Monday, March 8, 2010

1 Samuel 27-31: David in Philistia?

That's kind of like the ultimate irony, isn't it?  David got famous by killing Goliath, champion of the Philistines, and now, having been chased by Saul for some time (apparently he didn't put too much hope in Saul's second moment of clarity, as discussed in the last post), he runs away to Philistia.  Go figure.  But it works - Saul stops looking for David.  And David does well in Philistia for about a year and four months.  At first the Philistines are pretty leery of him - can't for the life of me think why - but then David tells them that he's killed some people from around Judah and the surrounding area (in reality it was the Amalekites and some of those), and that makes the Philistines think David and his people are on their side and they think he's going to be on their side for the rest of his life, which would be a major plus, as evidently he's pretty handy with a weapon.

Then the Philistines go to war with Israel - big surprise, right? and Saul is scared because there are a lot of them.  So he does something majorly wrong.  You know how I said before that whenever David was about to attack someplace, he inquired of God to see if he should or not?  Saul does almost the exact opposite; he goes to a medium.  We know from the Law that mediums were not supposed to be allowed even to live in Israel, so somebody clearly hasn't been doing their job because there's at least one, and Saul goes to her.  He wants to talk to Samuel.  Remember, the last time Saul asked God something, God didn't answer him, so Saul is probably thinking Samuel is the only person who would listen to him, except he's dead.

Now, apparently opinions are divided as to whether or not this woman really conjured up the spirit of Samuel.  I have heard that the word for "medium" in Hebrew is the same as the word for "ventriloquist," although I don't know if there were such things as ventriloquists in ancient times.  Also, if you read the passage, Saul doesn't see Samuel.  He asks the woman who she sees, and she replies that she sees an old man with a robe, so then

Saul immediately believes it's Samuel.  Like, really?  How would you describe Abraham then?

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that it really is Samuel.  Samuel gives Saul a mini-lecture for calling him up just because he can't get a hold of God, and tells him the Philistines are going to win and he and his sons are going to die.  Considering that this is exactly what happens, it just might have been really Samuel.

Meanwhile, the Philistines start to mistrust David again, probably because they're going to war with his people, and they think that David's going to turn on them.  So the guy who's basically David's boss tells him that he can't go into battle with them.  David acts all sad like he wants to fight against Israel, but then he goes back to his Philistine home while the Philistines all go out to battle.

When they get there, though (they meaning David's people), they find that the Amalekites have raided their city and burned it and taken all the women and children (cuz those are the only people who were there once everybody went to battle) captive.  So David and his people go and get them back.  They run into an Amalekite deserter (well, he was actually left behind), who tells them where his people have gone in exchange for his life, and some of David's people get too tired to go after them so they stay behind with the stuff while the rest of the people go get the women and children and spoils.  When they come back, there's an argument over whether the tired people should get any of the spoils or not, since they didn't help fight.  David says they should because they were protecting their stuff, so they still deserve a reward.  The moral of this story is, don't leave the stuff you care about unprotected, or somebody will steal it.  Also, staying behind and defending what you have can be just as important as going out after what you've lost/what you don't have.

So then we shift focus back to Israel, fighting against the Philistines.  Three sons of Saul die, including our beloved Jonathan.  It's hard for me to picture Jonathan dying in battle like that.  He was the guy who sneaked out and killed Philistines for fun, after all.  And we don't even find out how he died, just that he did.

Saul has been hit by archers, his sons are dead, and his army is losing.  Rather than go out in a blaze of glory, Saul commits the ultimate act of cowardice: he asks his armor-bearer to kill him.  But his armor-bearer is like, no way.  So Saul falls on his own sword.  His armor-bearer, seeing that his master is dead, does the same.  That, to me, is like the ultimate act of loyalty, although I don't necessarily think it was the right thing to do.

The Philistines take Saul's body and his sons' bodies and cut their heads off and basically put the bodies on display for all the Philistines to mock.  But then the valiant men of Jabesh-gilead hear about it, and they steal the bodies of Saul and his sons and burn them, but then bury the bones and fast for seven days. And that's the end of the story.  Really, that's how the book ends.

The Jews were pretty much rotten people for most of their history, but they were good when it came to one thing: honor.  Saul may have not been a very good king, and he may have lost the battle, but the valiant men - those are like the knights - would not allow his body to rest in dishonor.  They risked their lives to bury their dead king.  That's pretty amazing to me.  And I guess that's why the Bible calls them valiant.  Valor goes beyond mere bravery; it's (according to "boldness or determination in facing great danger, esp. in battle; heroic courage; bravery."  These men were heroes, and it was the heroes who respected the dead so tremendously.  I don't know what to say about that, but it's something to think about.

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