Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Humiliation of King Saul

Almost everyone we know will agree that King Saul was not entirely bad. He started out good, an obedient yet timid young man chosen by God to lead His people. He was blessed with the Spirit of God in such a way that he was immersed in power to be a victorious king. It was then a phenomenon strikingly similar to today’s baptism of the Holy Spirit. Saul accomplished for God victories that delivered the Israelites from those who plundered them and violated their borders in the past (1 Samuel 14:47 to 48). He became the people’s champion they dreamt of. His “impressive" look (1 Samuel 9:2) made him look the part that inspired hope in his people some time before he began to actually play the part. But the moment he disobeyed, the entire part of hero and king was taken away from him.

"He who is the glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29).
Roberto Herrett/LOOP IMAGES/Loop Images/Corbi

One important detail that Saul might have forgotten was that the Lord would still maintain to call the Israelites His people. He had no plans abdicating His being Lord and leave His precious possession in the hands of flesh and blood, these hands of flesh and blood, as prophesied by the Prophet Samuel, would subdue His people instead of serve them (1 Samuel 8:11-18). Israel would still belong to God; He would still be the Lord whose approval would install the people’s king. The king would serve as the human political intermediary to consolidate all the tribes of Israel. Through Saul, this was accomplished in 1 Samuel 11:7 to 9 where “the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they turned out as one man” (verse 7), three hundred thousand men from Israel and thirty thousand from Judah (verse 8).

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Because of His love for the Israelites, God’s plan for them had been nothing less than a Theocracy. God allowed the Hebrews to roam the Near Eastern region in their early days, sharing the shelter of lands of people with whom they have formed alliances of mutual protection—until the last one, Egypt, threw its friendship out its royal window and entrenched the Hebrews into four hundred and thirty years of slavery—to show the Hebrews the want of the world, the desire and fear of the people that struggle to survive. Like them the Hebrews became survivors and learned about how they coped through the leadership of a being like them—of flesh and blood, the best species that their race had to offer, a hero who had carried their ideals through the most trying challenges of life and proved that the ideals were right—the king. The Hebrews came to understand the concept of the king, the best things about it and its shortcomings. At this ended the lesson of having a king who was not God, the Lord. Indeed, it had been a learning guided by God with a promise to give:

“The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8).

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And in that closing phrase God was, in effect, telling Abraham that his children will never need a king, for “I will be their God.” If a pagan nation had to rely on a king whose flesh and blood weakens, just like anybody else, without food, water, and rest, and expires at a time of life, Abraham’s descendants have a King far unlike any man, a Keeper who “will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4) to watch over each life precious in His sight:

“He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber, indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (verses 3-8).

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In the time of Moses, God offered the Israelites a unique proposal to be their King (Numbers 23:21; Deuteronomy 33:5). He offered them the invincibility that the pagans could only dream of, with full demonstration. From the time of the plagues in Egypt, God saw to it that Goshen, the region where the Hebrews inhabited was safe (Exodus 8:22, Exodus 9:26). When the king of Egypt, with a temper as volatile as nitroglycerine, launched out full force against a defenseless throng of Israelites who just left his gates, “the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them…coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel” (Exodus 14:19 to 20). The monumental parting of the Red Sea alone was enough to drop every jaw of any man, far and wide, who hears of the miracle. The phenomenon spurred the psalmist out of his seat to celebrate:

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“No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine” (Psalm 33:16 to 19).

The promise and the constant reminder to fulfill bringing the Israelites to a land flowing with milk and honey, to make them great, had the absence of a catch. He took a people He called His, brought them “out into a spacious place” and rescued them simply—very simply—because He "delighted in [them]” (Psalm 18:19). All God wanted in return was that His people seek Him (Psalm 14:2; 53:2; 69:32). This is where the betrayal begins, for in the lavishness of God’s grace and the fulfillment of His end of the bargain, His people channeled the devotion that they pledged to offer Him and gave it to the “various gods of the peoples around them…and served Baal and the Ashtoreths” (Judges 2:12,13).

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Why does the word betrayal seem to bear more weight than unfaithfulness when in reality they are one and the same? With unfaithfulness we get the impression of a couple bound by a verbal promise to have and to hold, to love and cherish each other for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do they part; with betrayal, however, we dig up the likes of all-time uglies Judas Iscariot and King Saul. What about Adam, who was made by the hand of God then given authority to rule over all the earth but go on and disobey God (there’s another synonym: disobedience)? Shouldn’t he be in the list too? He is. God created Adam perfect; He breathed the Spirit into his nostrils to give life to a lifeless sculpted clay and immediately he became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). Because God saw His image in Adam, He delighted in this “living soul” and told him to take dominion over all of creation.

God created man in His own image, in His own likeness, by His Holy Spirit. Though it was through His Spirit that He accomplished all creation (Genesis 1:2), it was only into man whom He breathed in His Spirit (2:7). It was a creative process unique from the rest of creation, for which other than Adam did God form from the dust of the ground and breathe into its nostrils the breath of life? In the spiritual realm, such was the process used by God to transform Saul for the kingship:

“The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person” (1 Samuel 10:6).

The change in Saul was inconspicuous at first. His uncle noticed nothing special about him after the Spirit came upon him as foretold by the Prophet, though the relative would have strained to study some suspected change in Saul if the latter told him what the Prophet had said about the kingship (1 Samuel 10:16). In the twenty-seventh verse, there were those “troublemakers” who “despised” Saul and “gave him no gifts” while all Israel hailed him their new king. Nevertheless, the transformation of Saul began from the very time he “turned to leave Samuel” (verse 9), even before the Spirit of God descended upon him in power in the presence of the prophets (verses 5 and 10) to perfect the change.

But as we have seen further in the story of Saul, not even the Spirit of God could keep this many away from the will to regress into spiritual corruption. The erosion of Saul’s devotion to God instantaneously took his and his posterity’s anointing away as king.

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“’You acted foolishly,’ Samuel said. ‘You have not kept the command the Lord gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command’” (1 Samuel 13:13-14).

Saul’s disobedience on Gilgal foreshadowed his greater backsliding years later when he would be sent to deal with the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15). Gilgal proved to be a costly forewarning that revealed to Saul a vulnerability of his spiritual life he was predisposed to succumbing to; and it was his responsibility to discipline himself in the obedience to the One who had anointed him into kingship. Just like Jesus who had to subdue the weakness of the human flesh, Saul had to deal with the fear that twisted his senses. And with the power of the Spirit of God who right after his baptism told him to do whatever his hand found to do, Saul was more than equipped to execute God’s righteousness on earth, and in his life, for God was with him (1 Samuel 10:7). Similarly, Matthew 4:1 says that Jesus plunged into the wilderness in the power of the Holy Spirit and in this power humiliated His humiliator.  

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The name Satan comes from the primary Hebrew root s√Ętan which means “to attack or accuse.” In Revelation 12:10, the Apostle John noted the voice coming out of heaven calling this spirit “the accuser of our brethren, who accuses them before our God day and night.” And the chief objective why an accusation is hurled is to humiliate. In the wilderness, however, Satan’s quest to humiliate the Faultless One backfired and got blown out of Jesus’ presence in a windstorm of His righteousness. 

