June 5 – June 12, 2020

Friday, June 5

1 Samuel 4: There are two parts to the present chapter: first, the loss of the Ark to the Philistines (verses 1-11); second, the death of Eli and the birth of Ichabod (verses 12-22).

After an initial defeat at the hands of their enemy (verses 1-2), the Israelite elders imagine that the Ark’s bare presence on the battlefield will assure the army of divine help in the next encounter (verse 3). Their reasoning on this point is doubtless inspired by the memory of the ark’s significant role in the Battle of Jericho.

However, those warriors commanded by Joshua at Jericho were assured of victory by the Lord Himself (Joshua 6:2-5), and they bore the Ark, not as a lucky charm or a magic talisman, but as an expression of their faith (6:6-8). In contrast, the elders in the present text forget that the Lord bases His judgments on the content of hearts. How can they imagine that the Lord does not regard the hearts of the two scoundrels who currently carry the Ark? Ironically, the Philistines seem to have more respect for the Ark than do the Israelites (verses 7-9). In the end, Israel’s losses in the second battle (verse 10) greatly outnumber those in the first.

The second scene of this chapter (verses 12-22) opens with the arrival of the messenger who runs 18 miles from the battlefield to the city of Shiloh, bringing tidings of the disaster (verse 12). Eli, apparently waiting at a gate different from the one entered by the messenger, becomes the last person to hear the message. The scene grows in drama: blind Eli, hearing the uproar and lamentation in the city, demands to know the reason (verses 13-16). We learn much of the soul of the old man from the fact that he is anxious less for the safety of his sons than for the fate of the Ark. Hence, the full effect of the message seizes him only when he learns of the seizure of the Ark: Falling backward from a stool, he dies of a broken neck (verse 17-18).

The ironic climax of the tragedy arrives when the pregnant wife of Phineas suddenly goes into labor, in reaction to learning the loss of her husband and father-in-law, along with the defeat of the army and the capture of the Ark. She dies after giving birth to a boy, on whom she confers the symbolic name Ichabod, “glory gone.”

This name is based on the important Hebrew noun kavod, “glory.” This is the glory associated with God’s presence with the Ark. This child, then, born on the day of Ark’s capture, will be a living reminder of the Lord’s judgment on the priestly family of Shiloh. Although some prophets continued to dwell at Shiloh (cf. 1 Kings 14:2, 4), its priesthood settled at Nob (1 Samuel 14:3; 22:11).

Saturday, June 6

1 Samuel 5L The victorious Philistines now take the captured Ark of the Covenant and place it, as a votive offering, in the temple of their god, Dagon, in the city of Ashdod. Although they intended this ritual to signify the subjection of Israel’s God to Dagon, the latter does not fare well in the encounter (verses 1-5).

Dagon was a local Syrian divinity adopted by the Philistines on their arrival in the region, roughly 1200 B.C. Although the exact derivation of his name is disputed, it is generally agreed that Dagon was a fertility god, and local legend made him the father of Baal. He had more than one temple in the region (cf. Judges 16:23; 1 Chronicles 10:10). Jonathan Maccabaeus destroyed his temple at Ashdod in 147 B.C. (1 Maccabees 10:83-84; 11:4).

The details of this story—particularly Dagon’s hands—render it curiously similar to the account of the ravished and slain woman in Judges (19:22-29). When her body is found, the woman lies at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold, similar to the hands of the prostrate Dagon. The woman is subsequently dismembered.

The Lord of the Ark, having disposed of the Philistine god, now turns to deal with the Philistines, wreaking havoc in three cities of their pentapolis (verses 8-12). The reader is reminded of the plagues visited on Egypt—both animal pests (Exodus 7:26—8:27; 10:1-15) and bodily affliction (Exodus 9:8-12), including death (Exodus 12:29-36). As the Ark is moved from city to city, Philistine panic intensifies. Its mere arrival at Ekron is sufficient to cause consternation, prior to any actual damage! In these descriptions, the biblical author is enjoying himself immensely.

Historians have variously identified the pestilence described here, the most severe suggestion being bubonic plague. Although interpretation would account for the rodents and the physical symptoms (buboes or glandular swellings), we should not permit a preoccupation with diagnosis to obscure the author’s literary and rhetorical intention—to portray the affliction in terms of extreme discomfort and embarrassment. The King James Version, grasping this intention, identified the swellings as hemorrhoids. That is to say, the emphasis in this account is on anal distress. Modern readers of this passage have presumed that the victims died on a bubonic infection. However, our earliest commentator on the story, Josephus (Antiquities 6.1.3), believed that death came from “dysentery.”

