April 30, 2008


First, a big thank you to all my readers. I appreciate the time you're devoting to reading along with me.

However, my life has gotten quite hectic lately. I started a new job this week, and I'm trying to get myself used to the new schedule. Because of this, Daily Breadcrumbs is going on hiatus for a few weeks (or maybe longer) while I adjust. I hope to be back soon so we can delve into 2 Samuel and the world of King David and King Solomon.

-- Julie, the girl behind the Breadcrumbs

April 29, 2008

Breadcrumb: Don't piss off the heir-apparent

When David and his men go back to Ziklag, the town granted to them by King Achish, they find that Amalekites have burned the buildings and run off with their wives. This cannot be tolerated. David takes 400 of his men in pursuit (200 were so weary they couldn't go with the main force). Thanks to a chance encounter with an Egyptian ex-slave of the Amalekites, David gets led straight to the revelling Amalek camp and slaughters them for a full 24 hours. He kills them all except for 400 camel-riders who flee, but it's enough to rescue all the spoils, the women, and the children. In the end, all the men get their loot back, and David even sends spoils to the elders of Judah because he wants to be in their good books. This is just as well, because Saul dies in the next chapter, leaving David the new king of Israel.

April 28, 2008

Breadcrumb: We don't want his type round here

In 1 Sam. 29, the Philistines are gearing up for a massive offensive against the Israelites. In their ranks are David and his men, loyal followers (theoretically) of King Achish. However, the Philistine princes are getting a bit anxious. Isn't David an Israelite? Isn't he the very one from the songs that say, "David slew his 10,000s?" Is it really wise to keep him here? they ask. What if he turns traitor on us in the midst of the battle? So, even though Achish is perfectly willing to have David by his side -- he has been perfectly loyal until now -- he finally gives in to the will of his princes and sends David and his men back home. Because of this, we'll never know whether David really would have proved the princes right or not. Instead, he goes on to slaughter a bunch of Amalekites, which we'll talk about tomorrow.

April 27, 2008

1 Sam 28-31: So long, Saul

(Today's passage covers Saul consultation with a witch, David's destruction of some Amalekites, and Saul's death.)

In these final chapters of 1 Sam., Saul finally loses it, both metaphorically and literally. First, he loses contact with God. We've known for some time that God has abandoned Saul in favour of David, but Saul finally acknowledges this in 1 Sam. 28. He acknowledges it, but he doesn't have to like it.

In fact, he dislikes it so much that he breaks his own law and consults a witch. According to his own edict, any medium or spirit-summoner faced the death penalty. So when Saul and two of his servants, disguised, show up by night at a woman's door and ask her to summon a spirit, she understandably refuses. She thinks that he's just leading her on so that he can bring her before Saul and see her executed. (1 Sam. 28:5-9)

Saul swears that she won't be hurt, and she finally relents. However, his disguise is for naught; when he asks to commune with Samuel's spirit, the woman immediately realizes he is Saul in disguise. Nonetheless, she summons Samuel's spirit for the king. (1 Sam. 28:10-12)

What does Samuel (or rather, his spirit) think about all this? He's annoyed! To paraphrase, he says, "God isn't speaking to you anymore. What do you expect me to do? The kingdom will pass to David, and by tomorrow you and your sons will be dead and Israel will be given over to the Philistines." Then Samuel gives up the ghost for good, leaving Saul with nothing but a feeling of impending doom. (1 Sam. 28:13-19)

The next day happens to take place in 1 Sam. 31. The huge Philistine army (less David and his men, who were sent back to Ziklag -- see tomorrow's Breadcrumb) lies on one side of the field, Saul's on the other. In short order, things turn out exactly as Samuel foresaw: the Philistines rout the Israelites and kill many of them, including Saul's sons, Jonathan, Abinadab, and Melchishua. Yes, the poster-child of the book, David's best friend and closest acquaintance, Jonathan dies in 1 Sam. 31:2.

Saul himself is wounded by an arrow, and begs his armour-bearer to run him through before the Philistines get to him. The armour-bearer, stricken with fear, refuses, so Saul falls on his sword and dies. The armour-bearer, perhaps from shame and perhaps from fear, falls on his sword and dies, too.

Now there's just a bit of mopping up to do. The Philistines behead and strip Saul's corpse and send it on display through the Philistine lands. They stick it, along with the bodies of his sons, on the wall of Bethshan. However, the valiant men of Jabesh Gilead, where Saul made his first and only really heroic stand (1 Sam. 11), rescue the bodies, burn them, and bury the bones before the Philistines can react.

Thus ends Saul's story. 2 Sam features more about David and his lineage, since Saul's line has died out, just like God promised. In the end, Saul seems to have become ever more paranoid and crazy as his reign wore on, and perhaps it's for the best that the kingdom is passed to someone else.

April 26, 2008

Breadcrumb: Where'd my wife go?

