prophets' Academy, he went straight there. Yet again, he was overtaken by the power of the Holy Spirit, to the extent he disrobed -- a common prophetic image of the shamefulness of sin, which leaves one naked before a judging God. This renewed the byword, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" Yet, echoes of his past could not touch Saul's heart.

20:1-11 -- Taking advantage of the situation, David fled the next morning and found Jonathan. Upon asking what the nature of his offense was, why it merited execution, Jonathan was stunned. Having just received assurance a few days previously that David was safe, he could not imagine Saul would change his mind without mentioning it to his own son. David offered a solemn oath before the Lord as assurance he spoke truthfully. Jonathan had not secured David's safety, but had merely succeeding in tipping Saul off that he needed to keep Jonathan out of his counsel. Jonathan asked then what David would suggest he do.

We should remind ourselves that Israel's whole culture was agrarian, with events reckoned by seasons and by the phases of the moon. Every new moon (completely shadowed) was marked by a festival lasting three days, marked by ceremonial meals in the evening. Scholars tell us most likely Saul took the seat of honor -- his back to the wall and facing the door -- at a table for four. Jonathan would face him, with Abner to his right, and David to his left. You can be certain David would be conspicuous by his absence at this feast. On the first night, it was all too common that a soldier would in the course of his duties make himself ceremonially unclean (touching dead bodies). Thus, for the duration of that one day he would be forbidden to participate. He couldn't use that excuse twice. At the same time, as David's father aged to the point where he passed the household management to his eldest son, it could be that son's judgment that David should come home for one last annual sacrifice before their father passed. This would normally be a valid excuse, as that social ritual takes precedence over most other duties. In fact, it is one of the few times an elder brother could give a legally binding order to a younger, while both were adults.

That this failed to pacify Saul was all the proof anyone would need. Jonathan held senior place in their covenant, David reminded him. If anyone should be the first to uphold God's honor in passing sentence on a sinner, it would be a covenant brother of the sinner. A true friend in the Lord would not let you carry on in error. We scarcely understand that sort of honor code today. Jonathan was sure such a measure was unnecessary and promised to inform David of the results of this test. They went out to find a suitable place for passing this information.

20:12-16 -- Jonathan revealed how clearly he saw the hand of Jehovah in all this. Rather than jealously guard his place in line for the throne, he remarked that the royal spirit obviously rested on his friend. Given that David was God's chosen king of Israel, he made a request that in his reign, David deal kindly with him and his household. When he spoke of God cutting off David's enemies, he knew that meant his own father. Then the two extended their personal covenant to include their future households. One particular part of this pact was to ask the Lord to oversee the terms of the covenant during the impending forced separation of the two. If David failed, God was called to witness and strengthen David's enemies to punish him.

20:17-23 -- This place was near some boundary marker, but within walking distance of Saul's palace. The scene is laden with sorrow and compassion. The two men agreed on a time to meet the second day from then, with David hiding by the boundary marker stone. They agreed upon a secret signal, something subtle that would appear to be within the normal routine for Jonathan. During archery practice he would give one of two typical commands to his helper. With a final reminder that God was watching them both, they parted.

20:24-40 -- David slept in the fields, as he had done so often when pasturing his father's flocks. At the first meal that night, Saul said nothing of David's absence. He supposed the most obvious, that David was ceremonially unclean that day from killing the enemy. At the second evening meal, Saul asked. When Jonathan replied he had dismissed David for what amounts to a final visit with his aging father at a traditional family gathering, Saul exploded. In the presence of his court, the king declared Jonathan unfit to be his heir. Saul's declaration was that Jonathan was more the son of rebellion than of the king. While some scholars contend the word "woman" is implied by the phrase, it is by no means certain that he was calling Jonathan the son of a whore. The context seems to deny that, for in the next breath he says Jonathan was as shameful as one who stripped his honorable mother naked in public. Saul also reminded Jonathan he could not sit securely on the throne as long as David lived.

Jonathan called for his father to announce publicly the nature of David's crime. Saul's response was to throw the same javelin he had used to try and kill David. Inflamed at his father's complete lack of justice, Jonathan left the hall without touching food. This was to honor God, by not defiling the celebration with his anger. He was torn by sorrow over David and his own shame. The next morning, he went to the boundary as promised and shot his three arrows. Aside from the signal that David was truly in danger and should flee, Jonathan added the admonition that David should waste no time about it, though the boy chasing arrows thought the comment was aimed at him. Jonathan dismissed the boy to take the weapons back to the armory.

