May 10, 2015
Scripture and Commentary, May 10-16
1 Sam. 15, Jn. 17
1 Sam. 16, Rom. 9
1 Samuel 15
Israel's place in Canaan is by no means secure. As we have seen in chapter 14, the Philistines pose a continual threat. The Amalekites, too remain strong and threaten Israel’s borders. A brutal and war-loving people, whose sword has made many widows and orphans (vs. 32), we remember the Amalekites for their attack on Israel in Exodus 17. Deuteronomy 25:17-19 tells us this was a cowardly sneak attack against the rear echelons, where Israel’s feeble, faint, and weary were concentrated. Israel usually moved in a circular formation, with each tribe holding a specific place in the formation. Naturally, the strong, armed men of each tribe would form the outer rim. This formation was like a movable fortress, and allowed reinforcements to move to any point on the perimeter in case of attack. It also kept the elderly, women, children, and livestock protected inside the perimeter. As in any massive movement of people, there were also stragglers, and they tended to concentrate in the rear of the circle, or even to lag behind it. There seems to have been a rear guard with them, but the vast majority of the armed men were at their posts in the forward area. The cowardly Amalekites did not attack the wall of armed men. They attacked the women, children, and feeble at the rear and outside of the formation. The outnumbered rear guard was easily overcome by the Amalekites, who slew the people, and plundered Israel.
Centuries later, the Amalekite descendants would gladly repeat the attack. So, in a pre-emptive strike, and in fulfilment of God’s promise to bless those who bless Israel, and curse those who curse her, God instructs Samuel to instruct Saul to destroy the Amalekites.
Throughout the ages people have used war to take land and resources from others. Saul and the people of Israel see the war with the Amalekites as this kind of war. Therefore, they keep the best of the Amalekites’ property as plunder. But this war was not to be a despicable raid for plunder. It was not even a counterstrike for the Amalekite attack on Israel. It was about God cursing those who curse Israel. It was about God keeping His promise to defend His people.
Saul’s sin is twofold. First, he disobeys God. Second, he uses the war, and the army of Israel, to enrich himself. Confronted by Samuel, Saul operates on the “deny everything; admit nothing” principle that politicians often use to avoid blame. He twists the truth, “spins” it in an attempt to appear as though he has faithfully and fully done what he was commissioned to do. Modern political machines, which often control the press, sometimes sway public opinion this way, especially if they give the ‘spoil” to the people. The people, having been “bought off” cease to care about corruption and vice in the government, as long as the spoil continues to come.
But God cares, and the day of reckoning will come. “The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day” (vs. 26).
1 Samuel 16
Samuel is broken hearted over Saul. Having prayed and laboured for decades to see Israel returned to Godliness, he mourns over her demand for a king. Having had high hopes for Saul, he mourns over his sin, and the suffering he, and future kings will bring upon Israel. Samuel is seeing the revival that characterised Israel during his days, disintegrate, as Israel falls back into worldliness and unbelief. And it grieves him to his very soul. He must feel much as western Christians feel watching our cultures sink into the mire of sin and unbelief.
But God’s grace is still at work. He sends Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint the future king, David. He even places David in Saul’s inner circle, where he learns leadership, military strategy, and administrative skills he will need to lead Israel.
1 Sam. 17:1-29, Jn 18
1 Sam. 17: 30, Rom.10
1 Samuel 17
In David’s youth, the tribe of Judah holds a slender strip of land on Israel’s southern border. Beyond Judah’s boundary lie enemy tribes, of which one of the most dangerous is the Philistines. Gath, home of the huge warrior, Goliath, is a Philistine stronghold, and is less than 25 miles from Bethlehem, and less than 30 miles from Saul’s base in Gibeah.
In chapter 17, the Philistines are invading Judah and are camped in the valley of Elah, near Lachish. If they are able to secure Lachish, they can move east to conquer Hebron, where a good road will enable them to march straight to Gibeah, conquering and annihilating Israelites the entire way. Victory in such a campaign will exterminate the Israelites, and secure the area for the Philistines.
Outnumbered, and facing certain defeat, Saul is afraid to attack the Philistines, who offer an alternative. Send your best warrior to fight our best warrior, and let the war be decided by their contest. Of course, their best warrior just happens to be nine feet tall and an experienced warrior from his youth. Not only is it apparently impossible to defeat Goliath, but Israel knows the Philistines will not honour the bargain. If Goliath is defeated, they still intend to destroy Israel. Annihilating Saul’s army will leave Israel defenceless. With the main Philistine army marching north through central Judah and Benjamin, other forces could move from Ekron and Joppa to invade Dan and Ephraim from the west. All of southern and central Israel could fall.
