This begans as a story of the love and friendship between Jonathan and David. The Lutheran Study Bible makes sure that this does not refer to homosexual love. They say that this is the love like that between Jacob and Benjamin and even between Saul and David. They also indicate that the Hebrew verb means the friendship version of love, not the sexual version. It is interesting that Jonathan pledges allegiance to Israel’s future king despite the fact that Jonathan should himself be in line to the throne after his father Saul. It is also rather amazing that despite all of the intrigue between Saul and David, that throughout the next few chapters Jonathan stands by David.
This begins the issue of David’s jealousy when the women praise David for his victories over the Philistines and sing of Saul killing thousands while David kills his 10 thousands. So obviously, David will have the kingdom because that is the only thing left for him to pursue. Again we hear mention of the Spirit departing from Saul but being with David. And again, the Lord was with David and therefore David had success in all his undertakings. This is the underpinning of a lot of the religious right that they will be successful if they only court God’s favor. This is the message of the Crystal Cathedral and the preaching of Pastor Schuler.
Here right away in chapter 16, God tells Samuel that he has rejected Saul as king and points him to David, Jesse’s son. Yet we go on for several chapters continuinuing to hear the travails of the problems between Saul and David. It appears that God doesn’t have a good way to deal with getting rid of Saul. It is interesting when Samuel comes to Bethlehem the elders come to him trembling and asked if he had come peaceably? Then when Samuel views Jesse’s sons, he chooses the youngest one who has a ruddy appearance and David will follow the principal that there is one God rather than Saul pursuing many gods. It is noted in verse 16:13 that the spirit stays with David. The Lutheran Study Bible notes however that the Spirit comes and goes three times for Samson and twice for Saul. It also says that Samuel’s focus is directed away from Saul’s ruined potential to what God will do through Jesse’s youngest son. Now David was employed in Saul’s service to become his armor-bearer. One of the many twists in the relationship between Saul and David.
Then we get to chapter 17 and the battle between David and Goliath. It must have been interesting to see the armies lined up on separate parts of the valley facing each other and this huge giant of a man challenging to have someone come and fight him rather than the armies fighting each other. It sounds like a western shoot-out!! Goliath’s army weighed over 125 lbs. At that time, duels between representative strongmen were a common way to avoid more widespread bloodshed. Here again, Saul lost his faith in God’s ability to help Saul win the battle. David compares his ability to fight agains lions and bears who were threatening sheep with his ability to fight Goliath. Here again, even though David had been Saul’s armor bearer, Saul in verse 17:55-56, that he didn’t know who he was. He asked Abner and Abner too and he didn’t know either.
Here again, God required total obedience and Saul disobeyed by saving the prime sheep and goats in his battle with the Amalekites. He also saved King Agag. Despite the fact that Saul made a burnt offering to God with the prime sheep and goats he took, God did not see that as a good thing. Here it seems that Saul has tried to appease God by giving him a burnt offering which God has not accepted. In this case, it appears that God didn’t accept it because it was the result of Saul’s disobedience. When Samuel found out he called for King Agag to be br0ght to him and he hacked him to pieces. There are several different translations of how the king felt about meeting Samuel. The Message says that Agag went by dragging his feet and muttering that he would be better off dead. He didn’t know that Samuel thought that as well. In the ASV it says that Agag came cheerfully and thought everything would be ok. KJV has Agag coming delicately and thought the bitterness of death is past. The Lutheran study Bible says the same as ASV, and adds a note that it may also be translated as he came trembling or in fetters and also expresses false confidence about his fate. It seems very strange to see such different translations. After Samuel had hacked the king to death, he told Saul that God would not let him remain king of Israel because of his disobedience. Is this sour grapes on Samuel’s part? He never wanted a king for Israel in the first place. Mark says this is a story that is intended to be told in order to suggest the important role of God in the lives of this small group of people who are trying to accomplish the promise of God and establish themselves in this land. It is interesting that they say they could mount a force of 200,000 men from Israel and 10,000 men of Judah. Steve says that God is being used as an excuse by Israel to suggest a higher being was directing and guiding all their actions. Mark suggested that this book was written about a century after it happened and that maybe verses 34-35 were added to finish out the chapter and the story by putting Samuel in place as the person who heard from God and carried out his command. Mark talked about living your life by rules. He gave as an example dealing with his discretionary fund where he has a rule of not giving more than $250 per year to non-members. But if he hears a good story of a really troubling problem he breaks his rule. Would the God of this story understand or would he insist that Mark follow the rule no matter what? This is a story that deals with the establishment of a nation, namely Israel who had prophets and judges and then finally a king. They had a vision from God about the nation they would create and they built stories that showed how their nationhood was achieved. All of these stories were built around God’s promises, guidance, and commands.
Today we launched into Saul’s battles with the Philistines. It is an interesting story. In chapter 10 verse 7, Samuel says Saul should go forth and prepare for battle, but to wait for Samuel to give the burnt offering in order to have God’s guidance. But after the initial battle, and while waiting for Samuel, Saul became impatient when Samuel didn’t arrive when he was supposed to, and Saul thought he would lose his people, so he offered the burn offering. When Samuel arrived, he was extremely angry and said that because Saul had not followed his orders, Saul would not serve his whole life as king. Then Saul went into battle, but the other big story is his son Jonathon. Saul told his troops that they should not eat until they had defeated the philistines. Jonathon had not heard this and he saw some honey on the ground and ate it and then he got a great idea to go up to make battle with the Philistines. He made a deal with his armor bearer that depending on what the Philistines said they would either charge or hold back. The word came and they charged and killed 20 men just like that. This led to a rout of the Philistines. When Saul found out that Jonathon had disobeyed, he said Jonathon would have to stand for the punishment which was death. But the troops rose up and said this was a foolish oath because they had been too hungry to fight. Saul can’t win even when he tries to do the right thing. But as Mark kept pointing out, this is Samuel’s book and his writers are going to show him in the best light. There was also the issue of the Hebrews fighting with the Philistines at first against the Israelites. Then when they saw things going against them, they left the Philistines and fought with the Israelites. I guess they were sort of mercenaries. I think this is a story about the fight between two powerful men who wanted to show their power. However, Saul needed a better publicist to get his version across. But in the whole set of events, Saul was always at the edge of God’s will. He hurried the priest in his blessing, and he made rash judgments.
Mark talked about the source document theory. Namely that the J source is full of factual details about the event such as is seen in Genesis 1, while the P source is more poetic and flowing like Genesis 2. Here is a link to a reference about the source theory: JEDP Source Theory
Bill’s question in all this is whether this is to be treated as an interesting story as Rabbi Portman suggested, or does this provide some lessons for life and how we should live our lives in God. If so this suggests a sort of unbalanced view of the necessity of obedience to God in our lives.