The theological message of this chapter rests on the common biblical theme of victory arising out of defeat. The Philistines had barely time to celebrate their supposed triumph when they began to suspect their mistake: They had swallowed what they could not digest. After a single night they found their god humiliated—and after a second night dismembered— by the object they had captured. Dagon was now unsafe in his own shrine. Israel’s Lord began to show the conqueror of the prematurely partying Philistines. The tables were turned. Instead of parading the Ark as the spoils in a victory parade, its transport becomes the Lord’s own victory march. The Philistines began to know how ancient Pharaoh felt, when the full force of the ten plagues made him eager for Israel to leave Egypt.

Sunday, June 7

1 Samuel 6: Sensing they are out of their depth, these political leaders of Philistia resolve to find a religious solution to their problem. They are wary. Accordingly, they seek the guidance of the local religious experts: priests and shamans (verse 2). We recall that Pharaoh sought the counsel of such men, back in the days when Moses was a problem.

According to the priests and shamans a sort of reparation offering must accompany the return of the Ark. The need for this ritual gesture was perceived from the fact that the Philistines continued to be tormented by rodents and the physical malady described in the previous chapter. The Philistines fear that these problems may continue even after the Ark is returned, unless they effect some kind of reconciliation with Israel’s God (verse 3). They are advised, therefore, to fashion small sculptures—ornaments, as it were—to represent the hemorrhoids and the rodents (verses 4-5).

The narrator of this scene obviously enjoys its irony: Having endured dysentery and hemorrhoids for seven months, these Philistines now suffer from an anal fixation so severe they imagine that Israel’s God might be placated by a gift of golden hemorrhoids!

The obvious parallel here is with the account in Exodus, according to which the Israelites, when Pharaoh finally compelled them to leave Egypt, took gold and jewelry with them (Exodus 3:21; 11:2; 12:35-36; Psalms 105 [104]:37). This parallel serves mainly to heighten the improbability of jewelry shaped like hemorrhoids and mice.

The Philistines are certainly “winging it” here. They are totally confused, and they have no idea how the true God is to be honored. Their improvised liturgical experiment reminds the reader of the Ninevites, a few centuries later, who proclaim a citywide season of fasting in order to placate the wrath of Israel’s God. In this latter instance, we recall, even the livestock are forced to fast (Jonah 3:7; 4:11). Both biblical writers revel in ridiculing the clueless Gentiles—Philistines and Ninevites—who have benefited from no proper liturgical instruction. They must guess what to do: “Perhaps” (verse 5), “Who knows?” (Jonah 3:9)

The Philistines, for their part, compare their plight to that of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. In both cases, hardness of heart is the great danger, and the Philistines are resolved to take instruction from Pharaoh’s mistake (verse 6; Exodus 8:15,32; 9:34).

Monday, June 8

1 Samuel 7: This chapter begins on a chronological note: the twenty years during which the Ark of the Covenant remained at Kirjath Jearim. If this length of time is taken to indicate the whole period before the Ark’s removal to Jerusalem under David, it appears to be too short for adjustment into Old Testament chronology. It seems more likely, therefore, that the twenty years indicates the period prior to the battle described later in this chapter.

During these two decades, we are informed, Israel “mourned to the Lord” (according to the Hebrew) and “turned to the Lord” (according to the Greek). That is to say, it was a time of spiritual renewal, when the Israelites, under the maturing leadership of Samuel, did four things: yearned for the Lord, put away idols, committed themselves, and served the Lord alone (verses 3-4). Their resolve was expressed in a rededication, symbolized in fasting, a water libation (cf. Lamentations 2:19), the confession of sins, and a sacrifice accompanied by prayer (verses 5-6,9).

This rededication took place at Mizpah, one of the cities included in Samuel’s annual circuit as judge (verse 16). The site is probably to be identified with Tel en-Nasbeh, eight miles north of Jerusalem. Mizpah is the place where Israel will choose monarchy over the charismatic leadership exercised by Samuel and the Judges.

Those converted to the Lord should anticipate an experience of trial, and this sequence is illustrated in the story that follows: the Philistines, victorious in their last military encounter with Israel, are bent on battle (verse 7). Their prompt and dramatic rout is credited to Samuel’s intercessory prayer (verses 9-10). This is one incident (cf. 12:19) that strengthened the memory of Samuel as a champion of intercession (cf. Jeremiah 15:1; Psalms 99 [98]:6).

This victory comes from neither Israel’s military muscle nor Samuel’s martial leadership, but solely from the Lord, who puts the Philistines to confusion by a superlative display of thunder and lightning. References to this display are found in the hymns that begin (2:10) and end (2 Samuel 22:14) the original Book of Samuel.

