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Samuel, Saul, and David
The Two Books of Samuel
In order to get the story of the famous King David, we have to read two books in the Bible entitled the Books of Samuel (parts one and two). Although these books are very interesting, with many new stories of faith triumphing over evil, including the famous story of David and Goliath, the Books of Samuel are similar to the other first books of the Old Testament in that the constant theme of killing and destruction seems to be the context in which the stories are told and the religious lessons are taught.
The Books of Samuel start with the story of his mother, Hannah, who prayed for a baby. When Samuel was born, Hannah was so grateful to God that she had Samuel raised by the priest at the holy place where Hannah prayed. God was considered potentially very destructive at this point in the Bible. "The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces."
As a boy, Samuel developed a personal relationship with God.
In a battle with the Philistines, the Ark of God (a box that held the Ten Commandments) was captured. But under Samuel's leadership, it was restored to Israel.
Samuel grew to be an old man. At that time, there was a young, handsome boy named Saul. He wanted to meet the famous leader, Samuel.
When Samuel laid eyes upon Saul, he knew instantly that this was the one who would succeed Samuel in leading Israel. God told Samuel this was so.
Ammonites were enemies of Israel also at that time. Saul and Samuel teamed up together to defeat them in battle.
Jonathan, Saul's son, was an important person in the stories told in the Books of Samuel. Jonathan helped fight against the Philistines.
Sometimes Saul did not obey the advice of God. Samuel became angry at him for this. God often advised the Hebrews on how to win their battles, but Saul many times did not follow that advice. Samuel started to regret making Saul king. God Himself regretted it.
Seeking a new king, Samuel, quite elderly by now, found him in Bethlehem. This is where Samuel found the young David, a bright, skillful boy.
Bethlehem was where Jesus would be born many generations later. Thus, some parts of the Gospels refer to Him as the Son of David, from whom Jesus traced his ancestry. The reference to Bethlehem in the Books of Samuel is an example of how the Old Testament is seen as a prelude to the New Testament. The term "Old Testament" itself is a Christian term for the early writings of the Hebrews about 500 years before Jesus lived.
In a great battle against the Philistines, David, who had begun working as Saul's personal assistant, dared to approach the giant Philistine warrior, Goliath, armed only with a sling shot. The rest is history. David shot a stone into Goliath's forehead and killed him, then proceeded to rout the Philistines. He became Israel's overnight hero.
With jealousy, Saul sought to kill the young David, but Jonathan, who had become David's good friend, talked his father out of killing the new celebrity who had stolen Saul's thunder.
Michal, Saul's daughter, became David's wife. One night she warned him to flee, because she knew her father still was planning to murder David. He ran away to Samuel in another town. But he had to flee again, as Saul's men were pursuing him.
David contacted Jonathan to find out whether Saul still wanted to kill David. He was assured that he was still in danger.
Saul pursued David relentlessly. But the popular David had a following wherever he went, even when he was in hiding.
Once, David had a chance to kill Saul, but did not do it. When David spoke to Saul from afar, telling him this, a truce finally was made between them.
At this point, Samuel passed away. Then as the days passed, the truce between David and Saul wore thin. David still feared for his life. Amazingly, he went to live among the enemy, the Philistines, so that Saul could not find him.
The Books of Samuel, like so much of the Old Testament, have chapters that are like the daily episodes of a novella or soap opera. Each one tells a fascinating episode that forms part of the whole great drama. For example, Saul consults a medium to have a conversation with the ghost of Samuel about the Philistines at this point in the story. Predictably, Samuel takes the opportunity to criticize Saul once again for not following God's instructions repeatedly.
The first Book of Samuel ends with the wounded Saul requesting his armor bearer to kill him lest he be taken captive by the Philistines in battle.
The second Book of Samuel starts with David learning that not only Saul but also his son, David's friend Jonathan, was killed in the battle.
Joab became captain of King David's army. There was a period of bloody struggle between Saul's descendants and David, but David knew that God intended him to rule Israel. The ark of the Lord was set up in a tabernacle erected by David. Ultimately, King David triumphed over the competition from Saul's family, as dramatized by David's conversation with Saul's daughter, Michal his ex-wife, in which David utterly rejected her taunts.