20:41-42 -- Knowing they might never meet again, David came out of hiding when he and Jonathan were alone. He greeted Jonathan with an extravagant display reserved for the rarest occasions of appearing before royalty, bowing three times to touch his forehead to the ground at his superior's feet. It was a clear declaration he had no intention of seizing the throne for himself. As far as David was concerned, Jonathan was still the royal heir until God changed things. Then they exchanged a more ordinary greeting, which is echoed today in Eastern nations, wherein two men embrace and touch the sides of their faces together, alternating sides, three times. They also exchanged tears at the bitter fate in which they were caught. Jonathan accepted the senior role and dismissed David into God's hands.

Chapter 6.10: David Goes Underground

1 Samuel 21:1-6 -- The date is approximately 1039 BC. From his last meeting with Jonathan, in the vicinity of Gibeah, David headed south to the area of Jerusalem. Recall that at this time, there was still a garrison of Jebusites on the high ridge above the actual ancient city of Jerusalem. Already David had favored this place by displaying there the trophy of his battle with Goliath. David had a love for this area.

Just a mile north of Jerusalem, on a ridge, was Nob (today Mount Scopus). This may well be one of the officially sanctioned "high places" dedicated to the worship of Jehovah. Sometime during Saul's reign, the old Tabernacle of Moses was in use once again, or a copy of it, erected on top the ridge. Proper worship took place according the ceremonial law. However, the Ark of the Covenant had not yet been moved. Perhaps Samuel did not yet trust these priests to guard it again, since it was Eli's sin that caused its loss. The entire village belonged to the family of Ahitub. From 14:3 we are reminded that Ahitub was Ichabod's brother, the man born when the Ark of Covenant was taken by the Philistines. The prophecy had been that any surviving members of Eli's household would be fortunate indeed if Samuel allowed them to remain in the priesthood. It would appear that Samuel was rather kind to them, after all. Surely it was he who raised anew the wilderness worship center and employed the survivors of Eli's household to serve in it. If one stood on the southern brow of Nob's ridge, he could see the top of Mount Moriah, soon to be called Zion.

On duty that day was Ahimelech ("Brother of the King"), son of Ahitub. When David arrived there, he had already been without food since fleeing his own home in the evening two days before. Whether we see sin in David's lie to the priest is a matter of perspective. It may well be he intended to protect the priest from knowing the situation, preserving his innocence from knowingly aiding a fugitive. Either way, it was still a lack of faith on David's part. He should have allowed the priest the option to turn him away. From Jesus' words, we learn that there was no sin in David eating this bread (Matthew 12:1-8). It had been the Bread of Presence from the past week, now recently replaced by a fresh batch on the Sabbath (Leviticus 24:5-9). By Hebrew reckoning, David had not engaged in sex for at least three days, which is the only condition the priest raised.

21:7-9 -- Doeg ("Anxious") was Edomite, a descendant of Esau. For reasons we aren't told he was detained at the Tabernacle in Nob. Possibilities include some ceremonial uncleanness, or suspicion of leprosy. His position was Chief Herdsman for Saul. Such a job would mean he was Saul's manager for all the king's personal herd animals. Rather than work in the fields, he remained at court, though hardly as an adviser. Saul's royal court was rather primitive and his "palace" was little more than a large house with one fairly large room. Thus, the distinction between a royal adviser and a personal servant was obscured by the informal nature of things. Saul was far closer to ancient warlord, rather than our idea of a king.

Doeg observed David's meeting with Ahimelech. When David asked for a weapon, the only thing at hand was the sword of Goliath, brought there by David himself some time during the past year. It would have been stored in a cloth that had been soaked in oil. The sword would be one of the few iron weapons taken from the Philistines. Successive battles wherein such weapons were captured had helped this situation some, but we can be sure Goliath's old sword would have been unique. The primitive Bronze Age swords would be reliable only if kept at about 12 inches (30cm) in length. Ancient wrought iron would allow something just over 24 inches (60cm) or so. Goliath easily had strength for larger weapons, but the material itself would have set limits, though perhaps this one would be bit heavier than usual. It would have been custom made for his hands, probably twice the breadth of David's, allowing him to use with both hands for swinging.

21:10-15 -- With the food and weapon he got from the Tabernacle, David made his way southwest to Gath, by now just across the border in Philistine territory, toward the southern end of Palestine. The wording here indicates he went with the intent to serve perhaps in the court of Achish, king of the city, who would also be known among the Hebrews by the title Abimelech. The king's advisers warned this David was the de facto ruler of the Hebrews and mentioned the victory chant that praised David as a better warrior than Saul. With no place to go for the time being, David made himself non-threatening by feigning insanity. He would go to the gates of the city and make indecipherable scratches on the wooden doors with stones. He would appear to drool into his beard. We get the picture of a man who might wander about conversing with inanimate objects and generally demonstrating no contact with reality. When the king's guards brought David in, the king reacted with distaste, declaring he suffered no shortage of insane clowns.

