Friday, January 3, 2014

1 Samuel: Saul Fall

OK, first of all, I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and offer my hopes that you all had a great holiday season regardless of which holiday(s) you celebrated. Yes, even Christmas.

We’ve now been through seven posts trying to get through the First Book of Samuel, and I’m hoping to get this bad boy knocked out with this final post. When we left off, Saul had (not for the first time) pledged peace with David and gone back to pursuing his kingly duties rather than chasing one of his most loyal subjects around and trying to kill him because God was actively driving him insane.

Then Samuel dies. How there’s going to be a Second Book of Samuel (and there is) when Samuel died in the first book, I have no idea. But timelines can be complicated things in the Bible, so I guess we’ll see when we get there.

So then we get a side story involving David, a woman named Abigail, and her husband Nabal. One of the footnotes tells us that Nabal is actually a Hebrew word that means “fool,” so you can tell right away that this is an allegorical tale since nobody would name their kid that (well, unless his parents were complete tools). Now Nabal was very rich, and he was in a town near where David was hanging out to have his sheep sheared. David heard about it, and sent ten of his men to go see Nabal. He had them claim that since David’s men had helped keep Nabal’s herds safe in the wilderness, Nabal ought to give them all of the food he had on hand. Nabal responded that he had no idea who this David character was or whether what they claimed was true, so he didn’t give them anything. When the men reported the refusal back to David, he ordered his men to gather up their weapons and get ready to go murder the fuck out of Nabal and every other man in his household.

This is what we like to call “banditry,” in case you were wondering.

Now, Nabal’s wife Abigail heard about the visit and had her servants gather up a bunch of food in secret. Then she snuck out to visit David and give him the food, kiss his ass unashamedly, and beg him not to kill her husband. David relented, but then God killed Nabal on his behalf ten days later.

David then went and claimed Abigail as his new wife. Then he apparently also married some girl named Ahinoam. Meanwhile, we are informed, Saul had given David’s first wife Michal to some other guy named Palti.

After that, David was hanging out in the wilderness around Ziph, and the residents went to Saul to complain. So once again, Saul took an army out to try and capture or kill David. This time, David and a guy named Abishai brother of Joab, snuck into Saul’s camp at night and stole the spear and water jug from the sleeping king. They got in and out of camp successfully because God made all the guards fall asleep.

The next morning David approached Saul’s camp and started berating Abner, the head of Saul’s army, telling him he deserved to die for failing to protect Saul. Which is kind of douche behavior, considering that David only got past Abner’s guards because he had supernatural help. But anyway, he presented the water jug and spear as proof that he had entered the camp and could have killed Saul if he wanted to. So, for about the billionth time, Saul kisses David’s ass and promises not to try and hurt him anymore.

David has had enough of this shit, though, and decides that it would be best if he just left Israel for a bit so that Saul will stop being tempted to come try to kill him. He does this by gathering up his merry band of brigands and going to live among the Philistines, taking refuge with Achish the king of Gath. He convinces Achish to let him and his men have their own little town all to themselves so that nobody can really keep an eye on what they’re up to. And what they’re up to is…

1 Sam 27:8 Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the inhabitants of the land from of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt. 9 And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish.”

Wait… did that say “Amalekites?” Didn’t Saul kill all of them earlier in this same book? Chapter 15 did say that he attacked them and “devoted all the people to death at the edge of the sword.” Which passage is full of shit? And, lest it be missed because sheer repetition has made it old hat by now, note that our Biblical hero is going around murdering entire villages and stealing their stuff.

Oh, also… while all this is going on David is lying to his benefactor Achish by claiming that he’s out raiding Israelite settlements instead. So when all the other Philistine kings start asking Achish why he’s sheltering a guy who used to be Philistine-Killer-in-Chief, Achish reassures them that now David is fighting for their side so it’s all good. Achish was so taken in by David’s lies that he even made him his personal bodyguard and asked him and his men to accompany the next Philistine attack on Israel.

There’s a little aside then about Saul consulting with a medium about the upcoming war, on account of God refusing to take his calls anymore. She summons up the spirit of the dead Samuel, who reminds Saul that God had turned against him because he didn’t kill the Amalekite animals and king. He then tells him that God has given the kingdom to David, and as additional punishment Israel is going to lose the upcoming battle and Saul and his sons will all be killed.

After that the narrative returns to David, who is marching with Achish to go to war against Israel. But the other Philistine commanders tell Achish that they don’t trust David not to switch sides in the battle, so he should fuck off. Of course, David has Achish thoroughly snookered, but the Philistine lord has no choice but to send him home.

Which is all well and good, since when David’s men return to their little town, they discover that it has been raided by those pesky Amalekites who seem to spontaneously generate out of the ground whenever they get genocided. Everybody in town was taken captive. Nobody was killed at all, just captured – a courtesy that David does not return, since he chases down the raiding party and spends a day and a night slaughtering all but the few who could escape.

Now once David’s men had recovered all the stuff the raiders stole, some of them wanted to keep all of it themselves rather than sharing any of it with the people who hadn’t been able to keep up on the chase. But David forced them to share it, saying to them:

1 Sam 30:24 ‘Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down to battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.’ 25 And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day.”

Isn’t that adding to the law? I thought that was forbidden.

Anyway, David took a portion of the spoil he’d taken off the Amalekites and sent it as a present to his friends among the elders of Judah.

Meanwhile, true to Samuel’s word, Saul’s army gets totally waxed by the Philistines who ended up killing all of his sons in the fighting (including David’s soul mate Jonathan). Saul was wounded by archers, and in fear of being captured and tortured he asked his armor-bearer to kill him. When the armor-bearer refused, Saul fell on his own sword to kill himself. The armor-bearer then followed suit.

With the army defeated, the Israelites abandoned the cities nearest the battle which the Philistines then occupied. The Philistines briefly had the bodies of Saul and his sons displayed on the walls of the city of Beth-shan, but the Israelites of Jabesh-gilead heard about it and sent a raiding party to recover the bodies for proper burial.

And that, finally, is the end of the First Book of Samuel. To recap: God turned Saul into a king and into a bad guy, then punished him for being a bad guy by driving him mad and eventually killing him and an untold number of other people by taking the Philistines’ side in a war. Meanwhile he decides that David is king (but, y’know, in secret so that nobody really knows about it, which could have avoided a whole shitload of pointless killing). And David is kind of a violent, lying dick when it comes to anyone other than Jonathan or Saul. The guy the book is named after is (depending on your perspective) either a relatively minor character who’s only a mouthpiece for God’s commands, or a hyperpolitical liar playing the role of kingmaker while using the threat of God’s wrath as a goad to force his chosen kings to do as he says.

Next time, we’ll start in on the Second Book of Samuel. Will Samuel return from the dead to justify being the titular character of the book? We’ll find out! Until then, be well.

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