David subdued the Philistines. He was truly a great warrior king. Despite all the troubles with Saul, David showed respect for Saul as God's chosen, anointed leader and would not let anyone speak dishonorably about him.
Then a sad thing happened to David, for which he repented the rest of his life. Taken with the beauty of a woman he'd seen, David had an affair with her while knowing that her husband, a soldier, was away serving in David's army.
The husband returned to town on leave but would not sleep with his wife, Bathsheba, out of sympathy for his fellow soldiers who had to sleep on the ground near the battlefield. David, dishonorably, ordered the husband back to the front lines, knowing there was a good chance he'd be killed in battle, which actually did occur.
After this, Bathsheba bore David's child, who died in infancy despite the king's prayers. Later, she bore more children of David, including the famous Solomon.
Another episode of trouble of a sexual nature arose. One of David's sons committed a rape and was later killed by another son in retaliation. That other son, Absalom, became very popular just like David when he was young. Absalom amassed an army and wanted to take over Israel.
David had to flee from the capital, Jerusalem. Absalom pursued him until finally there was a battle between the rival armies. David's army won but David wept when he heard his son had been killed.
The Books of Samuel close with David's giving praise and thanks to the Lord God for all of his success in life. David built an altar to the Lord. But David felt guilty because of his sins.
The only sin seems to be that of Bathsheba (adultery, the sixth commandment). However, the killings of thousands of men in battles and other confrontations were not considered sins, but rather triumphs.
The Books of Samuel are examples of how the Bible was written by, for, and about the undeniably brilliant Hebrew people of long ago. They are seen as the good guys, always fighting against everyone else who got in their way. The Bible is a little like modern "action" movies in which the good guys triumph over the evil, dangerous bad guys.
The difference from most action movies is that the Bible raises the point that there is only one true God (the invisible, personally communicative God of Israel, Whom the world still knows today) whereas the action films mostly are political in nature.
But on 9/11 in 2001, there was real-life killing done in the name of God against our country. It was justified by religion, not politics. It was done by Islamic people whose religion incorporates a belief in Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity. This was one of many atrocities committed in the name of religion, but counterbalanced by millions of saintly acts throughout history also performed and inspired by religion.
The Biblical story of Samuel, Saul, and David (all of whom are thought by many scholars to be fictional) is more modern than might appear. Struggles for power, battles led by rivals who each feel justified, and personal anguish over family troubles, all are contemporary stories repeatedly occurring at this moment. They are renditions of dramatic tales of 2,500 years ago, like those conceived by the unknown Israeli authors whose words, translated in many languages, appear in the great collection of books called the Bible.
If God exists, as surely He does in the minds of most, then proof lies only inside the innermost confines of one's private mind, and not in the pages of unsure translations of novella scripts meant to inspire the ancient Hebrews of forgotten times.
The characteristics of Samuel, Saul, and David are found today in one form or another in families all around the world. While remembering that those three personas all were Hebrew, it's not so much the point that only the Hebrew people could produce such heroics as it is that the ancient Hebrews must be congratulated for their care and respect for these books. Because of this, we have today the amazingly preserved Bible, which forms the basis of religions followed by billions of people.
The Lovely Bathsheba
A Flawed Storybook Romance
Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward starred in the movie "David and Bathsheba" in 1951. It was the story of an illicit, adulterous romance that haunted the great King David to his grave. David sat idly by, in his middle aged weariness, while his army fought the battle far off. He gazed out his window and spied Bathsheba. With too much time on his hands, he decided to engage in an affair with the wife of a brave soldier who was fighting the battle that David himself did not, or could not fight. He ordered the husband into the front lines, knowing he'd probably be killed. It happened, but David, without remorse until he reached old age, pursued and married the soldier's wife.
This was dastardly conduct for sure. David repented on his death bed, but the reputation of this great hero, who slew Goliath, was soiled by his illicit passion that led to an indirect, but intentional killing of his lover's husband.
They had children together, including the great King Solomon. The name "Bathsheba" is memorable simply because David first laid eyes on her while she was bathing.
The Bible makes it clear that David sinned. The whole episode was shameful, as the great King David, a valiant hero in his youth, had become a peeping Tom watching a woman, another man's wife, taking a bath.
Bathsheba herself has to share some of the fault of the adultery. She consented to be with the king. The sad story of murder and adultery is a great tragedy.