22:1-2 -- As soon as they let him go, David went back toward his home. About halfway between Gath and Bethlehem, just about an hour's walk east of the valley where David killed Goliath, is the city of Adullam. Its former king had joined the resistance to the Conquest and the city had been given to Judah. While there is no direct evidence to identify any of the caves in this area as David's favorite hideout, there is one that seems to fit the description. On the south face of a wadi is a cliff that opens with a 7-foot (2m) circular hole. There is a narrow passage to a small room. From there, a winding passage opens into a massive hall of approximately 5000 square feet (465 sq. meters), with numerous ante-rooms. Nothing else in the area comes close.

Word of David's presence there got back to his family. The whole household joined him, as it was common in those days that whole villages could be destroyed for the crimes of one resident. Soon, anyone with a complaint against Saul's increasingly mad regime joined with David. In a short time, he had gathered a small army of 400 men.

22:3-5 -- Rather than risk his family's safety in this military hideout, David visited the king of Moab to seek refuge for them. For a time, David and his men stayed in Moab's fortress. Here we have the first appearance of the prophet Gad, who later became David's Chief Seer. At his urging, David left the Moabite stronghold and returned to Judah. We cannot identify the Forest of Hareth or Chereth, but it seems to be the time and place where David's royal bodyguard formed. They became known as the "Cherethites."

22:6-8 -- Saul was holding court in the shade of a tamarisk tree, likely indicating this was during the hot season, July or August. As was Saul's habit, he sat with a javelin in his hand as a scepter. That he calls his attendants "Benjamites" indicates he had little loyalty among the other tribes by now. This is the habit of petty tribal rulers. He indicates that David, from the Tribe of Judah, would act no differently. If king, Saul alleges that David would give all the positions of importance to men from Judah. We see later this is quite the opposite, as David strives to be so inclusive as to risk losing his own tribe's loyalty. Saul makes the mad claim that his servants are conspiring against him. "If you really loved me, you'd have told me that my son was against me and where David is hiding!" His impatience and obsession are palpable.

22:9-10 -- Doeg's position would normally keep him silent. He's a personal servant of Saul and not a member of the War Council. This position leaves him clear of the charges Saul makes. As a foreigner eager to promote himself with Saul, Doeg speaks about the meeting between David and Ahimelech. It is almost certain he knows where this will lead. It is also certain he knew the priests were not guilty of knowingly aiding David. He is willing that any should die for his own advancement. He is true to his name, "Anxious" to ingratiate himself.

22:11-19 -- From the time a messenger is sent, it would have taken a couple of hours or so for the priests of Nob to be assembled before Saul. His accusation is dramatic and full of lies. Ahimelech speaks truly that no one was more loyal than David, so that this whole business was unnecessary. That was hardly the first time Ahimelech used the ephod on David's behalf to inquire of God. Otherwise, the priest would have indeed been in rebellion, refusing to aid the king's best servant and son-in-law. He rightly professed no knowledge of Saul's warrant for David's arrest.

There's no question Saul was wrong all the way through on this. If he had any complaint against the priests, it should have gone to Samuel to judge, for he was the High Priest still. Ahimelech's answers were manly and accurate. The king is the one who should be on trial. Saul took it as arrogance and condemned him on the spot. The Benjamites knew better than to break the law, but Saul could count on his good servant, the foreign-born Doeg, to do the job. Saul further gave Doeg the honor of destroying their village, as well, killing every living thing. The text indicates the site became defiled by the massacre. We know the Tabernacle was moved from there, as it shows up later on the hilltop above Gibeon.

22:20-23 -- One of the priest's family escaped, Abiathar ("Father of Abundance"). Since it's unlikely they would have left the Tabernacle completely unattended, it's probable he was left in charge. He may have been able to catch wind of the whole thing before Doeg got to him. He fled to David in the Forest of Hareth. His report of the massacre caused David great chagrin. Having seen Doeg there, he should have simply gone on his way. By staying to seek support, he doomed the whole village. The least David could do was promise to protect the priest by keeping him close. If David survived, according to God's anointing and promise, so would Abiathar.

In yet one more way, the Lord had left Saul. Samuel refused to see Saul. The only other priest capable of inquiring of God now stood before David.

Chapter 6.11: The War that Wasn't

David has already begun to serve as ruler. He had a small army and accepted food and support from the local population. Objectively, he appears to be a rebel warlord, a guerrilla freedom fighter. However, he uses his army to protect those in distress from invasion and offers absolutely no threat to the established king.

