Saturday, August 6, 2011

Saul, the Soldiers and the Servants

Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS
Saul’s loss of control over his soldiers was a frequent feature of his account. Before the incident with Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14:45, the distress created by Saul’s rash vow was so great that it drove his soldiers mad with hunger and exhaustion that they “pounced on the plunder and, taking sheep, cattle and calves, they butchered them on the ground and ate them, together with the blood” (verse 32). Fortunately, Saul was able to recover them to their senses and discipline them accordingly (verses 33 to 35).

But the costliest failure to rein his men was during the very important mission to annihilate the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15. The order was, as we already know by now from several articles we’ve discussed, to “totally destroy everything that belongs to them…not [to] spare them [but] put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (verse 3). Saul and his force slew the women, the children, the infants, most of the men except for the Amalekite king Agag, and the weak of the cattle and sheep. Why? Saul explained:

Ultimate Bible Picture Collection
“I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal” (verses 20 and 21).

And in boasting he claimed, “I did obey the Lord” (verse 20).

After this, the Spirit of God departed from Saul, opening him to the attacks of evil spirits. The first one in 1 Samuel 16 haunted and severely terrorized him that paralyzed him from his kingly duties. The fear may have begun to take its toll on his health when this bright idea was suggested by the royal attendants:

“Saul’s attendants said to him, ‘See an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better’” (1 Samuel 16:16).

We cannot help but consider the hand of God that the attendants knew exactly what the king needed and whom exactly to turn to:

“One of the servants answered, ‘I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him” (verse 19).

It was as if they were on to David’s Facebook profile, or something! And how about the servant who had something to offer the Seer Samuel for the sake of the lost donkeys? Simple servants whose involvement opened the door to the most monumental chapters of Saul’s life and of the annals of the Israelite nation as well. Usually their roles are unnoticed as they lend support to the all-prominent figures of Saul and David, but many years after they have sank back to obscurity, Israel’s greatest monarch would sing in one of his world famous psalms that he “would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wickedness” (Psalm 84:10).

The Golden Gate of the Temple Mount at present time.

In the ancient world, the youngest child of the family, also called “the least,” received the brunt of all domestic menial work, at a certain point of his life. He was virtually the family servant. He was the one Jesus alluded to when He one day jumped in the middle of an argument among His disciples to settle “who would be the greatest” (Luke 9:46):

“Jesus knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest” (verses 47 to 48).

The message of the “greatest least” became a recurring theme throughout His three-year ministry, telling and showing all Israel that, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35); and, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43 to 45).

And the life of a least did His earthly ancestor live his young days, a shepherd of the flocks of his father Jesse (1 Samuel 16:11) until a simple chore brought him to the right place at the right time.

The Bridgeman Art Library/Gettyimages
“Now Jesse said to his son David, ‘Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them.’ Early in the morning David left the flock with a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed” (1 Samuel 17:17 to 18, 20).

It was the last errand he would ever make. On that day, he singlehandedly shuts the mouth of the Philistine champion permanently and captures the awe of every Israelite, from King Saul to the singing women who celebrated “his tens of thousands” slain (18:7 and 8).

David was introduced into Saul’s life as a servant. He was Saul’s private harpist who performed a very unique form of exorcism by playing his harp (16:18, 23). And it pleased Saul to have him in his court:

“David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him” (verses 21 to 22).

Saul’s fondness for David would not last, however. Of all Saul’s servants whom he afforded a measure of respect, David was the most loved, the most feared, and the most abused. Shortly after David shot to fame, his popularity galled the king who at once “kept a jealous eye on David” (18:9). With the Spirit of God gone from his life, “an evil spirit from God came forcefully” (verse 10) and possessed him to draw his spear and twice attempt to “pin David to the wall” (verse 11). The twelfth verse explains how fearful Saul grew of David that he promoted him from harp player into a commander over a thousand men who victoriously led the troops in their campaigns (verses 13 and 14) “because the Lord was with him.” For this, there was nothing heard in Israel but David’s fame, and Saul, who wanted nothing more but the adoration of all Israel to ensure his and his posterity’s position on the throne, drove him in an insanity that bordered between the bitterness and fear of his former harpist. His attempts to extinguish the kingdom-wide craze called David went from spearing the boy twice in the privacy of his royal home to putting him in the lead of a thousand-man troop in hopes of getting him killed in battle with the Philistines (verse 17). Saul even went to absurd lengths in deceiving David by maneuvering him “to take revenge on his enemies” (verse 25) and bring back “a hundred Philistine foreskins” (verse 25). David the Circumciser? But even in this seemingly ludicrous quest, “the Lord was with David” (verse 28) and granted him “with more success than the rest of Saul’s officers, and his name became well known” (verse 30).

Because of David, there were those who would suffer and die. While the Lord covered him in the shelter of His wings during the time when Saul obsessively lusted after his life and pursued him across the Israelite landscape, the little town of Nob would get wiped out in one of Saul’s temper tantrums because he insularly suspected that this humble settlement of priests had set its loyalty on David and not reveal his whereabouts (22:11 to 16). In this episode, the instigator was another servant by the name of Doeg, an Edomite.

