Friday, November 28, 2008

Saul's Reign Ends

1 Samuel 18-31

The rest of the story of 1 Samuel is troubling. After David's heroic deed, Saul starts to become jealous of him, and fearful of him. His fear and jealously turn out to be his own undoing, because the additional deeds of David are really in Saul's best interest, and David never himself appears to plot against Saul for the throne. Yet everyone seems just to know that David will eventually somehow become the next king.

What's puzzling is why Saul is so jealous and worried, given that David is not in a rush to become king. He respects Saul as king. He regards Saul as the one anointed by the Lord to be king, and in fact David does not become king himself until after Saul's death. The person who should be jealous and worried is Saul's son, Jonathan. But instead, Jonathan loves David, and seems happy at the thought of David's becoming king and looks forward to serving him in this role (something that never happens, because Jonathan gets killed in the same battle in which Saul dies).

In fact, while Saul pursues David (who is in hiding, having been helped in his escape by Jonathan), David gets two chances to kill Saul (Ch. 24 and 26), and declines. Both times, Saul is grateful and admits that David is the better man. Yet he continues to pursue David until David finally flees to the land of the Philistines. His being there and gaining the trust of their king (King Achish) seems to play into that king's desire to attack Israel -- that is the battle in which Saul and Jonathan die.

Meanwhile, Samuel too has now died (25:1).

And marriage conventions continue to be, er, interesting. After David conquered Goliath, Saul promised David his elder daughter Merab in marriage (18:17). But he ends up actually giving her in marriage to someone else (18:19). David is not reported as being dismayed or upset about this -- instead, it is next reported that another daughter of Saul loves David: Michal (18:20). Saul is pleased, because he thinks that offering her to David in marriage might work as a snare (18:21). David does marry her, after performing the requisite heroic deeds to earn this honor. Since Michal really loves him, and he succeeded in his heroic deeds, Saul is now more afraid of him than ever: "So Saul was David's enemy from that time forward" (18:29). Michal ends up helping David to escape from one of Saul's plots to kill him (Ch. 19). David never quite comes back, and, later, Michal is given in marriage to someone else (25:44). By then, David has two other wives: Abigail and (25:42) and Ahinoam (25:43).

The story of Abigail (Ch. 25) is an interesting one, framed between the two stories of David's declining to kill Saul. Abigail prevents David from killing her own people. David was angry at her then-husband Nabal for not appreciating the fact that David and his soldiers had been protecting them. In his anger, David was now going to attack them, but Abigail met them with gifts and talked them out of killing everyone. When Nabal heard this story, "his heart died within him; he became like a stone" and he died ten days later (25:37-38). When David heard this, he asked Abigail to be his wife.

These stories of mercy are moving, framed as they are within so many stories of wars and jealous pursuits. It's nice to finally see some stories of mercy celebrated as good: it was good that David did not kill Saul; it was good that Abigail talked David out of killing her people; it was good that David admired her for this, and even married her. The fact that these stories are portrayed as good gives some hope that the glorification of war after war is finally starting to falter a bit.

But we shall see. The story is not over yet...

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