1 Samuel 23:1-5 -- While living in forest of Chereth and usually basing himself from the cave at Adullam, David gets word of a Philistine raid on Keilah. While mostly ruins today, there are ancient terraces that were clearly used for growing grain. That the Philistines are robbing the threshing floor indicates we are again at harvest time. David has been on the run for the better part of a year. He inquires of the Lord whether he should deliver Keilah. The answer is yes, but his men are frankly fearful of adding to their enemies. David double checks with God and is assured yet more strongly that it's right to attack the Philistines. Not only did he rescue the wheat harvest, but captured all the livestock the Philistines had brought to feed their troops.

23:6-8 -- David would naturally have stayed in the city awhile. Having delivered them, it was customary for the city to feed and house them awhile. It was all too likely the Philistines would come back. Saul eventually got word of David's location. Rather than being grateful that his people were spared from a Philistine raid, he felt he had David trapped and summoned troops. The city had a wall, with a single gate which they would have kept barred. If Saul could approach the city unobserved, David would not get his men out in time. Saul planned to lay siege to the city.

23:9-13 -- There was no shortage of messengers running for both sides; it's the nature of politics that various citizens in the countryside would support one or the other. David heard of the call-up and inquired of God whether to stay and fight or flee. His question centered on just how grateful the city would be under such pressure. The Lord warned David they would capitulate and hand him over to Saul. By now the small army was 600 men. They left the city and scattered, becoming less of a target for Saul. The mobilization was called off.

23:14-18 -- If we draw a line east and west through Hebron, another one north and south, we would find that the southeastern quadrant of our grid is wide open territory, with precious few towns. Recall that this region was given to Caleb's daughter Achsah (Judges 1:15) and was so dry as to warrant an additional gift of springs that were not geographically part of the grant. This area is also rocky limestone, shot through with caves and would have had some dry forest cover in places. Saul kept sending patrols, but they never spotted David and his men. Nonetheless, Jonathan was able to find him this one last time. Jonathan encouraged David to be ready to rule soon and asked that he be allowed to serve in David's court.

23:19-23 -- The City of Ziph is on the edge of this desolate area. Most likely David was asking voluntary support in exchange for protection. However, some would naturally see it as stealing and drawing unwanted attention. They sent a report that located David's camp in a natural fortress in the craggy forest area. Saul was very pleased, but not quite satisfied with the report. He sent the messengers back to obtain more details. Also, he wanted to muster an invasion force and have them in position, with a fresh report when they were near the target.

23:24-26 -- As his troops arrived, they were met with a report of a pinpoint location five miles (8km) south of Ziph, in Maon. As the expedition approached, David was warned, so he left the town and moved out into the hills, placing a particular landmark hill between himself and Saul. As Saul's troops bore down on David's little army, circling in from both sides, there would be no escape, as they were backed against a bluff. Even with fast climbing, some contact could not be avoided.

23:27-29 -- At the last possible moment, Saul received a report of Philistine invasion. Without having actually seen David's troops, he called off the pursuit and immediately turned north to deal with the invaders. From then on, the place was known as the Rock of Escape. David decided to move to a more remote location, down on the shore of the Dead Sea, En Gedi.

24:1-7 -- En Gedi sits in a wadi, on a shelf well above the Dead Sea, watered by a spring from above. The flow splashes down the steep drop in several waterfalls. The caves are as numerous as ever. After successfully dispatching the Philistines, Saul was notified that David was in that area. Of the force with him, Saul selected 3000 to return to their original mission of chasing David. We note that virtually every cave in this area today has a stacked stone wall in front of it for use as a sheep pen, to keep out predators. Many of the caves were merely small chambers in the face of the rock. A few hid large a network of rooms behind the initial opening. Most would have been up a ways from any valleys.

The best road wound down through the wadi. As Saul was marching down this road, it passed several of these walled openings above him in one place. He decided to take a break. While subject to debate, it was most likely he simply wanted to relieve himself. He would have removed his robe and armor for this, leaving it near the entrance and looked for a spot that had been used for the same purpose he had in mind. David, hiding unnoticed by Saul in the same cave, managed to steal close to the royal robe and cut off a section of the hem. He restrained his buddies from killing Saul in the cave, where it would have been easy.

24:8-15 -- As soon as Saul had redressed himself and climbed down from the entrance, David came out of the cave and stood behind the enclosure wall. Calling out to Saul, he made it clear that, had he wanted, Saul could have been easily killed. To prove it, he waved the section of robe in the wind. His remonstrance was in terms of God's judgment. Clearly Saul was in sin, and perhaps Jehovah would judge him for it, but David was certainly not going to play that role. "Let God punish you, but I will not touch you."

24:16-22 -- Saul was stung by guilt, to the point he wept. He agreed that David was indeed more righteous and clearly was not his enemy. Further, it was obvious to all that David would soon be king, for he was not only more noble, but stood in God's favor. He asked that David not deal harshly with his household when it finally happened. David had no trouble swearing an oath before God to do this. Saul turned back to Gibeah and David went back up into the caves. Clearly, though wracked with guilt, Saul had not repented. This was not over yet.

