Damien F. Mackey
In I Samuel 20, we find David again having to turn to Jonathan for help against King Saul. Jonathan, we have learned, was content to play a John the Baptist type of rôle, humbly deferring to the Lord’s anointed one. But Jonathan was naturally, in the eyes of King Saul, the eldest son who will establish Saul’s kingdom.
Almighty God can take those discordant chords that we are constantly slashing into our lives and compose a brand new symphony around them – presuming that we now agree to co-operate. In the case of the anointed one, David, ‘a man after the Lord’s own heart’, his life was for the most part – much like his Harp playing for King Saul – soothing and tuneful. David properly understood the Secret of the King, what pleased the Lord – “the secret chord”, if you like (Leonard Cohen): https://deforestlondon.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/1041/):
The Secret Chord
The song “Hallelujah” begins in the Psalter, where we are invited to sit and listen to the Psalmist play. Cohen writes,
I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Cohen incites his listeners to peer into the Psalter to discover the secret chord that will please the LORD. Although we might not believe that sound can carry any sort of God– pleasing vibrations, Cohen and the Psalter both suggest that it is good and fitting to make music to the LORD. Yet the “secret chord” is so much more than a simple strum on a stringed instrument. Though Cohen describes a basic chord progression of pop music in his lyrics (“It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth…”), he is also suggesting the elements that make up a LORD – pleasing prayer: reaching out to the divine for guidance, protection and salvation (the fourth, the fifth, the major lift) and yet also remaining profoundly and painfully aware of humanity, sin and finitude (the minor fall). The ketuvim [“Writings”, including the Psalms] are a medley of minor falls and major lifts, earthy pragmatics and transcendent pleas.
King Saul did not understand this secret.
He just blundered from one wrong note to another, ‘breaking strings and smashing guitars’ along the way, his life culminating in his consultation of the Witch of Endor, which (Witch) was forbidden – flatly forbidden by Mosaïc Law (Deuteronomy 18:10-12): “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord …”, but also forbidden by Saul himself (I Samuel 28:9): “But the woman [of Endor] said to [King Saul], ‘Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?’”
Since Saul had made himself, according to Deuteronomy, “detestable to the Lord”, there would be no new Divinely-inspired symphonies for him. Only this from the ghost of Samuel (v. 19): ‘… tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines’.
And so we read of Saul’s inglorious death on Mount Gilboa (31:4-6):
Saul said to his armor-bearer, ‘Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me’. But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day.
David, whose respect for King Saul appears to have been unfailing, even beyond Saul’s death (2 Samuel 1:23): ‘Saul and Jonathan – in life they were loved and admired …’, seems to have been awestruck at the prospect of becoming Saul’s son-in-law (I Samuel 18:18): ‘Who am I, and what is my family or my clan in Israel, that I should become the king’s son-in-law?’
Saul had presented David with his oldest daughter, Merab, for David to marry, but only for her to be a cause of his death at the hands of the Philistines. Saul’s trick – which he would actually employ in the case of his other daughter, Michal – was to demand as a “price for the bride” a bunch of Philistine foreskins, knowing that the loyal David – “pleased to become the king’s son-in-law” – would be only too willing to attempt this and likely get himself killed.
In the case of Merab, though, Saul would simply rescind the contract (vv. 17, 19):
Saul said to David, ‘Here is my older daughter Merab. I will give her to you in marriage; only serve me bravely and fight the battles of the Lord’. For Saul said to himself, ‘I will not raise a hand against him. Let the Philistines do that!’
…. So when the time came for Merab, Saul’s daughter, to be given to David, she was given in marriage to Adriel of Meholah.
In the case of Saul’s other daughter Michal, David would risk his life, and the lives of his men, to obtain those Philistine foreskins (100 no less – though David collected 200), so as to win Michal’s hand. King Saul’s wicked plan seriously rebounded on him (I Samuel 18:20-30):
Now Saul’s daughter Michal was in love with David, and when they told Saul about it, he was pleased. ‘I will give her to him’, he thought, ‘so that she may be a snare to him and so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him’. So Saul said to David, ‘Now you have a second opportunity to become my son-in-law’.
Then Saul ordered his attendants: ‘Speak to David privately and say, ‘Look, the king likes you, and his attendants all love you; now become his son-in-law’.’
They repeated these words to David. But David said, ‘Do you think it is a small matter to become the king’s son-in-law? I’m only a poor man and little known’.
When Saul’s servants told him what David had said, Saul replied, ‘Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies’.’ Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.
When the attendants told David these things, he was pleased to become the king’s son-in-law. So before the allotted time elapsed, David took his men with him and went out and killed two hundred Philistines and brought back their foreskins. They counted out the full number to the king so that David might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage.
When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.
The Philistine commanders continued to go out to battle, and as often as they did, David met with more success than the rest of Saul’s officers, and his name became well known.