But at the end of the challenge, Luke 4:13 explains that the devil left Jesus “until an opportune time.” Jesus’ righteousness may have blown Satan out of the water that time, but the humiliator had plans of returning. It was the same with Saul. It was not enough for the devil that Saul’s dynasty would begin and end in his reign. It was not enough for the devil to rob the posterity of Israel’s first king of the opportunity to be “established…over Israel for all time” (1 Samuel 13:13). If the future held the end for Israel’s first king, then the humiliator would make sure this mighty man of God would live out the rest of his days suffering the humiliating consequence of his disobedience.

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It is flatly a misnomer that this aged evil should be called the humiliator in that he himself had faced great frustration in his main objective to dishonor God. He failed in his goal to take over the throne of heaven with the Lake of Fire waiting for him in the end for him to spend the rest of his eternal judgment (Revelation 20:10).

But it was not enough for the humiliator to allow the fallen king to live out the rest of his days. In John 10:10 Jesus laid out the calling Satan took on to accomplish the humiliation of God and His believers: “steal, kill, and destroy.” Satan had robbed Saul of any chance for any of his descendants to assume power over the throne; he had stolen the right to be heard, answered, and be assisted by God (1 Samuel 28:6). He had succeeded in destroying Saul’s reputation as the firstborn of all the Israelite kings. In the midst of all the elders of Israel’s tribes, his right to be king was torn from him the very day he disobeyed God’s mandate (15:28). Satan destroyed Saul’s sanity and wiped out all logical, emotional, and moral sense to live a normal life, let alone perform his duties as king.

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The story in 1 Samuel 16:14 to 23 shows that the haunting crippled Saul mentally drawing the sympathy and unsolicited advice of his attendants which providentially opened the door for the future king David to behold the royalty he would later assume.

The fear he had succumbed to early in his career upon witnessing the great Philistine army at Micmash had never left him. When his men panicked at the sight of the Philistines in Micmash, so did he (13:11 to 12); when his men felt dismayed and terrified at Goliath’s constant taunting, so did Saul melt away in his tent for forty days (17:11,16). And when he caught the sight of the Philistine army gathered at Shunem, 28:5 says that “he was afraid; terror filled his heart.” Fear, however, was not the only devise the devil used to break Saul. In 1 Samuel 18:8, we find another controlling emotion that was born out of Saul’s greed, ambition, and paranoia: “Saul was very angry.”

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As the Israelite women celebrated Israelite victory in open singing, the refrain that went, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” galled Saul (verses 7 and 8), prompting him to keep “a jealous eye on David” (verse 9). He entertained the thought in his heart of “what more can [David] get but the kingdom” (verse 8). At this, the gate of his heart flung all the wider to welcome “an evil spirit... [that] came forcefully” upon him (verse 10), compelling him to take the spear in his hand and attempt twice to pin David to the wall (verses 10 to 11). It would not stop there. This blind rage would take him across the Israelite landscape and relentlessly chase a victim who refused to fight back and choose to seek refuge in the company of an archenemy than cast a malicious eye upon the “Lord’s anointed” (24:6,10; 26:9,11,16,23; 2 Samuel 1:14,16). It would almost get Saul killed twice on opportunities that first had been exposed by his own lapses in tactical security and later by Divine intervention, when the Lord put Saul’s entire camp into a deep sleep (1 Samuel 26:12). Through this blind rage, Saul would attempt to kill his son Jonathan in an expression of the revulsion he had for David (20:33). And through this unremitting hatred he would resort to the murder of an entire town of priests—an act that no normal, God-fearing Israelite would even think of doing (22:17) on suspicion that they had agreed to conspire against him and choose to side on David (22:13 and 17).

It was no doubt Satan had a sadistically swell time detonating Saul’s unstable mood swings between the heights of horror and fury. But nothing would give the devil his most crucial thrill than killing the Lord’s anointed. And in planning Saul’s death, he made sure the basic element of humiliation would be executed in the sight of all his subjects in methodical cruelty.

Pinned on the wall. What Saul tried to do to David and his very son Jonathan finally happened to him.

The death of Saul did not come by a simple shot of an arrow or gash of a sword or goring of a spear. It was not as how King Ahab and his son Joram had died by a single arrow cleanly fired between the sections of their armor (1 Kings 22:34, 35; 2 Kings 9:24). The thirty-first chapter of 1 Samuel recounts that he called for death by commanding his armor bearer to strike him down for fear of Philistines humiliation (verse 4). In horror the armor bearer refused and instead stood by and watched Saul take matters into his own hands by driving the sword into himself. For a while Saul lay on the ground as if dead, probably unconscious, which to the armor-bearer was suicide consummated, so he does the same (verse 5). But the armor-bearer assumed wrong. Something happened between the fifth and the sixth verse, which was told in 2 Samuel 1:6 to 10. An Amalekite young man, who happened to be on the site where Saul lay, reported that the king survived his miserable attempt to take his own life. 

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“’Then he said to me, ‘Stand over me and kill me! I am in the throes of death, but I’m still alive’’” (verse 9).

Death did not come easy for Saul and undoubtedly the devil delighted in the pain that baptized him. Then he leads an Amalekite into the king’s convenient service to finish where his attempt had failed. In the tenth verse, the Amalekite confessed:

“’So I stood over him and killed him, because I knew that after he had fallen he could not survive.’”

At a time when the feared Philistines were about to overrun the Israelite camp, the Amalekite had the luxury to be rational and take time to make a precise “objective” notes about the king’s mortal wounds: “…because I knew that after he had fallen he could not survive.” Wow. Observe, on the other hand, how the armor-bearer reacted to the king’s charge: “…the armor-bearer was terrified” (verse 4). It was an aversion that more or less overtook Saul’s soldiers in I Samuel 22:17 when they were told to execute the priests of Nob. The Amalekite, however, held no fear or respect for anything Israelite in the same was as the Edomite Doeg would hold any reverence for the priests of Nob as he singlehandedly put the entire town to the sword (22:18 to 19). The very race God ordered Saul to obliterate had instead gained the upper hand to slay their slayer.