At the end of 1 Sam. 25, we find out that David has taken two new wives: Abigail (wife of the now-deceased Nabal), and Ahinoam of Jezreel. But what about David's first wife, Michal? We might recall that David married Michal, Saul's younger daughter, in 1 Sam. 18. But now it seems that Saul has voided the marriage and given Michal to Phalti, the son of Laish. We have no news about why the marriage was voided, though Saul's murderous jealousy of David might be some indication. Indeed, we don't even know how David reacted to the loss of his first wife. All we can hope is that the two new ones made up for the loss of the old one.

April 25, 2008

Breadcrumb: What, no trumpets?

In 1 Sam. 25:1, we find out that Samuel died. And that's it, really. The people lamented him, buried him and Ramah, and moved on with their lives, all in the course of a single verse. Surely, the protagonist of the first half of the book, in fact it's namesake, deserves better than a single verse of mourning. And yet, that's all Samuel gets. At least it seems he died in his sleep, and not eviscerated by the Philistines.

April 24, 2008

1 Sam 25-27: David: mob boss, ninja, or turncoat?

(Today's passage covers David's racketeering in Carmel, another near-murder of Saul, and his defection to the Philistines.)

In today's reading we get to see three sides of David, all of them ambiguous.

Story #1 (1 Sam. 25): David is in Carmel with his men, who are starting to get hungry again. (Who would have thought you need to feed an army of 600?) David decides that Nabal, a rich local, is the perfect source of some food, and sends ten of his men to go up to Nabal and tell him so. They greet Nabal nicely enough before getting to the heart of the matter: "we didn't steal your food, so you should give it to us instead." It's a racketeering move if I've ever seen one.

Nabal, somewhat hot-tempered to begin with, refuses. David prepares to march his men up to Carmel to take the food by force and kill all of Nabal's men, when word of the operation reaches Abigail, Nabal's wife. She packs up as much food as her donkey can carry, rushes out to meet David, and throws himself at his feet. She tells David that if he kills Nabal, he'll feel guilty about it later; why not take the food and call it a day?

David agrees and leaves. When Nabal later finds out how close he was to being a pile of ground meat, he goes stone-cold and dies 10 days later. David picks up Abigail at the funeral and marries her. Yes, not only did he cause the death of her husband, he decided to take advantage of the widow.

Story #2 (1 Sam. 26): This is a replay of 1 Sam. 24, when David spared Saul's life in a cave. This time, as Saul pursues him in the wilderness of Ziph, David has advance warning of the king's approach. He sneaks into camp at night, ignores his man-at-arm's encouragement to just kill the king and be done with it, and runs off with Saul's spear and water jug. How was David able to infiltrate a camp of 3,000 people? It seems God put everyone in a deep sleep (or maybe they were passed out from drinking). Or maybe David was a ninja. Who knows?

The next morning, David climbs a hilltop and berates Abner, Saul's captain of the guard, for not protecting his king. Saul repents and promises not to hurt David -- yes, again -- and then leaves.

Story #3 (1 Sam. 27): Knowing that it's only a matter of time before Saul forgets his promise, David makes his way to Gath, a Philistine city, and defects! Understand that David has spent most of his life fighting the Philistines, and has killed countless numbers of them over the course of the book. But now he's on their side (or at least, so he claims). During the 16 months he's there, he leads his men on raiding parties against just about everyone but the Israelites. King Achish thinks David is bound to be his servant forever because the Israelites can't stand him. How little he knows.

So there you have it: David gets protection money from Nabal and marries his widow; slips into Saul's camp with no one the wiser; and seemingly joins forces with his mortal enemies, the Philistines. What's going on with David? I have no clue. On the other hand, it makes for interesting reading.

April 23, 2008

Breadcrumb: The magic ephod

As he runs away from Saul, one of David's companions is Abiathar, the son of priest Ahimelech (you might recall that Doeg killed his entire city on Saul's orders). When David wants to consult with God, he has Abiathar get his ephod, a priestly robe. When Abiathar's wearing the ephod, David can suddenly receive God's word -- in this case, that Saul is coming and the citizens of Keilah will give him up to the king. That knowledge lets David beat a hasty retreat. But we need to ask, what was it about the ephod that let Abiathar suddenly channel God? I can almost imagine Abiathar like the Greek Sibyl (the Greek oracle at Delphi), conveying God's word through the power of his magic tunic. It would make for great TV.

April 22, 2008

Breadcrumb: He's mad!

Early on in our narrative, David runs away into the land of Gath. It turns out, though, that King Achish has heard of David's battle-prowess. David gets worried at this point, perhaps because he thinks Achish will see him as a potential rival. So when the servants drag him before the king, he pretends to be a madman, writing on doorposts and drooling into his beard. The king falls for it hook, line, and sinker, and asks his servants why they've brought yet another madman before him: "Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me?" David gets away, and Achish loses the chance to kill the future king of Israel. Which just goes to show you, acting skills can save your life. (1 Sam. 21:10-15, NIV)

April 21, 2008

1 Sam 21-24: David on the run

(Today's passage covers David and his crew running away from Saul, and Saul pursuing them.)