Charles & Josette Lenars/CORBIS

Now, if you’ve read Chapter 21, you would probably remember an Edomite by the name of Doeg, who may strike some of us as a weasel, cowardly and shady. He was King Saul’s “head shepherd” (v. 7). It seems that in this chapter, Doeg was given special mention with a standalone paragraph of a verse dedicated to him and what he was doing in Nob:

“Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s head shepherd.”

A number of foreigners living in Israel, specifically in royal service, have been mentioned in the Bible; and they have been noted for godly things. Uriah the Hittite in 2 Samuel 11, Bathsheba’s original husband, was among these foreigners whose name has been highly held in the Scriptures. As for Doeg, the Edomite, 1 Samuel 21:7 says that he was “detained before the Lord” the day David visited Nob. What a royal herdsman was “detained before the Lord” at Nob for is yet unclear to us. We can speculate, however, that this foreigner was undergoing ceremonial cleansing proceedings prescribed for aliens living among Law-abiding Israelites. Yet there is a more pressing fact relating to his detention with Nob bearing a massive significance.

Nob was a levitical city. A city of priests. In Numbers 35, God commanded Moses and the children of Israel to provide cities for Levites where they can live in along with a common land around those cities, “a thousand cubits all around” the city wall (vv. 4–5), that they could raise their livestock. In verse 6, God prescribed six of these towns and cities to be for the purpose of local asylum: “to which a person who has killed someone may flee.” In verse 15, however, God purposed these six points to be “for Israelites, aliens, and any other people living among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.”

When the time came for the Israelites to appoint the levitical cities of refuge, Nob was not one of them. Joshua 21:17 to 18 enumerates its neighbors—Gibeon, Giba, Anathoth, and Almon—being cities of refuge. But in Numbers 35:6, God also expressed to “give” the Levites “forty-two other towns,” for their herds. It could be that throughout the years, Nob had become an additional satellite refuge of any of the original four mentioned.

It might also be that Doeg had killed somebody and was seeking asylum in Nob. For such reason, he was “detained.” And while Doeg stayed in Nob, he had the opportunity to witness the entrance of David into the city, speak to the priest Ahimelech, and ask for assistance. Doeg observes how Ahimelech takes the consecrated bread used in holy ceremonies (verses 4–6) and give it to David for consumption; and sees the sword of the Philistine giant Goliath pass into the hands of the young warrior as well (verse 9). Doeg must have thought, “If this were not assistance, I don’t know what is!”

How he found his way into the king’s service is as unclear in the passages as how he coincidentally appeared in Nob at the time David arrived there. It can be assumed that Doeg was carried off as part of the plunder in one of Saul’s operations against Edom, as the one sparsely mentioned in 1 Samuel 14:47, which occurred at the beginning of Saul’s campaign against all of Israel’s “enemies on every side.”

After some days later, Doeg springs out of Nob and is found in King Saul’s presence in chapter 22 verse 9, and successfully raises royal tantrum to a frightening level with his report: “I saw the son of Jesse come to Ahimelech son of Ahitub at Nob. Ahimelech inquired of the Lord for him; he also gave him provisions and the sword of Goliath the Philistine” (verses 9 and 10).

Immediately the king sends for Ahimelech “and his father’s whole family, who were priests at Nob” (verse 11). The last clause, “who were priests at Nob,” is included for a purpose because King Saul orders these people hacked to death in front of him, hacked to death by none other than by the hand of Doeg the squealer. Then the unthinkable takes place:

“Then the king ordered the guards at his side: ‘Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me.’ But the king’s officials were not willing to raise a hand to strike the priests of the Lord. Then the king ordered Doeg, ‘You turn and strike down the priests’” (verse 17 to 18).

In the passage that follows, this idiot did what no Israelite soldier would do. Doeg was an Edomite, a foreign fool who harbored no hesitation in butchering that day all the “eighty-five men” of Ahimelech’s household, including Ahimelech himself.

And as if that were not enough, the paragraph includes the nineteenth verse stating how Doeg in his lonesome, fueled with his berserker’s bloodlust, penetrated deeper into Nob and slaughtered the entire populace—“men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys, and sheep”! It comes to show a tradition of rage flowing from the highest point of authority—the king—down to the scum feeding on the soles of royal hierarchy. Though the Israelite guards knew better and did nothing to accomplish the king’s order and lay a strike down the priests of the Lord because of their love for their Israelite way of life, it was no surprise that Doeg the Edomite, who had no regard for and hated Israelite way of life, made good the command.

There is a significant note we need to see here regarding the fulfillment of God’s judgment which He pronounced against the house of Eli, the judge and high priest who raised the boy Samuel in Tabernacle service. A part of the prophecy held that God would “cut short [Eli’s] strength and the strength of [his] father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in [his] family line” (1 Samuel 2:31). The judgment stated:

“Although good will be done to Israel, in your family line there will never be an old man. Everyone of you that I do not cut off from my altar will be spared only to blind your eyes with tears and to grive your heart, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life” (verses 32 to 33).