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Saul did not survive the hand of the Amalekite. With Amalekite hands, the royal Israelite crown and arm band were taken and carried to the next king staying in Ziklag (2 Samuel 1:1). It was a good thing, though, that this Amalekite had the sense to take these relics away than to be found and plundered by the Philistines who returned to the battlefield the next day (1 Samuel 31:8). As God had promised, the kingship through the symbol of the crown was safely and successfully handed over to David, the man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Yet Satan was not done humiliating Saul. It probably mattered not for the Philistines that the crown was found, though that would have been such a great prize if ever the Amalekite had not taken it away from Saul’s corpse. What they did instead was desecrate the body of this archenemy, this Israelite king who surprisingly organized and solidified a first ever Israelite standing army that withstood foreign invasions on every side. For forty years, Saul was a bitter rival to the Philistines (1 Samuel 14:52) and brought frustration to the Philistine plans of completely dominating the Israelites. At the end of four decades, however, Saul and his three sons finally fell dead on Mount Gilboa; and in a mad frenzy, the Philistines “cut off his head and stripped off his armor” (1 Samuel 31:9). Through messengers they broadcasted the downfall of the Israelite king “throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among their people” (Ibid.). It was a triumph of their nation, culture, and aspirations. In the tenth verse, it says that the Philistines put Saul’s armor on display in the temple of the Ashtoreths and did the same to his body which they fastened to the wall of the city (Ibid.)—in the same way as Satan proclaimed the triumph of his power over the Son of Man by bleaching His body on public humiliation as He hung of the cross till He died. But there were those who genuinely loved Saul, who never forgot how God empowered him to deliver them from what could have been a massacre of Jabesh Gilead by the hand of Nahash the Ammonite (1 Samuel 11). In the final three verses of 1 Samuel, all the valiant men of Jabesh Gilead ventured through the night to Beth Shan, stole into the city to take down the dishonored body of Saul and his sons and gave them a fitting funeral (31:11-13).

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Despite the tragic disapproval of Saul as king, solid and secure unity came to the nation of Israel. Its neighboring invaders had to deal with this new nation of strong leadership that had the capability to repel their incursions. For two hundred years before Saul, the Israelite territory was the laughingstock of Near East when it came to national security. Then suddenly a valiant champion named Saul arose to fight against Israel’s enemies on every side and in his victories inflict punishment on them (1 Samuel 14:47 to 48).

Though in intermittent times the soldiers displayed defiance to his orders, the nation of Israel never rebelled against Saul, unlike what happened in the reign of Rehoboam when ten out of the twelve tribes of Israel seceded to form the Northern Kingdom of Israel. It seems that his relationship with God began as a personal matter that later manifested on how things went in the kingdom. 

But the people’s clamor for a king, the very matter that sparked the rise of Saul, was in itself a disobedience, and a major one at that since it was even foretold a few hundred years before they settled in the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 17:14 to 20 was a prophecy that carried the convention to be observed when the time Israel should ask for a king. The Prophet Samuel was stung when the people confronted him with this demand. In 1 Samuel 8:10 to 18, Samuel attempted to dissuade the people from asking for a king but God was there to put in His judgment on the matter:

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“Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you that have rejected as their king, but me. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do” (8:7-9).

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And the people refused to listen to Samuel (verse 19). “’No,’ they said. ‘We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles’” (verses 19 to 20).

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Until Saul, Israel was under a unique form of government called a Theocracy with no one less than God as the Head of state. To us presently, it seems unthinkable that a people under the care of a King who would ensure “no misery [to be] seen” in the land (Numbers 23:21) would reject this King and opt strongly for one like them, understandably of flesh and blood who is subject under the same needs and wants as they. It was as if the people said, “No offense, God, but You’re God and we’re people; You’re up there and we’re down here, and we’ve got some things that you won’t understand.” If it was needs they were talking about, this King made sure that His subjects would not burn in the hostile wilderness environment by providing a pillar of cloud during the day, which by night, to keep them from freezing in the nocturnal temperature, turned into a warming pillar of fire. And if it was wants, this King rained down “bread from heaven” (Exodus 16:4), “angels’ food” as described in Psalm 78:25, at the grumbling of the Israelite community:

“If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (verse 3).

Throughout the desert wandering of the Israelite nation, it was a daily routine for the people to gather this substance at a measure that would be enough for a day’s consumption (verse 4). The thirty-first verse described it as “white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey,” appearing like “thin flakes of frost” (verse 14) introduced by a layer of dew on the ground. The people called it “manna,” which meant, “What is it?” If God were to answer that He could have said, “It’s my answer to all the ‘pots of meat and…all the food [you] wanted’ in Egypt!” For the “meat” part, He sent flocks and flocks of quail descending into the Israelite camp in the evening (verse 13). So: the people had bread for the entire day and quail for dinner.

And for national security, there was “the angel of God” (Exodus 14:19), the same One who appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3:2) believed to be the pre-incarnate Christ Jesus Himself, leading the way, “traveling in front of Israel’s army” (Ibid.), as God intended:

“My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run” (Exodus 23:23 and 27).

During the encounter at the Red Sea, however, this angel changed tactical position and went behind the people, followed by the pillar of cloud, “coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel” so that “the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side” throughout the night “so neither [army] went near the other all night long” (Exodus 14:20). This King fought for His people but yet His people chose against Him for one like them who will “lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20).

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Yet the idea for a king blared loudly in their consciousness as if hypnotically that it was by then all that they could hear or see. Despite having a Divine hand that lovingly led them, the best government above and beyond what the world of flesh and blood could ever offer, the carnal tendency to gravitate toward the seduction of immediate perception was overwhelming. Could this be what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote: “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50)? 

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From the time the Hebrews burst out of Egyptian slavery, God had by then established His kingdom. The unique and peculiar aliens held as slaves in the greatest empire in the world of that time were called more than the children of Abraham; very sparingly, in fact, did God refer to them as Hebrews. That was their Abrahamic name, their ancestral name, their nomadic name, their name while they dwelled in a land they were to inherit but not yet. Abraham came from Mesopotamia, a land east, across the Jordan and farther from the twin rivers of the Tigris and the Euphrates; by this he and his family came to be known. But when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, it was clear that matters had gotten much more personal with “my people” (Exodus 3:7).

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For those who have seen The Ten Commandments, the line, “Let my people go,” will never be forgotten. Bear in thine mind, however, that Moses never claimed initiative for the statement. Every time he stood before the Pharaoh, he preceded the demand with “Thus saith the Lord” (Exodus 5:1 King James Version).

And if there was someone who was excited about the set up, it was God; not the people. And as we read Genesis 17:8 where God for the first time proposed the set up to the Hebrew father Abraham, we discover the reason for the excitement—note the part I have emphasized:

“The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.

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And then in Exodus 29:45, God once again, under no provocation, expressed the anticipation: “Then I will dwell among the Israelites”—because what kind of leader lives not among his people?—“and be their God.” It was what God got out of the proverbial deal: to be their God. If the Bible began with the Book of Exodus, we would begin the story of a lonely God atop a lonely peak, unworshiped, unappreciated, unknown, longing to make it big in the lower world of man as a magnet of their love and affection. Yet when begin reading from Genesis, God has held this dream before Him like a luxury from the time before He created the universe, the driving force why He decided to compose a masterpiece out of His own image. The problem, however, started when His masterpiece decided to spill corruption over all what was perfectly created, including on himself. And it has been this corruption that has humiliated God in His desire to be with His people and be their God. For the reason of corruption, God’s Spirit will “not always strive with man” (Genesis 6:3 King James Version) and thus cutting his days short upon the earth up to “an hundred and twenty years” (Ibid.). And because all had become corrupt, all touched by its curse dies, because it is a universal consequence that corruption will always churn out death. This is therefore why the ones God love rebelled as they were ruled by their soul corrupted by the fall of man:

“Those who live according to the sinful (corrupted, carnal) nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit (of God) desires. The mind of sinful man is death…the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (Romans 8:5-8).