You've got to hand it to David; he's one sneaky guy. Over the course of these four chapters, he successfully scams a bunch of people and smooth-talks his way into getting an apology (yes, again) from Saul.

To start at the beginning. When last we left our intrepid hero, he'd just kissed goodbye to his best friend, Saul's son Jonathan, and ran off. Now, imagine you're David: you're alone, hungry, weapon-less, and the king is after you. What do you do? Well, the first thing to do is procure some food and a weapon. David chooses to do this by tricking Ahimelech, a priest. He tells him that he's on a secret mission for Saul, and that he needs food and a weapon. (In Judaism, this sort of move is called "chuzpah." In Mexico, you might say he's got cojones the size of elephants.) Ahimelech is completely taken in, gives David a bunch of consecrated bread and Goliath's sword, and that is that. (1 Sam. 21:1-9)

But that is not that. Because it looks like one of Saul's servants, Doeg, also happened to be at Nob when David was speaking to Ahimelech and saw the whole thing. So when Saul is bemoaning that his servants have all betrayed him (he's getting a bit paranoid in his old age), Doeg pipes up and mentions the encounter. (1 Sam. 22:6-10)

Saul summons Ahimelech and condemns him as a traitor. Ahimelech argues in vain that he had no idea what was going on -- after all, David is the king's son-in-law and a loyal member of his household -- but this isn't good enough for Saul. He orders his men to kill Ahimelech and the other priests. They, sensible God-worshippers, refuse. So loyal Doeg kills 85 priests and destroys every man, woman, and child in Nob, just for good measure. The only escapee is Ahimelech's son, Abiathar, who hides out with David. (1 Sam. 22:11-23)

David, meanwhile, has been gathering his own little band of misfits, about 600 debtors and discontents. He saves the town of Keilah from the Philistines, but they threaten to give him up to Saul, so he runs away. In fact, he does a lot of running away, all while Saul is right on his heels. In the wilderness of Maon, David is camped on one side of a mountain, and Saul on the other. David escapes by the skin of his teeth when Saul is suddenly called away to fight yet more Philistines, otherwise the story might have ended a lot differently. (1 Sam. 23)

How does the story end? Saul choses to (ahem) relieve himself in a cave, the very same cave David and his men are hiding. David's men goad him to kill the king, but instead he sneaks forward and cuts off a bit of Saul's robe. When Saul leaves, David rushes forward and announces what he's done, brandishing the robe scrap as proof. He had Saul in his clutches, but let him live, proving that he's not the king's enemy. Saul sees the error of his ways, asks God to bless David, and finally acknowledges that David will be king. He asks David to swear that he won't kill Saul's descendants in the aftermath, which David does. (1 Sam. 24)

And that, as they say, is that. At least until Saul decides to go back on his word... again.

April 20, 2008

Thank you to my readers (and a question)

I'd like to thank all of my devoted readers, and even my less-devoted readers, for coming back day after day and reading my take on the Bible. You guys encourage me to keep writing, even when sometimes life gets a bit hectic.

And, to show my gratitude, I've got a question for you: do you read any other blogs or websites on similar topics to Daily Breadcrumbs? If so, please let me know! I'm looking to expand my blogroll, but the only comparable site I've found so far is Blogging the Bible by David Plotz.

If you know of other Bible blogs on a similar theme to Daily Breadcrumbs, please email me or leave a comment and let me know!

Breadcrumb: Play it again, Sam

Back in 1 Sam. 10, we found out the source of an apparently proverbial saying, "is Saul also among the prophets?" Back then, it was because of one of Samuel's signs that Saul would be king: Saul prophesied with a group of singing prophets on his way back to his father's house. In 1 Sam. 19, we're given an alternate explanation: when Saul finally gets fed up with sending incompetent assassins after David, he goes down to kill him himself. However, instead of doing the murderous deed, he strips naked and prophesies with Samuel. Slightly more ominous, don't you think? It would help if we actually knew what the proverb meant, of course. But still, it's nice to keep our options open.

April 19, 2008

Breadcrumb: The Bible's first homosexual lovers?

You've got to wonder about Jonathan and David. In chapter 18, Jonathan loves David "as his own soul." They make a covenant, and Jonathan gives David all of his clothes. (1 Sam. 18:1-4) Throughout the rest of the book, it seems that the two are (at the very least) best friends. Jonathan hides David when Saul is trying to kill him, reasons with his dad to bring David back into the fold, and encourages David to run away when it's clear that's not going to happen. Late in chapter 20, the two men kiss and weep when David needs to leave. Though it's not clear in the text, it's certainly possible to make a case that these two were closeted lovers. Or perhaps people just expressed friendship differently back then.