Chapter 6.12: Company of Fools

1 Samuel 25:1 -- During the time of truce between Saul and David, Samuel passed away. David is free to pay his respects, and then head out to Paran. Recall that this is the north-central Sinai Peninsula, used in ancient times as seasonal pasturage for sheep and goats.

25:2-9 -- A very wealthy Calebite brought his sheep in for shearing. He had a wife, Abigail ("Source of Joy") who was everything he was not. The man's name translates as "Fool." To be a fool in the Hebrew sense meant more than poor judgment, but to reject all that was good in life for the sake of selfish indulgence. This man had few friends and deservedly so. Sheep-shearing was typically the end of March and was one of several major agricultural celebrations. Shortly following would be the grain harvest with more celebrations. The sheep usually found shearing quite a relief from the coming summer heat. Quite likely the man had pastured his flocks as far south as the Wilderness of Paran for the winter. David and his men had given good protection to everyone in the southern end of Canaan. We must not forget that raiding tribesmen had not simply gone away with the Conquest. David's presence in the area made life better for everyone. When he sent messengers to Nabal to share in the celebration, he didn't really ask that much, just whatever Nabal found convenient to send. It is highly unlikely Nabal was the only on to receive such a visit, but was surely the wealthiest.

25:10-13 -- Nabal was not politically active on Saul's behalf. However, that was a part of the excuse he gave, alleging David was no more than a runaway slave. It would be difficult for him to have said anything more insulting. Even today, Bedouins receive gifts, which in our eyes amount to a protection racket. Roving bands of armed men can be a major problem, but David was anything but a problem. Nabal also acted as if he couldn't afford any gifts. Even then, the issue was the insulting response. David mobilized two-thirds of his forces.

25:14-17 -- Nabal's servants knew better than he. One of them informed their mistress of Nabal's stupidity in rejecting David's peaceful overture. In the process, he affirmed that David truly deserved better. Even had he not known David's plan, no one would be surprised at some sort of retribution. Nabal's rebuff was essentially a criminal breach of social obligation.

25:18-22 -- What Abigail prepared to send would have been a decent meal for about 200 men. This was no doubt a small portion of what had already been prepared for the festival. While we cannot know where precisely this story is set, it's easy enough to envision if you could see southern Palestine today. Without informing Nabal of her actions, Abigail had the food sent ahead of her, while she ensured he noticed nothing. When the convoy was out of sight, she herself rode on a donkey to meet David. She would have screened her actions by taking the same route out that David would have taken coming in. Since sheep-shearing almost surely took place in a flat valley area, a wise raider would have approached from one of the numerous wadis in the area, or from behind a hill, out of sight until it was too late for the target to mount a defense. In this case, there was apparently a distinct hill or ridge above the shearing floor. David had already advertised his intent to kill all the men in Nabal's household, though apparently Nabal was unaware.

25:23-31 -- Abigail approached David as an important woman, but made it clear she was honoring him as a lord. Her words were carefully chosen, showing she was wiser than most men. She took the blame for the incident and agreed that her husband was complete idiot. She seized upon the image of God having prevented David from avenging a grave insult, because the Lord would handle this sin Himself. Better it would be that the future king should not create hard feelings unnecessarily with the local population. She mentions how Saul's schemes had failed, because Jehovah regarded David as a precious stone, but his enemies were disposable, like a sling stone. She ended with the standard appeal for consideration when all this came true, as a means of affirming she really expected it to happen.

25:32-38 -- David realized he was in the presence of a living gift from God. He praised Abigail's wisdom and promised she had well succeeded in her mission. Upon returning home, she found her husband hosting a royal feast. Her husband having by now become drunk, she waited before explaining things. By morning he had slept it off and she told him the whole story. The shock to him was so severe he became more or less catatonic. Within ten days, he died.

25:39-44 -- Learning of Nabal's death by God's hand, David rejoiced how things turned out. Far better it is to let Jehovah handle His own business. Abigail was so clearly superior among women, David proposed marriage to her. She accepted with all seriousness and brought along a retinue of 5 hand-maidens. This serves to remind the reader that, while seldom mentioned, virtually everyone of importance would have had at least one servant or slave with them at all times. We are informed at this point that David had already married Ahinoam from Jezreel. She is always mentioned first when David's wives are listed, so she held the important place of David's first wife. Michal, having had a very brief consort with David, was passed off to someone else. This was an insult and crime against David and set the other fellow up for unnecessary suffering later.

