June 19 – June 26, 2020

Friday, June 19

1 Samuel 18: Like the previous chapter, though not quite so extensively, the present chapter exhibits a high percentage of variant readings between the Hebrew and Greek textual traditions; here, too, the traditional Hebrew text is ampler and more detailed. Sometimes the differences are significant. For instance, the Greek version (along with Josephus) says nothing of David’s proposed marriage to Saul’s eldest daughter, Merab.

The chief motif of chapter 18 is Saul’s growing suspicion and distrust of David, which is elaborated in the context of Saul’s family. Both his son, Jonathan, and his daughter, Michal, quickly become fond of David.

With respect to Saul’s daughter, Michal, the king sees a way to use her affection for David as a means to dispose of him: He offers the girl in marriage but requires his planned son-in-law to pay one hundred Philistine foreskins as a bridal price. Saul presumes that this requirement—which includes a streak of course ethnic humor about Philistine genitalia—will enrage the Philistines enough to finish David off. In the Greek version, David simply produces the one hundred foreskins, but the Hebrew text is more interesting and ironical: David decides to show Saul a thing or two by producing—and counting them out!—two hundred Philistine foreskins!

(When he came to tell this story to his Roman readers, Josephus had a problem: According to Philo, a contemporary of Josephus, the culture of the day regarded circumcision as an object of ridicule [Special Laws 1.1.2]. In this respect, Roman custom continued the anti-circumcision preference of the Greeks. We recall that when Antiochus IV Epiphanes forbade circumcision within his realm, including Judaea, the prohibition was partly a cause of the Maccabean wars [1 Maccabees 1:48; Josephus, Antiquities 12.5.4[254]; Tacitus, Histories 5.8]. Both Hadrian and Antoninus Pus promulgated laws against circumcision. How, then, did Josephus handle this wedding gift arrangement of Saul and David? He simply changed the Philistine foreskins into Philistine heads. The Romans, after all, had no problem with beheading! [Antiquities 6.10.2-3[201-203])

With respect to Saul’s son, Jonathan, the king observes with distress that he become deeply attached to David, much impressed with the latter’s handling of Goliath. David’s abrupt intervention on the battlefield, at the hour when “Saul and all Israel . . . were dismayed and greatly afraid,” seized the attention of Jonathan. His eyes fixed on this newcomer walking calmly back into the camp, one hand gripping the giant’s sword and the other swinging the giant’s severed head.

Jonathan, unlike most godly men of the Old Testament, died young. Indeed, combat being a pursuit commonly ungenerous in respect to years, Jonathan’s prospects for maturing to grey hairs were never promising. However, as we have seen, he fought with a derring-do that lowered those chances further still. As for the enemies of Jonathan, their odds for old age were even worse, for he was truly fearsome in the arts of war.

Though he was manifestly adept as a swordsman, it was chiefly as an archer that men remembered Jonathan. They often watched him begin his day in the discipline of that skill (20:20–22, 35–38). The funeral dirge of Saul and Jonathan, memorized by the Israelites and in due course recorded in the Book of Jasher, was known, in fact, as the “Song of the Bow” (2 Samuel 1:18), named for that line that reads, “the bow of Jonathan did not turn back” (1:22).

Jonathan’s pursuit of warfare was formed by, and inseparable from, a warm commitment to his father’s throne. He was a faithful son, but his fidelity will be sorely tried in the chapters that follow. As it became obvious to both father and son that David, not Jonathan, would be the next king (20:15; 24:20), the situation grew tense and progressively complex. Saul, increasingly deranged and acting in rage, not only disputed the fidelity of Jonathan (20:30, 31), but even made an impetuous attempt on his life (20:33). Remaining ever loyal to David, however, Jonathan stayed steadfast at the side of his doomed father, finally dying with him on the desperate slopes of Gilboah, brave and faithful to the end.

Saturday, June 20

1 Samuel 19: This chapter is structured on three episodes, in each of which David is delivered from the clutches of Saul: (1) with the aid of Jonathan; (2) with the aid of Michal; and (3) with the aid of Samuel. There is a progressive intensity in these three episodes: in the first, David is delivered by negotiation; in the second, by a ruse; and in the third, by a demolishing counterattack.

In the first episode (verses 1-7) Jonathan, following a promise to David, persuades his father to call off the execution of his friend. David is so placed that he can hear the conversation and be reassured. The intervention is successful, and David returns to court. The arrangement, nonetheless, is not permanent, because David’s continued military success plunges Saul once more into a deep and murderous madness (verses 8-10).