April 18, 2008

1 Sam 18-20: How many times do I have to kill you, boy?

(Today's passage covers Jonathan and David's deepening friendship, and Saul's deepening jealousy towards David.)

Things were going so well. David, the poster-child for Israelite can-do power, was in King Saul's good books, carrying his armour and playing the harp. And then -- boom! -- Saul decides to kill the kid. And we're not talking a half-hearted attempt, either: over the course of these three chapters, Saul tries to kill David about a dozen times.

So what happened? The trouble seems to stem from a silly women's song: "Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands." (1 Sam. 18:6-7) Saul hears this and worries that since David is already being called a more accomplished warrior than him (Saul), the only thing left for David to claim is Saul's kingdom. This sparks a jealous rage that doesn't subside until Saul dies.

These three chapters are really like a textbook in how not to get someone killed. First, Saul tries to surprise David by spearing him through with a javelin. David dodges, Saul tries again, and David runs for his life. (1 Sam. 18:10-11) Then Saul tries to be sneaky, offering David his eldest daughter in marriage if he'll fight Saul's battles (assuming, of course, that the Philistines will finish him off). David politely demures, and Saul is forced to marry her off to someone else. (1 Sam. 18:17-19)

Then Saul decides to offer David his younger daughter, Michal, who also happens to be madly in love with David. David argues that he doesn't have dowry money to marry a princess, so Saul tells him instead to gather up 100 Philistine foreskins, sure that this time the Philistines will take him out. Alas, that doesn't work either, and David brings back not 100, but 200 Philistine foreskins and marries the girl. (1 Sam. 18:20-27)

Chapter 19 just continues the trend: Saul tries to get his son Jonathan to kill David (a foolish move, given that David and Jonathan seem to be best friends). Jonathan talks him out of it, and Saul promises not to try to kill David again. This promise lasts all of three verses, until Saul tries the old "spear him with a javelin" trick again, which about as much success as the last time.

Saul sends men after David, but his wife (the one David won with 200 Philistine foreskins) helps him escape, throws the bedcovers over a household idol (and why did David have idols?, we might ask), and feigns ignorance. (1 Sam. 19:11-17)

David runs away to Samuel, who's moonlighting in this chapter with a surprise re-appearance. Saul sends one, two, three sets of men after him, all of whom fall down and prophesy. He comes himself, only to strip and prophesy himself. (1 Sam. 19:18-24)

Chapter 20 consists of a long, drawn-out plan to get Jonathan to realize Saul is, in fact, trying to kill David, despite his oath early in chapter 19. Jonathan is forced to face facts, and the two best friends fall weeping into each others arms before David runs away... again.

At this point, you've got to wonder about Saul. Nearly a dozen failed murder attempts, at a boy who very recently was his favourite. Something has definitely come off-kilter in his brain, and it's only going to get worse from here.

April 17, 2008

Breadcrumb: Because once is never enough

Some of you might remember from my breadcrumb a few days ago that Samuel prophesied Saul's kingdom wouldn't continue because of his disobedience at Gilgal. In 1 Sam. 15, the message is hammered home again. Saul was supposed to go completely wipe out Amalek for their oppression of Israel during the Exodus. Saul does this... mostly. But he saves King Agag and the best animals to sacrifice to God. Samuel shows up and reminds Saul that this wasn't the agreement, that the sacrifices are worthless because Saul disobeyed God, and that God has rejected him as king. You know, just in case he forgot since the last time.

April 16, 2008

Breadcrumb: David-vu

1 Sam. 16 and 17 present us with a bit of a conundrum. You see, it appears that Saul meets David in chapter 16, presented to him as Jesse's son and a good harp player. Saul gets along great with David and makes him his armour-bearer. However, in the very next chapter (featuring Goliath), Saul claims never to have met David before, and needs to send Abner, captain of the host, to find out who he is. I offer the following attempted explanation, which has no base in the text except that it would make logical sense: chapter 17 happens before chapter 16. David, a nobody from Judah, kills the mighty warrior Goliath, and Saul takes an interest in him. When he finds out the boy can also play a mean harp, he invites him to the palace, makes him his armour-bearer, and the rest, as they say, is history. If you've got a better explanation, I'd be happy to hear it.

April 15, 2008

1 Sam 15-17: Enter David, exit Goliath

(Today's passage covers God's rejection of Saul and his appointment of David. Also, it relates the story of David and Goliath.)

It's probably one of the best-known stories outside of the Pentateuch: David and Goliath. The story has inspired countless paintings, larger-than-life statues, and even a few Simpsons gags. So instead of relating the events to you, as I've been doing for a lot of the lesser-known stories, today we're going to play, "commonly held (but wrong!) myths about the story of David and Goliath."

Myth #1: David was a warrior in Saul's army.

