Sunday, June 12, 2005

1 Samuel 14

This chapter is three vignettes followed by an epilogue on Saul's family. The central theme seems to be what it means to be faithful to God.

The first vignette describes how Saul's son Jonathan, in an act requiring absolute faith, strikes a powerful blow against a small contingent of Philistines. Then, the army (whether Israelite or Philistine is not entirely clear) suffers panic as an earthquake strikes. The Philistines attack one another. Israel's courage rallies. Finally, the roused Israelite army devastates that of the Philistines over a broad front. However, when Saul discovers that Jonathan has broken a fast ordered by Saul, he orders Jonathan killed. The men save Jonathan. So, the arc of the story is that Jonathan's faith leads to initial victory, a miracle of some sort occurs, and Israel is saved.

Sorting out the details is more complicated. It is certain that the Lord is no longer on speaking terms with Saul. It is also certain that Saul has not exactly been pursuing the Lord, since after the battle we learn that he builds the first altar he has ever built. Also, the priest has to remind Saul to inquire of the Lord over the issue of plundering the enemy. So, perhaps Saul had a reason to be hiding among the baggage when the time came to anoint him king.

Another point that seems clear is that Saul's order to the men to fast is personal and self-serving, a matter of his own pride, and not a holy inspiration from God. This order has led the army into sin. After the battle, they are so hungry, they began eating raw meat. In Leviticus 17:10-14 says that anyone who eats meat with blood in it must be cast out from the tribe.

There also seems to be a lesson on pride in the story of Jonathan's initial assault. The Philistines are so contemptuous of the Israelites that they tell Jonathan that if he wants to fight, he has to climb up to them. Boasting, they promise to teach him a lesson. Jonathan understands that their hubris is a sign that the Lord will help him destroy the Philistines. He places himself at their complete mercy by climbing a slope so steep he needs his hands and feet.

The geography has the battle proceeding from Micmash ("something hidden"), where Jonathan's first strike occurred, to Beth Aven ("house of nothing" or "valley of the idols"), where Saul's army routed the Philistines to Aijalon ( Joshua fought here as the sun stood still) where the Israelites ate raw meat. Aijalon is 12 miles from Jerusalem.

But a number of matters are murkier.

* Where is Samuel at this moment of crisis?
* There is some ambiguity in the NIV as to whether Jonathan initially confronts the Philistines from below or whether he is also at a high point of the pass.
* The panic seems to have preceded the earthquake. Which army-- or both-- suffered the panic?
* Why did Saul command the ark to be broughtm and why did he tell the priest Ahijah to withdraw his hand?
* What is the significance of the fact that Saul was under the pomegranate tree at Migron?
* Why are we told that Jonathan's armor bearer "followed and killed behind him"?
* How could Saul have continued to serve as king after the army rose up against Saul to protect his son?


Post a Comment

<< Home