When all Israel came up as one man to ask for its king, the Lord called it a rebellion, a rebellion though He was prepared to face. Israel’s refusal to be dissuaded by the Prophet Samuel was an unwitting attempt to humiliate the God who did everything to deliver, provide, protect, and call an over-sized herd of slaves His people, just for them to call Him their God. But God will not be humiliated.

To the nation who asked for a king, He gave them the king they desired: “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others” (1 Samuel 9:2), just the type all the other pagan nations around them would have their monarch. A fierce and ruthless champion who would “inflict punishment” (14:47), fight valiantly, defeat, and deliver the nation “from the hands of those who had plundered them” (verse 48)—again, the ideal champion the pagan world would uphold. His heart, however, was just as corrupt as those who hailed him king. No matter how vigorously God attempted to change his heart with His powerful Spirit (10:9), the hostility of his carnal nature would eventually seek to make war against the God who chose him. It was just a matter of time until the disobedience of Saul would surge to overcome his will. And when that day came, God, “before the elders of [His] people and before Israel” (15:30), rejected Saul as king:

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“As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the edge of his robe, and it tore. Saul replied, ‘I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God’” (verse 27 and 30).

Saul’s disobedience was a slap on the face of God. But God is the real King. As the Prophet Samuel testified, “He who is the Glory of Israel…is not a man” (verse 29). And He who is the Glory of Israel would not take it His face getting slapped by mere flesh and blood. Before the Israel that celebrated his ascent to the throne, God had these rebukes for the king:

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“Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.’ Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?’” (15:17-19)

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voices of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king”
(verses 22-23).

“You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel”
(verse 26).

“The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind”
(verse 28-29).

Many of us know what it is like to get grilled in front of others; many of us know the experience of being drilled helpless in the sight of those who look up to us as their hero. Before all Israel, God presented them the king they wanted, the king who would make them “like all the other nations” (8:20), complete with the prescribed good looks and the power to survive the bloodbath of the battlefield. God showed Israel what it was like to trust in flesh and blood, in the carnal ideals held by the nations that worshiped lifeless gods of earth and wood, than a God who can split a sea into dry land, rain manna down from heaven in the morning and quail in the evening, and bring victory in a battle no matter how big the size of the enemy army. The humiliation that was meant to be God’s turned into the humiliation of Saul which also was meant to humiliate Israel’s rebellion. 

The humiliation of Saul did not stop there. He tenaciously held on to the throne and continued to command the honor of king when he should have returned the authority to Samuel who would have later passed it to David. Because of this, the outcome of his corruption unraveled before all Israel, the Philistine soldiers, and that Amalekite servant that hacked him to death in the battlefield.

God gave Israel a king (verse 22), a king who was as defiant as the people who demanded for him. As the people disobeyed, so did their king.

Ed Darack/Science Faction/Corbis
The very name of the land the Israelites inherited  from God meant "humiliation." The youngest son of Noah's youngest son, Ham, the curse of humiliation fell on Canaan to become "the lowest of slaves...to his brothers" (Genesis 9:25) when Ham one day jeered on his father's drunken nakedness instead of doing the appropriate custom of covering it. Noah, upon knowing later of what Ham did, slapped a curse on his rebellious son by cursing Canaan with humiliation.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The King After God: Perdition and the Law

The Bridgeman Art Library/Gettyimages
When considering Deuteronomy 17:18-19, there seems to be one specific king the events of whose life highlighted the conditions of the passage like fulfillment of a prophecy. Around 638 B.C. an eight-year-old child by the name of Josiah rose into power in the kingdom of Judah. Now someone coming to the throne at this age can give us the impression that the kingdom is at the verge of destruction, finding no one else fit to occupy the throne, desperately holds on to its tradition and gambles its everything on this one in whom is believed to be from the line of its best king. Yet by a slim margin there is that chance that the kingdom may be on a path to glory. Knowing the God whom the Israelites worshiped, Who split the Red Sea and delivered His people from certain slaughter, slim chances were His specialty. And with an eight-year-old Josiah, son and grandson of two of the most evil monarchs Judah has ever had, God was about to turn the tide of corruption upon itself through the relentless fury of this young king.

National Geographic Society/Corbis
Unlike his grandfather King Manasseh who prostituted the Israelite culture to the paganism of its neighbors, and his father King Amon who exceeded his father’s guilt (2 Chronicles 33:23), Josiah was raised in righteousness. In 2 Chronicles 34:2, it says that, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left.” And by then he was only eight. At age 16, “he began to seek the God of his father David” (34:3). This became the vital four-year spiritual foundation that would fuel his mission to wage war on the paganism that was corroding the cultural integrity of Judah. At 20, his twelfth year on the throne, “he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles, carved idols and cast images” (Ibid.). With such violence, he “cut to pieces,” “smashed,” “broke,” “scattered” (verse 4), “burned,” “crushed…to powder” and “tore down” (verse 7) every symbol, altar, edifice, and bone of those who served as priests of the Baals and Asheras in his entire kingdom. Six years later, to complete the spiritual purification of his land, he ordered the repair of God’s Temple in Jerusalem. Apparently years of religious-cultural mutation had added a lot of changes in the Temple. The common impression of a reader reading about the Israelite kings, like Manasseh, who “did evil in the eyes of the Lord” is that when they worshiped their false gods in the Temple of God, they merely pushed in a few altars and some variously sized statues, added new draperies and probably decommissioned some menorahs and stuck them in the Temple warehouse. This is not what happened. Manasseh alone ruled a long fifty-five years (2 Chronicles 33:1) and in that period he renovated the Temple to incorporate his pagan pantheon. This required alterations in the original Temple plan to accommodate additions, probably promote and block some “positive” and “negative energies” coming in and going out of the building. You know what I mean. For a total of fifty-eight years, half a century, the Temple of God gained a new look, starkly alien from the Temple King David planned and which his son Solomon built. And it was Josiah’s self-appointed task—as far as he was spiritually concerned, that is—to restore the Temple to its original holiness.

National Geographic Society/Corbis
It could have been that Josiah's grandfather King Manasseh and father King Amon were trying to remodel the Temple of God to resemble a Mesopotamian ziggurat as during their lifetime they tried to identify themselves with their neighbors by adopting their religious culture and push the Jehovah away from Jehovic Israel.

The account is told in 2 Chronicles 34:9 to 13. One of the expressions of faith and rededication to God was the immense unanimous financial support given by the “people of Manasseh, Ephraim and the entire remnant of Israel and from all the people of Judah and Benjamin and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 34:9). Trust was another demonstration of their approval for their king and his mission to restore the Jehovah-centered society of Israel. According to the tenth and eleventh verses of our passage, the people entrusted the money they set aside for Temple restoration “to the men appointed to supervise the work on the Lord’s temple,” who, in turn, “paid the workers who repaired and restored the temple” and those who purchased the replacement stone and the timber. The workers worked in absolute honesty and diligence over the finances and in their specified jobs (verses 12 to 13).