In fact, David wasn't in the army at all. He wasn't even supposed to be at the battle. Three of his older brothers (David was the youngest of eight sons) were warriors in Saul's army, and Jesse, his father, asked him to bring them food and find out how they were doing. David showed up just as the armies were getting ready to fight, and just so happened to hear Goliath's challenge, which he was issuing for the fortieth time! (1 Sam. 17:12-23)

Myth #2: David was a humble and meek.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. When David saw the Israelites quaking because of Goliath's challenge, he wondered what was going on. But he didn't decide to actually take up the challenge until he found out that whoever defeated Goliath would win some very sweet prizes from King Saul: wealth, exemption from taxes, and his daughter's hand in marriage. (1 Sam. 17:25-27)

Myth #3: Saul expected David to succeed.

Actually, no one expected David to succeed! Eliab, David's oldest brother, got angry at David's presumption. King Saul said he was too young. And Goliath was actually insulted that the Israelites would send a little boy as their champion; it was like a slap in the face. Imagine the massed hordes of both Philistines and Israelites looking on: little David with no armour and no sword, against the 9-foot-tall pride of the Philistine army, completely with 125-pound breastplate. Let's face it, who would you expect to win? (1 Sam. 17:31-44)

Myth #4: David kills Goliath with his slingshot.

While David does knock Goliath unconscious with a lucky slung stone to the forehead, he actually kills the giant by beheading him with Goliath's own sword. Which is why Donatello's David (warning: not safe for work) shows David with a sword, one foot on top of Goliath's severed head. (1 Sam. 17:48-51)

So there you have it: common myths about David and Goliath, dispelled right here on Daily Breadcrumbs. Come back tomorrow when I'll ask the eternal question, "how did Saul meet this David guy in the first place?"

April 14, 2008

Breadcrumb: To heck with war, there's money to be made!

Even though there's a war going on, it looks like there are no smiths in Israel to make swords or spears for the soldiers. Instead, the men are left to fend for themselves, sharpening their ploughshares, sickles, axes, and mattocks into weapons. Of course, like I said, there were no smiths in Israel. So where's a soldier to go to get a farm implement sharpened? The Philistines, of course! Yes, they may be our enemy, but they're the ones with the anvils and furnaces. Which just goes to show that commerce continues, even when people hate each other's guts. (1 Sam. 13:19-21)

April 13, 2008

Breadcrumb: It was good while it lasted

When Samuel appointed Saul king, he told him to go down to Gilgal and wait for him before making the ritual sacrifices. So Saul goes, along with his army, and waits. He waits seven days, but Samuel never shows up. Finally, the men grumble and start leaving, and Saul decides to take things into his own hands. He offers the sacrifice and... you guessed it, Samuel shows up just as he's finishing. For Saul's disobedience, Samuel prophesies that Saul's kingdom won't continue, and God will choose another to replace him. Which is sort-of a shame, since Saul's son, Jonathan, actually looks like he'd make a pretty good king. On the other hand, it gives full justification for David to oust Saul later in the book, so all is well. (1 Sam. 13:7-15)

April 12, 2008

1 Sam 13-14: Those crazy kids

(Today's passage covers some battles against the Philistines, featuring the exploits of Saul's son, Jonathan.)

Now that Saul has had some initial military success, he decides to tackle the remaining problem, the Philistines camped at Michmash. (Don't you love those Bible names?) After a preliminary victory in 1 Sam. 13, in which it appears Saul's son, Jonathan, did most of the fighting, Saul is ready to take the war path again. Never mind that the Philistines have 30,000 chariots, 6,000 cavalry, and countless infantry units. (1 Sam. 13:5) Never mind that Saul only has 600 men with him (1 Sam. 13:15, 14:2) and that only he and Jonathan have swords, leaving the rest of his men to wield any pointed bit of metal they have lying around. (1 Sam. 13:19-22) The point is that Saul is ready for battle, and no fluke of circumstance is going to stop him.

Saul's son seems to be just as hot-headed as his father. In the dead of night, he and his armour-bearer sneak out of the Israelite camp, through a narrow pass between two cliffs, and towards the Philistines. And -- here's the important part -- they decide to take on the entire massed Philistine horde by themselves. Jonathan puts his trust in God, saying that if the Philistines shout, "come up to us," it's a sign that God has delivered them all into his hands and they should go in swinging. The Philistines do, and Jonathan does. He kills 20 men in the first assault, enough to put the Philistines into a panic in which they start killing one another. (1 Sam. 14:1-15)

At this point, Saul realizes something is amiss. A split-second later, he realizes that his son is missing. No time to waste, he summons the ark of God, repeals his order to summon the ark of God, and polishes off the rest of the Philistines. (1 Sam. 14:16-23)

But we're not done with Jonathan just yet. He saves Israel, true, but he nearly dooms them as well. Because when he was on his Philistine-slaying rampage, Saul ordered the army to fast all day in order to appease God and gain the victory. Jonathan comes back, hungry, and eats some honey. The men try to stop him, but being ravenous with hunger themselves, are easily swayed by Jonathan's argument, "the battle would have gone even better if you'd been allowed to eat." This is all the convincing the men need to go out, slaughter the captured Philistine animals, and eat them raw, with the blood still in the bodies (a cardinal sin, against even the Noahide laws). (1 Sam. 14:24-32)

