Sunday, May 30, 2010

2 Samuel, Chapters 7 & 8

Chapter 7

David is enjoying a peaceful respite from war, so he gets to thinking about other things, like the fact that he lives in a house, but the ark of the covenant lives in a tent. Well, god told them to build it and this is what he wanted, so what's he bitching about? Nathan, his prophet, tells him to do what he wants, because god is with him. Mighty convenient, no?

God comes to Nathan that night and says he likes the footloose and fancy-free feeling of caravaning it and has never asked anybody for a house. Eventually, he'll settle down with the Israelites, when they have their own country, but he'll build the house himself.

He also promises to keep David's line in power forever, and not to take his mercy away, as he did with Saul.

David listens to all of this and goes to talk to god himself. He flatters him, praising his good deeds and so on and asks for a blessing.

Chapter 8

David kills more Philistines. It's a wonder there are any left, frankly. Then he defeats the Moabites. After his victory, he has the survivors lie on the ground and kills 2 out of every 3 of them. What a terrifying way to die. Then he smites Hadadezer, king of Zobah, in a border dispute. This is only verse 3. He captures some chariots, charioteers and footmen, and hangs all but a hundred of the horses.

Bear in mind we're only at verse 5, where David kills 22 000 Syrians. He enslaves them, and we are informed that god is with him wherever he goes.

David brings back a lot of treasure, and is also given a lot of it as a tribute from other kings anxious not to be invaded. He dedicates all of it to god, and puts garrisons in all his conquered towns.

He also institutes a fair and just domestic policy, so there is happiness all around.

Monday, May 24, 2010

2 Samuel, Chapters 4-6

Chapter 4

Problems at the royal court: on hearing of Abner's death, Ishbosheth develops tremors in his hands. His guards flee. Jonathan's son is lamed at 5 years old when he falls whilst fleeing.

One day, Ishbosheth lays down for a nap. Two men sneak in and stab him and cut off his head, which they run off with and present to David. Far from receiving rewards and virgins, David reminds them what happened to the last man who confessed to killing a king, the Amalekite. He proclaims Ishbosheth innocent and has them killed rather gruesomely: hands and feet cut off and hung over a pond. Ishbosheth's head is buried in a royal tomb.

Chapter 5

David is crowned king in Hebron, at age 30. His reign will continue another 40 years. Not satisfied, he leads an army to Jerusalem, currently occupied by the Jebushites. They pretend they aren't scared, saying Except thou take away the blind and the lame, thou shalt not come in hither: thinking, David cannot come in hither. (v. 6). David nevertheless conquers the city and promises anyone that can get in by the gutters will be his captain. Jerusalem is now called 'The City of David.'

The king of Tyre sends some cedars to David for a house. It must have smelled awesome. He takes even more wives, none of whom are named, who produce eleven more sons.

The Philistines aren't as friendly as the Tyreans and they come and camp in a valley nearby. David, unable to make the simplest of decisions for himself, asks god if he should attack them. God says yes, he'll help kill them. So he does, making sure to destroy their idols as well.

They come back, of course, because they always do. This time David is instructed to encircle them and to drive them towards a mulberry grove. When he hears trumpets in the trees, that's the signal that god is coming along to finish them off. He smites the Philistines yet again.

Chapter 6

David gathers an army of 30 000, which is somewhat less than the 600 000 men of fighting capability listed in numbers, but still on par with the modern-day Finnish army. He orders the ark brought to Jerusalem. It has been in the house of Abinadab, and his sons, Uzzah and Ahio bring it up in their new ox cart. As they get to someone's threshing floor, the oxen jostle the cart and Uzzah puts his hand out to steady the ark. Bad move: god smites him right there. I wonder what the punishment would have been for letting it fall? I'm thinking smiting. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

David is angry and afraid. He asks god how he should carry it, and duh, he said only the sons of Kohath should carry it, but that isn't delineated here. Instead, it is taken to the home of Obededom, where it stays for three months, after which David retrieves it again. Before the new bearers go six paces, David's sacrificing oxen.

David also dances, possibly naked, which his wife Michal sees. As he leads the proceedings into the temple and sacrifices and barbecues and all, she rebukes him for showing his naughty bits to the servant girls. David says it was before god, so he's fine. Micah is punished with infertility.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

2 Samuel, Chapters 2 & 3

Chapter 2

David asks god if he should move into the territory of Judah. Ah. I know at the beginning I thought the concept of a personal god arose with Protestantism, but clearly not. You are, in fact, supposed to ask god for advice about every little thing. Anyway, god's answer: move to Hebron. He takes his wives and posse along with him. The people there make him their king.

