WHAT THE BIBLE REALLY SAYS
By: J. R. Hyland
The period of the
Judges lasted 200 years. It ended when a monarchy was established among the
Hebrew people. Saul was the first king of Israel, and he was able to unite the
scattered Jewish tribes into a cohesive force. Under his leadership the
Israelites claimed victory after victory over their enemies.
Saul was anointed king by the Prophet Samuel,
the acknowledged religious leader of his time and the most powerful man in the
kingdom. Among other things, Samuel made the military policy of herem - -
extermination of all those who lived in conquered territories - - a religious
and moral imperative. There were to be no exceptions. In the name of God, he
ordered Saul to go to war: “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy
everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women,
children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
Saul defeated the Amalekites but made the
mistake of using his own judgment in sparing the life of Agag, their king. As a
military leader, he thought it a good strategy to keep the king as a prisoner.
But Samuel was furious: Saul could not be allowed to use his own judgment. A
ruler who did this was a danger to the prophet’s power and authority. So he set
out for Gilgal where the army was celebrating its victory. A jubilant Saul
shouted a greeting: “The Lord bless you Samuel!”
The prophet did not bother to acknowledge that salute. Instead, he launched into
a diatribe, reminding Saul that he had been a nobody before he anointed him
king. Then he accused Saul of treachery and asked “Why did you not obey the
Lord,” he said. “I went on the mission assigned me. I completely destroyed the
Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle
from the plunder . . . in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at
Samuel would not be appeased: he was too
threatened by Saul’s successful reign. He told the king he was a rebellious and
arrogant man and said that the Lord was going to give the kingdom to “a
better man than you.”
But it was not the Lord who gave the kingdom to someone else; it was the prophet
who, in a secret ceremony, went to the elders of the tribe of Judah. It was a
time of bitter tribal rivalries between Judah and King Saul’s clan - - the tribe
In the presence of the elders of Judah, Samuel
anointed David, son of Jesse, as king. And from then on, the Judahites were
engaged in behind-the-scenes machinations that would allow one of their own to
rule over Israel. It took thirty years before that happened, but the first step
toward their goal came quickly.
Saul had begun to suffer from incapacitating
headaches and depressions. After the threat to dethrone him, Samuel had refused
to see the king or even speak to him again. Saul knew the prophet was planning
his downfall, but had no idea of how this would come about. But there were those
in the royal household who did know and had a plan.
They told Saul there was a way to overcome his
depression: the music of a skillful harpist could drive away the demons that
were plaguing him. And they knew just the right person for the job: “a son of
Jesse of Bethlehem knows how to play the harp. He speaks well and is a
fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.”
After hearing such a glowing recommendation, the king sent for David.
The Bible reports that from the time the young
man became part of the royal house-hold, Saul “loved him greatly.” But from the
time he entered the King’s service, David began making the alliances that would
eventually gain him the throne. One of his most important allies was Jonathan,
the King’s son. Like his father, Jonathan also loved the charismatic David:
“Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.”
That covenant was a promise that when David
attempted to overthrow Saul and take the throne for himself, Jonathan would
support the coup. He secretly assured David that he had enough support to
eventually take over the throne. ‘Don’t be afraid,” he said. “You will be
king over Israel and I will be second to you.”
In the meantime, Saul’s affection for David
was unabated and he kept promoting him. First he was appointed royal
armor-bearer and “whatever Saul sent him to do, David did it so successfully
that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the people and
Saul’s officers as well.”
Eventually, those same officers mutinied against their king, in favor of David.
It took a long while for Saul to realize that
it was David and his tribe that was plotting to take over the throne and when he
found out, David fled to the wilderness south of Jerusalem.
During the first months that he was hiding out
from Saul he roamed the area around the Dead Sea. There were other fugitives
hiding out in that desolate region. The Bible describes them as “those who
were oppressed, those in distress, all those in debt, anyone who had a
It goes on to say that David gathered these men together and as the leader of
this small army of hirelings,
he offered their services to Aschich, the Philistine king. So while Saul was
busy fighting off Israel’s enemies, David went to work for them as a mercenary.
Like everyone else with whom David wanted to
ingratiate himself, King Aschich succumbed to the young man’s charm. He accepted
David’s offer of service, knowing he had been a favorite son of Israel: the same
one who was reported to have killed the Philistine giant, Goliath. And David
proved his loyalty to the Philistine king.
“David and his men went out on raids . . .
David laid the countryside waste and left neither man nor woman alive but took
the sheep and oxen, camels and garments and came back bringing them to Aschich .