You'd think it would be the blood-eating that's the problem, but God blames Jonathan (whether for eating they honey or inciting the men to eat blood is unclear). Jonathan stands up bravely, in the manner of young heroes everywhere, and says, "I'm ready to die." Saul is ready to kill him, too, but the men rally to Jonathan's aid and convince Saul not to do it. (1 Sam. 14:33-45)

In the end, then, everything works out. The Philistines are dead, the men eventually get to eat, and Jonathan (the ever-popular young favourite) doesn't die. What more could you ask for from this latest instalment of the Bible action movie series?

April 11, 2008

Breadcrumb: Have I mentioned this is a bad idea?

1 Sam. 12 is Samuel's farewell speech. (Even though he reappears throughout the book, he gives his official retirement speech early.) One of the things he makes sure to point out is that asking for a king is, in no uncertain terms, still a bad idea. He even sends thunder and rain at harvest-time, just to show the people what a bad idea it is. He softens the blow only slightly by telling the people that if both they and the king continue to obey and worship God, everything will be all right. But if they don't, God will turn away from them just like he turned away from their ancestors. Can you see what's coming over the next few hundred years? Bonus points to whoever says that "everything being all right" is not looking likely.

April 10, 2008

Breadcrumb: How many prophets *were* there?

One of Samuel's three signs to mark Saul's appointment as king is that Saul will meet a group of singing, music-making prophets, and that he will prophesy with them. In fact, this actually happens, to the amazement of Saul's acquaintances, to the point where "is Saul also among the prophets?" becomes a proverbial saying. But at this juncture we have to ask ourselves, how many prophets were there in ancient Israel? If there was an entire band of prophets travelling in a group, what was the point of having Samuel the prophet as leader? Were these just occasional prophets, or lesser prophets, or what? In either case, the waters are a little murky for Samuel, who pointed them out in the first place. (1 Sam. 10:5-6, 9-13)

April 09, 2008

1 Sam 9-12: So far, so good

(Today's passage covers Saul's selection as king, his rescue of the city of Jabesh Gilead, and Samuel's farewell speech.)

We've known for some time that the Israelites have wanted a king, so that the terrors of the era of Judges could be put to an end. Also, so that the Israelites could be a nation like any other, and thus maybe avoid being conquered every twenty years or so. Samuel, the prophet chosen by God, finally agrees to their pleading, despite telling them repeatedly that it's a really dumb idea.

The man he chooses is named Saul, a Benjaminite from a good family fallen on hard times. We first meet Saul as, accompanied by his trusty servant, he hunts for his father's lost donkeys. They're conscientious, searching most of the cities of Benjamin, before deciding that the hunt is in vain and they should probably head back before Saul's father starts bemoaning him instead of the donkeys. (1 Sam. 9:1-5)

However, just before turning back, they decide to consult Samuel, the man of God, to see if maybe he has any insights as to the location of the lost donkeys. In fact, Samuel is waiting for them, having been alerted to his presence by God the day before. When Saul comes up to give his meagre gift (1/4 shekel of silver, or about 1/10 oz), Samuel invites him to eat at his own table, gives him the best spot and the best food. Saul is overwhelmed: "Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? And my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamine? Wherefore then speakest thou so to me?" (1 Sam. 9:21, KJV)

Samuel pours anointing oil on Saul's head, gives him a few signs that all come true, and the deal is as good as done. However, when Samuel goes to officially choose the king in front of the whole congregation, Saul -- who should be easily visible, being a head and shoulders taller than everyone else -- is nowhere to be found. He's hiding with the baggage, perhaps because he doesn't want the burden of responsibility. (1 Sam 10:17-27)

Once confirmed, though, Saul proves himself a competent warlord. When the Ammonites besiege the city of Jabesh Gilead (we might remember them as the instigators of the Israelite civil war from the end of Judges), and men of Jabesh ask for a truce. Nahash, leader of the Ammonites, agrees to this on the condition that he can gouge out the eyes of every man of Jabesh. Jabesh, rightfully worried, calls to Saul, and Saul calls to Israel, amasses a 300,000-man army, and slaughters the Ammonites for most of a morning. (1 Sam. 11:1-11)

At this point, Saul's followers want to kill all those nay-sayers who didn't want him as king. Saul, though, commands that no one will be killed.

So far, Saul is everything we would like in a king: conscientious, humble, lawful. He's a worthy war-leader but also merciful to those people who may have criticized him. He's also very tall, which never hurts. In fact, at least in these early days, it's easy to see why Samuel (or God, depending on how you look at it) chose him as king.

It's just too bad his behaviour immediately starts to go downhill from this point forward.

April 08, 2008

Breadcrumb: We want a king!