Not everyone agrees, and Abner crowns one of Saul's sons, Ishbosheth, king over the rest of Israel. No, never mind that Saul's entire family is supposed to have died just a few chapters ago, this one was, I don't know, out of town or something. Ishbosheth's reign lasts 2 years, David's 7.5.

One day, Abner and his men meet some of David's servants by a pool in Gibeon. Abner suggests a 'game.' 12 members of Benjamin's tribe get up and face off against 12 of David's men. Each one grabs an opponent by the hair and stabs him in the side, so all 24 die. Eventually, however, David's men prevail. Abner escapes, but is pursued by a man named Asahel. Abner warns him to stop following him, but he doesn't. Finally, Abner stabs him with a spear and he dies. Asahel's two brothers, Joab and Abishai, pursue Abner into the wilderness, but he gets to his men before them. Then he turns and calls out to them Shall the sword devour for ever? knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? how long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren? (v. 26). Somehow this diffuses the tension, because Joab replies that he would have chased him all night. Then he blows a trumpet and the chase is called off. Abner scurries off to Jordan and Joab and Abishai return to David. Final score: 19 dead for David, 360 for Abner.

Chapter 3

A war breaks out between David's followers and Saul's. David's house, of course, wins. We also find out that David has been prolific on the home front as well, producing a son by each of 6 wives.

Meantime, Abner comes back. One day, Ishbosheth confronts him for sleeping with his father's concubine. You know, Jerry Falwell and the tit who replies to the Skeptics' Annotated Bible bend themselves backwards in this chapter to tell us that polygamy was practiced but not condoned but seriously, nearly every single powerful man practices it pretty openly: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Saul, David, just to name a few. Anyway, Abner gets angry at him and reminds him how loyal he's been and tells him to mind his own business and let god deal with it. I see where this is going.

Next, Abner sues David for peace. David agrees on the condition he get his first wife, Michal back. Remember, Saul gave her to someone else back on 1 Samuel. Ishbosheth agrees and sends her back, her poor second husband weeping behind her (v. 16). Abner, who is clearly the Dick Cheney of this reign, sends a message to the tribal elders to accept David as king. He goes to David's castle and they feast, and then he says he's going to gather the people of Israel to crown him.

At this point, Joab comes back and is informed that Abner was there and what transpired. Joab asks David what the hell he was thinking, and warns him Abner was deceiving him. He sends his messengers after Abner, who comes back to Hebron, where Joab stabs him in revenge for his brother's death. David puts the blame on Joab and curses the men of his house to leprosy and women's work.

David himself mourns Abner and declares a day of fasting in his honour.

Monday, May 17, 2010

2 Samuel, Chapter 1

David comes back from slaughtering the Amalekites. He's only been home for two days when a man comes from Saul's camp with his clothes torn and dirt in his hair. Rather than running him out of town like a dirty hippie, David asks where he came from and what's happening over in Saul's camp. He fills them in on Saul and Jonathan's deaths, and also lets slip that he himself is an Amalekite and that Saul had begged him to kill him, rather than in the previous book, where he fell on his sword. He shows them Saul's crown and bracelet as proof.

David is upset and tears his own clothing. He and his men weep and fast FOR THE WHOLE DAY. Then he goes back to the stranger and confirms he's an Amalekite. He asks how he could have killed someone anointed by god without fear. Then he orders his men to kill him. He laments some more and coins the phrase how the mighty have fallen (v. 19).

He orders Saul's death be kept a secret and forbids rain or dew. He gives a nice eulogy that is about as true as any you'd hear today about how they were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided (v. 23).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapters 30 & 31

Chapter 30

Those Amalekites are like a hydra, you cut them off and they just grow back. Remember when Saul killed all of them but the king, and then Samuel got angry and killed the king? Well, here they are again, just a few years later, and there are somehow enough of them to sack David's city of Ziklag. They take the women and children hostage, including David's two wives. David weeps but hey buddy, at least your wives are alive. You have more of a tendency to slaughter people mercilessly in these situations.

The people want to stone David for this kidnapping, which doesn't seem like it would accomplish much. He asks for the magic yes/no coin and asks if he should pursue his enemies and take his wives back. What coin is going to say no to that? So he takes his men and heads after the Amalekites.