So this is a critical battle. Israel’s survival is at stake. Even more important, the entire plan of salvation is at stake. If Israel loses here, God’s plan to bring the Saviour into the world through the seed of Abraham will fail, and the light of the Gospel will be extinguished.
Of course, God’s plan will not fail. He has brought Israel into Canaan by His own power, and He will continue to preserve her by that same power. Bad kings, internal sin, and even enemy armies cannot defeat Him or stop His plan. Goliath falls. Israel wins the battle, and the Saviour will come.
1 Sam. 18, Jn. 19
1 Sam 19, Rom. 11
1 Samuel 18
David is taken into Saul’s army and quickly becomes a competent leader. Through him the defeat of the Philistines is turned into a successful invasion which secures Israel’s western front, though the Philistines themselves are not completely conquered.
Saul is not pleased by David’s success. Instead he is enraged at David’s popularity with the people. After failing to kill David, Saul attempts to secure his loyalty by bringing him into the family through marriage to his daughter, Merab. Though this marriage does not happen, David does marry Saul’s other daughter, Michal.
But Saul has another reason for having David marry his daughter. He wants to use her against David. He demands one hundred Philistine foreskins as the dowery for Michal. He hopes David will be killed in the ensuing battle with the Philistines, and Saul will be rid of him. But David is not killed. Instead, Saul sees that God is with David, and Saul fears/hates David even more, though David behaves himself more wisely and loyally than all the other servants of Saul
1 Samuel 19
In spite of his father’s growing hatred of David, Saul’s son, Jonathan loves and admires David. The two form a great friendship. Meanwhile Saul’s attempts to kill David force David to leave Saul’s house. In a desperate attempt to find him, Saul resorts to taking upon himself the office of a prophet, which he perverts as thoroughly as he has perverted the office of king.
1 Sam. 20, Jn. 20
1 Sam. 21, Rom. 12
1 Samuel 20
David has been loyal supporter of Saul. So why does Saul hate him? The answer is found in verse 31, “For as long as the son of Jesse liveth upon the ground, thou shalt not be established, nor thy kingdom.” Saul’s focus has changed. In the beginning of his reign, he was humble and concerned about the good of Israel. But somewhere along the way, he began to focus on his own wealth and power. He wants to live a long and happy life in wealth and security. And he wants to establish a dynasty through his descendants that will last for generations and generations. David is an obstacle. Saul realises David will succeed him as king. So Saul hates David, and attempts to kill him. Saul is not the only politician to use his power for personal gain. In fact, that seems to be very common throughout history, but it does not go un-noticed by God.
Jonathan sees his father's weakness. Doubtless, he has heard Samuel’s denunciation of Saul. Doubtless also, David has told him of his anointing by Samuel. Jonathan accepts this, and pledges his loyalty to David. For Jonathan, the will of God, the good of Israel, and righteous obedience, are more important than personal gain or prominence. He would rather do the will of God than be king. May God give us more public servants like Jonathan.
1 Samuel 21
It seems that several years have passed since David was anointed king. During this time he has gone from a shepherd boy to a palace musician, to a brilliant military commander. But he is still not king. During this time he has not sought to establish himself on the throne. Rather he has sought the good of Israel and the good of Saul. He has supported the king, not attempted to take the throne. His entire demeanour has been honourable.
It is not so with Saul. Pride, greed, and self advancement have characterised his actions since early in his reign. His is greed is so great, and his hate is so strong, David is forced to flee for his life. He will live among his enemies. He will live in the wilderness. He will be hungry and exposed to the elements. This is probably not what he expected when told he would be king. Rather than luxury and ease in the palace, God has given him the rugged life of a fugitive. God’s promises do not always come the way we expect, but David endures the hardship because he places the will of God above his own comforts and desires.
1 Sam. 22, Jn. 21
1 Sam. 23, Rom. 13
1 Samuel 22
The people of Israel begin to rally around David. Nob is just a short distance from Saul’s headquarters, and only about seven miles from David’s home in Bethlehem. Many who come to David are from his father’s house, and from Bethlehem, but many more come from other areas because they are in debt, or are otherwise victims of Saul’s policies. In a short time, about four hundred fighting men form a military company and pledge themselves to David. Meanwhile, David hides his father and mother from Saul on the other side of the Jordan in Moab. How significant that David’s parents find refuge in Moab, and that his great-grandmother, Ruth, was from Moab.
Saul adds even more to his mounting burden of sin. He orders Doeg the Edomite to kill the priests from Nob who helped David. Then he attacks the town of Nob, an unguarded and peaceful people who know nothing of Saul’s animosity toward David. Fourscore, or, 80 priests are murdered, along with every man, woman, and child in Nob. Saul, the king, who should be the friend and defender of the people, has become their enemy and murderer.