King Saul’s endless array of jarring notes were being picked up by David – an apt instrument of the Lord – and getting completely re-arranged.
Although his wife Michal, who “was in love with David”, would be instrumental on one occasion in saving his life, she later would be scandalised by her husband’s wild gyrations before the Ark of the Lord.
Michal apparently preferred classical music over heavy rock!
And, later, Saul would marry her off as well to another man.
If Saul had chosen a rock band it would have been the (Australian) “Hunters and Collectors”. For, once more he tries to ‘hunt down and collect’ the elusive David (19:19): “Word came to Saul: ‘David is in Naioth at Ramah’; so he sent men to capture him”.
Unfortunately for Saul, these men, and then a second posse he sent, and then a third, all got caught up with a group of prophets and began prophesying.
In rock band terms, they all got high!
There was nothing left for it but for Saul to go (to ‘Woodstock’) in person, where he would end up on the ground, naked (v. 23-24):
So Saul went to Naioth at Ramah. But the Spirit of God came even on him, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth. He stripped off his garments, and he too prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay naked all that day and all that night. This is why people say, ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’.
King Saul may remind one of the god Poseidon in Homer’s The Odyssey, angrily and relentlessly pursuing the goodly hero (Book I, lines 19-21): “Poseidon; he remained relentlessly angry with godlike Odysseus, until his return to his own country”.
Poseidon was likely of Canaanite origin, as pa Sidon (“He of Sidon”).
Genesis 10:15: “Canaan was the father of Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites …”.
In The Odyssey, much of which is based on the biblical books of Tobit (Catholic Bible) and Job (= Tobit’s son, Tobias), Poseidon appropriates some episodes associated with the demon Asmodeus, the relentless tormentor (almost to the point of suicide) of Tobit’s future daughter-in-law, Sarah (Tobit 3:8-10), who will become the wife of young Tobias.
Just as the angel Raphael had banished “the demon [Asmodeus] away from them, and he fled to Egypt” (8:3), so went Poseidon “to visit the Ethiopians worlds away”.
Tobit and his son, Tobias, are appropriated, here and there, by, respectively, Odysseus and his son, Telemachus – though the rôles can also reverse (Odysseus like Tobias), Sarah by Penelope, the angel Raphael by the goddess Athene.
There is even a family dog in both epics.
After all of the madness surrounding King Saul, and the ongoing hardships of David – who himself is now about to explode into an uncharacteristic hecatomb of Saul-like violence – a sensible woman arrives on the scene, Abigail, the wife of Nabal.
“She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite” (I Samuel 25:3).
The Wise Abigail
David, a most noble character, more inclined to let God avenge his enemies or the troublesome (e.g. Saul, Shimei, Joab) than to take matters into his own hands (e.g. I Samuel 24:12-15):
‘May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.
Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Who are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea? May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand’,
will, nonetheless, set out with murderous intent to slay the entire household of the Calebite, Nabal.
What is it with these Calebites?
Caleb himself, we found, was one of only two (the other being Joshua) of the Exodus Israelites (MBI people) to enter the Promised Land, and so live to a good old age.
His name apparently means ‘dog’. Nabal’s name (נָבָ֔ל) means ‘fool’, ‘dolt’.
Nabal, “surly” and “mean”, to which an editor may have added, “… he was a Calebite”.
As if this explained everything.
Like Basil Fawlty in the case of the bumbling Manuel: ‘He’s from Barcelona’.
David and his men, some of whom were “rogues and scoundrels” (30:22), constituted a roving band of refugees, illegal according to the crown (hence probably habiru), seeking favour and protection, but also affording protection, as in the case of Nabal’s shepherds. Thus one of Nabal’s servants will inform Abigail (25:15-16): ‘… these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them’.
David’s subsequent request for some “favourable” assistance from the “very wealthy” Nabal (v. 2):
“He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep …”, met with a dog-like (Calebite?) response (vv. 10-11): ‘Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?’
Though churlish, Nabal was probably quite entitled to answer “David’s servants” as he did.
David, on this occasion, however, was having none of it (v. 13): “David said to his men, ‘Each of you strap on your sword!’ So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies”.
Enter Abigail (vv. 18-19):
Abigail acted quickly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs, and loaded them on donkeys. Then she told her servants, ‘Go on ahead; I’ll follow you’. But she did not tell her husband Nabal.
Meanwhile David, fulminating, was riding on a collision course with her (vv. 20-22):
“As she came riding her donkey into a mountain ravine, there were David and his men descending toward her, and she met them. David had just said, ‘It’s been useless—all my watching over this fellow’s property in the wilderness so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back evil for good. May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!’”
“When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground” (v. 23).
Then she proceeded to ‘throw her unpleasant husband right under a bus’ (v. 25): ‘Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him’.
Abigail will also, like so many others before and after her – including King Saul, on and off – sing the praises of David and predict his continued favour with the Lord (v. 28-29):
The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live. Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling.