As he's passing through a field, his men find a little Egyptian boy. They give him bread and water and when he's recovered, they ask his story. He was the Amalekites' slave, abandoned in the retreat because he was sick. David asks if he can help them find the Amalekites. He agrees, on the condition he be set free.

David finds them partying it up after their conquest and slaughters all but 400 who were still sober enough to saddle their camels and ride away. David, meanwhile, claims his property wives back.

He returns in triumph, and gives everybody's families back, but keeps the treasure and animals back for the people who helped him. This then becomes a statute.

Chapter 31

More god-sanctioned killing. This time, the Philistines attack the Israelites and kill Saul's three sons, just as predicted. Saul gets speared by an arrow and begs his armour bearer to kill him. The man refuses, so Saul took a sword, and fell upon it. (v. 4)The armour bearer does likewise. Is that the origin of that expression?

The Israelites see this and decide against defending the cities, so the Philistines just sort of... walk into victory. They stumble upon the bodies and cut off Saul's head and send it around their territory like a trophy. So Saul's men were so loyal they didn't even bother to take his body with them when they retreated? His body and armour are similarly displayed. Only after word gets back to Israel that their former king's accoutrements have become a travelling circus do the men of Jabeshgilead sneak into the Philistine's territory and steal them back. Then they bury them and have a feast.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapters 28 & 29

The Witch of Endor! Awesome!

Chapter 28

The Philistines are massing an army to fight Israel. The king, Achish, asks David to fight with him. David agrees. Some Israelite hero.

Meanwhile, Samuel dies and is lamented. Saul also bans all witchcraft, never mind that it already happened back in Leviticus.

The two sides come together and pitch their tents. It's like a giant camping trip. Saul sees how many Philistines there are and tries to get in touch with god, but the big guy isn't taking his calls, not by magic coin, not by dreams, not by prophecy. So despite banning witchcraft and exiling all the witches, he orders his men to find someone who has a direct line to god. They tell him about the witch of Endor. Saul asks her to get in contact someone dead for him. She thinks it's a trap and Saul swears he won't punish her. She believes him and he asks to speak to Samuel. Somehow she identifies him as Saul and asks why he cam in disguise. He reassures her again and asks what she saw: gods coming out of the earth. What else? An old man, whom Saul identifies as Samuel. He prostrates himself. Samuel is grumpy at being woken up and asks what Saul wants. Saul whines about how god is ignoring him and asks for Samuels advice.

Samuel tells him that god is no longer on his side because he refused to kill every single Amalekite and his ox, so now he likes David better. As punishment, he's going to lose tomorrow's battle.

Saul faints, partly from hunger, which might also explain his hallucinations, here. If any of this had actually happened. The witch gives him some food and tries to chivvy him along. He resists, then finally eats the veal sandwiches she makes for them and leaves.

Chapter 29

David is with the Philistines, preparing for battle. The generals distrust him, though the king points out he's been a good and loyal servant. They still want him sent home, because they hear about the songs people used to sing about how many people he killed. Achish calls David and explains the situation. David is disappointed, because he was looking forward to adding some 'tens of thousands' to his tally. The king remains firm, however, and asks him to go in the morning, so he does.

Friday, May 14, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapters 26 & 27

Chapter 26

A variant on the legend in chapter 24. In this one, Saul hears that David is hiding in the wilderness and gathers his 3000 men to attack him. David scouts out Saul's position and asks two of his lieutenants to help him.

David sneaks into Saul's tent that night with one of them, who encourages him to kill the sleeping king. David refuses, because it's god's call. They do, however, take his spear and a pitcher of water.

The next morning, David calls out to Abner, captain of Saul's guard. Huh, so Lil Abner has biblical roots. Anyway, David taunts Abner with the spear and jug until Saul figures out who's shouting. David asks him why he's trying to kill him. Duh, he's nuts. Saul says he's sorry and agrees not to try and kill David anymore. Yeah, that'll last.

Chapter 27

David decides that he can't trust Saul and joins the Philistines as a marauder. Saul finds out where he is and leaves off chasing him for a bit. He asks the king for a city and gets the colourfully-named Ziklag, which apparently still belongs to the kings of Judah. He stays there for 16 months, staging raids on the surrounding tribes. He kills a lot of people and keeps a lot of animals. The king believes that the Israelites must hate David by now, and he'll be his servant forever.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapters 23-25

Chapter 23

David notices that the Philistines are staging cross-border raids and asks god if he should smite them. God: affirmative. His men are reluctant to leave Judeah, so he goes to god again, who promises they'll win. That gives them the motivation they need for smiting.

