Tag Archives: Saul

Qur’an 8: The Spoils

The eighth chapter of the Qur’an is famous for its violence, at least in anti-Islamic circles. Litanies like this…

.. give more examples of violent verses from the eighth chapter than from any other. The chapter’s name — “The Spoils” — hardly helps. Yet, the litany’s violent impressions of the first several chapters don’t match my impressions of chapter 2, “The Heifer,” chapter 3, “The Family of Amram,” or chapter 5, “The Table.” So is chapter 8, “The Spoils,” that bad in the context of the Bible?

Let’s use one verse as a key, and open the door of the Qur’an…

Prepare against them whatever you can of power and war-horses,
awing thereby the enemy of God and your enemy,
and others besides them,
whom you do not know, but God knows them.

And whatever you spend in the way of God will be repaid to you in full
and you will be not wronged.
Qur’an 8:60

Within this one voice, there’s promises of payback, victory, a faithless adversary, total consecration to God, and all things being made right.

Let’s dig in.

Pay Back

The Qur’an’s promise that God will pay to men what men deserve continues the Biblical theme of pay back:

And Jesus answered and said to them, “Pay to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Mark 12:17

Christ himself references the Maccabean promise to pay back to the gentiles exactly what they deserved:

Judas Maccabeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the peoples. You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people. Pay back the Gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the law.”
1 Maccabees 2:66-68

As Christ ensured us to be sure that Caesar collects, and Judas Maccabeus wanted to ensure that Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Qur’anic author is warning the reader God can pay back to you, too. No debts will be left outstanding. But if you go with God, with way will be easier. This is because the burden we have been given from the Father is easy, and the burden manageable:

Now God has lightened your burden, knowing that there is weakness in you. So if there be a hundred steadfast men among you, they will overcome two hundred; and if there be a thousand, they will overcome two thousand, by God’s leave, and God is with the steadfast.
Qur’an 8:66

Or as Christ said:

All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

Come to Me, all you who labor
and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.

Take My yoke upon you
and learn from Me, for I am gentle
and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.

For My yoke is easy
and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11:27-30

Victory

The reference to the multiplicative power of God in the verse we began with — that God’s help makes your own efforts a rounding error — seems to reflect the reference to David’s successes relative to Saul’s.

Now it had happened as they were coming home, when David was returning from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women had come out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy, and with musical instruments. So the women sang as they danced, and said:

“Saul has slain his thousands,
And David his ten thousands.”

Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said,

They have ascribed to David ten thousands,
and to me they have ascribed only thousands
.
Now what more can he have but the kingdom?”

So Saul eyed David from that day forward.
1 Samuel 18:6-9

The Qur’anic author, like Joseph Lozovyy in his analysis of David, Saul, and Doeg, views David’s success as the result entirely of God’s effort, and not reflective on David’s own skill or work. Faith — which the Qur’anic author sees as humility before God’s presence, and not as obedience to a king — makes one part of the heavenly host:

The faithful are only those whose hearts tremble when God is mentioned, and when His signs are recited to them, they increase their faith, and who put their trust in their Lord, maintain the prayer and spend out of what We have provided them. If is they who are truly faithful. They shall have ranks near their Lord, forgiveness, and a noble provision.
Qur’an 8:3-4

The righteous victory then is a victory where one does noting (except have hearts that tremble, put their trust in the Lord, maintain prayer, and use what God gives), and God smites the enemy. Faith, and not works, matter to the Qur’anic author. So the analogy of God smiting Pharaoh’s army, which the Israelites did little else to help other than escape…

Like the precedent of Pharaoh’s clan and those who were before them, who impugned the signs of their Lord; so We destroyed them for their sins and We drowned Pharaoh’s clan, and they were all wrongdoers.
Qur’an 8:54

… highlights perhaps the only work that God accepts, according to the Qur’anic author: belief.