In the second episode (verses 11-17) Michal, learning that Saul’s executioners are plotting to kill her husband the next morning, plotted his escape during the night. Her ruse included placing a statue of a household god in David’s bed and pretending he was sick. Meanwhile, David has made good his getaway.

This story reminds the reader of Rachel, who, like Michal, also employed the services of a household god to deceive her own father, Laban (Genesis 31:19,34-35). The similarity between the two cases, moreover, prompts the reader to recall that Laban, like Saul, meanly used his two daughters to exploit Jacob; both Laban and Saul delayed handing over the desired daughters and increased the price for them.

In the third episode (verses 18-24) Samuel, receiving David at his home in Ramah, protects him from Saul and the agents Saul sends to capture the fugitive.

This episode is elaborately told: Three delegations are dispatched. At each instance, Samuel and his prophetic followers are raised to ecstatic experience, causing a negative and debilitating reaction among those dispatched to capture David. (They become as helpless as the three delegations sent to arrest Elisha in 2 Kings 1:9-18.) Finally, Saul himself arrives, and in this case the debilitating reaction becomes extreme: Saul goes completely mad, strips off his clothes, and lies naked in the dirt.

The final details of this third episode form a contrasting parallel with Samuel’s first encounter with Saul at Ramah in chapter 9. There are five points of correspondence: (1) Both meetings take place at Ramah; (2) in each case Saul makes inquiry how to find Samuel; (3) in each case the inquiry is made at a well (cf. 9:10-11; 19:22); (4) in each case Saul is gripped by an ecstatic experience; and (5) in both cases the bystanders inquire, “Is Saul among the prophets?

This detailed parallel, however, serves entirely to heighten a contrast. Whereas in the first encounter with Samuel Saul was elevated in honor, in the second he is utterly degraded. In the first case, the question, “Is Saul among the prophets?” invites a positive response: “Yes!” In the second case the same question solicits a negative answer: “No, Saul is among the hopelessly insane!”

As Saul slips into lunacy, David makes his escape. Never again to appear in the court of Saul, he begins to live as a fugitive and outlaw, a thing not so easy to do in a place as small as the Judean Desert.

Sunday, June 21

Mark 3:13-19: The “authority” (exsousia) that Jesus has manifested in teaching (1:22) and in driving out demons (1:27) is now shared with the Twelve (3:14-15), who are promptly named. Accounts of these Twelve are found here and in 6:7-13, and in both instances these accounts appear in proximity to stories of Jesus’ blood relatives (3:21 and 6:1-6), as though to suggest that this group of disciples are to be His new family.

The selection of these Twelve may profitably be compared to Numbers 1:1-15. For example, Peter’s name, “Rock,” finds a correspondence in the names of two of Moses’ companions: Eliesur (“God is my rock”) and Surisadai (“the Almighty is my rock”). Similarly, like James and John, two of Moses companions are blood brothers. Moreover, as in the Book of Numbers, Jesus chooses these Twelve on the mountain (verse 13). We should also note that this list of the Twelve ends on the theme of the Lord’s Passion: “and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Him” (verse 19).

Acts 7:35-43: Since the Israelites rejected Moses as “leader and deliverer,” in spite of his miracles, how could we expect them to treat differently the latter day “prophet” that God would “raise up”? Here, of course, Stephen is citing the same text (Deuteronomy 18:15) earlier cited by Peter in Acts 3:22-23.

In this fairly lengthy treatment of Moses, Stephen is answering the accusation that he had blasphemed against Moses (cf. 6:11). He is saying, in effect: “Look, you stiff-necked people. I am not the one who insults Moses; you people have never stopped insulting him, right from the inception of his ministry. Even then you were already idolaters. Just as in the desert you worshipped a “work of your hands” in the golden calf, so you now idolize the temple itself.

Throughout Luke’s presentation of Stephen, there is a powerful emphasis on the Holy Spirit. It was early said that Stephen was “full of the Holy Spirit” (6:3, 5), and the statement will be is repeated once again in the context of his death (7:55). This emphasis, which relates Stephen’s death to the pentecostal outpouring, reflects the conviction of the early Church that martyrdom is the supreme charism of the Christian life, the final and crowning gift of the Holy Spirit that definitively seals and consecrates the testimony, the martyria, of the Church and the believer. We meet this conviction somewhat later in The Martyrdom of Polycarp and in the earliest treatises on martyrdom by the Christian apologists.

