Friday, March 24, 2006

1 Samuel 23

David's fortunes are improving, such that by the end of this chapter he will have 600 followers, up from 400 in the previous chapter. However, it's unclear whether these 600 are from the disaffected that have gathered around him or whether he picks up followers from the town of Keilah.

Hearing that the Philistines have laid siege to the walled town of Keilah (Hebrew "citadel"), he consults God and determines that victory is assured. However, Saul hears about David's success, and determines to trap him inside Keilah. David in turn hears of Saul's plan, consults God, and learns that the people of Keilah will repay his kindness to them by betraying him to Saul. So, he departs for the desert and hills southeast of Jerusalem.

This area is rugged and desolate, but also beautiful. It is a perfect defensive position, with views of the surrounding countryside that give plenty of warning of pursuers and caves for shelter. Here are descriptions of some of the places:

Ziph was located four miles southeast of Hebron on one of the routes into the Hill Country from the Wilderness of Judea. It is probably to be identified with Tell Zif, a hill 2,890 feet above sea level. From this location, the city had a commanding view of the surrounding territory. See map and photo

Engedi is situated eleven miles north of Masada and approximately thirty-five miles southeast of Jerusalem on the eastern edge of the Judean Desert, midway along the western shore of the Dead Sea. A severely-gorged mountain range six hundred feet above the Dead Sea acts as an aqueduct to bring an abundance of water to Engedi, producing the largest oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea.... The warm climate, diverse vegetation, predominantly of date palms, and the supply of water attract many animals including the ibex, hyrax, leopard, and a variety of bird species, including vultures, eagles, and falcons. See map and photo

Other names suggest the wild beauty of the region: Hareth ("thicket"), Jeshimon ("the waste"), Ziph (Ziyph; Strong's 2128), "liquefy", with a possible connection to Zepheth ("asphalt", Strong's 2203), and Maon ("habitation").

The one thing the region is not is at an adequate remove from Saul. The Ziphites, whose name might be rendered the "tar people", go to Saul and tell Saul that David is on the hill of Hakilah, which would seem to be a very definite place. They volunteer to deliver David into his hands.

Saul has an odd answer for them. Although David is his son-in-law, he says, "They tell me he is very crafty," and asks the Ziphites for "definite" information as to David's whereabouts, as though the hill of Hakilah were some vast, undefined region.

Eventually Saul gets to the hunt, but just as he is closing the net, the Philistines attack elsewhere and Saul departs to confront them.

The text presents the unconvincing claim that Sela Hammahlekoth ("the rock of parting") is called that because of Saul's hasty change of plans. But perhaps that's as good a tale as any.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

1 Samuel 22

David's family probably lived in fear of Saul's madness and rage. Having been rejected by both Saul and the Philistines, David flees to the cave of Adullam. Adullam means "refuge" ( and is on a hill 12 miles southwest of Bethlehem.

A small army, comprised of his brothers and of malcontents gathers around him. They move to Mizpah in Moab, but the prophet Gad tells David to return to leave "the stronghold" and return to Israelite territory. So David and his men hide out in a forest which is simply known as "The Forest" (Hereth).

Meanwhile, Saul exacts his revenge not against David but against the priesthood of Israel. But Saul is so isolated that he must lean on family loyalties and beg assistance from a servant who isn't even an Israelite. He tells his own tribe of
Benjamin that David, who is of Judah, will not reward them. A foreigner from the land of Esau (Edom), Doeg, tells us that the priests inquired of the Lord on David's behalf and that the Lord apparently answered. So the murder of the priests ordered by Saul and committed by Doeg is plainly contemptuous of God.

Three questions remain unanswered:
1. What servant is lying in wait for Saul (1 Sam. 22:8)? If this refers to David, the statement seems rampantly paranoid.
2. Why did Ahimelech give Goliath's sword to David? The sword is not described in detail, and we know that David was able to handle it even as a boy (to cut off Goliath's head). Still, it seems odd to arm David with a national trophy.
3. How did Doeg succeed in killing 85 priests? Why did only Abiathar, son of Ahimelech escape? Didn't anyone else run? Or did Doeg have help?

There is an interesting difference of translation between the NIV and the KJV. The KJV says that Saul issued his orders to the tribe of Benjamin from "under a tamarisk tree on the hill at Gibeah," while the KJV says that Saul "abode in Gibeah
under a tree in Ramah." Ramah means "to be high," and there were several Ramahs. One is between Schechem and Hebron, well to the north of Jerusalem, but this is clearly not it. As shown on this map, one is southeast of Gibeon (probably the village of "Djib" or "Gib"), but there is also a Gibeah
(or Geba; Hebrew "hill") a few miles to the east of Gibeon. Gibeah was known for its wickedness (Judges 19-21, Hosea 9-10). For a full discussion, consult, which says:

Both Kirjath-Jearim and Geba formed but one continuous town. Kirjath-Jearim was at the south, and Geba at the north, and the boundary line ran through both; so that it is still visible at this day, namely, because the boundary line ran along the road which leads to Jaffa. Geba was thus a city of Benjamin, whilst Kirjath-Jearim is assigned to both Benjamin and Judah.

Ramah had been Samuel's home and he may well have been living at the time of this incident. Certainly David had fled to him not long earlier (1 Sam. 19:18). It was also the town in which Saul had been secretly anointed king. Ramah was a virtuous place. Gibeah was a place of evil. Therefore, while there is ambiguity, the NIV translation makes slightly more sense.

According to Strong's the root for the word Hereth is "engrave," and occurs only once, in Exodus 32:19. There, it refers to the engraving of the Ten Commandments). So, David can be thought of as returning to the Commandments, and this is probably the key insight of the chapter.

The image of the evil shepherd, recurs throughout the scriptures. Jesus, of course, is The Good Shepherd. Doeg, The Bad Shepherd, slaughters God's representatives.