Books of Samuel
|Light iron-age reading
|Gabbin' with God
The Books of Samuel deal with the changing of Israel's relationship with God. Israel starts to question the laws laid out by God in the book of Deuteronomy. They didn't just question them, they flat out rejected them.
It is named after Samuel, a prophet and judge who dealt with the aftermath of the Israelites' defeat by the Philistines. Following the loss of the Ark of the Covenant, Samuel attempted to preserve the Israelites' faith and heritage. After Samuel's sons proved corrupt and useless as potential successors, he anointed the Israelites' first king, Saul. When Saul also proved impious and unsuccessful in battle, David was nominated as the second king, and finally defeated the Philistines, but David also proved not exactly the most moral of men.
The Hebrew Tanakh treats Samuel as just one text, whereas the Christian Bible has split it into two, part one ending with Saul's death, decapitation, the display of his corpse by the Philistines, the theft of his body by the loyal men of Jabesh-Gilead, its cremation, and burial (1 Samuel 31:6-13).
Judgment of Eli's sons and Hannah's miracle
Hophni and Phineas pissed everyone off because of their conduct. Their father Eli, a God-fearing man, has maintained no order in the priestly family. At the same time, we pan out to Hannah, who cannot have a child. She tells God that if he blesses her with child, he will be dedicated to Him. She prays and prays, and God, through the blessing of Eli, delivers her a child, named Samuel. Chronicles tells us that he is of the tribe of Levi.
Years go by, and when Samuel is old enough to travel to Shiloh with Hannah, Hannah "gives him back" to the Lord.
Meanwhile, Hophni and Phineas are boiling meat in pots, having sex with women who served at the entrance of the house of the Lord, and many other "terrible" acts. Eli, who is now an old man, asks his sons "Why do you do these things?" His sons did not answer, and continued their evil deeds to the point where God takes away the guaranteed priesthood of Eli's family.[note 1] God begins talking directly to Samuel, and makes sure all of his visions come true, and when Samuel spoke, "all of the Israelites listened."
Battle with the Philistines
The Israelites go to battle with the Philistines, and the Philistines steal the Ark of the Covenant. They also managed to kill Eli's two sons.[note 2] Eli falls out of his chair, cracks his neck, and dies. For some reason, the Philistines begin to fear God's wrath, and return the Ark with a large offering to God. After it is returned, some of the Israelites look into the Ark of the Covenant, and 70 men are struck dead—only the High Priest is permitted to look upon the ark, and only once a year.
There is peace for 20 years, during which time the Israelites are "sad" that the Lord has struck them down for disobeying His laws. The Philistines then hear of a gathering at the town of Mizpah, and attack. During the attack, Samuel — who has now attained even greater stature amongst the Israelites — appeals to God, and the Philistines are beaten. With this victory, Samuel reclaims territory for Israel.
The king has arrived
Samuel has appointed his sons as leaders in Israel. They are corrupt, and tried to get money in ways that were not honest. The people came to Samuel and said, "We want a king." Samuel asked the Lord, and He said do what the people said.
This is where we find Saul, searching for donkeys in the town of Zuph. As Samuel approaches Saul, he realized this is the man God wants to be king. He tells Saul of three prophecies he has seen for Saul's journey home, all of which come true. This is all the "proof" Samuel needs, and announces Saul the king of Israel in the city of Mizpah. The people were largely dissatisfied: they did not give him any gifts, they did not think Saul could save them, and they would not even speak to him.
Samuel throws a fit
1 & 2 Samuel are such perfect pictures of Christianity as it is practiced today they should be moved into the New Testament.
Thus says the Lord of
hissies hosts: "I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, ... Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." 1 Samuel 15:1-3
And when did Amalek sin against Israel? Back in the Sinai days, probably 250 years before the days of King Saul.
There are basic principles at play when you punish someone. One, it has to be timely in order to correct the behavior at hand. Two, you have to leave the punishee alive, or the correction is a waste of time. Three, the punishment should be proportional to the offense...you don't cut off someone's hand for flipping the bird. Since the Amalekites did not wipe out the Israelites but only discomfited them, it's not logical to wipe them out down to the last man, woman, child, and head of cattle 250 years later. In fact, it smells like nothing more than a flimsy pretext for genocide.
Saul went ahead and did it anyway, because Samuel said that God said to do it, but he spared the Amalek King Agag.
Fundies like to say Exodus 20:13 means "do not murder" rather than "do not kill". Well, okay, let's play that game. It's just killing to slay a soldier on the battlefield, and it's just killing to slay all the women and children, but to kill an unarmed man after the battle (the King) is murder. On judgment day, Saul could point to the Law and say, "I slew those fierce babies and women in the heat of the battle, but not the King because I didn't want people to think I was a cold-blooded murderer."
This wasn't good enough. Samuel rebuked Saul in the name of the LORD for sparing King Agag. And here's the part that makes this whole tale resemble modern Christianity: Saul repented, acknowledged his sin, and begged for forgiveness. And it was not forthcoming! Then Samuel himself finished the job on Agag, went away, and never saw Saul again.
An evil spirit from The Lord
One peculiar piece of language used in 1 Samuel is the description of on evil spirit from God that God sends to torment Saul. This concept is expressed in a number of different areas. They are all listed below:
Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants, who are before you, to seek out a man who is skilful in playing the lyre; and when the evil spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well. 1 Samuel 16:14-16
It really hammers home the fact that this evil spirit was personally sent by God. These descriptions continue for a while:
And whenever the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand; so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him. 1 Samuel 16:23
And on the morrow an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house, while David was playing the lyre, as he did day by day. Saul had his spear in his hand. 1 Samuel 18:10
Then an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his spear in his hand; and David was playing the lyre. 1 Samuel 19:9
Apparently God commands and controls evil spirits. The author of this probably had an entirely different concept of evil spirits then the New Testament authors, who imagined 'uncleaned spirits' who invade peoples bodies and cause illness. Another possibility is that the 'evil spirit' isn't actually an autonomous entity, and is actually just a malevolent fragment of God's spirit. Either way, this concept of an evil spirit from God will be hard for Christians to acknowledge or rationalize.
Human sacrifice in 2 Samuel
There was a famine that ran for three straight years. King David made his inquiries, and the LORD answered, "It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites."
So the king called the Gibeonites in and asked them what he could do to make them whole again. They didn't want any gold or silver from Saul's estate. Instead they said, "The man that consumed us, and that devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts of Israel, let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the LORD in Gibeah of Saul."
So the king took the two sons of Rizpah and the five sons of Michal, which they bore unto Saul, and delivered them to the Gibeonites. They hanged them on the hill before the LORD and were put to death in the beginning of the barley harvest. And after David took the bones of the hanged men and buried them with the bones of Saul and Jonathan, "God was intreated for the land" (2 Samuel 21:14)
- About this time, in 1 Samuel 3:1, it mentions "In those days, it was rare for the Lord to speak directly to people." This must be where he started shunning us.
- Eli is "now 98 years old and blind."