After the unfortunate incident with the ark, the Israelites decide what would really solve the problem would be for them to have a king and be like everyone else. Samuel tries to talk them out of it by telling them how a king would behave. Specifically, he says a king would conscript their sons into his army; conscript their daughters to be his cooks; and take their land, produce, cattle, and servants. The people will cry out to God because of the king, and God will not hear their cries. (1 Sam. 8:10-18) You'd think this would be warning enough, but somehow the Israelites seem to have developed a communal case of selective deafness, because they still insist on having a king. Some people will never learn, it seems.

April 07, 2008

Breadcrumb: When one door closes...

After the first battle against the Philistines, Eli (the high priest) finds out that the Philistines have killed his two sons and captured the ark. He is so distraught that he falls over. Unfortunately, he's 98 years old, and the fall breaks his neck. On the other hand, when his very pregnant daughter-in-law hears the news, she immediately goes into labour. After a hard delivery, she decides to name the child "Ichabod," which means "no glory." She intends it to mean "the glory has departed from Israel," but even so, I can only imagine the teasing Ichabod must have gotten because of his name. (1 Sam 4:12-22)

April 06, 2008

1 Samuel 4-8: Hot potato!

(Today's passage covers the Philistine capture of the ark, its eventual return, the battle against the Philistines, and Israel's request for a king.)

Today's lesson: sometimes the safe bet... isn't.

Before Samuel whips the Israelites into shape, they have yet again fallen under the sway of foreign powers, this time the Philistines. The Israelites, desperate to throw off the Philistine yoke, send their troops in to battle. In short, things don't go very well: the Philistines kill 4,000 Israelite fighters. (1 Sam. 4:1-2)

So Israel decides to embark on a new, guaranteed-to-win strategy: they call for the ark of the covenant. Surely, God will be on our side if his ark is at the battleground with us! Surely, having the ark on our side will mean our glorious victory! It worked for Joshua, didn't it?

The Israelites call for the ark, and the Philistines realize their end is near. They quake, they tremble... and then they rally themselves, deciding that if they're going to die, they're going to die fighting. (1 Sam. 4:6-9) Then they slaughter 30,000 Israelites (including Eli, the high priest's, two sons) and capture the ark. So much for a sure thing.

Israel laments the loss of the ark, but the Philistines' problems are just getting started. They bring the ark back to Ashdod and place it in the temple of their god Dagon. When they come back the next day, they find the statue of Dagon prostrate before the ark. After righting the statue, they come back the day after to find Dagon not only prostrate, but with his hands and head cut off. (1 Sam. 5:1-5)

As if this weren't enough, the Philistines at Ashdod are also afflicted with tumours (NIV) or haemorrhoids (KJV). So they do what any sensible people would do, they send the ark awak. Specifically, they send it to Gath, whereupon the men there are afflicted with groinal haemorrhoids. (I swear I could not make this up if I tried.) The men of Gath try to send the ark to Ekron, where the men sensibly say, "keep that thing as far away from us as possible." (1 Sam 5:6-10)

After seven months of this torture, the Philistines come up with a brilliant solution: send the ark back to the Israelites. Of course, things are never that simple. The Philistine priests tell them that they must appease the Israelites for stealing the ark in the first place. To do this, they include five golden haemorrhoids and five golden rats along with the ark. I don't even know what golden haemorrhoids would look like.

They attach the ark to a new cart, tethered by two cows who have never been yoked before. The Philistines figure that if the plague was really God's doing, the cows would pull the ark directly to Bethlehem; if it was all just the result of unfortunate chance, the cows would go somewhere else. Unfortunately for the Philistines, the cows go directly to Bethlehem, where the people offer them as a burnt offering to God. (1 Sam 6:1-15) They take the ark to the house of Aminadab, where it stays for 20 years. Of course, God also strikes 50,070 men of Bethshemesh blind for having looked upon the ark (KJV, NIV says 70 men, which would make more sense), but sometimes that's the price you have to pay.

As for the Philistines, Samuel finally gets the Israelites to put away their foreign gods, so that they're back in God's favour. Thereupon they go to battle against the Philistines, beat them soundly, and throw off the foreign yoke. (1 Sam 7) So things work out well all around, except for the Philistines... and the 50,070 men who died because they saw the ark.

April 05, 2008

Breadcrumb: Are you deaf?