Monday, June 22

1 Samuel 21: Jonathan, though sorely pressed in the effort, found a way to remain loyal to David without breaking his allegiance to Saul. Not everyone involved in the crisis was able to do this—the priests at Nob, for example, one of whom David now approaches in the first story of this chapter (verses 1-10).

Ahimelech, chief of the priests at Nob, was the great-grandson of Eli, the priest of Shiloh, who was so important to the first chapters of this book. That family moved south after the Philistines’ capture of the Ark and the death of Eli, and now we find them at Nob, not far from Jerusalem.

Ahimelech, acquainted with reports of the deteriorating relationship between the king and his son-in-law, is at first fearful to receive David. Doubtless he knew these reports from his brother, Ahijah, who served as Saul’s chaplain (14:3). Ahimelech is nervous.

He has reason to be: Although David has struggled to remain an obedient subject of the king and a faithful friend to the king’s son, he is not overly scrupulous with the truth on every occasion, including two occasions in this chapter.

In short, David deceives Ahimelech, perhaps with the intention of giving him an excuse if Saul should learn of this meeting. First, David is well aware that Ahimelech has custody of the sword of Goliath. Indeed, it was to obtain this sword that David has come to Nob. Nevertheless, he never mentions the sword; he simply requests a weapon, and he does so near the end of his visit, as though it were an afterthought.

Second, David deceptively reassures Ahimelech that, far from being on the outs with Saul, he has just been dispatched by the king on a top-secret mission. He goes on to elaborate this hoax by mentioning that the rest of his party is concealed in the neighborhood.

That is to say, David hoodwinks the priest into helping him—the first of many beggars to hoodwink the clergy this way—and when the incident is very soon reported to Saul, Ahimelech will pay a dear price for his kindness. In due course, David’s conscience will not lie easy on this matter.

The bread David receives from Ahimelech come from “the loaves of the presence,” the dedicated bread placed in the sanctuary before the Lord and replaced each Sabbath (cf. Exodus 25:30; 35:13; Leviticus 24:5-9; 1 Chronicles 9:32). This bread is normally eaten only by the priests, but Ahimelech makes an exception in the present case. This exception will later meet a very important approval (cf. Matthew 12:3-4; Mark 2:25-26; Luke 6:3-4).

One verse mentions that Saul’s spy witnesses the entire transaction. Not good.

In the second, and shorter, story (verses 11-16), David continues to elude Saul by going southwest and crossing into Philistine territory. This is risky, but David is a bit desperate. We suspect that reports of the political crisis in Israel may have reached Philistine ears, but David takes no chances. To make certain the Philistines will see in him neither a threat nor an advantage, he begins to act demented. When David recently watched Saul in a completely demented state, he took notes and knows what to do. The Philistines are impressed.

There had been abroad lately whole sections of Saul’s army—even Saul himself—suddenly growing crazy, so the Philistines are on their guard. The problem might be contagious, for all they know, so Achish, the king of Gath, declines to have anything to do with this mad visitor from Israel. Out with him!

While David is playing the idiot in Gath, Saul’s Edomite spy wastes no time getting word to the king about what has just happened at Nob.

Meanwhile, it occurs to David that his own family is at risk; he must get them to safety, away from Saul. They will be safest in Moab, he considers. Through their venerable ancestor, Ruth, the family has a touch of Moabite blood. It is time to turn east and see to the thing.

Tuesday, June 23

Mark 3:20-30: In response to His exorcisms in Chapters 1 and 3, Jesus’ critics advance the accusation that He is using demonic force to expel demons. The Lord’s answer breaks into three parts:

(1) Their accusation violates logic, implying that the demonic world had radically turned on itself (verses 23-26).

(2) The expulsion of the demons is much more plausibly explained by their having met a superior force (verse 27).

(3) The accusation itself is an act of blasphemy, because it ascribes to the demons what is in truth accomplished by the Holy Spirit. Such a confusion of light and darkness indicates total intellectual and moral depravity, so radical a commitment to evil as to preclude repentance. The scribes’ accusation of blasphemy (2:7) is thus turned back on them (3:29).

In the course of His argument, Jesus uses certain plays on Aramaic words that are rather lost in translation (whether English or the inspired Greek!). For example, the “house” in verse 25 is zebul in Aramaic, which is part of the name “Beelzebul” (“lord of the house”). Similarly, the verb “divide” (verses 24-26) is pharas, which is the root of the word “Pharisee.”