26:1-4 -- The people of Ziph were ever eager to please Saul and rid themselves of David. They reported to Saul David's campsite near Jeshimon, a place currently unidentified. Saul mobilized his usual 3000-man force and camped in the place where he was told David was hiding. The wary David had seen them coming and moved farther out into the wilderness. Meanwhile, his spies kept an eye on Saul's forces.

26:5-12 -- From one of the nearby hilltops, David came to see for himself what he was up against. Observing them asleep, David asked two warriors which of them was in the mood for closer look. Ahimelech was a Hittite, the race that had held ascendancy in the land from the time of Abraham, until their empire collapsed around 1600BC, a century and a half before the Conquest. They still carried the pride of conquering warriors, though now serving in the armies of other nations. Abishai was a fellow Hebrew and would prove himself one of David's best supporters. It was he who volunteered to go as backup. The pair managed to creep up to Saul's sleeping place. Saul's erstwhile scepter, a decorated spear, was standing in the ground at his head. It would have borne distinctive markings, as might the water jar there, too. In an odd reversal, Abishai suggested that this same spear, having been thrown at David at least twice, be used to finish this business of living on the run by killing Saul with it. Abishai was certain he could finish the job with one stroke. David restrained him, warning that he was sure Saul's fate had already been set by God. However, he would take the spear and water jug in yet another attempt to get Saul's attention. God assured that no one could catch them, by keeping the camp under a supernaturally heavy sleep.

26:13-20 -- After hiking a safe distance away, up to the top of the hill again, David called out the Abner, the chief bodyguard. Abner's response was to ask who dared to wake the king. David responded that with all Abner's devotion and combat prowess, he had failed spectacularly. To prove his point, David showed his trophies. Abner was shamed into silence. Saul confirmed that it was David calling out. Again, David asked what it was all about, this constant pursuit of a nobody. If Saul was there in response to a command from God, then David could settle that with God in accordance with the Law. God was perfectly reasonable about such things. In contrast, David indicated that it was more likely a mere human agency, deserving a curse. This was because of the net effect of this persecution was to drive David away from Jehovah. It was typical of someone adopting a new country to adopt the local deity there, as well. David's ancestor Ruth had done this. Perhaps someone expected David to do the same, perhaps among the Philistines. David urged Saul to end the feud.

26:21-25 -- Saul expressed anew the sense of guilt that David was a better man, unworthy of any harm. David's response was to return the symbol of royalty -- the spear -- and included a hint of that being "the Lord's anointed" carried a heavy burden of responsibility for acting right. Saul pronounced a sort of blessing on David and two parted again in peace.

Chapter 6.13: Out of Reach

David knew better than to trust Saul's word. Saul was not his own man any more. The situation had become impossible for David. He was loath to leave the southern region, but some of the clans of Judah were clearly against him. The prophet Gad had already warned him not hide out in Moab.

1 Samuel 27:1-4 -- In desperation, David presented himself and his army to Achish, the Philistine lord of Gath. His domain was the closest of the five capital cities and it appears the ruler personally favored David. This was the same man who a couple of years earlier claimed he believed David was insane. It is the subject of some debate whether David's choice here represents a failure of faith. On a human level, it is clearly understandable. It is also a very carefully planned move, in that David had no intention of harming his own nation. His intent was not so much to serve Achish as to avoid Saul. In this, he certainly succeeded.

27:5-7 -- After a brief stay in Achish's accommodations, David suggested to his new master that such an arrangement was burdensome to him. At least part of David's reasoning was to stay as remote as possible while earning his own way. Achish responded by making the town of Ziklag a personal gift to David. From that time on, the royal House of David kept the city as a personal possession. It is noted that David remained in the service of Achish for about a year and four months.

27:8-12 -- Raiding the Amalekites served a treble purpose for David. It weakened an enemy of Israel, it provided him with an income of sorts and it gave him a means to convince Achish David had truly come over to the Philistine side. David also hit the allies of Amalek, the Geshurites and Girzites. All of these occupied the Negev, but while badly hurt by Saul's attack early on (ch. 15), they were not wiped out. Saul had failed to press for a full destruction, so they continued as a threat to Israel. David worked at finishing the job. He would kill all humans on each raid and in the bargain prevented anyone from revealing the source of his plunder. He was then free to tell Achish what he wanted to hear, that the raids were on Judah and her allies. Achish was sure he had a servant with no place else to go.

28:1-2 -- The time of grain harvest came around and the Philistines mobilized for raids on Israel. Achish gave David marching orders to join in the fun. David carefully avoids making any promises, merely remarking, "You know what I can do." Achish took this as an oath of loyalty and promoted David and his men as his royal bodyguard. It is an ancient tradition that a ruler would select foreigners for this task, as there was less chance they would take any interest in local intrigues. There was no way foreigners could simply take the throne and they were quite unlikely to be bought off by any would-be usurper.