The degradation of the Temple could have been externally as simple as the one on the left, with the Mesopotamian genies drawn at the facade above the door, or as massive as the Assyrian model below. In any case, alterations did take place that new materials needed to be shipped in to replace the old and add what Manasseh and Amon's specifications eliminated.

Nik Wheeler/CORBIS

The Temple of God had been through massive alteration and corruption that new “dressed stone, and timber for joists and beams” had to be purchased to replace the ones that “the kings of Judah had allowed to fall into ruin” (verse 11). In other words, King Josiah and his team of appointees were to undertake a great extreme makeover, spiritual edition. This was the juncture when God plays the father of the parable who runs to meet his homecoming son whom he thought he had lost forever (Luke 15:20). After an unremitting ten-year campaign that spiritually and socially sterilized Israel for God, He was about to perform His operation through a string of events that led to the rediscovery of an important artifact. Hidden somewhere in a cabinet or a niche or a chamber that had been bricked or boarded up, gathering layers of dust and forgotten in the long backslidden years, “the Book of the Law of the Lord that had been given through Moses” (verse 14) finally surfaces.

History views this episode as the most crucial point of Josiah’s campaign. There is, however, some controversy concerning how the Mosaic volumes were applied to the cultural revolution. According to 2 Chronicles 34:30, Josiah read the Law to “the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and Levites—all the people from the least to the greatest” and created a wave of reawakening throughout the entire nation. Israelites came from every corner of the kingdom with a compelling heart hunger for the word of God. But the word of God that Josiah read to them, according to some scholars, was actually a new version which he had revised to match the temper of his generation.

It is agreed that the Law of Moses was rediscovered at some secluded part of the Temple. Interpretations will arise, however, in the passage where the king’s secretary Shaphan “read from it in the presence of the king” (verse 18). Here, Josiah, understanding from the original manuscripts, decided to present God’s word and culture that his generation could easily understand. With the expertise of his priests and Scriptural specialists, the endeavor was blessed in the form of a book that later came to be known as the Book of Deuteronomy.

Burstein Collection/CORBIS
According to experts in Scripture history, there are four major narratives of the Old Testament; two of these are called the “J” and “E” documents. The “J” document is so named because the name “Jehovah” is used in every appearance of “God.” It is the oldest of all written documents, dating back to the ninth century B.C., during the time of Jeroboam, and was penned in the southern kingdom of Judah.

With the “E” document, God is referred to as “Elohim.” It was written in the eighth century B.C., this time in the northern kingdom of Israel, about a hundred years after the “J.” It is believed that the “E” was produced to rival the “J,” which was housed in the Temple in Jerusalem.

It was these two documents that Josiah saw the need to harmonize. If the “J” called God “Jehovah” and the “E” referred to Him as “Elohim,” Josiah’s new work formulated the new concept of a “Jehovah Elohim” for “Lord God,” thus creating the “JE” document. The king’s team also added their own expert interpretation on some portions of the document which they believed would boost new generation understanding. This may explain the fact that the passage in Deuteronomy 17:18 to 20 makes an uncanny reference to Josiah’s act and fueling principle:

“When [the king] takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left.”

National Geographic Society/Corbis
The late great Jewish historian Max I. Dimont noted the “good fortune” that brought the rise of Josiah in the hour of Judah’s most critical crisis [Jews, God and History, p.65]. Before he came into power at the age of eight, Judah had been immersed in fifty-seven straight years of religious apostasy which seemed to be irreversible. The spiritual and cultural amalgamation with its pagan neighbors had buried the Israelite religion deep beneath layers of defiance and corruption. King Manasseh and later his son King Amon had deliberately torn away the Jehovah from the kingdom’s culture and spliced in His place the Baals, Asherahs, “all the starry hosts” (2 Chronicles 33:5), “sorcery, divination and witchcraft” (verse 6). During this period, a generation was born knowing “neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). In this new age, the god they knew wore a pointy hat holding in one hand a slender tree that ended in a spearhead, a raised club in another, and a man dangling by his hair in another. The god they knew had a female consort who held in her hand a phallic scepter, the symbol of the life that allegedly issued from her, from her breasts where flowed eternal sustenance, and every time the three-armed god goes to bed with her—and every time meant all the time.

Werner Forman/CORBIS
In 722 B.C., Judah watched in silent horror as the Assyrians descended upon Israel and carried away whatever was left of its populace. During that time, the righteous king Hezekiah ruled the southern kingdom. For twenty-nine years, Judah depended on the Lord for protection from the threat and taunts of Sennacherib. It was a time of great fear, great obedience, and great miracles, including how an angel of God armed with a sword descended into the Assyrian siege camp and killed "a hundred and eighty-five thousand" soldiers (2 Kings 19:35), forcing the loud-mouthed Sennacherib to break camp and scamper back to Nineveh (verse 36). The Bible seems to draw some humor in this in that it even notes that he "stayed there." But it was for a reason. In the same way as he drew delight in humiliating God when he tried to bleach Hezekiah and Jerusalem with his murderous intimidations, God took His turn and determined the flow of event of his life:

Araldo de Luca/CORBIS
"One day, while he (Sennacherib) was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisrok, his sons Adrammelek and Sharezer killed him with the sword" (verse 37).

But after Hezekiah died, his son Manasseh ruled the kingdom for fifty-five years corrupting the land with his idolatry. It could have been worse if his successor Amon was allowed to rule longer than two years; probably God saw how bleak the future was for the kingdom so He took him out.

In a generation that knew not God, a boy king arose who began to seek God in the years when teenage sexual curiosity was supposed to be consuming that stage of his youth. Instead, he thought that if the kingdom kept on going on its religious and cultural course the way it did from the days of his grandfather Manasseh, Judah would end up with the same judgment that befell the northern kingdom of Israel. And if someone like Josiah and any righteous prophet would view Judah by that time, he would doubt whether Israel was really exiled at all, or at least its spirit of uncleanness had spilled itself crazy upon the kingdom. God was gracious to David, to Jerusalem, to Judah that He provided the kingdom with a king like Josiah.

Josiah, the boy king who changed the course of Judah and provided the a new document for the coming generation of believers would understand and life according to: The Book of Deuteronomy.

[That was fun! All those modeling and remodeling and back to the old model. Well, didn't I tell you there was gonna be more? What disappoints me at this point is this large white space beside the last pic. Hope you don't mind, though. There's more to come, and it's gonna have more King Saul in it! Excited? You know I am! So, till then, stay tuned! Hey, that's new.]