Saul finds out that David is staying in a walled city and decides to besiege him there. David hears about this and asks his divining coin if Saul is going to capture him. Coin: affirmative. David goes and hides in the wilderness in Ziph, where he and Saul engage in a game of hide-and-seek. Jonathan manages to slip away to strengthen his hand in God (v. 16) and make a covenant.

Unfortunately, the people of Ziph, probably seeking cash, go and tell Saul where David's at. Saul asks them to do some reconnoissance so he can attack. David, however, has moved on to Maon. Saul follows, and eventually they're climbing up opposite sides of the same hill. David tries to scamper off, but Saul's men surround him. Just as he's about to capture his prey, however, a messenger comes and tells Saul the Philistines have invaded. So Saul and David end up leaving separately. It's like a really bad film.

Chapter 24

Saul comes back from fighting the Philistines and pursues David into the wilderness of Engedi. At some point, Saul goes into a cave to uh, relieve himself, and lo and behold! David and his men are lined up along the sides. David's men point out that god said this would happen, and Saul must be mighty absorbed in whatever he's doing that he doesn't notice them, or that David cuts a hunk out of his robe. He feels bad about this, because according to Jerry Falwell it was really disrespectful to tear people's clothes back then, and tells his men not to attack him. Saul must have the bladder of a racehorse, because it's only then that he zips up and leaves.

David follows after him and calls out. When Saul turns, he bows and asks him where he heard he was out to hurt him, because he was in that cave and didn't hurt him. He shows him the cloth as proof of how close he got. He asks him to let god be the judge in this dispute. Saul weeps in response. He admits he's been acting crazy and that David will be king. He only asks him not to cut off his line. Given that David's married to his daughter, that would be difficult. David agrees and Saul leaves again.

Chapter 25

Saul dies and David heads for Raban to mourn him. On the way, he passes through Carmel, in Maon, where a rich man lives. The man's name is Nabal and he's very surly but he has a hot young wife named Abigail. Anyway, David sends some of his men down to Nabal to remind them that the whole time he was in Maon, he left him alone, and now it's festival season, so he should return the favour. Wow, he's kind of a mob boss here, isn't he?

Nabal claims never to have heard of David and refuses to be shaken down. The men go back to David, so they load up with armament and head back down. One of Nabal's servants goes to Abigail to tell her what happened. Abigail secretly gathers food and tells them to give it to David and his men without telling Nabal. She rides out on her ass, and meets him. We overhear a bit of his conversation vowing to kill Nabal and all his men. When Abigail is close enough, she jumps off the donkey and prostrates herself. She begs him to spare her husband. David, taken by her comeliness, decides not to kill all the men of Nabal's household and sends her home. She finds Nabal partying, and doesn't say anything until the following morning. When she does say something, he's paralyzed by the news. God kills him ten days later.

David hears about it and is happy that god is killing his enemies for him. He then asks Abigail to marry him. She agrees eagerly. He also takes another wife, Ahinaom. Meanwhile, Saul has given his first wife away.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapters 21 & 22

David the renegade.

Chapter 21

David comes across a priest who is suspicious that he's alone. He lies to him that he's running secret errands for the king and meeting his men later. He asks him for bread. The priest explains the bread is holy, and only people who haven't had sex recently can eat it. David assures him it's been at least three days. He also asks for a sword. The priest happens to have Goliath's sword, which will do. A couple of foreigners approach, star-struck, and ask if he's David. He pretends to be crazy in order to get them to take them to their country, where the king asks them why the hell they brought him a crazy dude.

Chapter 22

David leaves the foreign court and goes and hides in a cave. People soon hear about the crazy dude in the cave and start joining him. He's Robin Hood: every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men (v. 2). He approaches the king of Moab and begs refuge for his parents.

Gad the prophet tells David to leave Moab and go to Judah, where he lives in forest.

Saul, meanwhile, hears that David has been sighted and rebukes his cronies for letting him escape. One of them happened to observe the transaction with the priest and pipes up. Saul calls the priest and his entire family to him. The priest insists that David is loyal. Dumb move, because Saul orders his execution. His servants refuse, save the one who accused them in the first place, Doeg. He kills 85 people. Then he goes to their city, Nob, and kills every living thing in it. Every tyrant needs a psychotic enforcer, I suppose.

