Tuesday, November 15, 2005

1 Samuel 20

David clearly perceives that Saul understands that Jonathan's loyalty is not to his father but to David. Jonathan, still blind to his father's dark nature after Saul's last assassination attempt against David, refuses to believe David until David swears an oath. David asks Jonathan to test Saul by telling him a lie, namely that David has returned to Bethlehem for a clan sacrifice on the New Moon Festival. He appeals to a holy covenant he has made with Jonathan and asks Jonathan to judge David. If Jonathan finds David guilty, then rather than hand him over to Saul, David asks that Jonathan kill him personally.

Jonathan recognizes that he is betraying his father and that David will replace Saul. He asks that David promise eternal kindness to Jonathan's family.

Saul lets one day of the festival pass without comment, thinking David needed time to ritually cleanse himself. At this point, Jonathan might have signaled David that he was safe... which would have been fatal. Instead, he waits a day. Then Saul's inquires again about David, and on hearing the lie, his temper explodes.

He warns Jonathan--accurately--that David will displace Jonathan's claim to the throne. Jonathan answers by asking Saul to give any reason by which David can lawfully be removed. Saul, of course, cannot answer. He has plotted cold-blooded murder in order to preserve his line.

The drama ultimately plays out by the stone of Ezel. Jonathan has said that he will shoot arrows either short of or beyond the stone. If the arrows fall beyond, David must flee. And so it comes to pass. David bows face down before Jonathan three times and weeps heavily. Jonathan reminds him of the covenant David has made, to preserve the house of Jonathan.

Matthew Henry thinks that the appearance of the new moon was uncertain, which might have explained Saul's thought that David may have been ritually impure. This sounds strained to me.

One element of interest is that by calling Jonathan the "son of a perverse, rebellious woman", Saul in effect denying his own paternity, publicly disinheriting Jonathan.

The great unknown in this chapter is the significance of the stone of Ezel, which appears nowhere else, but is apparently between Ramah (hill) and Nob (high place). Matthew Henry says that Ezel means "'the stone of the way'; a sort of milestone which directed travellers." The Blue Letter Bible quotes Strong's concordance to say that this means a stone of departure.

One possible connection to consider is Jesus calling himself "the way" and the Christian self-designation as "people of the way." In one gospel passage whose meaning is obscure, Jesus mentioned David at this very juncture, a topic to be explored in the next entry.