Saturday, September 09, 2006

1 Samuel 31

This chapter states that Saul (Hebrew: "desired") fell on his own sword and his armor bearer saw that he was dead.

Saul's sons Jonathan (Hebrew: "Jehovah has given"), Abinadab ("my father is noble" or "my father is willing"), and Malki-Shah ("my king is wealth" or "king of aid") fall before Saul does. The archers wound Saul on Mt. Gilboa ("swollen heap" or "bubbling fountain"), so that he is afraid of being run through and also abused.

The Israelites are forced by the rout of the army to abandon their homes along the valley. Saul's body was abused, with the head being cut off and presumably displayed in Philistine towns, his armor becoming a trophy of the goddess Ashtoreth, and his body being fastened to a wall in Beth Shan ("house of ease"; a traditionally Philistine valley town). Ultimately, the bodies of Saul and his sons were burned in Jabesh ("dry") Gilead ("rocky region") and buried under a tamarisk tree, and the people fasted for a week.

Jabesh Gilead is the town that Saul rescued from Nahash the Ammonite in 1 Sam. 11. The term for tamarisk tree ("eshel") occurs only three times in the Old Testament. It is the tree in Gen 21:33 which Abraham plants in Beersheba and calls on the name of God. It is also the tree under which Saul abode in 1 Sam. 22:6 just prior to his mad attempt to track down David.

The final chapter, 1 Samuel 31 (see also 1 Chron. 10), should be compared against 2 Samuel 1 (see also 2. Sam. 4). In the latter, the son of an Amalekite claims to have slain Saul at his request, while in the former, Saul killed himself. The two accounts can't be reconciled. Perhaps the son of the Amalekite is lying. Certainly it would seem to be a good way to ingratiate himself with David. But the scripture cannot, absolutely cannot be read as literally true and internally consistent. 1 Chron. 10 also states that Saul died because he failed to consult God and consulted a medium instead.

It's doubly lucky that David had been forbidden to join this fight, or he might have killed his friend, Jonathan, and thereby broken his oath.

The abuse of the body that Saul feared may have included sexual abuse. Although the word is, as it is in English, vague, in Judges 19: 25, it is used to mean sexual abuse.


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