One priest, Abiathar, escapes and gets to David. David says he saw Doeg that day, and knew he would tell Saul, and blames himself. Why didn't he say something then, even if it was just to avoid the guilt? Anyway, David promises to protect Friar Tuck Abiathar.

1 Samuel, Chapters 21 & 22

David the renegade.

Chapter 21

David comes across a priest who is suspicious that he's alone. He lies to him that he's running secret errands for the king and meeting his men later. He asks him for bread. The priest explains the bread is holy, and only people who haven't had sex recently can eat it. David assures him it's been at least three days. He also asks for a sword. The priest happens to have Goliath's sword, which will do. A couple of foreigners approach, star-struck, and ask if he's David. He pretends to be crazy in order to get them to take them to their country, where the king asks them why the hell they brought him a crazy dude.

Chapter 22

David leaves the foreign court and goes and hides in a cave. People soon hear about the crazy dude in the cave and start joining him. He's Robin Hood: every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men (v. 2). He approaches the king of Moab and begs refuge for his parents.

Gad the prophet tells David to leave Moab and go to Judah, where he lives in forest.

Saul, meanwhile, hears that David has been sighted and rebukes his cronies for letting him escape. One of them happened to observe the transaction with the priest and pipes up. Saul calls the priest and his entire family to him. The priest insists that David is loyal. Dumb move, because Saul orders his execution. His servants refuse, save the one who accused them in the first place, Doeg. He kills 85 people. Then he goes to their city, Nob, and kills every living thing in it. Every tyrant needs a psychotic enforcer, I suppose.

One priest, Abiathar, escapes and gets to David. David says he saw Doeg that day, and knew he would tell Saul, and blames himself. Why didn't he say something then, even if it was just to avoid the guilt? Anyway, David promises to protect Friar Tuck Abiathar.

Monday, May 10, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapter 20

Jonathan really, really loves David. In a totally brotherly way, of course!

David flees the court, either with Jonathan or to wherever Jonathan is, it isn't clear. He asks him how he sinned. Rather than answer, Jonathan promises to spy for him. They make another covenant.

David decides to hide the next day, and Jonathan is to say that he went home for an emergency sacrifice. They'll know by Saul's reaction whether he's currently possessed by god's evil spirit. Jonathan prays to god that if he doesn't protect David, the lord's wrath shall befall his household.

So, David's hiding, and Saul thinks he's just off doing laundry or sacrificing because he isn't clean. The next day, he asks Jonathan where he is, and Jonathan says his piece about the emergency sacrifice in Bethlehem. Saul gets angry at Jonathan, possibly because of his homosexual affair, and orders him to go and get David so he can kill him. Jonathan asks why, and gets a javelin thrown in his direction in response.

Jonathan goes out to the field the next day with his arrow retriever, because princes are just like that, and according to the secret code worked out the day before, lets David know that his father is currently under god's demonic control. Why even bring the kid? Why not just go out and tell him?

Anyway, David comes out and they kiss and cry, and David leaves to become a rebel leader while Jonathan goes home.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapters 18 & 19

Ladies: How many Philistine foreskins are you worth?

Chapter 18

Jonathan, Saul's son, really loves David. So much so that they make secret pacts with each other, and Jonathan gives him all his clothes at one point. Hello? Leviticus? Anyone?

But David is still Saul's emissary, and gets sent out a lot on military forays. One day, the two of them come back from slaughtering the Philistines and the women come out, singing and dancing, encouraging them to kill even more. We get this lovely little quote: Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands (v. 7). Yay?

Saul is pissed off, and from that moment, he hates David. He gets even crazier: he makes random prophecies then he throws a javelin across the room and says he's going to pin David to the wall with it. David understandably starts avoiding him. Saul is also afraid of David, because the people love him, so he also starts avoiding him.

Saul eventually offers his daughter Merab to David as a wife. David refuses, thinking he's unworthy as a son-in-law to the king, and she's given to someone else. Another of his daughters also has a thing for David, so Saul sets a trap: he tells his servants to tell David how much he favours him. David is skeptical, because he's so poor. The servants report this to Saul, who tells them to say he doesn't want any dowry but a hundred Philistine foreskins. Now, I have to say that if I found out my father had traded me for a hundred bits of severed penis-skin, I'd disown him, get divorced and start up a pottery shop, but I'm not a biblical character.

Saul of course thinks the Philistines will kill David, but he underestimates the boy. And David, ever the overachiever, brings back 200 foreskins, so he gives him his daughter. Saul becomes even more paranoid and afraid of David.