Belief

After Pharaoh’s army was drowned, the Children of Israel were in the Wilderness between the sin of Egypt and the promise of Canaan. During this time, spies were sent into Canaan to investigate the land. All agreed with the basic facts — that the land of Canaan was good, but that it held the faithless — Amalekites:

Now they departed and came back to Moses and Aaron and all the congregation of the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. Then they told him, and said: “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.”
Numbers 13:26-29

The Qur’anic author summarizes what happened next:

As your Lord brought you out from your home with a judicious purpose, a part of the faithful were indeed reluctant. They disputed with you concerning the truth after it had become clear, as if they were being driven toward death while they looked on.
Qur’an 8:5

Caleb and Joshua advocated for an attack…

Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”

and [Caleb and Joshua] spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.”
Numbers 13:30,14:7-9

but the other spies urged Israel to turn back, leading even Moses and Aaron to despair:

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” So they said to one another, “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.”

Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel.
Joshua 13:31-14:5

The Qur’anic author identifies the fear of the ten as ultimately Satanic, as it placed trust in human strength and not God’s. In this view the purpose of the spies was simply to see what God had prepared for them, and not worry about the practicalities of seizing a new land:

Do not be like those who left their homes vainly and to show off to the people, and to bar from the way of God, and God encompasses what they do.

When Satan made their deeds seem decorous to them, and said, ‘None from among those people will defeat you today, and I will stand by you.’But when the two hosts signed each other, he took to his heels, saying ‘Indeed, I am quit of you. I see what you do not see. Indeed, I fear God and God is severe in retribution.’
Qur’an 8:47-48

The Lord does not need human strength. He will send Angels to give victory to those He wishes:

When you appealed to your Lord for help, He answered you: ‘I will aid you with a thousand angels in a file.’
Qur’an 8:9

Sure enough, when Joshua assumed command and led the people into Canaan, the Lord’s commander personally promised support:

Then the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year.

And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?”

So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”

And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?”
Joshua 5:12-14

The Faithless Adversary

In our everyday life the faithless, according to the Qur’anic author, are those who label religion as superstition. Or, to put it another way, those who fail to see that ancient stories are are true:

When Our signs are recited to them, they say, “We have heard already. If we want, we can say like this: ‘These are nothing but myths of the ancients.'”
Qur’an 8:31

But in the Hebrew Bible, as referenced in the Qur’an, the paradigmatic unbelievers are the Amalekites:

Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-Lord-Is-My-Banner; for he said, “Because the Lord has sworn: the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
Exodus 17:8-16

Moses’s had to have his hands held up because of exhaustion. If man’s strength ensured success, implies the Qur’anic author, Moses would have been defeated. But victory comes from God. Perhaps he even gave Moses the exhaustion on purpose, to prevent Moses from being tempted to try to help himself:But even Moses’s exhaustion was not a weakness, it was from God. Sleep for a faithful warrior is not a dereliction of duty, but trust in God’s strength:

When He covered you with drowsiness as a security from Him, and sent down water from the sky to purify you with it, and to repel from you the defilement of Satan, and to fortify your hearts, and to make feet steady with it.

Then the Lord signaled to the angels: ‘I am indeed with you; so steady the faithful. I will cast terror into the hearts of the faithless. So strike their necks, and strike their every limb joint!”
Qur’an 8:3-4

Thus God granted Moses the victory, as he urged, with outstretched hands held up by others, the people to fight:

Oh prophet! Urge on the faithful to fight: if there be twenty steadfast men among you, they will overcome two-hundred; and if there be a hundred of you, they will overcome a thousand of the faithless, for they are a lot who do not understand.
Qur’an 8:65

Just as your own work cannot help you, nor can the work of others. Trusting in the work of others to save you is like trusting the Amalekites as you wander through their land. Would be intercessors should not be sought, according to the Qur’anic author, but dispersed. Trust only in God:

Indeed, the worst of beasts in God’s sight are those who are faithless; so they will not have faith. Those with whom you made a treaty and who violated their treaty every time, and who are not Godwary. So if you confront them in battle, treat them as to disperse those who are behind them, so that they may take admonition. And if you fear treachery, from a people, break off with them in a like manner. Indeed, God does not like the treacherous.
Qur’an 8:55-58

Consecration to God

The Hebrew word translated in the New Kings James Version as “utterly destroyed” is herem. The Hebrew word herem, translated as “under the ban,” “utterly destroy,” totally dedicate to God,” “strike with a curse,” or “reincorporate for God,” is a particularly regrettable example of most translations attempting to explain rather than translate the scripture. Literally “Herem” means to set-aside. like its cognate term harem. This literally means the transformation of the profane to the sacred.