28:3-6 -- The scene switches to Saul in his mobilization to meet the Philistines. We are reminded that Samuel had died. Saul had long ago exiled known witches, mediums and anyone else practicing pagan magic. An advance party of Philistines took up a position that had been often used by invaders before: the foot of Moreh Hill, near the source of the Jezreel River. The area was rough, but fairly flat, with fresh water springs all over. Saul's advance party was across the valley on Mount Gilboa, Gideon's stand. Saul possessed none of Gideon's courage. Seeing the preparations taking place in the valley below, Saul knew the follow-on invasion would be huge. His natural human fear could find no ease from God. Jehovah had clearly made Himself completely unavailable to Saul.

28:7-14 -- In desperation, Saul asked his men to help him break the law, by finding a medium. This was someone, usually a woman, who claimed to channel for spirits of the dead, but in reality communed with a single demon. Dabbling in the spirit realm was dangerous business and mediums developed a familiarity with their one demon; thus, the term "familiar spirit." They avoided communicating with any other spiritual entity. As the medium peered into the spirit realm, she could detect their approach. A part of the show she might put on was to speak in screeches, whispers and incomprehensible mutterings (Isaiah 8:19, 29:1) or ventriloquism, making it appear the voice came from the ground. All these together were a part of the shtick of getting in contact with departed spirits, whether the demon manifested as someone sought, or it was faked with tricks.

Saul removed his distinctive royal garb and wore common clothes. He had been fasting already as a part of his effort to get hold of God. Now he had a two-hour hike at night over rough terrain, by-passing an enemy camp. He arrived in quite a state at Endor. The medium gave an obligatory warning that she was officially out of business and asked if this was some sort of trap. The penalty for what Saul was asking was execution if she was caught. Swearing by a Lord he no longer knew, Saul promised to keep the business secret.

The medium began her effort to contact her familiar, asking whom Saul was seeking. He answered Samuel, the well-known prophet. The medium was stunned when the real thing began to approach. She knew immediately this was King Saul, for nothing else could explain an actual spirit of the dead. Clearly, this situation was not under her control, for God had taken the opportunity to give one last message to Saul. While Saul could not see the spirit, the medium could. She described the old prophet in his distinctive dress and Saul prostrated himself.

28:15-19 -- Samuel berated Saul for disturbing him. Saul answered describing his predicament, complaining that God was avoiding him. Samuel then asked how Saul could have the nerve to expect anything better from Samuel, one wholly devoted in life to serving the God that had rejected Saul and had become Saul's enemy. He reminded Saul of the promise that the kingdom had been given to David, how that was the result of failing to destroy Amalek as commanded. His final words were Saul's doom: the Hebrew troops would lose the battle, Saul would die and his sons with him.

28:20-25 -- Saul collapsed into a semi-conscious state, overcome with physical and emotional exhaustion. The medium tried to arouse him. At great risk to her own life she had done what Saul asked. The least she could do to make it up to him for the net result was to offer him food and water. Saul refused, but after some urging from his servants there, they finally prevailed upon him to dine. She prepared her best as quickly as possible and Saul sat up and ate, along with his servants. While it was still dark, they left and returned to the camp at Gilboa.

Chapter 6.14: Saul Passes

Let's put this in perspective. A probable sequence of events goes like this: The Philistines mobilize just as grain harvest ends. Most ancient armies would send an advance party whenever possible to secure and set up a campsite. The Philistines did so in Jezreel, near Shunem. Their activity was reported to Saul, who immediately went in charge of his own advanced party, setting up at Mt. Gilboa. From the heights, Saul could see the massive scale of the Philistine campsite plans as their advance party secures the area. Still using chariots, the Philistines had a tactical advantage that discouraged early interference with their preparations. Saul most likely sent messengers to mobilize Israel and spent the day trying to get a word from God. Meanwhile, the main Philistine army musters at Aphek, some 45 miles (72km) away, on the fluctuating edge of their own territory.

1 Samuel 29:1-5 -- Most likely, the Philistine army assembled at dawn to pass in review before the five lords of Philistia. These lords were not military men themselves, but would stand at some high vantage point and watch as the troops ride past in chariots, with some in the rear marching on foot. All would be passing by on the way out of the area, heading for the Jezreel Valley, at least two days away. In the rear of this parade were David and his men. The other four lords turn on Achish demanding to know why Hebrews were present in the formation. His answer does not satisfy them. They reason that the one chance David has of returning to Saul's favor would be to turn against the Philistines and attack from the rear.

29:6-11 -- Achish summoned David and told him the situation. David complained that this was clearly an unreasoned prejudice, since nothing he did could have been the basis for a complaint. Nonetheless, there was no reversing this decision. He was ordered to stand down and remain in the camp at Aphek. At the next sunrise, he was to return home.

