Sunday, July 29, 2007

Reflections on Former Prophets II

As I said previously, the essays are the places in the module where you really go in over your head. Or you go off your head. Or it's off with your head if you miss the deadline. And other head-related things. The essay question for the Former Prophets module was on contrasting Saul's and David's kingships and giving thought as to whether Saul was unfairly treated by Yahweh. A few comments on this one...
  • Again, the range of scholarship we were directed to enabled a wide spectrum of opinions to be assessed. Notable is Gunn, who sees Yahweh dooming Saul to failure in order to teach the people a lesson: yes, they can have a king, but not when they ask for one, only when Yahweh says they can.
  • Also again, naive readings are exposed in considering the narrative in depth. These lead to simple polarisations of David as 'ideal' and Saul as the epitome of a 'carnal', not 'spiritual' ruler. This is all very nice and handy, but it just doesn't square. For a start Saul is anointed king by Samuel on behalf of Yahweh and, to cap it all, is filled with the Spirit. He is given a genuine opportunity to rule under Yahweh, but by his usurping of the boundaries of a human kingship, he forfeits that right.
  • One of the best things I read all semester was Provan et al's treatment of the initially somewhat confusing events of 1S10 and 1S11 (Provan, Long and Longman, A Biblical History of Israel). Theirs is a most persuasive argument for explaining Saul's hiding in the baggage in 1S10:22 during the public recognition at Mizpah, the second public recognition at Gilgal in 1S11:15, and the swift rejection of Saul in 1S13:14. For them, the usual ANE accession rites of private anointing (takes place in 1S10:1), deed of valour and public recognition are not followed through by Saul as commanded by Samuel. Saul is commanded in 1S10:5ff to strike the Philistine garrison at Gibeah (the 'whatever your hand finds to do' of 1S10:7). However, the silence following 1S10:13 indicates that Saul did not do so. In this way, he broke the deed of valour element and the following public recognition finds him hiding in the baggage. Only after an alternative deed of valour in the rescue of the people of Jabesh-gilead in 1S11 can the public recognition be effectual at Gilgal. Saul is then king, but has already failed in obedience in a pretty big way.
  • Whilst David's failures are also significant, they are within a general context of submission to the word of Yahweh as the ultimate king. The pattern of the judges, where Yahweh was king is in a sense repeated in the establishment of the monarchy. The monarch becomes an uber-judge, with Yahweh still the true king.
  • All this still leaves the interesting question of how Yahweh can speak of being rejected in the peoples request for a king in 1S8, when kingship becomes a foundation of the subsequent developments in salvation-history. I would see the request for a 'king like all the nations' to be the problem, rather that for a king per se. Saul turns out to be too much like the kings of other nations. David is a holy king after the heart of Yahweh.