Though David feels responsible, it was Doeg who told Saul of David’s presence in Nob. It was Saul who ordered the murder of the priests and people.
1 Samuel 23
Saul is so busy worrying about David that he fails to fulfill his obligations as king. While he is killing innocent Israelites and brooding over David, the Philistines mount a series of raids into Israel, reaching as far as Keilah, about 20 miles south of Jerusalem. The raiders kill Israelites and steal their grain and food supplies. But the Philistines may have a more important mission in mind. Keilah is near the main road through central Israel. That road goes through Bethlehem and Jerusalem to Gibeah, where Saul’s army is garrisoned. With Saul neglecting his duty, the army is in disarray. We have already seen that some of the soldiers refused to obey Saul’s order to kill the priests of Nob. With Israel’s most abel field commander, David, hiding from Saul, a Philistine attack on Gibeah has a good chance of eliminating the Hebrew army. This will leave all of Israel defenceless, and the Philistines can march north and wipe the Hebrew people off the face of the map. They tried this before, and were only stopped by a great Hebrew victory after David killed Goliath ( see comments on 1 Sam. 17). So these raids may have had the intention of testing Israel’s defences and Saul’s resolve. Failure to stand against the Philistines at Keilah would be an open invitation to conquer and destroy Israel.
Saul does not attempt to save Keilah, but Davids’ small army delivers a stunning defeat to the Philistines. Rather than welcoming David back, and recognising his loyalty and brilliant deliverance of Keilah, Saul continues to use public resources to fund his persecution of David, marching his army to Keilah in an attempt to kill David. David escapes, but Saul continues to neglect his responsibility as king to pursue David. He relents only long enough to battle another Philistine invasion, which may have been aimed at him and his morally weakened army. David flees to Engedi on the coast of the Dead Sea.
1 Sam. 24, Acts 1
1 Sam. 25, Rom. 14
1 Samuel 24
Saul, still pursuing David, goes into a cave to “cover his feet.” The modest way of referring to a bodily function would be good to emulate in this age, when even the most intimate details of anatomy and physiology are discussed in the most base and crass ways. David, who is hiding in the cave, could easily kill Saul. With Saul dead, Jonathan would probably hail David as king, and David’s troubles would be over. But, rather than lift his hand against God’s anointed, as Saul has done against David, and against the priests at Nob, David spares Saul’s life. Learning of this, Saul seems to repent, but David knows he will come for him again, so he returns to Engedi.
1 Samuel 25
David’s intention of revenge and his immoderate language show that he also has weaknesses and sin, just like the rest of us. In contrast to him, Abigail is strong and courageous. Her language is temperate and respectful, and her counsel saves David from acting out of personal anger and a desire for revenge. She prevents David from becoming like Saul. Without being murdered by David, Nabal dies. David marries Abigail. This is an acceptable marriage, for David’s first wife, Saul’s daughter is now married to another man, being forced into the marriage by Saul. But David also marries another woman, Ahinoam of Jezreel. This is a sinful pattern David will continue throughout his life, and it will soon cause much sorrow to many people.
1 Sam. 26, Acts 2
1 Sam. 27, Rom 15
1 Samuel 26
Saul has come against David again. It is important to see how consumed Saul is with killing David. He is willing to waste Israel’s economic resources, and to sacrifice her men’s lives on the battlefield to accomplish his wicked and selfish goals. This is a terrible misuse of his power. While he is chasing David, Israel is falling apart within, and is open to invasion from numerous enemies.
Yet David spares Saul’s life again. He is able to sneak into the very heart of Saul’s camp, where Saul himself is sleeping. He takes Saul’s spear and canteen to prove he has been there and has not killed the king.
Saul has a momentary lapse into reality. Realising David's loyalty, he promises to end his vendetta, and invites David to return to him in peace.
1 Samuel 27
But David realises Saul will not keep his promise. Saul will continue to hunt him as long as he remains in Israel. So David and resolves to seek shelter among his enemies the Philistines. He moves to Gath, hometown of is ancient enemy Goliath. There he is received and welcomed, partly because he has his army with him. When David asks for a place to live, Achish gladly grants him a place in Ziklag.
David uses Ziklag as a base of operations from which to launch attacks on Israel's enemies. But, when Achish asks David about his battles, David says he has been fighting against Israel and her allies. Again we see that even David shares the fallen and sinful nature of the rest of humanity. Rather than be honest with his host, David lies. And even while enjoying the protection of the Philistines, David is fighting against them and their allies. But the king Gath believes David and allows him to stay. Thus David is safe from Saul, who, “sought no more for him.”