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.

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