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The King After God: All the King's Wives

Christine Osborne/CORBIS
In the seventeenth verse of Deuteronomy 17, God’s guidelines for choosing a king, firstly stipulates that the candidate “must not take many wives.” Now, we all know of one king who had failed this law, keeping a total of “seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines” (1 Kings 11:3). King Saul was known to have had one wife, a woman named Ahinoam (1 Samuel 14:50); and a concubine named Rizpah. Back in those days, it was more or less prevalent among kings and nobles to keep at least one partner other than the common-law wife. It was not the rule and much less was it a legal stipulation for a man to have one; but because of society’s permissiveness on the matter, the Law of Moses later regulated the practice by providing certain rights to the concubine, her children, her benefactor, including a certain protocol that must be observed in obtaining a mistress (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). Regardless, however, of the toleration and management imposed by the Law over the custom, a part of the Scriptures spoke against concubinage and it was doubtless that there were those who believed, citing it as a source of trouble based on certain cases in the lives of the patriarchs. It was from this contingent that held the incompatibility of the concubinage part of culture to Christianity.

Araldo de Luca/CORBIS
An Example from the Life of Abraham. Abraham, for instance, kept several concubines—Genesis 25:6, and had sons by them—but none gave him great deal of complication than Sarah's Egyptian maidservant named Hagar. The first snag that this arrangement is liable to promote is between wife and mistress. Hagar was an Egyptian maidservant who was dragged into the mess spilled by Abraham and Sarah when they attempted to facilitate God’s promise of a son and heir (Genesis 15:40). Knowing the fact that their bodies were “as good as dead” (Romans 4:19), they resorted to the custom of impregnating the Sarah’s slave (Genesis 16:3). And out of that arrangement, Hagar bore Ishmael; a development that changed the attitudes of both Hagar and Sarah toward each other. The fourth verse in Genesis 16 says that Hagar began to despise her mistress. Sarah, armed with her legitimate right as wife and Hagar’s owner, coupled with an embittered soul, it was easy for her to mistreat her and send the slave running away (verse 6). But in a desert road, God meets Hagar and tells her to “go back to [her] mistress and submit to her” (verse 9), with a promise. On account of the respect God had for Abraham, He assured to greatly increase the progeny of Abraham from her body “that they will be too numerous to count” (verse 10).

Hagar did as the Lord commanded and returned to Sarah. She gave birth to Ishmael while she stayed with her mistress (verse 16). Little more than a decade later, Sarah got pregnant and gave birth to the awaited heir, Isaac (21:1-5). At this point, Sarah compelled Abraham to divorce Hagar and disinherit Ishmael by sending her away (Genesis 21:10). The matter, according to the Scriptures, “distressed Abraham greatly” (verse 11). 

An Example from the Life of Jacob. It distressed the patriarch greatly “because it concerned his son” (Ibid.). One observable problem in ancient concubinage is seen in the conflict among the offspring. In Genesis 21:8 to 10, the sight of Ishmael teasing Isaac infuriated Sarah prompting her to banish the servant child and her mother. And that ended a sibling conflict which could have grown worse in time, such as what happened among Jacob’s eleven sons when their jealousy of Joseph sent him into Egyptian bondage. The passage in Genesis 35:23 to 26 outlines Jacob’s family. In order of marriage, Leah was the first; and from this union brought Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. From Leah also came Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter (30:21). Rachel, though Jacob loved her first, fell second to give him Joseph and Benjamin. By her maidservant Bilhah came Dan and Naphtali. Leah, too, offered her maidservant Zilpah and from her came Gad and Asher.

Examples from the Life of the Israelite Kings

The first three Israelite kings were not from this contingent. King Saul was known to have kept a wife and a concubine, a fact we either know little or care little about. Saul’s wife was Ahinoam (1 Samuel 14:50), from whom came Jonathan, Ish-Bosheth (who went by the names Ishvi, Esh-Baal, and possibly Abinadab, 31:2), and Malki-Shua (verse 49); and the daughters Merab and Michal, the princess whom Saul gave to David as wife at the cost of two hundred Philistine foreskins (1 Samuel 18:27). The concubine was Rizpah (2 Samuel 3:7,21:8,10,11).While the trouble that the women entangled in concubinage could churn out is well established in the consciousness of the Israelite, Saul’s disobedience had instead created for his partners the lifelong pain of losing their sons in tragic deaths that could have well been avoided from the start. We have already known how in 1 Samuel 31, Ahinoam lost her three sons in a battle against the Philistines on Mount Gilboa. Rizpah lost her two sons, Armoni and Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 21:8), to the Gibeonites who had them immolated for a mandate defied by—you guessed it—Saul.

Rizpah, Saul's Concubine, in the Middle of Saul's Transgression with the Gibeonites

The story in 2 Samuel 21:1 to 14 tells that Saul, “in his zeal of Israel and Judah” (verse 2) attempted to do what Joshua centuries before him would not: “annihilate the Gibeonites.”

George Steinmetz/CORBIS
The Gibeonites, according to 2 Samuel 21:2, were an ancient race of Amorites who, in Joshua 9, extracted Israelite protection through a cunning ruse. In verses 4 to 6 and 9 to 14, they successfully deceived the Israelites into believing that they were worn and vulnerable travelers from some far distant land drawn to where the Israelites were “because of the fame of the Lord” (verse 9). Flattered it seemed by the testimony posed by the Gibeonites that Joshua and the Israelites forgot the fundamental procedure of inquiring of the Lord (verses 14 and 15) and on went the decision to establish a treaty of peace with these people , unwittingly disobeying God’s mandate never to make any covenant with them (Exodus 23:32).

Adrian Abib/CORBIS
The sanctity of their survival sealed by an oath invoking the Name of the Lord demanded the lives of seven of Saul’s male descendants with their bodies left unburied and exposed “before the Lord” (verse 6). David had five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab, along with the two sons of Rizpah, delivered to the Gibeonites and immolated (2 Samuel 21:8 to 9). When the Gibeonites were done with them, Rizpah came and stood by the bodies of her two sons, spread sackcloth on a rock, and, enduring night and day and the pouring rain, scared away scavenging birds and other wild animals that tried to approach the corpses. This prompted King David to have the remains of Rizpah and Merab’s sons gathered and given a proper burial. Along with this, he claimed from the people of Jabesh Gilead the bones of Saul and Jonathan and buried them in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish in Benjamin (verses 12 to 14).

Werner Forman/Corbis
Her name appears four times in the Bible. In 2 Samuel 3:7, her name gets dragged into a scandal cooked up by Ish-Bosheth in an attempt to derail the growing influence exerted by Abner, the king’s general and uncle, in their clan. As we already know, King Saul by this time was already unfit to rule. His obsession to murder David through the influence of intermittent demonic oppression and possession and the Prophet Samuel’s public declaration that God had rejected him as king (1 Samuel 15:23,26,28) were factors enough for many to seek other leaders in place of Saul. One of these was David. Another was Abner, at least in Ish-Bosheth’s interpretation of how Abner had been flexing his influence in Saul’s clan. It could have been that Abner had been trying to gain the clan’s support to install him as king and thereby keep the supremacy over all Israel. Ish-Bosheth’s scandalous accusation, however, may have irredeemably shattered Abner’s delicate prospects to gain the major trust of the clan, so he opts for the next best thing: a defection over to David’s side. 

Saul was a normal reflection of his society as he escaped the technicality of taking “many wives” (Deuteronomy 17:17). He had one wife and one other wife, and that was it. But how many is “many”? When God transferred the anointing as king, He was risking landing it on someone who had a starkly illicit control over his raging hormones. 

