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.

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