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.


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