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.

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