Jim Zuckerman/Corbis
David's Life with his Wives

As we read of David’s story, we can notice that the stages of his life were landmarked by the women he loved. Michal, King Saul’s princess, would cover David’s early rise to popularity; Abigail would be during the stage when he was eluding Saul’s murderous pursuit; Bathsheba, who would mark the zenith of David’s life as by then the undisputed king of Israel; and Abishag, a Shunammite girl given to him by his servants during the twilight years of his life to attend and take care of him (1 Kings 1:2), since by then his senility had robbed him of the ability to basically care for himself (verse 1).

The "Abigail Age of David's Life": “This part of my life is called, ‘Running.’ And I wanna thank my wife Abigail for all of the support and prayer; and, of course, God without whose blessing and guidance my head would be stuck at the edge of a royal spear right now!”

But even aside from these ladies, David was known to have married some lesser known wives like Ahinoam of Jezreel (2 Samuel 3:2), Maacah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur (verse 3), Haggith (verse 4), Abital, and Eglah (verse 5). He was also known to have kept a harem of concubines. In 2 Samuel 15:16, he was known to have left ten of them to take care of the palace when he escaped Jerusalem before his usurping son Absalom could take over the city.

"This part of my life is called, ‘Being Stupid’!” It was the day the king came to his rooftop, saw the bathing Bathsheba, and was conquered. But to what price?

The number of the partners David kept was not exactly the direct answer to our question as to how many did Deuteronomy 17:17 mean by “many wives.” After Saul’s death, David’s life changed. The ease, popularity, and prosperity facilitated the growth of his family in a way that he added more wives who bore more children, sadly, beyond his ability to discipline. As a result, the privileged royal lifestyle and the unchecked excesses of unrestraint swelled into a deposit that encrusted their God consciousness, like what led to the chain of events involving Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom (2 Samuel 13). According to the chart provided in 2 Samuel 3:2-5, Amnon, David’s “firstborn” was born of Ahinoam of Jezreel (verse 2); Tamar and Absalom were siblings from Maacah, the Geshurite princess (verse 3). 

Mimmo Jodice/CORBIS
One of the great scandals of David’s life began with his desire for Bathsheba. The lust of a night as he watched the woman bathing turned into fornication, which resulted into her getting pregnant. In his attempt to cover up his blunder, he recalled Bathsheba’s husband Uriah from the battlefield and tried to get him to sleep with her, which even in his most inebriated state would not violate the code of a soldier in a time of battle, which ignites the frustration of the king, which leads him to pen a directive to his general Joab to march Uriah into the part of the battlefield where the fighting is thickest and to abandon him there. Uriah successfully hand-carried the sealed letter to Joab and with great regret, the latter obeys. The battle ended with Uriah as casualty, a victim not of war but of a carefully meditated plot to murder him.

Alinari Archives/CORBIS
It could be considered, therefore, that the “many” expressed in Deuteronomy 17:17 is the point that goes beyond a man’s ability to control his dependents and keep them from self-destructing. In the example that involved Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom, it presented David’s family self-destructing immorally.

Mimmo Jodice/CORBIS

Abishag was one described in 1 Kings 1:4 as “very beautiful,” the result of a nationwide search for “a young virgin to attend the king and take care of him,” who “can lie beside him” to keep the king warm (verse 1). The “beauty search” proved to be a great success in Abishag as she was faithful in her task and even maintained her virginity throughout the period she took care and waited on the king (verse 4). If she had ever served a master younger and other than David at another time, that master would call that point of his life, “Being Happy.”

Solomon's Polygamy and its Possible Egyptian Origin

The penchant for the lovely ladies passed on from David to his son Solomon whose fame was built, among others, on the plain fact that he loved “seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines” (1 Kings 11:3), maintaining an unbroken violation of God’s condition in Deuteronomy 17:17. Yet if there were any value to virtue in this aspect of his life, it was the fulfillment of the second part of the passage: “…or his heart will be led astray” (Ibid.). And true enough, “his wives led him astray” (1 Kings 11:3).

Andy Sotiriou/moodboard/Corbis
In our recent article, The King After God: All the King's Horses, we have suspected that King Solomon amassed a great number of horses and chariots in emulating the Pharaoh of Egypt, whose collection was renown for its quantity and quality throughout the region. War horses and chariots, however, were not the only array he wanted in his treasure trove. The kings of Egypt were known to have loved multiple wives and concubines. Ramses II, said to be Moses' contemporary, was reported to have kept as many as fifty wives, and from them the famed Nefertari was chosen to become his queen, the chief of all his female consorts. With the record we have available today, we may well say that Solomon surpassed Ramses II in this respect, by a great measure—try lining up fifty against a thousand wives and concubines! One comparable element the Israelite king did not adopt was the Egyptian custom of marrying the immediate family member.

After Nefertari, Ramses was known to have loved their daughter Isetnofret. From this union came her successor Bintanath. After Bintanath, the Pharaoh chose another daughter he had by Nefertari, Meritamen. Her sister by the same mother, Nebettawy, took her place. Nearing the end of his life, seeming to have run out of daughters to desire after, he chose Maathorneferure who, scholars suspect, had been either another daughter or his sister.

Roger Wood/Corbis
It is called incest, and the Israelite law which the king and his people were to equally obey severely prohibited such a practice. Leviticus 20:17 called it "a disgrace" if a man marries a sister, "the daughter of either his father or his mother." The law prescribed banishment to anyone guilty of this "disgrace," as the commission of the act discriminated the offender from his God-authored culture. If there was a law that Solomon was not as desperate to violate as gaining for himself a thousand wives, it was experimenting with incest.

Alfredo Dagli Orti/The Art Archive/Corbis
But Solomon went for the foreign gals, specifically from the very nations God warned the Israelites never to intermarry with (1 Kings 11:2). And in this matter, he not only modeled after the king of Egypt but even perfected this aspect of his foreign hero.

Unlike his father David and King Saul before him, Solomon was not known for his prowess in the battlefield. But it was during his time when the kingdom of Israel experienced great peace "on all sides" (1 Kings 4:24). Countries as far as the Euphrates River to the borders of Egypt brought tribute to Solomon and were his subjects all his life.

Lebrecht Music & Arts/Corbis
Though God never sanctioned its arrangement, polygamy and polygyny were acts that had been with man from the dateless past. Solomon's tremendous numerical buildup of wives can be understood from the diplomatic relationship he established and maintained with the nations around him. One can deduce that the peace that marked his reign, described in 1 Kings 4:23–25, may have resulted from accepting wives customarily offered by the kings who negotiated for peace. The arrangement of marriage, therefore, was a significant motion to bind an alliance between parties involved, a mutual sincere reciprocation of goodwill. 

The Gallery Collection/Corbis
Even as late as the Colonial history, the marriage of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile in A.D. 1469 united their two of their Spanish kingdoms and established their government as a world power.