Chapter 19

Frustrated by his previous effort, Saul tells Jonathan and all his servants to kill David. Jonathan warns him to hide. He'll go out to the fields in the morning and talk to his father about David. He pleads with him not to sin against his loyal servant. Saul actually listens and promises not to kill him. Jonathan calls David out from hiding and things go back to normal.

For awhile. But then there's another war with the Philistines, in which David is again triumphant. This causes the evil spirit to come back to Saul, and he picks up his javelin again. Jerry blames Saul for his mental illness, just in case you were, you know, planning to join his church or something. He throws it at David, who manages to escape. He sends messengers to his house, so his wife, Michal, advises him to hide some more.

Michal puts an 'image' on David's pillow, violating several commandments, and some goat hair in the bed. Ah, the old 'pillow body in the bed' trick. Works on me every time. Saul rebukes his daughter, and David escapes with Samuel.

Saul finds him, but this time when his messengers arrive, everybody's 'prophesying.' His messengers are taken by the spirit of the lord and join in. Likewise the next batch. Finally Saul himself comes down, but that pesky spirit won't leave him alone. He strips off his clothes and joins in the fun.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapter 17

David beats Goliath in a classic case of unconventional warfare.

So, the Philistines are camped on one hill and the Israelites on another, with the Valley of Elah in between them. Goliath, who is ten feet tall, leaves the Philistine camp. He's wearing very expensive armour. He starts shouting at the Israelites: Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me./ If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us.
/ And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together. (v. 8-10)

The Israelites are afraid and refuse to accept the challenge. David's three oldest brothers are in Saul's army, but David is back in Bethlehem tending his sheep. The taunting goes on for 40 days, until Jesse sends David with a care package for his brothers. He happens to arrive in the middle of a battle, which ends when Goliath approaches and the Israelites flee.

David rather arrogantly asks who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? and is filled in on the backstory. The others don't take kindly to this interloper, and news eventually gets back to Saul. Saul calls for him and is unimpressed by what he sees: a kid with a rock, but David insists he's killed lions with his bare hands protecting his flock and besides he's got god on his side. So Saul armour suits him up, but David finds the gear cumbersome and goes out with his staff, some stones and a slingshot.

Goliath laughs when he sees the puny boy the Israelites have sent, then charges him. He's surprised when David, rather than turning on his heel, also charges, then hits him in the head with a slingshot, killing him. Then he kills him again with his own sword. Yeah, I'm thinking a couple of legends got rammed together here. He cuts off Goliath's head for good measure. The Philistines, seeing their champion fall, run off. The Israelites give chase.

Saul asks who David's father is, but suddenly no one knows. David himself finally arrives and explains.

Friday, May 7, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapter 16

God tells Samuel to quit moping over Saul and hie himself to Bethlehem so he can meet Jesse, one of whose sons will be the next king. That rather makes it into an errand instead of a treasure hunt, doesn't it? But that's not the end of his micromanaging: Samuel is to bring a heifer and ask Jesse to sacrifice with him. God will reveal the next king during the sacrifice.

So Samuel goes along and invites the town to his barbecue. He spots the first of Jesse's sons, who is tall and handsome, and immediately thinks that's his guy, because it worked so well with Saul. But god rebukes him for going for looks over substance. As in Cinderella, god rejects seven of Jesse's sons, until Samuel, at the end of his wits, asks if those are all his kids. Jesse says no, the youngest is shepherding. Samuel asks to meet him.

So much for inner beauty being the most important thing: David is ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to (v. 12). The spirit of the lord then leaves Saul, to be replaced by an evil spirit of the lord. Now, how it is possible that a god that is entirely good could infect someone with an evil spirit is an extremely tricky theological task, so here's Jerry Falwell's attempt at explanation: The evil spirit is said to come from God because, although God is neither the author of evil nor tempts any man with evil, all forces, natural and supernatural, are under His ultimate control. Wow. Stunning. God did it, but isn't responsible, because he isn't evil, even though he controls everything. The end. Shut up and pray. I really wish there was a cheaper, shorter version of the Anchor Bible not written by crazies.