30:1-6 -- The trip home took David and his men three days. This was a forced march of about 70 miles (112km). They found Ziklag a smoking ruin from an Amalekite raid. They were obviously taking revenge for David hitting them so hard for over a year. There were no bodies, so clearly all the women folk were still alive. Most likely, they were to be sold as slaves in Egypt. There was hope for a rescue, but the unspeakable grief even led some to suggest stoning David. David gathered his faith before acting.

30:7-20 -- Wisely, David summoned Abiather to consult with God about pursuing the raiders. The answer was an expansive assurance that he would succeed in rescuing every soul. The troops had not yet unpacked and recovered from the forced march back from the Philistine muster. Just about 5 miles (8km) down the road behind the raiders, they came to the Brook Besor. Both Ziklag and this watercourse are as yet uncertain, but the Hebrew writer's choice of words suggests a fairly deep ravine. One third of the men were simply dead on their feet, so David left them to guard the baggage while the rest pursued. Carrying only weapons would make the pursuit easier for men who had endured quite a hike already.

They stumbled upon an Egyptian, a slave abandoned by the fleeing Amalekites. The fellow had fallen ill and was of no greater value to his master than a lame herd animal, left to die. David ordered food and water given to the man, who had been without for three days. As David had expected, the slave had belonged to the one of the Amalekite raiders and provided excellent information. The raiders had struck several small places around southern Judah, made references to the region given the Caleb and had intentionally been seeking David's base. David and his men were known as "Cherethites," a reference to their stay in the Chereth Forest. In exchange for his life and freedom, the slave promised to show David where the raiders would be stopping for the night.

True to his word, the slave brought them to a huge camp. They found the raiders celebrating lavishly and already mostly drunk. It was evening and David's army attacked and destroyed the entire force of Amalekites. It took them until the same time the next day, but the only survivors were 400 camel riders who had ridden off immediately. All the women were recovered alive, including David's two wives. The raiders had taken a tremendous load of plunder and by right of victory it was all David's now. While his men were free to gather what they wished, David commandeered all the herd animals for himself. He had plans for them.

30:21-31 -- While David's men were certainly loyal, brave warriors, not all of them were fine gentlemen by any stretch. A good number of them were quite nasty with their fellow soldiers who had remained with the baggage. Though David had saluted them respectfully, the nastier sort among those who had ambushed the Amalekites were suggesting the rear guard deserved no share of the spoil, only let them have their families back. David squelched this talk by establishing a decree that in Israel, every soldier took an equal share of the spoil regardless of his particular duty. While the greedy bunch were emphasizing it was they who bore the risk in combat, David reminded them it was the rear guard that made their success possible, by guarding the gear they left behind.

When they arrived back at Ziklag, David sent the herd animals as presents to his supporters throughout Judah. The scribe lists the major cities where David and his men had roamed in the past and it was these who were some of his strongest supporters later.

31:1-7 -- Meanwhile, far to the north, the sad tale of Saul's end is told briefly. They fought, the Philistines won and Israel fled. The troops were chased up the slope of Gilboa. Saul's sons died all three. Saul was mortally wounded by archers. Unable to continue, he asked his armor bearer to finish him off to prevent the Philistines torturing him while he still lived. The young man refused, so Saul committed suicide, a rare event in Scripture. An armor bearer dare not return alive without his master, so took his own life, too. So fierce was the slaughter that the Hebrews in the vicinity of Jezreel on the bank of the Jordan abandoned their cities. The Philistines stationed garrisons in the empty towns.

31:8-13 -- During the grisly task of stripping the dead the next day, the Philistines identified Saul's body. Perhaps in retribution for Goliath's end, they removed Saul's head and sent it on a tour of Philistia. The armor was stored in the treasure house of Astarte, which is likely to have been quite close by the battle field. Excavations have found such a temple there. The bodies of Saul and his sons were hung from the wall of the fortress town at Bethshan.

The last favor they could give Saul, the men of Jabesh-gilead slipped up to the fortress at night and took the bodies down. Theirs was the town that Saul had rescued in his first act as king some 20 years before. So they brought the bodies back home to Jabesh. While cremation was rare among Hebrews, they probably took this step to prevent the possibility of a Philistine reprisal recovering their trophies. This act of reverence was altogether honorable and quite risky.

Had David remained in Saul's service, he would no doubt have died in that battle. We remember Saul's good traits -- his kindness and generosity, his courage and leadership, even his early humility -- but cannot forget he never seemed to press to completion many of the less pleasant tasks he was called by God to perform. His primitive rule was done; David was now king.

Ed Hurst
06 March 2004, revised 05 February 2016

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