The Bible's First Bigamist and his Role in Advancing the Cainite Culture

That was for peace. But the role of marriage serves more than peace. In Genesis 4:19 a man by the name of Lamech expanded the influence of the house of Cain, Adam's cursed firstborn and the Bible's first murderer, by rapidly populating the vast stretches of wild lands untamed by the people of his time. How he facilitated this was through the expedience of a bigamous marriage.
Lamech was the first known bigamist in the Bible. It was his expression of the loose sexual element that marked the Cainite culture that lured the young restless men of Adam's house, the "sons of God" of Genesis 6:2. It was also the best way to promote a counter culture. In the time of Adam, it was his house that dominated the planet. The culture which he promoted and which the world almost automatically embraced was the Godly lifestyle authored by God Himself. Except by Cain, however. 

Zhou Hua/Xinhua Press/Corbis
The blessings that came with a righteous life refused to apply to Cain after he murdered his brother Abel. In Genesis 4:11 to 12, his ability to tame crops was nullified by a curse that God slapped on his life. In spite of this, God continued to be gracious by allowing him to live, though wandering the face of the earth (Genesis 4:12 and 14). It did not mean that Cain gained immortal life, impervious to hunger, thirst, exhaustion or pain. He still had to contend with these but without his talent to farm the earth. He needed a new way of living, and in the ensuing verses, it becomes apparent that he did find a way, a compromise that worked around the loss of his talent. In the sixteenth verse, he lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. The birth of his firstborn Enoch is the first evidence that the new lifestyle he adopted was working. In the seventeenth verse, he gains a following, a considerable one as he establishes the first known city in the Bible. At this point, his pattern of survival was getting noticed and gaining the respect and renown as a workable alternative to the Adamic culture, though at this point it was not seen as an alternative but as an enhancer of certain aspects of life. Four generations later, the Cainite culture explodes from being a minor global player to end the Adamic age and the Godliness it upheld.

Historical Pictures Archive/CORBIS
The greatest exponent of the Cainite culture, next to Cain, was Lamech. The passage in Genesis 4:19 says that he was married to two women: Adah and Zillah. This multiple marriage was not only responsible for enlarging the increments of population, but out of it came the three fathers of invention that changed the way people lived forever.

"Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of  bronze and iron" (Genesis 4:20-22).  

Araldo de Luca/Corbis
In Psalm 127:3, it says, "Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him." In the next verse it explains one benefit: "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court" (verse 4 to 5).

Without the Lord, however, to bless with a quiver full children to contend with their opponents, it seemed like Cain's house was bound nowhere but oblivion. Cain himself took only one wife. It was Lamech who conceived of the daring experiment and accomplished by the flesh what the hand of God could grant.

National Geographic Society/Corbis
The psalmist disclosed one benefit of having a large number of offspring in your family. In ancient times, a large family meant power. Children did not survive the starvation that followed a poor man's austere condition; those, however, of a lavishly wealthy family not only did but had more to give and help their neighbor. A wealth of strong male children was a family's insurance that secured its wealth in good hands.

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Rehoboam, the First Non-Israelite King?

If David's polygamous marriage wrought shocking scandals and disasters in his life, Solomon’s wives and concubines produced an array of interesting contenders to the throne after him, including a half-Israelite, half-Ammonite forty-one-year-old by the name of Rehoboam. It was through Rehoboam that the Israelite kingdom, which kings Saul, David, and Solomon, took painstaking care in establishing all their lives, split into two with the Northern part made up of ten tribes unilaterally slipping into apostasy, and the Southern part preserved for the descendants of David to rule.

Rehoboam too took for himself wives and concubines. But unlike the complicated marriages of his immediate two predecessors, the Bible attributes no problems stemming from his eighteen wives and sixty concubines (2 Chronicles 11:21). He did not love them equally, though, for there was one whom he treated with greater favor: Absalom’s daughter Maacah, who must have been specially beautiful if she took after her father who in his time was the most flawlessly handsome man in all Israel (2 Samuel 14:25). From his union with Maacah came Abijah, a favorite he personally groomed above all his other twenty-eight sons (2 Chronicles 11:21). Out of all the disasters that occurred during his reign, Abijah proved to be Rehoboam’s greatest success.

Mimmo Jodice/Corbis
There may be, however, some discrepancy concerning the Abijah of 2 Chronicles 11:20 and 22 from the Abijah of 13:2. Although extra-Biblical references make no difference between the two, a reader trekking the abovementioned passages may readily differentiate the first Abijah being the son of “Maacah daughter of Absalom” (verse 20) from the second Maacah of 13:2, “a daughter of Uriel of Gibeah.” The dilemma here would therefore concern Abijah’s mother Maacah. Other reliable translations render the word “daughter” of 13:2 as “granddaughter” instead. The man Uriel of Gibeah may have been Maacah’s maternal grandfather. But without looking any further than 1 Kings 15:2, Maacah was identified as the “daughter of Abishalom,” "Abishalom" a variant of “Absalom,” meaning “father of peace.” Later in the tenth verse, Maacah daughter of Abishalom became  grandmother to Abijah’s successor, Asa.

But while Asa turned out to be a righteous man of God, Maacah found her niche later in life as a pagan “queen mother” (verse 13) for the goddess Ashera. In accordance to the cultural reform instituted by Asa, the king “deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother” (2 Chronicles 15:16).

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Abijah, the Only Righteousness from Rehoboam's Multitude of Wrong

Rehoboam first placed Abijah in a prominent position as “chief prince” (2 Chronicles 11:22). It was not a bad decision, in fact, verse 23 says that “he acted wisely.” He spread out his sons to settle various districts of Judah and Benjamin and provided for them lavishly. Among the commodities he provided were wives: “He gave them abundant provisions and took many wives for them.”

The love Rehoboam devoted to Maacah radiated to Abijah who honored that love with a towering respect for his father. In 2 Chronicles 13:7, he defended his father’s honor when he faced Rehoboam’s archenemy, Jeroboam king of Israel:

“Some worthless scoundrels gathered around him and opposed Rehoboam son of Solomon when he was young and indecisive and not strong enough to resist him.”

Patrick Escudero/Hemis/Corbis
Abijah turned out to be a God-fearing king with an impregnable faith that held God as his leader (verse 12). He came up to Jeroboam with an army of 400,000 against the latter’s 800,000, which got subdued “because (Abijah) relied on the Lord, the God of their fathers” (verse 18). In the verses that followed it is said that Abijah wrested some important towns and villages from Jeroboam’s control and that Jeroboam, after this event, never regained power again during the time of Abijah (verse 19 to 20). The king of Judah, however, “grew in strength” and acquired for himself fourteen wives and by them had twenty-two sons and sixteen daughters (verse 21). In our explanation of “many wives,” we can have some liberty in saying that Abijah’s—and Rehoboam’s—polygamy was within the limits of his ability to control. From the family line touched by Maacah, daughter of Absalom, son of David, Abijah chose Asa, whose great reforms in Judah brought peace throughout the kingdom for three decades (2 Chronicles 11:5 to 6).

[Told you there was more. And there's more!]

[And a lot more there's been! Just finished updating the article with more inserts. Enjoy!]