Tuesday, April 19, 2005

1 Samuel 9

This chapter is long and complex. Saul is stated to be tall and impressive, the son of a man of standing. Yet Saul will later presume to know better than God and will be stripped of his kingship. This begins a motif, repeated in the story of David and of Jesus, in which social standing and impressive looks are almost always absent from God's champion.

Saul ends up at Samuel's home in a peculiar and not especially dignified manner. He is sent to chase down stray donkeys, can't find them, and runs out of food. His servant is the one who knows to go to the man of God. But Saul has no money and has to borrow a quarter of a shekel (a tenth of an ounce of silver) from his servant to make a miserable gift to Samuel.

Samuel, being in direct contact with God knows all about Saul's arrival and the location of the donkeys. Saul is sent to the high place where the sacrifical altar was, placed at the head of the table of 30 men and given a leg of lamb from the sacrifices. This must have been a huge meal, even for a hungry man. Then they go down to Samuel's house and talk on the roof. Saul, at least, apparently sleeps there, since Samuel calls to him while he is on the roof. Samuel has Saul send the servant ahead of them so that he can secretly anoint Saul.

Saul references the fact that he is from Benjamin, the smallest of tribes. Benjamin got to be small because they raped and killed a concubine and, rather than surrender the guilty, fought all of Israel, killing many (Judges 19-20). Not the best parentage. Saul knows it, and asks why Samuel thinks God favors him. In the next chapter, this sense of deficiency is carried to a laughable extreme as Saul hides among the baggage rather than be made king.

Saul's route is from Gibeah 24 miles northeast to Shalisha (Kefr Thilth) and a bit farther. Zuph may be the present day Bethlehem (http://www.heraldmag.org/olb/contents/dictionaries/0PISBE.htm), although Mathew Henry (and others) identifies it with Ramah.

This chapter contains a discussion of prophets (nabiy') and how they were called seers (ra'ah) in the days of 1 Samuel. The term nabiy' is elsewhere applied to Abraham and to Aaron, whereas ra'ah simply refers to sight.

Friday, April 08, 2005

1 Samuel 8

In this chapter, we have a reprise of Eli and his corrupt sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Samuel's sons Joel and Abijah, too, turn out to be rotten and unworthy of their appointments to judge Israel. Not quite as bad as Eli's sons, they simply take bribes. There seems to be no blot on Samuel's record to justify this. The problem may be that he sent them to Beersheba, far from the heights of Ramah and much too close to the pagan lowlands of Gaza.

At any rate, the consequence is that the people demand Samuel appoint a king. Why they should turn to him when his previous appointments have been such a failure is a mystery. God tells Samuel that the demand for a king represents a turning away from God, and indeed in 1 Sam. 12:18, Samuel explicitly calls the desire for a king "an evil thing." (elsewhere, though, the appointment of a king is lauded). And Samuel gives them excellent advice about the connection between kings and militarism and luxurious excess. The king will take sons for war and daughters for his comfort. Servants will be used for his own comfort and herd animals for his own meals. The people will be made slaves.

Worst, when the people cry out to God for relief, He will not hear them, because they have chosen slavery.

A parable for our time.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

1 Samuel 7

So now the ark comes to Kiriath Jearim, a defensible and non-pagan town, where it stays for 20 years in the house of Aminadab, tended by his sone Eleazar. The repentance of Israel begins by an eviction of the idols of Baal and Ashtoreth and is capped with an assembly at Mizpah to declare national guilt. Israel routs the Philistines, Samuel erects the Stone of Help (Ebenezer), and Israel goes on to a string of victories against the Philistines. The ark will stay another 40 years in Kiriath Jearim, until David moved it.

Samuel, dwelling in Ramah (where he built an altar), performs as a circuit judge by traveling from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah.

Ramah means height and it is argued that the Ramah of Samuel was in either in the territory of tribe of Benjamin or of Ephraim about 4-8 miles north of Jerusalem. The circuit he walked was on Deborah's former turf (Judges 4:5). Samuel was also a neighbor of Saul, living in Gibeah (1 Sam. 10:26).

There are a few interesting things in this chapter. First, Aminadab's house is on a hill, and Samuel's home is in Ramah ("height"). So the ark is being elevated from the low areas, occupied by the Philistines, to the high areas. Also note that the ark is entrusted to a man called Eleazar. Eleazar is the name of Aaron's son, mentioned frequently throughout the Pentateuch. The gathering at Mizpah draws the Philistines, who evidently seek to disrupt the national repentance, but instead end up giving God an opportunity to demonstrate his acceptance of the Israelites.