The erection of a ceremonial stone to commemorate this victory (verse 12) has many parallels throughout military history.

In the general narrative development of this book, the present chapter represents the countervailing voices of those not convinced that Israel truly needed a king. In subsequent chapters—but especially at Mizpah in chapter 10—the opposite view would eventually prevail: Israel would have its king. Still, the book’s author determined that both sides of the argument should be heard. For him—and for the book’s final editors in the late sixth century—-the material in this chapter bears witness that Israel needed no king but the Lord. What Israel did need was mourning, conversion, rededication, fasting, and prayer. The “rock of help”—-Ebenezer—stood in silent but eloquent testimony to this thesis.

The full significance of Israel’s experiment with monarchy was complex, but that complexity included the fact that monarchy, over the centuries, led to Israel’s historical ruin. No one knew this better than the survivors of 587 B. C.

Tuesday, June 9

1 Samuel 8: Here begins the chronicle of Israel’s transition to monarchy, framed between Samuel’s two antimonarchical warnings in chapters 8 and 12.

Israel’s movement to monarchy occurred around 1020 (some thirty years after the fall of Shiloh), and here again—as he did with Eli—Samuel served as the bearer of bad news.

Though his own instincts opposed the idea of kingship, regarding it at first as a rebellion against God’s covenant, Samuel bore some of the blame for this development. His failure to discipline his sons, after all, was the immediate reason given for the need of a king (verses 1–5).

There is an irony here. Samuel himself had witnessed how Eli’s failure to discipline his sons had earlier led to the destruction of Shiloh (1 Samuel 2:12–17, 22–25). It is no small paradox that Samuel, ever the visionary of the future, should be suddenly confronted with déjà vu.

Israel’s demand for a king is based on a desire to be “like other nations.” That is to say, it is a rejection of the unique character imposed by Israel’s covenanted relationship to the Lord. Essential to that covenant was the understanding that Israel was not like the other nations: its government was based on a theological premise, not a political contract.

Wanting to be “like other nations” was part of Israel’s constant disposition to worship “other gods.” As a radically unfaithful sentiment, it was just the most recent act in a rebellion going back to the time of the desert wandering (verses 7-8; cf. 10:18-19; 12:12; Judges 8:22-23).

Samuel prayed (verse 6). This prayer of frustration stands in striking contrast to his victorious prayer in the previous chapter (7:7-9).

And once again God spoke to Samuel, instructing him to accede to the people’s clamor for a king (verses 7–8). The author gives no explanation why the Lord acceded to the people’s request, nor, in the light of Israel’s subsequent history, was such an explanation necessary. God’s purpose was complex; indeed, human sinfulness made it complex.

Moreover, Samuel was the man God wanted to anoint that king (10:1). As Israel’s “seer” (9:9), however, he was also directed to foretell to the people the dire consequences of their choice. The sad list of evils that the seer predicted as attendant on the institution of kingship (8:11–18) was a prophecy amply fulfilled in the following centuries. It was truly bad news: Israel’s kings will equal and surpass the ancient oppression of Pharaoh. As they did in Egypt, the Israelites will once again cry out for deliverance from oppression, but the Lord—this time—will pay them no heed. The evil history of Israel’s kingship will run its full course.

Wednesday, June 10

1 Samuel 9: Samuel’s dismissal of the people at the end of chapter 8 cleared the stage, as it were, for a new development. Now, Saul enters the stage, described as a young man of wealth and impressive physical appearance (cf. 10:23). Saul is not conscious of such things at the moment; becoming a king is the thing furthest from his mind. He is looking for his father’s wandering donkeys (verses 1-4).

When the lengthy search for the donkeys leads to nothing but frustration (verse 5), Saul’s servant (who appears in this scene as a sagacious man, perhaps older) favors recourse to oracular assistance (verses 6-10). By this time they have arrived at Zuph, near Ramah (cf. 1:19).

Our author, who described Samuel’s habitual circuit travels (7:16-17), set up thereby the circumstances of the prophet’s meeting with Saul. Samuel is not named at this point, but his ministry as a seer is described as particularly efficacious (verse 6; cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-3; 18:21-22). The unnamed servant provides the remuneration of the unnamed seer (verse 8; cf. 1 Kings 14:3; 2 Kings 4:42; Amos 7:12; Micah 3:5).

As Saul is seeking the donkeys, Samuel is searching for a king. This is the author’s way of saying that the providential Lord is preparing them to meet.

