Sunday, June 12, 2005

1 Samuel 13

In this chapter, we learn of Saul's lack of patience and foresight. The Philistines had successfully disarmed the Israelites by denying them blacksmithing services. Nevertheless, Saul gathers three thousand men, and a thousand of them under Jonathan attack the Philistine outpost at Geba. Having started the conflagration, Saul announces the news throughout Israel. Six thousand Philistine charioteers, two to a chariot, and many infantry gather. The Israelite army is forced to hide, and some even fled from Canaan to east of the Jordan.

But none of these are critical problems. What is a critical problem is Saul's impatience. Faced with a disintegrating army dropping toward 600 men, and with Samuel overdue, Saul takes over the priestly offices and offers a sacrifice to the Lord. This ends the Lord's favor over his kingship before it has really begun.

And yet, it is difficult to see why he is so greatly at fault. Samuel agreed to be at Gilgal at the appropriate time to make the sacrifices, and he didn't show up. Should Saul have marched out without consulting God? Should he have allowed the army to disintegrate, leaving him scarred as a failed leader? Nor are we given any insight into why Samuel felt he had to wait until the situation was so dire before showing up.

As usual, the geography is important. The Philistines assemble east of Beth Aven ("the valley of the idols" or "the house of nothing") at Micmash ("something hidden"). Gilgal is the Israelite base after crossing the Jordan, where Joshua had the Israelites circumcised. Could there be an implication that Israelites had allowed the circumcision ritual to lapse, such that men needed to circumcised? If so, a week might well be a proper healing time.

There are some astonishing differences between the KJV and NIV on this chapter. The KJV renders the first line as "Saul reigned one year; and when he had reigned two years over Israel..." (specifying a time for the uprising against the Philistines) while the NIV says, "Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel 43 years." (specifying no time for the uprising, but defining the length of Saul's reign). Line 21 is translated "Yet they had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads." (meaining the Israelites had some small tools), while the NIV says, "The price was two thirds of a shekel for sharpening plowshares and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads." (meaning the Israelites had no tools at all).

Another point is how badly wrong Matthew Henry's commentary goes on this chapter ( Determined to blame everything on Saul, he fails to recognize that the Philistines exercise absolute power over the Israelites, forbidding them even to have blacksmiths. The chapter does not say why Saul dismissed all but 3000 men, but Henry goes down wild tracks of supposing that those who were dismissed were affronted. Perhaps Saul simply couldn't feed so many. Henry also regards Jonathan's attack on the Philistine outpost at Geba as treachery. But there's no indication of any compact between the Philistines and the Israelites except the bond of fear between every oppressor and oppressed. And most astonishingly, Henry fails to recognize that this plan must have been set in motion with the agreement of Samuel, since it has been pre-arranged for him to make the ritual sacrifices at Gilgal.


Post a Comment

<< Home