Tuesday, August 29, 2006

1 Samuel 30

While David has been away, the Amalekites have swooped in and raided Ziklag, burning it to ashes and carrying off all of the possessions, wives, and children of David and his men. The men blame David. David seeks refuge in God, asking through priestly ritual whether he should pursue the kidnappers. His acolyte in this is the very son of Ahimelech, Abiathar, who joined him after the destruction of Nob.

The answer being in the affirmative, David and his men (who are 600) set off in pursuit. They find an Egyptian slave of the Amalekites who has been abandoned and revive him. Being promised his life, he leads David to the Amalekites. David's band sets on the Amalekites and wipes them out, with the minor exception of 400 young men who escape on camels.

Miraculously, nothing that the Amalekites had taken was missing. Indeed, they capture enough booty that David is able to reward people everywhere he had roamed while eluding Saul. He also does something surprising: he shares the booty among two hundred of his men who had been too exhausted to fight. Also, he sends gifts to neighboring towns of his kinsman from Judah, an action that doubtless will help to strengthen him gain his hold on the kingship.

This chapter is about overcoming despair when one's life seems destroyed. The thematic hinge seems to be the river Besor, which literally means "cheerful." One-third of David's men are so exhausted from anger and sorrow that they are unable to enter cheerfulness to cross over and join the battle to reclaim their families.

Additional notes

There are many place names:
* Ziklag (winding or outflowing), in southern Judah
* Besor (cheerful)
* Bethel (house of God), southern Judah (or in Ephraim near Benjamin)
* Ramoth-Negev (heights), in Judah
* Jattir (plenty), in the mountains of Judah
* Aroer (ruins, in southrn Judah
* Siphmoth (fruitful), in southern Judah
* Eshtemoa (I will make myself heard, I shall cause my own ruin, fire of astonishment, I shall soar aloft), in Judah
* Racal (trade), in southern Judah
* Hormah (devotion), in southern Judah
* Bor Ashan (furnace of smoke), in Judah
* Athach (lodging place), in Judah
* Hebron (association), 20 miles south of Jerusalem

Nothing is said about whether the women had been raped, surprising considering the questions it would raise about the royal bloodline. In 1 Chron. 3, we learn that Amnon and Daniel are the sons of Ahinoam and Abigail, though we are assured that these were born in Hebron (see 2 Sam. 2 for David's move to Hebron).

There's a bit of numerological coincidence in the chapter. David started with 600 men and left 200 of them, so his troop strength was 400 men; 400 Amalekites escape. Another bit of numerological coincidence occurs with the Egyptian, who receives three cakes (one of figs and two of raisins) after not having had food or water for three days and three nights. The three threes are capped by his serving as a guide.

Within the Old Testament tradition, the escape of the Amalekites is unfortunate, because the Amalekites were the implacable enemies of Israel:

"The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." --Exodus 19

Haman, the ruthless would-be executioner of the Jews in the book of Esther, is said to be an Agagite, and Agag was a descendant of Amalek.

Monday, August 28, 2006

1 Samuel 29

This is a short transitional chapter, but it still contains some meaning.

The Philistine commanders (Heb. "ceren," also called "rulers", Heb. "sar"; the latter term has more military overtones) are, fortunately, suspicious of David and force Achish to order him back to Ziklag. It would have been awkward had David fought against Saul, then stepped forward to claim the kingship of Israel.

As mentioned in the previous chapter, the Philistine prince, Achish, is clearly a believer in God, since he says that David is as pleasing to him as an angel of God.

The sense of Philistine strength is made plain not only by the size of their military units (the hundreds and the thousands), but though the name of where they gather, Aphek or "the citadel." Saul's armies gather by a fountain in Jezreel ("God sows"). Jezreel repeatedly appears as a site of disaster. The dogs ate the flesh of Jezebel in Jezreel (2 Kgs 9:37) and the heads of the 70 sons of Ahab were brought to Jezu in Jexreel (2 Kgs 10). Jezreel is where the northern Kingdom was destroyed (Hosea 1). Thus the doom of the Israelites is foreshadowed in many ways: the Philistines are strong, they are led by a man of God, while Saul is in disgrace, and the Philistines are in their citadel, while Saul's men are in a town of doom.