In fact, the Lord spoke to Samuel the day before Saul’s arrival (verse 15). That is to say, the God of providence was working from two sides in order to bring about the encounter between these two men. Nor is the present story the Bible’s sole example of the Lord pressing a meeting from two directions. Another instance is the account of the founding of the Church at Caesarea, for which the Lord revealed His will to Cornelius at Caesarea (Acts 10:1-8) and, the following day, to Peter at Joppa (10:9-16). As in the case of Samuel and Saul, it was the divine intent to cause these two men to meet. As though to emphasize this point, each man later narrated the details of the revelation (10:28-33; cf. 11:4-18).

In Samuel’s initial meeting with Saul (verses 17-21), two themes are especially worthy of note:

First, Samuel learns that Saul is the Lord’s chosen “prince and savior” (verse 16; cf. Stephen’s description of Moses in Acts 7:35). Saul is God’s reply to the people who cried to Him in their affliction (cf. 7:8-9; 12:8,10; Exodus 3:7,9; 4:31; Deuteronomy 26:7; Judges 3:9,15; 4:3; 6:6; 10:2,13,14; 2 Kings 14:26). Clearly, the whole question of kingship is treated very differently from the previous chapter: Whereas the Lord reluctantly agreed to a monarchy in chapter 8, here in chapter 9 monarchy represents the Lord’s intervention for deliverance.

Second, in professing his own low estate (verse 21), Saul picks up the theme—introduced by Hanna in 2:8—of the Lord’s exaltation of the humble.

We learn that Samuel, in prophetic anticipation of his encounter with Saul, had already enjoined the cook to prepare something special for the young man. Even before his anointing, Saul is given preeminence at table.

The next morning, Samuel separates Saul from his servant, mentioning a special message he is to receive in private.

Thursday, June 11

1 Samuel 10: Even as he anoints Saul as “prince” (nagid—verse 1), Samuel foretells three signs that will reassure the young man, who may be rather confused by the unexpected of events of the past day or so. The first prophesied sign is an encounter with two men, who will tell him the lost donkeys were found (verse 2). The second sign is Saul’s meeting with three men who will feed him (verses 3-4). The third sign is an encounter with a group of prophets, in whose company Saul will receive the gift of prophecy (verses 5-6).

In order to avoid any confusion about these events, Samuel foretells them in considerable detail, including the exact place where each of them will occur: Ramah (Rachel’s grave), Tabor, and Gibeath-Elohim. After these three signs, Samuel instructs him, Saul is to wait for him at Gilgal.

Only the third of the three signs is narrated in the text: Saul’s reception of the prophetic spirit (verses 1-13). This outpouring of the “Spirit of God”—Ruach Elohim—-is the grace Saul shares with Israel’s earlier charismatic leaders: Gideon (Judges 6:34), Jephthah (11:29), and Samson (14:6,19; 15:14).

On his arrival home, Saul remains silent about the extraordinary events of recent days (verses 14-16; Compare Judges 14:4-6). This silence clears the stage for the stories that follow (10:17—11:15).

The last time Samuel assembled the Israelites at Mizpah, the Lord’s deliverance proved that they needed no earthly king (7:5-12). It is profoundly ironical, therefore, that the people are now summoned to Mizpah for the purpose of choosing an earthly king (verse 17). Samuel takes back nothing, however, from his earlier declaration: Israel’s craving for a monarch is tantamount to a rejection of the Lord (verse 19; cf. 8:7).

God’s choice of a king is determined by a process of casting lots (verses 20-21; cf. 14:41; Joshua 7:13; Acts 1:15-26). The chosen Saul is reluctant, notwithstanding the “signs” he had been given (verses 1-13). He is burdened by the same sense of modesty (verse 22; cf. verse 16; 9:21). It is hard, however, for a tall man to hide (verse 23), and Samuel is clearly impressed by Saul’s height (verse 24). (The Lord will later caution the prophet on this point—16:7!)

“Long live the king! (verse 24) became a customary acclamation in the Bible (2 Samuel 16:16; 1 Kings 1:25,34,39-40; 2 Kings 11:12).

This is to be a “constitutional monarchy,” and Samuel is charged to compose the charter (cf. Deuteronomy 17:14-20).

Now that the Lord has revealed His will with respect to Saul, our author takes a dim view of those who oppose him (verse 27). Later opponents of the throne will merit the same negative regard (2 Samuel 16:17; 20:1; 23:6).

For the present, there is nothing further for Saul to do (verse 26). He must wait until some occasion presents itself: “Do whatever comes to hand, for God is with you” (verse 7). The new king will not have long to wait, for trouble is brewing in the land of Ammon.