Acts 7:54—8:3: Like the Savior (John 20:19; Hebrews 13:12), Stephen is executed outside the city wall (Acts 7:58), because even in this massive
miscarriage of basic justice, Stephen’s murderers adhere to the Mosaic
prescription (Leviticus 24:14; Numbers 15:35–36). This is ironic, because in Lukan theology this exit from Jerusalem, for the murder of Stephen, symbolizes that outward movement of the witness from Jerusalem that is so strong a theme in the Book of Acts (1:8).

It is in this scene that St. Paul is first introduced in the Acts of the Apostles (7:58). This introduction of the Apostle to the Gentiles, at exactly this point in the narrative of Acts, is of a piece with the theological significance of Stephen’s
dying outside of the walls. Later on, praying in a state of trance, Paul will say to Jesus, “And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him” (22:20).

As he actually approaches death, there is a dramatic change in Stephen’s tone. Having bitterly denounced the Jews in his testimony before the Sanhedrin,
Stephen finishes his life by committing his soul to the Lord and devoutly praying for his persecutors (7:59–60). Luke thus takes great care to observe the similarities between the deaths of Jesus and Stephen (Luke 23:34, 46), as Irenaeus of Lyons early noted (Against the Heresies 3.12.13).

Wednesday, June 24

Psalms 127 (Greek & Latin 126): Through ancient Israel’s history, but especially during times of extraordinary trial, men of historical understanding looked to God’s salvific interventions in the past in order to draw hope for the immediate future. For example, several passages in the middle section of Isaiah look back to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt as a kind of foreshadowing of Israel’s coming deliverance from captivity in Babylon.

In later periods, but especially during Israel’s humiliating subjugation to the Seleucid throne at Antioch (the time of the Maccabees), the vision of faith once again gazed backwards to that deliverance from Babylon in order to find hope that God would once again redeem His people from their oppressors. In all these cases, the argument ran along the following lines: “If God has done such and such a thing on our behalf, then surely He will do this and that as well.”

This is essentially the argument that St. Paul uses to inspire Christian hope. We may summarize his thesis thus: “If God has redeemed us in Christ, then He will also give us all other things necessary.” This seems a fair paraphrase of his words: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31, 32).

The present psalm is one of those texts that looks back to Israel’s deliverance from Babylon in order to plead for a new deliverance. “When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion,” it begins, “we were like men in rapture.”

This last expression needs and will profit from further comment. The Hebrew of the traditional rabbinical text here reads keholmim, “like dreamers.” That is to say, the experience of salvation has a kind of dreamlike quality. Those who are saved must pinch themselves, as it were, to make sure it is really happening. God’s redemption of us from bondage and oppression is so marvelously incomprehensible; it is “too good to be true.” The sheer joy of the thing encourages unbelief, as it were.

Thus, when they were faced with the risen Jesus standing before them in His glorified flesh, the Apostles “did not believe for joy, and marveled” (Luke 24:41). The whole thing seemed like a dream. Likewise, when the angel of the Lord delivered the Apostle Peter from Herod’s prison, his sensations spoke of something nearly unreal, a sort of fantasy. Indeed, he “did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision” (Acts 12:9). This is the impression conveyed in the rabbinical text of our psalm with respect to God’s deliverance.

Thursday, June 25

1 Samuel 24: When Saul’s jealousy and dangerous behavior drove him from the royal court, David was obliged to wander, much like an outlaw, in the desert regions in the south of Judah. Harassed and pursued by the army of the increasingly deranged king, David was constantly on the move, he and his small band of friends, hiding here and there as chance provided, often hungry and always exposed to danger. Saul had put a price on David’s head, moreover, so there was the added peril of betrayal; the king’s spies might be anywhere.

David’s plight was dire indeed: “in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness,” “being destitute, afflicted, tormented,” while wandering “in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (2 Corinthians 11:27; Hebrews 11:37-38).

The circumstances of this encounter with Saul draw attention to two features of the story, both of them typical of this whole period of David’s desert wandering.

First, there is the quiet, subtle working of Divine Providence, whereby the Lord protects David from capture and delivers his enemy into his power. The Lord has all these things in His historical control, a truth already perceived when David just happened to show up at Saul’s camp at the very moment Goliath was throwing out his challenge! This theme will be repeated in the next two chapters, the story of David and Nabal, and a second encounter with Saul.

Second, David shows mercy to Saul, whom he yet regards as Israel’s rightful king. This trait of mercy will also be manifest (and put to the test) in the two chapters that follow.

