Tuesday, October 11, 2005

1 Samuel 19

The editing of this chapter is clumsy, appearing to recapitulate portions of the preceding chapter and of Chapter 10, and openly contradicting Chapter 15, but it also contains a wonderful scene that gives us insight into the Spirit of God.

The Philistines failing to accomplish the task for him, Saul again plots to kill David, but Jonathan talks him out of it. Saul takes an oath not to kill David. Again David is sent out and again strikes the Philistines. Again Saul tries to pin David to the wall with his spear as David is playing the harp, but David escapes with the help of Michal.

Notably, Michal has an idol which she uses to fool the guards into thinking David is still abed. Clearly, Saul's house had ceased to follow Jehovah... but wasn't it David's obligation to keep his own house clean of idolatry?

At any rate, David went to Samuel in Ramah, Samuel went with David from Ramah to Naioth. Saul sends three separate contingents to capture David, but the Spirit of God seizes them and they prophesy. Saul then leaves his home in Gibeah and goes to the great cistern at Secu, where he inquires about the precise location of Samuel and David. But the Spirit of God seized him, he stripped off his robes, and prophesied before Samuel. The similarity to Pentecost, with the powerful upwelling of God's Spirit is unmistakable.

So, Saul's attempt to murder David from 1 Samuel 18 is reprised, as is Saul's prophesying as in 1 Samuel 10. Since it says that "Saul...prophesied in Samuel's presence," there's a contradiction of 1 Samuel 15:35 "Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again...." One can try to weasel around it by saying that Saul went to see Samuel and not Samuel to see Saul, but it's much more likely that there is an editorial error either in 1 Samuel 15 or in 1 Samuel 19. An editorial error in this chapter is also consistent with the claim of this chapter that Saul's prophecy in this Chapter is the reason that people asked, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" which contradicts the claim in 1 Samuel 10 that the saying arose at the beginning of his reign when he prophesied at Gibeah.

But these editorial quibbles are of far less importance than what this chapter reveals about the Spirit of God. Rather than the active seeking of the Spirit of God described previously, this chapter presents the Spirit as overflowing, tempestuously overwhelming even rebellious Saul's will. This is particularly notable because the Lord had earlier rejected Saul and refused to speak to him, and also because Saul had brought idols into his house. Yet the Spirit of God did not entirely leave him.

There are many features of this chapter. True to the impression that the editing was uninspired, the names of the participants give us little sense of what the action means. According to BlueLetterBible.org and/or AncientSandals.com and/or "Who's Who in the Bible(Comay and Brownrigg), Naioth means "habitations," Ramah means "to be high" and is near Gibeah, Secu or Sechu means "watchtower," David means "commander" or "hero" or "beloved," Michal means "who is like God?" Gibeah means "hill," and "Saul" means "loaned." Naioth and Sechu appear only in this and the subsequent chapter. Here is the description of Secu provided by W. Ewing in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

It evidently lay between the residence of Saul at Gibeah and Ramah. It is impossible to come to any sure conclusion regarding it. Conder suggested its identification with Khirbet Suweikeh, which lies to the South of Bireh. This is possible, but perhaps we should read with the Septuagint's Codex Vaticanus, "He came to the cistern of the threshing-floor that is on the bare hill" (en to Sephei). The threshing-floors in the East are naturally on high exposed ground where this is possible, and often form part of the area whence water in the rainy season is conducted to cisterns. This might have been a place actually within the city of Ramah.

However, once one begins to study the geography more closely, it may start to make sense. David flees from a city made notorious in Judges 19-21 for the gangrape and murder of a concubine and the dissemination of pieces of her dismembered body to the tribes of Israel. We know that we are meant to recall this incident because (a) Saul repeats the dismemberment using an ox instead of a concubine in 1 Sam. 11 and (b) because David, like the concubine, is from Bethlehem.

David is also leaving the king who God never wanted and had disowned as well as his wife and the earthliness the marital relationship represents to go to Ramah and the priesthood as represented by Samuel. David could have killed the king, but he did not, because even Saul had once been touched by God. In the divine landscape, David has made the choice to leave the seat of power and material content to choose faithfulness to God.

Next, Saul leaves Gibeah, but does not head straight to Naioth. Instead, he went to the great cistern at Secu and was seized by the Spirit of God. Although the precise locations of Secu, Naioth, and Ramah are not clear (at least to me), this seems like a conscious decision on the part of Saul to seek God.

And, as God is wont to do when invited in, the wind of the Spirit (Ruach) blows away reason and leaves us as naked as Adam in the Garden of Eden. Our pretensions to be king or prophet disappear into the simple song of praise that Ruach plays upon us.


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