bible blog 1097

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

Morsi supporters take to the streets across Egypt

protesters with Morsi masks

protesters with Morsi masks

1 Samuel 22:1-23

New English Translation (NET)

David Goes to Adullam and Mizpah

22 So David left there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and the rest of his father’s family learned about it, they went down there to him. All those who were in trouble or owed someone money or were discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. He had about four hundred men with him.

Then David went from there to Mizpah in Moab, where he said to the king of Moab, “Please let my father and mother stay with you until I know what God is going to do for me.” So he had them stay with the king of Moab; they stayed with him the whole time that David was in the stronghold. Then Gad the prophet said to David, “Don’t stay in the stronghold. Go to the land of Judah.” So David left and went to the forest of Hereth.

Saul Executes the Priests

But Saul found out the whereabouts of David and the men who were with him. Now Saul was sitting at Gibeah under the tamarisk tree at an elevated location with his spear in hand and all his servants stationed around him. Saul said to his servants who were stationed around him, “Listen up, you Benjaminites! Is Jesse’s son giving fields and vineyards to all of you? Or is he making all of you commanders and officers? For all of you have conspired against me! No one informs me when my own son makes an agreement with this son of Jesse! Not one of you feels sorry for me or informs me that my own son has commissioned my own servant to hide in ambush against me, as is the case today!”

But Doeg the Edomite, who had stationed himself with the servants of Saul, replied, “I saw this son of Jesse come to Ahimelech son of Ahitub at Nob. 10 He inquired of the Lord for him and gave him provisions. He also gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”

11 Then the king arranged for a meeting with the priest Ahimelech son of Ahitub and all the priests of his father’s house who were at Nob. They all came to the king. 12 Then Saul said, “Listen, son of Ahitub.” He replied, “Here I am, my lord.” 13 Saul said to him, “Why have you conspired against me, you and this son of Jesse? You gave him bread and a sword and inquired of God on his behalf, so that he opposes me and waits in ambush, as is the case today!”

14 Ahimelech replied to the king, “Who among all your servants is faithful like David? He is the king’s son-in-law, the leader of your bodyguard, and honored in your house! 15 Was it just today that I began to inquire of God on his behalf? Far be it from me! The king should not accuse his servant or any of my father’s house. For your servant is not aware of all this—not in whole or in part!”

16 But the king said, “You will surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house! 17 Then the king said to the messengers who were stationed beside him, “Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, for they too have sided with David! They knew he was fleeing, but they did not inform me.” But the king’s servants refused to harm the priests of the Lord.

massacre of children in Syria

massacre of children in Syria

18 Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn and strike down the priests!” So Doeg the Edomite turned and struck down the priests. He killed on that day eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. 19 As for Nob, the city of the priests, he struck down with the sword men and women, children and infants, oxen, donkeys, and sheep—all with the sword.

20 But one of the sons of Ahimelech son of Ahitub escaped and fled to David. His name was Abiathar. 21 Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the Lord. 22 Then David said to Abiathar, “I knew that day when Doeg the Edomite was there that he would certainly tell Saul! I am guilty of all the deaths in your father’s house! 23 Stay with me. Don’t be afraid! Whoever seeks my life is seeking your life as well. You are secure with me.

The author now tells how King Saul makes public the treasonous rebellion of David and by committing an atrocity, plunges the country into the beginnings of civil war. At the same time David gathers around him the nucleus of a fighting force that will support his cause. The author relies on us remembering that the Lord has initiated this chaos by rejecting Saul and commanding his prophet to anoint David as king. The author does not spare the reputation of the Lord by disguising the the evil which is part of this process. David gathers around him a bunch of shiftless malcontents who have no stake in the orderly society of Israel. Doeg the Edomite is a dangerous man who has no sense of common humanity but a very strong sense of what will advance his position. Saul is fearful and enraged enough to neglect the honesty of the Lord’s priests and to pay attention to what he must know are self-serving accusations made by Doeg. Once one atrocity has been permitted another follows all too soon. 

Mandela: compassionate soldier and honest politiocian

Mandela: compassionate soldier and honest politiocian

At least David shows his honesty and sadness when he admits his responsibility for the massacre of the priestly families. The author depicts him as possessing a largeness of heart which will be, above all, the quality which will make him a great king.

If we think of the civil war in Syria or the conflict in Egypt, we can see how realistic the Samuel author is.  There too we find religion at the heart of civil unrest; the savagery of doomed tyrants; the unleashing of extreme violence against civilians, including women and children. These are not the sorts of conflicts that decent Christian people would want to touch with a barge-pole; yet, we’re told that God was involved in the overthrow of Saul.

We are asked to believe that the inspiration of God may be as present in the the turmoil of political and military conflict as in the quietness of prayer. It’s not a welcome thought, as evil or deranged people often claim this inspiration for their violence. Holy war is one of the main theological, as well as political, issues of our time.

One can of course simply turn away in disgust from all such conflict, believing that religious people should stay quiet and try to live in peace. The Samuel author would want us to believe that even in the worst situations there may be people who are trying to establish God’s justice, who learn to moderate their own violence for the sake of peace and who extend honour even to enemies, as David does.  God may work through honest politicians and compassionate soldiers as much as through holy priests.

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