July 11, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: God rejects Saul, Samuel anoints David

John F. Fink(Twenty-seventh in a series of columns)

Chapters 13 through 31 of the First Book of Samuel give us the story of King Saul and David. It really is a fascinating story, and I hope you’ll read it. But this week, I’ll cover only to the middle of Chapter 18.

After Samuel anointed Saul king of Israel, which I discussed last week, the book moves on to the reasons why God rejected him—basically because of his disobedience to God’s will as relayed by Samuel. We Christians will consider it strange that Saul’s most serious disobedience occurred after his defeat of the Amalekites.

Samuel told Saul that God commanded him to destroy all the men, women, children and animals of the Amalekites, but he spared Agag, their king, and kept the best of their sheep and oxen. A footnote in some Catholic Bibles explains that “the interpretation of God’s will attributed to Samuel is in keeping with the abhorrent practices of blood revenge prevalent among pastoral, seminomadic peoples such as the Hebrew had recently been. The slaughter of the innocent has never been in conformity with the will of God.”

Nevertheless, that’s the reason given for God’s rejection of Saul. Samuel told Saul that the Lord had torn the kingdom of Israel from him, and then Samuel personally killed Agag.

The Lord then led Samuel to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse, to find Saul’s successor. As seven of Jesse’s sons were presented, Samuel realized that God had rejected all of them. But the youngest was out tending the sheep. When he was brought in, God told Samuel that he was the one chosen. So Samuel anointed David.

Of course, Saul didn’t know that. Tormented by an evil spirit, he ordered his servants to find a skillful harpist to play for him. Knowing that David was skilled as a harpist, the servants brought him to Saul. Thus David went into Saul’s service, as a harpist and Saul’s armor-bearer.

Chapter 17 gives us the story of David’s killing the 6-foot-6-inch giant Philistine Goliath. The story is a masterpiece of storytelling, but it has no connection with the preceding events. We are reintroduced to Jesse and his family. Jesse sent David to his brothers who were fighting in Saul’s army. He arrived at Saul’s camp to learn that Goliath had challenged the Israelites to send a man to fight him.

David, inspired by God, told Saul that he would fight Goliath. Then we have the classic “underdog story” as David defeated the giant and cut off his head. The story shows David’s character, his faith in God, and his courage—qualities necessary for the king of Israel.

David continued in Saul’s service, successfully carrying out every mission Saul gave him. Saul’s son, Jonathan, became his best friend.

When the army returned to civilization after its military victories, the women welcomed it with tambourines and dancing. They sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousand” (1 Sm 18:7). This angered Saul and, from then on, he tried to kill David.

I’ll discuss that next week. †

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