The life of the passionate David will have (like that of all of us) certain dark episodes, even to the point of corruption. Thanks only to the wise and timely intervention of Abigail, this will not turn out to be one of them (vv. 30-31): ‘When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself’.
Her wise words here may have gone a long way towards preventing David on later occasions from exercising a natural tendency for vengeance.
David had the good sense to hearken to Abigail’s advice. He also pledged to honour her request (v. 31): ‘… when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant’.
Thus (vv. 32-35):
David said to Abigail, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak’.
Then David accepted from her hand what she had brought him and said, ‘Go home in peace. I have heard your words and granted your request’.
But this was to be the death of Nabal, literally (v. 36):
When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until daybreak. Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died.
No love lost as far as David was concerned (v. 39): “When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, ‘Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head’.”
And he was now free to take a new wife, Abigail – one who had no connection with King Saul (vv. 39-42):
Then David sent word to Abigail, asking her to become his wife. His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, ‘David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife’.
She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, ‘I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants’. Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five female servants, went with David’s messengers and became his wife.
Ahinoam of Jezreel
In the next verse we learn that David acquired yet another wife, whilst losing his former one, Michal, thanks to the vindictive Saul (vv. 43-44): “David had also married Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they both were his wives. But Saul had given his daughter Michal, David’s wife, to Paltiel son of Laish, who was from Gallim”.
Saul’s wife was also called Ahinoam (אֲחִינֹעַם), a name which means “My brother is pleasant”.
She bore him sons and daughters (I Samuel 14:49): “Saul’s sons were Jonathan, Ishvi and Malki-Shua. The name of his older daughter was Merab, and that of the younger was Michal. His wife’s name was Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaaz”.
Now Dr. Ed Metzler had arrived at a fascinating conclusion about King Saul and his wife, Ahinoam, in the context of the Velikovskian revision of Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty’s arising alongside the United Kingdom of Israel. And this would enable Metzler, as he thought (and I had very much liked the idea), to argue for an actual identification of the biblical characters:
with, the Eighteenth Dynasty Egyptians, respectively:
As interesting as it all may be, Metzler’s supposed name connections of Ahinoam with Ahhotep (“Iah [the Moon] is satisfied”), and Ahimaaz (“My brother is counsellor”) with Ahmose (“Child of the Moon”) do not appear to be sound, for one.
Moreover, there is no indication at all that the kingdom of Saul had ever actually incorporated mighty Egypt (and Nubia).
And, according to my chronology (as given earlier – approximate only), pharaoh Amenhotep I (Metzler’s King Saul) was yet reigning close to the very end of the reign of King David.
Further in support of his reconstruction, Dr. Metzler had noted that the name of the supposedly Egyptian Ahinoam’s son, Amnon (I Chronicles 3:1), appeared to be Egyptian.
David’s second attempt to seek refuge with Achish of Gath, who had viewed him as a madman (I Samuel 21:15), was far more successful.
By now David had his own little army and his two wives (I Samuel 27:1-4):
But David thought to himself, ‘One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand’.
So David and the six hundred men with him left and went over to Achish son of Maon king of Gath. David and his men settled in Gath with Achish. Each man had his family with him, and David had his two wives: Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail of Carmel, the widow of Nabal. When Saul was told that David had fled to Gath, he no longer searched for him.
King Achish gave David and his followers the town of Ziklag in which to dwell.
Its location is not entirely certain (http://www.bibleplaces.com/ziklag/):
“Numerous sites have been proposed for the biblical Ziklag. A. Alt suggested Ziklag was to be located at Tell Halif (Khuweilfeh), and the site was excavated by Joe Seger, with remains found mainly from the Early and Late Bronze Ages (3200-2350 & 1550-1200 BC), but not [sic] from the time of David (1000 BC). Tell Masos was proposed, but it also lacks remains from the right time. V. Fritz has advocated locating Ziklag at Tell Sheba (identified here as Beersheba), assuming that biblical Beersheba is located underneath the ruins of modern Beersheba.
…. Tell Sera (Tell esh-Sharia), which is identified as Ziklag by most scholars including Aharoni, B. Mazar, Kallai, Rainey, Na’aman, and Seger. The site is situated midway between Beersheba and Gaza at 535 ft (168 m) above sea level.
About five acres at the summit, the tell is horseshoe shaped with steep slopes on all sides except on the west side. Six seasons of excavations by Eliezer Oren in the 1970s uncovered remains from Chalcolithic to early Islamic periods”.
From that base, Ziklag, David and his marauders would go and attack the peoples round about. For instance (v. 8): “Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. (From ancient times these peoples had lived in the land extending to Shur and Egypt.)”.
This last piece of information will be of tremendous importance as we proceed later on to consider that one of David’s next set of wives would hail from the kingdom of Geshur.