. . David never brought a man or woman back alive ‘in case’ as he thought ‘they
inform against us’ . . . This was David’s practice all the time he stayed in
Philistine territory. Aschich trusted David”
Once he had established his credibility with
King Aschich, David reverted to his usual method of operation: he began to
feather his own nest. He ingratiated himself with the elders of his tribe of
Judah by giving them some of the spoils of his battles.
It was only after both Saul and Jonathon died
in a battle against the Philistines that David returned to Israel. Saul’s only
surviving son, Ish-bosheth, was heir to the throne, but the tribe of Judah
refused to acknowledge him. Instead, they repaid David for his favors and backed
his claim to the throne. After seven years of unrelenting civil war, David was
crowned king. And thus began what scholars call the Golden Age of Israel.
But under the leadership of David, women were
increasingly marginalized. The sons of Israel had often bent the laws of
marriage in order to give fuller range to their sexual appetites. When David
became king he gave his benediction to that practice by taking a number of
wives. He did this although Jewish Law specifically forbade the king from having
more than one wife.
Whatever the king did was bound to be
reflected in the standards of the culture that he ruled. David installed a
harem for his pleasure. Granted, it was a modest establishment, only ten women
were kept there. Nevertheless, this blatant use of females as sex objects was
foreign to Hebrew standards.
But no one was about to take David to task for
any of his actions. A popular song of the day boasted “Saul killed his
thousands and David his tens of thousands.”
Under his leadership, Israel doubled its territory and gained control of the
major trade routes in Palestine. It was the success of his territorial and
economic aggressiveness that allowed David to break religious and moral laws
The Bible mentions another problem connected
with his reign: he maintained a pagan belief in the efficacy of human sacrifice.
When a famine devastated the land for three years, he allowed seven men to be
sacrificed in order to bring about a bountiful harvest. He handed them over to
the Gibeonites who killed and exposed them on a hill before the Lord . . .
they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley
harvest was beginning.
In spite of such “flaws” in his character,
David is universally acclaimed as a hero who had only one blot on an otherwise
unblemished record. Theologians admit that he did “sin” in his adulterous affair
with Bathsheba, but other than that, they unreservedly endorse David and his
successful reign as warrior king of Israel.
But David was a man who did whatever was
expedient in order to achieve his goals. For him, the end always justified the
means. The biblical record of his treachery in dealing with Saul and Jonathan is
ignored, as is his offering of human sacrifices. And his brutal annihilation of
entire towns, when he worked as a mercenary for the Philistines is, overlooked.
So is his deathbed scene.
As he lay dying, David called for his son,
Solomon. A lifetime of violence was about to end, but there were still some old
scores to settle. He made Solomon promise to kill a few left-over enemies. His
nephew, Joab, was first on the hit list. Next was an elderly man, named Shimel,
who years before had called David a murderer and a criminal for taking the
throne from Saul and his descendants.
Although many people find the spectacle of a
deathbed vendetta to be less than inspiring, Christian spokesmen are undaunted
by David’s vindictiveness. The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible justifies his
deathbed demand by explaining that “this is not a matter of personal
revenge, but of justice. David leaves it to Solomon to decide how and when these
executions are to take place.”
Another scholarly resource reports that it is the victim’s fault and the will of
God that Shimel be murdered. “(David’s) dying counsels did not come from
personal anger, but for the security of Solomon’s throne which was the cause of
God and of Israel.” It goes on to claim that it was God who inspired David’s
death bed vendetta: “David’s dying sentiments as recorded, in the Bible, are
delivered under the influence of the Holy Spirit.”
In spite of such rationalizations, some might
ascribe David’s deathbed vendetta to an unholy, rather than a Holy Spirit.
Nevertheless, Solomon carried out his father’s demand for revenge, and the
longer he ruled, the more his reign reflected the more dubious aspects of
I Samuel: 15:3 NIV
I Samuel: 15:13 NIV
I Samuel: 15:20, 21 NIV
I Samuel 15:24, 25 NIV
I Samuel 16:18 NIV
I Samuel 18:3 NIV
I Samuel 23:17 NIV
I Samuel 18:5 NIV
I Samuel 22:2 JB
1 Samuel 30:9 AMP At its peak, David’s army of
mercenaries numbered about 600.
I Samuel 27:8-12 JB
Deuteronomy 17:17 NAS
1 Samuel 18:7 NIV
2 Samuel 21:9 NIV
2 Samuel 16:7,8 NIV
Evangelical Bible Commentary P. 217
Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible. Matthew Henry, p. 252
Go on to: THE WISDOM OF KING SOLOMON
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