Monday, May 01, 2006

1 Samuel 24

In this chapter, Saul sets out with a massive force of 3,000 men to search for David in the En Gedi Desert. By chance, he pauses for a pit stop in the very cave in which David and his men are hiding.

Although this is a perfect chance to assassinate Saul and assume the kingship, David chooses instead to snip a bit of cloth from Saul's robe. Even so, his conscience is deeply troubled for having made even this symbolic attack on the leader chosen by God. So, he confronts Saul outside the cave-- Saul's men are mysteriously nowhere to be seen-- and shows him the snippet from the robe as proof that he could have killed Saul and therefore as evidence that he means no harm to Saul.

Saul weeps, though evidently not in sorrowful repentance, since in the next chapter he will again be hunting down David. Yet he acknowledges that David will be king and makes him swear an oath to spare Saul's descendants, confirming the covenant David made with Jonathan in 1 Sam. 20. David, not being persuaded of Saul's sincerity, returns to his stronghold.

Engedi is apparently the place called Hazezon Tamar in Genesis 14:7 and was Amorite territory; cf 2 Chron.20:2. associates the name with date palms.

There are some odd things in this chapter. First, the cave in which David and his men are hiding must be immense, since they are able to carry on a conversation without alerting Saul. We don't know how many men are present, but it could range from two up to 600. So the "cave" would seem to be the natural hollow at the base of the En Gedi waterfall rather than a fully enclosed area.

Also, Saul must have taken a very long time to relieve himself, since David has the time to discuss his plan, crawl forward in the dark, and snip off his prize before Saul can (metaphorically) get zipped. And there is the peculiar absence of Saul's men. They are off in wild country, searching for a man Saul considers his deadly enemy, but his own guard is conspicuously absent.

There is a passage in the chapter of David's men speaking to him that is variously translated as "This is the day the Lord promised you, when your enemy is in your power" or "Today the Lord is saying that He has delivered your enemy into your power." The former carries an implication of a prophecy, nowhere explicitly recorded, while the latter seems blasphemous. David rebukes his men, and behaves with utmost honor, refusing to assassinate the man the Lord made king while also calling on the Lord to judge Saul for his wickedness. Alas, this will lead to a protracted struggle for power that foreshadows David's hesitation to kill his rebellious son, Absalom.

Considering how painfully respectful David is of the Lord, it is difficult to understand why Jehovah doesn't intervene a bit earlier to remove Saul from the throne. It's unclear what David gains from his time in the wilderness, and very clear what he loses. God's delay will lead David into a serious of actions which will gravely complicate assuming the throne. The worst of these may have been the taking of more than one wife, creating competing factions among his own children, as happened with Jacob. The unlimited multiplicity of wives, which also led Solomon astray, may have been a factor in David's temptation with Bathsheba.

And then there is the bitterness that grew up between David's relatives and Saul's, which ultimately ends in the extermination of Saul's family. Would David's kin have been so bitter if they had not had to spend so much time in exile, watching Saul wreck the kingdom and lead it into heresy? Of course, David could have prevented all this by not being respectful of authority past the bounds where it is deserving of respect.


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