Saul's servants notice the evil spirit, and I can't help but picture Linda Blair here, and suggest music therapy. And who is the musician? Why, David! Who is again described as comely (v. 18). Saul is instantly smitten, and even better, David's harp playing calms his evil spirit.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapter 15

God has his revenge on for the Amalekites and orders Saul to kill them all, including the old and infirm and their animals. Remember, he thinks he's a merciful and just deity. Saul gathers an army of 200 000 which is 24 000 more troops than are enlisted in the current Israeli army and goes and hides in the valley. He warns the Kenites to leave, lest there be confusion in the battle.

Saul mostly does as he's told, but spares the king and a few of the best animals. God finds out of course, and bitches to Samuel about his choice of king. Samuel cries. When he finishes, he takes Saul out for a walk and asks about the animals. Saul, realizing the jig is up, claims they're for sacrificing. Samuel rebukes him, saying that god wants obedience more than meat, but Saul is stubborn and refuses to concede. Samuel eventually demotes him. Saul doesn't seem very upset by the news, he just asks Samuel to pray with him.

After that, Samuel summons Agag, the Amalekite king. Agag asks for his life, but Samuel hacks him to death in front of god. This is exactly the kind of deity I want on my side!

The two men go home then, and Samuel never calls on Saul again.

Monday, May 3, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapters 12-14

Chapter 12

Samuel's farewell speech, although he doesn't actually die for quite awhile. He reminds them of the covenant, and of their military victories in Judges, and laments their clamour for a king. He reminds them to keep faith, and as a sign of his power, he calls on god for a thunderstorm. The people are amazed. He warns them that if they don't obey, god will punish them.

Chapter 13

Saul decides to attack the Philistines and gathers an army. His son Jonathan makes the first foray, killing an entire garrison. The Philistines respond, gathering 30 000 chariots and 6000 horsemen. The Battle of Hastings, in which William the Conqueror took over all of England, and which took place in 1066, involved perhaps 15 000 troops in total by the way, to put things in perspective here.

The Israelites see the formidable Philstine army, and hide. Saul is somewhere else on Samuel's orders, and Samuel is nowhere to be found. Eventually Saul gets hungry and makes a burnt offering. Samuel smells the delicious barbecue and turns up. Saul explains he didn't know what else to do, since Samuel wasn't there, but Samuel is a barbecue prima donna who won't have anyone else touching his grill, so he tells Saul that god has chosen another man to be king. Then the battle just kind of... fizzles, as the armies sort of wander off.

We then find out that the Israelites have no blacksmiths, and have to get the Philistines to sharpen all their knives for them, and in the entire Israelite army, there are only two swords: Jonathan's and Saul's. No wonder they all hid.

Chapter 14

Jonathan decides to go on a private mission to kill Philistines. He doesn't tell his father, who is hanging out under a pomegranate tree with some of his buddies. In his very first slaughter, well, except that one in the previous chapter, which might not count because it was a 'bloodbath', Jonathan kills 20 Philistines. God shows his approval with an earthquake. Jonathan then stands back and watches as god takes over the Philistines' will and forces them to kill each other.

Saul finally figures out his son is gone and... calls for the ark of the covenant. He leads his troops over to the battle, where the Israelites among the Philistine army rejoin them. The rest of the Philistines run off, and the Israelites chase them and god finishes them off.

Now, before all this, Saul had vowed not to eat anything until all his enemies were slaughtered. The hungry men pass by a honeycomb, but don't take any, except Jonathan, who was at the back and didn't hear what his father said. The people inform him of his father's promise, and he, and the bible, very reasonably point out how much more energy he had for killing people thanks to that sugar rush.

When the Philistines are finally annihilated, the Israelites descend ravenously upon their cattle and eat the blood. Saul builds an altar and asks god what happened. God doesn't answer, so he asks the leaders to bring his troops over so he can find out what the sin was and vows to put the sinner to death, even if it was Jonathan. Roh-roh! Saul finally figures out by casting lots that Jonathan did something. Jonathan confesses to eating some honey. Saul is sorry, but that means a sacrifice. The people aren't happy and rescue Jonathan. Saul gives up his pursuit of the Philistines and everybody goes home.

But Saul is one of those incredibly annoying neighbours who isn't happy unless he's causing trouble. He makes war against all the surrounding peoples, but especially the Philistines. Eventually, he runs out of recruits and starts press-ganging people into his army.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapter 11

Remember in Judges when they killed everybody except the virgin women in Jabeshgilead to give wives to the remaining Benjaminites? Well, suddenly the Ammonites attack that exact same village and the men try to negotiate a treaty. Jerry Falwell, despite acknowledging in his annotations that this is indeed the same village, does not provide an explanation. So much for literalism. I'm willing to write it off as contradicting oral histories.