Throughout this period of great hardship and relentless persecution David learned by experience that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). God has “called” David to become the next and better king, and David must bide God’s time and pleasure to reveal that call.

In both chapter 24 and chapter 26, God puts the life of Saul into David’s hands. All David had to do, in order to seize the throne of Israel, was to reach out and take the life of the deranged king. David recognized each occasion as a temptation.

David did not regard kingship over Israel as “a thing to be seized” (harpagmos—Philippians 2:6). Although it was David’s to receive, it was not David’s to take.

In this respect, David’s temptation in this chapter puts the reader in mind of a temptation Satan put to Jesus in the desert: “Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these things I will give to you if You will fall down and worship me.’” (Matthew 4:8-9)

This satanic “shortcut” to kingship was a temptation, inasmuch as it would have removed the necessity of the Cross. The Son of Man would have been seizing what only the Ancient of Days could give (Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 28:18). Jesus rejected the offer; he was content to serve God—“Him alone shalt thou serve” (Deuteronomy 6:16; Matthew 4:10).

Saul is bewildered by the mercy David shows him, since it conflicts with his own obsessive and murderous attitude. Saul was clinging desperately to what David refused to seize.

What we also see in David here is the refusal to retaliate. Given the Torah’s adherence to the principle of retaliation)“eye for eye, tooth for tooth”). David’s behavior represents a new and significant strike in the direction of Christian morality; although David did not—during the course of his long life—always rise to this heightened moral level, the evidence of it in the present scene is worthy of note.

In short, David refused to hasten the hour of his own ascent to the throne. In his patience, he possessed his soul.

Friday, June 26

1 Samuel 25: Reckoned among the most winsome narratives in the Bible, this is a story interesting, and even intriguing, from several aspects. The principal interest of the biblical author himself is properly theological, especially the theme of wisdom.

Abigail is immediately introduced with her husband, Nabal, near the very beginning of the account. This stylistic arrangement allows the author to establish early what becomes a sustained contrast between the two characters throughout the story. Abigail is “a woman of good understanding and beautiful appearance,” whereas her husband “was harsh and evil in his doings” (v. 3). The rest of the account, elaborating the differences between a wise, attractive woman and her sottish, offensive husband, thus becomes a narrative enactment of the tension between Wisdom and the Fool, a standard theme of the
Bible’s sapiential literature.

Nabal was rash, compulsively driven, hot-tempered, sharp-tongued, stubborn, stingy, impossible to reason with, and a very slow learner. A major feature of Nabal’s moral imbecility was the failure to appreciate his wife’s wisdom. Long habituated to ignoring her example and her counsel, he followed his own path to self-destruction. His household servants summed it up: “He is such a scoundrel that one cannot speak to him” (v. 17).

Notwithstanding the conditions of her marriage, however, Abigail is not a woman to sit around agonizing over her fate. On the contrary, she is the very embodiment of the resourceful, energetic, and “virtuous wife” described in Proverbs 31:10–31: loving and patient, disciplined, hard-working and efficiently organized, wise and discerning, endowed with a gentle disposition and pleasant speech. Abigail’s household is so well ordered that, with no prior notice, she can promptly put together an enormous meal (including two hundred loaves of bread!) to feed David’s entire army (1 Samuel 25:18). A woman of great practical insight she acts with dispatch; three times in the one chapter we are told that she “made haste” (vv. 18, 23, 42). The attentive reader gains the
impression of a woman who decided, years ago, that her very survival would require an energetic but disciplined approach to life.

To save her household, therefore, Abigail goes out to meet the outraged
David. This latter, sadly, is not far behind Nabal in rashness of temper. Vowing an exorbitant retaliation for Nabal’s arrogant affront, he too is on the point of playing the Fool (cf. Proverbs 14:17). But then Abigail, acting as David’s own personal Lady Wisdom, comes to seek him out, giving the “soft answer [that] turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1), instructing him not to “answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him” (26:4). As the personification of Wisdom on David’s behalf, Abigail “has slaughtered her meat, / She has mixed her wine, / She has also furnished her table. / She has sent out her maidens, / She cries out from the highest places of the city” (9:2–10).

In his hour of impending moral peril, then, David’s deliverance comes from receiving the instruction of Wisdom (Proverbs 15:32–33). He is thus rescued from an evil course of action that his anger had caused to seem proper (16:25; Ecclesiastes 7:9). The wise Abigail exhorts him to patience and restraint. She persuades him to abandon his foolish vow of blood-vengeance and to leave retribution to a provident God.