Friday, June 12

1 Samuel 11: The abrupt beginning of this chapter appears to be truncated. In fact, a longer version of it was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls in the last century (4QSam). It reads, “King Nahash of the Ammonites was severely oppressing the Gadites and Reubenites, boring out every right eye, and allow no one to save Israel. Among the Israelites on the other side of the Jordan, no one was left whose right eye King Nahash of the Ammonites had not bored out. Nonetheless, seven thousand men had escaped from the power of the Ammonites and had arrived at Jabesh Gilead.”

This expanded version was apparently known to Josephus (Antiquities 6.5.1[68]), who recounts the story this way: “Nahash had done a great deal of mischief to the Jews that lived beyond Jordan by the expedition he had made against them with a great and warlike army. He also reduced their cities into slavery, and that not only by subduing them for the present, which he did by force and violence, but by weakening them by subtlety and cunning, that they might not be able afterward to get clear of the slavery they were under to him; for he put out the right eyes of those that either delivered themselves to him upon terms, or were taken by him in war; and this he did, that when their left eyes were covered by their shields, they might be wholly useless in war.

“Now when the king of the Ammonites had served those beyond Jordan in this manner, he led his army against those that were called Gileadites, and having pitched his camp at the metropolis of his enemies, which was the city of Jabesh, he sent ambassadors to them, commanding them either to deliver themselves up, on condition to have their right eyes plucked out, or to undergo a siege, and to have their cities overthrown. He gave them their choice, whether they would cut off a small member of their body, or universally perish. However, the Gileadites were so affrighted at these offers, that they had not courage to say anything to either of them, neither that they would deliver themselves up, nor that they would fight him. But they desired that he would give them seven days’ respite, that they might send ambassadors to their countrymen, and entreat their assistance; and if they came to assist them, they would fight; but if that assistance were impossible to be obtained from them, they said they would deliver themselves up to suffer whatever he pleased to inflict upon them.”

Both Josephus and the Septuagint indicate that this happened one month after Samuel’s meeting with Israel at Mizpah.

Already designated by prophetic inspiration (9:15-16) and oracular verification (10:17-24), Saul will now be elected king by popular acclaim (verses 12-15). The acclamation follows Saul’s quick executive response to the crisis at Jabesh Gilead (verses 5-7). Whereas the report from that city caused great sorrow and consternation throughout Israel (verse 4; Josephus, Antiquities 6.5.2[74]), only Saul arose to take the matter decisively in hand. He thus demonstrated early the prompt resolve and high energy level that would, in due course, prove to be his undoing.

“The Spirit of the Lord” came on Saul (verse 6), as was the case with Samson (Judges 14:6,19; 15:4). Josephus describes him as “enthusiastic,” in the literal sense of being “God-possessed” (6.5.2[76]). This possession was marked by a righteous anger.

Anger, in turn, inspired fear, as Saul intended it should (verse 7), so a significant military force was assembled at the Jordan, ready to cross over and relieve the siege of Jabesh (verse 8).

Nahash, misunderstanding the deliberately ambiguous response from the besieged city, was ill prepared for the surprise attack Saul launched at his rear and both flanks (verses 10-11). This attack followed an all-night forced march by Saul’s army (Josephus, 6.5.3[79]). Saul’s maneuver, apparently borrowed from Gideon and Abimelech (Judges 7:16; 9:43), demonstrated that his powers of military leadership were supplemented by genuine tactical skill.

The victory was thorough. According to Josephus (6.5.3[80]) Saul next turned his army south for a full-scale invasion of the Ammonites. Josephus was certainly wrong, however, in his claim that Saul slew Nahash (cf. 2 Samuel 10:2).

The city of Jabesh would be forever grateful to Saul for its deliverance (cf. 31:11-13; 2 Samuel 2:4-7).

Elated by the victory, Saul would countenance no reprisals against those who had opposed his kingship (verses 12-13). This was a shrewd move on this part, because this amnesty established a precedent for executive pardon. That is to say, it strengthened his claim to the throne.

The victorious army retired to Gilgal in order to make Saul—-yet once more—their king (verses 14-15). Josephus (6.5.4[83-85]) recognized the decisive importance of this event in Israel’s political history: “So the prophet [Samuel] anointed Saul with the holy oil in the sight of the multitude, and declared him to be king the second time. And so the government of the Hebrews was changed into a royal government; for in the days of Moses, and his disciple Joshua, who was their general, they continued under an aristocracy; but after the death of Joshua, for eighteen years in all, the multitude had no settled form of government, but were in an anarchy; after which they returned to their former government, they then permitting themselves to be judged by him who appeared to be the best warrior and most courageous, whence it was that they called this interval of their government the Judges.”