I’m loving this #tbs1sam thing on twitter, not just as chance to engage people of God who I would likely not meet face to face, but also, it’s allowed me to be disciplined in the reading of Scripture and intentionally reflecting on it. The blog posting, while not part of the actual twitter bible study helps me to structure and track my thoughts, and be more coherent. I hope my readers don’t mind my “thinking out loud” approach to walking through 1 Samuel. Feel free to engage in comments here, or if you’re on twitter, join in. Mostly just 4 of us right now. But since I took yesterday off from this to focus on other thoughts, here’s two chapters for the price of one.
Gold tumours and gold rats is weird (especially given the fact that some manuscripts, like the Masoretic, of 1 Sam. are missing the rat reference in chapter 5). But this response to plague is odd. We’ve got growths on our bodies, and rats everywhere, so let’s make golden rats and tumours. Here we see the foolishness of ancient superstitions. Penned cows heading to Beth Shemesh as a sign of YHWH’s work to “test” YHWH is a bit… what’s the word… unordinary?… odd reasoning or maybe faulty logic? Whatever the case, the Philistines get the response they feared, that YHWH was the source of the plagues. Odd that they conclude it could only be YHWH or chance. No other god could do this? A superstitious pagan people like this should have millions of options for the source of their suffering.
Note that the cart ends up in the field of Joshua, the hero of old who lead Israel and the Ark into the land. The parallel here with the return of the Ark is unmistakable.
But the people of Beth Shemesh don’t fare much better. Their curiousity gets them in trouble, and they want to pass it off on Kiriath Jearim. The ark’s presence should be an honour and blessing, but Beth Shemesh rejects it. Some manuscripts have 70 casualties, but most actually have 50 070. Big difference. Would Beth Shemesh even have that many residents? Hard to explain the discrepancy.
But why not send it back to Shiloh? Kiriath Jearim is a Gibeonite city (check out Joshua 9). Remember the Gibeonites? They deceived Israel into a treaty to save themselves from being conquered. Payback maybe? This thing is killing Israelites, send it to the Gibeonites. The Bethshemishites don’t speak of the casualties surrounding the Ark as of late. Just that the Ark is back in Israel, want it? Offer them the “honour” of holding on to the Ark, then laugh at their plight.
Not much mention of the Ark after chapter 7. It is left sitting in Kiriath Jearim for 20 years. Odd that in all that time noboby thinks to reunite Tabernacle and Ark. Even Samuel doesn’t seem too concerned with the situation- perhaps recognizing the lack of appropriate priesthood at Shiloh after the death of the High Priest and his wicked progeny. Whatever the case, the Ark doesn’t have much of a role in Israel’s history after this point, save for the events of 2 Samuel 6.
Samuel leads the people in repentance, and then in battle, without the Ark. The Israelites camp at Mizpah, right between Bethel (future pilgrammage site in the Northern Kingdom) and Gibeah (home of Saul) in Benjamin. The focus is moving South from Ephraim (Shiloh, Ramah, Aphek, etc. all Ephraim locations) towards Benjamin and Judah who will become the focus of the narrative from chapter 9 on. The narrator is telling the story to create polemic of the kingdom of disobedience in Ephraim, and the Kingdom annointed by God in Benjamin and Judah (thus a critique of the Northern Kingdom after the split); God is trying to do something South of Ephraim, while the Ephraimites are out for their own position.
Odd that the people turn back to YHWH (7:2) but then Samuel has to tell them to get rid of the Baals and Ashtoreths. If they had turned back to YHWH, shouldn’t it be presumed this had happened already? Archaeology reveals Baal worship and various other pagan practices in Israel at all periods of their history. There is always a tension there; we read that the baals are gone, but suddenly their back. The totality of repentance always seems suspect. But ancient writers often exaggerate totality. For example, if we believe total destruction when we read it, Israel no longer exists by Samuel’s time as the Merneptah Stele proclaims destruction of Israel and elimination of his “seed” in the 13th century BC (i.e. 2000 years before Samuel). So this is likely hyperbole, when it says all Israel turned, and all the Baals and Ashtoreths are gone.
Samuel leaves a monument, and we have Ebenezer (rock of help) even though there is already a place called Ebenezer mentioned in chapter 4. Perhaps the mention in verse 4 is of the place dubbed Ebenezer during later events (sometimes happens in the OT)? This Ebenezer in chapter 7 is far from Aphek, so probably not. Different place, same name.
Then we’re told the Philistines don’t come into Israelite territory for the rest of Samuel’s days. But of course, in chapter 17 we see the Philistines camped in Judah. Odd. And of course, the Philistines retreat in chapter 7 to their cities- cities within the boundaries of the Promised Land. The narrator has conceded that Israel has never (will never?) control the Philistine coast (now known as the Gaza Strip).
Then we get this statement: “Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life.” Strange that the next chapter is about his dismissal as leader of Israel. Narrator being Ironic? Probably. Israelites who know the Judges narratives know how these things go. The Judge saves the day, leads Israel until he dies, Israel falls back into sin a generation or two later. Same old, same old. Of course Samuel leads Israel until his death… but wait… not this time. Chapter 8 upsets the cycle of Israel’s history.
Oh that clever narrator.