When God calls Samuel for the first time, Samuel goes rushing to Eli, thinking that it was the old priest who summoned him. Eli, confused, tells him that it wasn't him, and orders Samuel to go back to bed. This happens a second time, and then a third. Finally, Eli realizes that Samuel must be hearing the voice of God, and tells him not to come running the next time it happens. On the fourth calling, God gives Samuel a prophecy, the first of many. But we have to wonder whether God was teasing Samuel all this time. Either God sounded like Eli, in which case it's only natural that Samuel would run to his foster-father, or he didn't, in which case we have to wonder about this inauspicious start to Samuel's career as a prophet. (1 Sam. 3)

April 04, 2008

Breadcrumb: Either way, it is bad for Hannah

Hannah, Samuel's mother, was barren for a long time. This wasn't the worst situation for Elkanah (her husband) since he had another wife, Peninnah. Peninnah had many children, and she was constantly provoking Hannah because of her lack. However, once Hannah has her son, Samuel, it seems that the provocations stop. Even though Hannah doesn't keep her son -- she gives him to the temple to be raised by Eli -- the fact that she finally had a son is enough to make her worthy in the eyes of the community; she has fulfilled the duties of a wife. She does go on to have other children (3 sons and 2 daughters, according to 1 Sam. 2:21), which might have been some consolation. On the other hand, it seems that according to the Bible, giving a son up for fostering is better than having no son at all.

April 03, 2008

1 Samuel 1-3: A study in contrasts

(Today's passage covers Samuel's birth and his dedication to God, the wickedness of Eli's sons, and Samuel's call to God.)

The first three chapters of Samuel are a study in contrasts between Samuel, the commoner child dedicated at birth to serve God, and the sons of Eli, the high priest, Hophni and Phinehas (yes, another Phinehas).

Samuel, from the moment of his birth, is a man of God. His mother, Hannah, is one of the many barren Biblical women, following in the footsteps of Sarah and Rachel. She prays fervently and vows that if God gives her a son, she will dedicate him to His service. Furthermore, he will be a Nazarite, like Samson. (1 Sam. 1:11) As we might expect, God remembers Hannah and grants her a son, whom she names Samuel. True to her word, she brings him to the temple, where he ministers to God.

Even though Samson is from a non-Levite family (his father was from Ephraim), everyone likes him. He finds favour both with God and with his fellow men. (1 Sam. 2:26) Though he's still a child at this point in the narrative, it seems that he is everything one could hope for in a boy: obedient, loyal, God-fearing, and friendly.

Contrast him with the two priestly sons, Hophni and Phinehas. These two men are wicked. Despite being ordained priests, they don't worship God, and they have earned the ire of their fellow men. Among their crimes, they try to gain more than their fair portion of the sacrificial meat (1 Sam. 2:12-17) and sleep with many of their congregants. (1 Sam. 2:22-25) They threaten physical violence when they don't get their way (1 Sam. 2:16), and just generally seem like nasty people.

They're so bad, in fact, that God curses Eli: he tells him that all his descendants will die young, in the prime of their lives, and that both his sons will die in a single day. The priesthood will pass to someone worthy, and Eli's family will beg before him to have enough food to eat. (1 Sam. 2:27-36)

Obviously, these chapters are a warning against inherited power. The sons of Eli, the ordained priests, are wicked and corrupt. Samuel, a commoner, has a pure, good heart. Eventually, everyone in Israel knows that Samuel is a prophet (1 Sam. 3:20), while God is on the verge of destroying Eli's family. In the Bible, worth is rarely determined by lineage but by deeds. The book of Genesis had a knack for favouring younger sons over their elder brothers. Gideon, the mighty warrior from Judg. 6, was a nobody from Manasseh. Now, again we have a worthy man from a common background, who is raised up to be a prophet for the entirety of Israel.

In this, as in many things, the Hebrews were ahead of their times. Unfortunately, they didn't listen to the warning, and fell back into the trap of inherited power over and over again, just like everyone else.

April 02, 2008

Breadcrumb: It's all in the details

When Boaz meets Naomi's other near-kinsman (Ruth 4), he's sneakier than we might expect. He starts by asking the kinsman if he wants to redeem Elimelech's (Naomi's husband's) land. Seeing a chance for an easy profit, the kinsman agrees. Then Boaz throws in the unexpected curveball: if you redeem the land, you'll also be marrying Ruth, Naomi's Moabite daughter-in-law. The kinsman realizes that his inheritance will no longer be his own, but Elimelech's, and balks. He tells Boaz to redeem the land -- and the girl -- instead, and seals the oath in front of the town elders. So, in the end, everyone is happy: Boaz gets to marry Ruth; Ruth gets to marry Boaz; and the kinsman keeps his inheritance and does not become the ancestor of Jesus.

April 01, 2008

Breadcrumb: Gleaning can be a dangerous business

As I mentioned yesterday, Ruth spends the harvest gleaning in Boaz's field, so that she and Naomi can have some food. While this may seem straightforward, it was apparently a more dangerous situation than it originally appears. Boaz specifically tells his men not to touch Ruth. (Ruth 2:9) Later, Naomi confirms the potential danger and tells her to stay in Boaz's field, because elsewhere she might be harmed. (Rush 2:22) Though it seems simple to us now, it must have been terrifying for Ruth, a foreigner newly-arrived in a strange land, with no husband to protect her. With all the raping and murdering we've read about in the book of Judges, no wonder she was happy to find a decent man to protect her.