Ahimelech was a descendant of Eli. His son was Abiathar, Nob’s sole survivor, who “escaped and fled to join David” (1 Samuel 22:20). He successfully caught up with David and reported the massacre. This man went on serve David as high priest (1 Samuel  23:6, 9 to 12), even sharing the position with Zadok (2 Samuel 8:17). Through thick and thin with David Abiathar was faithful (2 Samuel 15:24 to 29). He even went daringly undercover for David during Absalom’s usurpation (2 Samuel 15:34 to 36). His end, however, did not come as pleasant. At the end of David’s reign, he shifted alliances to a usurping prince named Adonijah (1 Kings 1:7,9). But the hand of God was upon another prince, Solomon, who immediately deposes him (1 Kings 2:26, 27, 35), thus ultimately ending Eli’s influence in the priesthood.

But God will not forget Ahimelech. In verse 20, a son of this brave priest named Abiathar, And when he had successfully caught up with this king, Abiathar reported of the massacre. What is more heartbreaking, however, is in verse 22 wherein David said, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family.” Photo credit: American Colony Photographers/National Geographic Society/Corbis

We cannot help but feel sorry for Abimelech. As readers of a different time and cultures, we view his death as something that had happened needlessly, a result of the senseless rage and paranoia of a demon-minded king. We cannot help but lament for this Old Testament martyr who could have been saved should have David prayed and sought the Lord’s instruction and not merely relied on his own wisdom. But on the other hand, we need to realize that at this point of David’s life, he had nothing but the hand of God as his only guide and shield. Even in his life as a fugitive, the statement in 1 Samuel 18:14 rang true, that, “In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him.” And by the very hand of God, he was led into Nob, not only to be aided, but to be ceremonially consecrated and confirmed as the next king of Israel whose house would “endure forever” (2 Samuel 7:15). What happened in Nob was Abimelech, Eli’s descendant, fed the consecrated bread to David, who in his insistence gave this interesting argument:

“Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out. The men’s things are holy even on missions that are not holy. How much more so today!”

The handing of the consecrated bread over to David from the priest was symbolic of the dismantling of the high priesthood and its surrender to David who represented the real High Priest, soon to emerge from his lineage as God would promise as soon as he assumed kingship:

Marc Garanger/CORBIS
“The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you”(2 Samuel 7:11 to 15).

Soon after the consecrated bread was given to David, Abimelech handed David Goliath’s sword, the symbol of David’s greatest victory and Israel’s popular approval of his ascent to national leadership. The house of Eli would faithfully assist David throughout his reign until the end (1 Kings 2:26 to 27).

Then the Prophet Samuel died, and while all Israel mourned for him, Saul mourned for himself. For all his life, he depended on the counsel of this great judge and now that Samuel was dead, the only channel of God’s guidance in his life was cut off (1 Samuel 28:6). For a while he was relatively calm about it but when he caught the sight of the Philistine army assembled at Shunem, he lost all hope of salvation. Thoughts began to run through his mind, and then…

“Saul then said to his attendants, ‘Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her” (verse 7).

There is something we can note from these “attendants.” In 16:15 and 16, they knew exactly what was bothering Saul, they knew exactly what he needed, they knew exactly who to help him, and they knew exactly were to find him. Israelite Facebook, I’d say! Now…

“’There is one in Endor,’ they said” (Ibid.).

Ka-ching! Like I said….

We have studied a lot about that night in Endor—and will study more about it! But what we need to see at this time was the protection Saul gave to the witch who held the door of his fate wider to destruction. Instead of executing sentence to this witch whose trade was outlawed by the Law of Moses, he proposed absolution:

“Saul swore to her by the Lord, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this” (1 Samuel 28:10).

At the end of the traumatic séance, Saul made good his promise; and the witch, who now owed her life to her royal client, offered him a little piece of advice: “eat” something (verse 22). Saul listened to the witch.

“He got up from the ground and sat on the couch. The woman had a fattened calf at the house, which she butchered at once. She took some flour, kneaded it and baked bread without yeast. Then she set it before Saul and his men, and they ate. That same night they got up and left” (verse 23 to 25).

The next day, Saul was with a different type of servants: his soldiers, the ones who would not comply with his wishes at all times. And even in defeat and him in the face of death, defiance would yet get the better of his armor-bearer when he was told to run his king through the blade (31:4).

“But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him” (verse 4 and 5).

The soldiers of Saul killed many in their lives, but none in the Scriptures is found that their blades were stained by the blood of their fellow countryman. The armor-bearer chose to stain his blade with his own blood over the guilt of murdering his master.

That was the end of the armor-bearer along with Saul’s three sons, but not Saul. In the first chapter of 2 Samuel, a figure of tattered clothes and with dust on his head came running to David’s camp in Ziklag. He explained that he had “escaped from the Israelite camp” (verse 3), apparently an aide of Saul or one of his soldiers. When asked of his background, the aide explained:

Alessandra Bennedetti/Corbis
“’I am the son of an alien, an Amalekite,’ he answered” (verse 13).

From the very race God ordered wiped out. The death of Saul had finally given testimony of his disobedience.


1 comment:

  1. Disobedience is such an horrific sin more than we may realize. So help us L_rd Jesus, forgive us.