Nahash, the Ammonite king, is only willing to make a treaty on the condition that he can gouge out the right eyes of all the men. It's disgusting and yet it's still more humane than what the other Israelites did to them just one book ago.

The village elders ask for a week to see if they can't rustle up some support, and then they'll agree to the eye-gouging. Their messengers come to Saul's village, but rather like George W. Bush, Saul is tilling his fields. His people hear the news from Jabesh and weep in sympathy. Saul finds them like that and the spirit of the lord comes upon him. It causes him to hack a pair of oxen to death and send them around Israel as a message to the other tribes that the same fate will befall their cattle if they don't come along and help. Well, better cows than a concubine, I suppose, but is paper really in such short supply that they have to keep sending these grisly meat messages?

He manages to gather an army of 300 000 and sends the messengers back to Jabesh with the happy news. They arrive in the morning and massacre the Ammonites until it gets too hot. But some people are so bloodthirsty that no amount of killing will do, and they call for the people who were skeptical of Saul before, so they can kill them too. Saul says no, this killing was salvation for the traitors, and let's go to Gilgal instead. I like to imagine that since it was a hot day, Gilgal had something like a water park so they could cool down, but no, they crown Saul and make sacrifices. I suppose a barbecue is nice, too.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

1 Samuel, Chapters 8-10

Chapter 8

It would seem that good priests do not beget good priests. Samuel's sons are as bad as Eli's, accepting bribes and perverting judgement, whatever that means. The people come to Samuel and demand a king. God is offended, seeing it as a personal rejection of all he's done for him. Samuel informs the people that if they appoint a king, he'll essentially be a feudal lord: work will be assigned and he'll claim the best crops as a tribute. Not unlike when Joseph controlled capital and labour back in Genesis, no? But of course he was righteous and for some reason here it isn't, so it's bad.

But the people ignore him and want a king anyway, so god says go ahead, but don't come crying to him.

Chapter 9

Saul is introduced. He's tall and good-looking, which according to Jerry Falwell is the first qualification of a good king. So, as the least horsey member of the British royal family, Zara Phillips is the best qualified to rule?

Our first meeting of Saul is less than auspicious. He has lost his father's donkeys. He gets bored of looking for them, but he's heard that Samuel is in town and decides he's the person to ask about some lost animals. He decides to bring him a quarter of a shekel. They arrive in the city just in time for a major sacrifice.

Now, before all this, god had told Samuel that he would meet the king that day, and when Saul appears, god points him out as his anointed choice. Saul asks Samuel where the prophet is, and Samuel says he's it, and invites him for dinner and a psychic reading the next day. He also says not to worry about the donkeys, and that Saul has been chosen as king.

Saul is reluctant, pointing out he's an unimportant member of the least powerful tribe, but Samuel will have none of it, seating him at the head of the table and giving him the choicest piece of meat. The next day, they go to the top of the house, and Samuel says he's going to show Saul god. What do you want to bet 'god' lives in his pants?

Chapter 10

Nope, it wasn't a trousers-snake, it was even better! Samuel pours oil over his head, then sends him towards the border, where he'll encounter two men who will have a message: the donkeys are safe. He's to keep going to the plain of Tabor, where he'll find three men, one carrying 3 goats, another with 3 loaves of bread, and the last with a bottle of wine. They'll salute him and give him bread. Next, he'll travel on towards the Philistines, where he'll meet some prophets carrying stuff. They'll be prophesying, and then he'll be taken with the spirit of the lord and he'll start prophesying, too. After a week, Samuel will come along to offer burnt sacrifices. Saul leaves and lo and behold, everything happens as predicted. The people see Saul and coin a new proverb Is Saul also among the prophets (v. 12) which I was not familiar with, but which apparently is used when somebody known for doing bad suddenly starts doing good.

Saul eventually comes down from his religious frenzy and sees some of his uncles, who ask about the damned donkeys. He repeats what Samuel said about them, but not the rest of the story.

Meanwhile, Samuel calls the people to Mizpeh and tells them he's going to select the king by lots, and of course it comes out Saul. But Saul has disappeared! Only god knows where he is, hidden among the 'stuff', which might mean baggage, or at home, or goods, depending which translation you prefer. Saul is hauled before the people, who like him because he's tall. They deserve what they get, really. Then Samuel reads out the laws of the land and writes them down in a book. Then everybody goes home. The people of Belial don't want Saul as their king.