From Lachish Joshua passed to Eglon, and all Israel with him; and they encamped against it and fought against it. They took it on that day and struck it with the edge of the sword; all the people who were in it he utterly destroyed that day, according to all that he had done to Lachish.

So Joshua went up from Eglon, and all Israel with him, to Hebron; and they fought against it. And they took it and struck it with the edge of the sword—its king, all its cities, and all the people who were in it; he left none remaining, according to all that he had done to Eglon, but utterly destroyed it and all the people who were in it.

Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to Debir; and they fought against it. And he took it and its king and all its cities; they struck them with the edge of the sword and utterly destroyed all the people who were in it. He left none remaining; as he had done to Hebron, so he did to Debir and its king, as he had done also to Libnah and its king.

So Joshua conquered all the land: the mountain country and the South and the lowland and the wilderness slopes, and all their kings; he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel had commanded.
Joshua 10:34-40

The Hebrew Bible itself ends with the word herem, a threat (or hopeful promise!) of total dedication of Israel to God:

Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a utter destruction.”
Malachi 4:5-6

Christians, who know that John the Baptist is the new Elijah, believe that Israel was made herem as all things were restored to the position they were in Eden: totally dedicated to God. This dedication was made real by Christ’s conquests of the unseen realm.

Jesus answered and said to them, “Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.
Matthew 17:11-13

This view is expressed by Mary’s words. Mary is important because what she is is what all are meant to be by the new Elijah’s work — by the total dedication of everything, by the restoration of everything to the way it was meant to be:

Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:38

This view of total dedication — of not treating God as transactional partner but as the object of total love — is the view of the Qur’anic author. Consider a tithe. From Genesis this was calculated as ten percent of the spoils:

Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people.

And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him. Abram and Melchizedek

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:

“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;

And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

And he gave him a tenth of all.
Genesis 14:14-20

In the Qur’an, the tithe should be a fifth, not a tenth:

Know what whatever thing you may come by, a fifth of it is for God and the Apostle, for the relatives and the orphans, for the needy and the traveler, if you have faith in God and what We sent down to Our servant on the Day of Separation, the day when the two hosts met; and God has power over all things.
Qur’an 8:41

The purpose is not a mathematical formula, but an emphasis that mere rule-keeping is not the point. Consider how many times Christ told us to forgive, when asked for a rule by the first Pope:

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
Matthew 18:21-22

It’s not that 420 (70×7) times is actually enough — it’s that if you’re counting, you’re missing the point. The world is herem, all things belong to the world.

The opposite of Mary, the opposite of “the apostle” led by God, is the first king of Israel, Saul. The eighth chapter of the Qur’an seems to lean on Saul (who lost control of the land of Israel) as an example of what not to do, and Joshua (who gained control) as the positive example.

A prophet may not take captives until he has thoroughly decimated in the land. You desire the transitory gains of this world, while God desires the Hereafter, and God is all-mighty, all-wise. Had it not been for a prior decree of God, there would have surely befall you a great punishment for what you took. Avail yourselves of the spoils you have taken, as lawful and good, and be wary of God. God is indeed all-forgiving, all-merciful.
Qur’an 8:67-69

While the new Elijah, John the Baptist, placed all of Israel under the Ban as part of lifting the covenant, Saul tried to prevent even giving to God what was his. Saul tried to trick God, placing only “under the ban” that which he did not want:

And Saul attacked the Amalekites, from Havilah all the way to Shur, which is east of Egypt. He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.
1 Samuel 15:7-9

Samuel the prophet was horrified. The ten spies had melted before the Amalekites — now Saul was letting greed overcome him. Saul did not trust God to provide:

So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel? Now the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord?”
1 Samuel 15:17-19

The Qur’anic author generalizes Samuel’s excoriation of Saul to an instruction for all the faithful:

Fight them until persecution is no more, and religion becomes exclusively for God. So if they desist, God indeed watches what they do. But if they turn away, then know that God is your Master: an excellent master and an excellent helper!
Qur’an 8:39

God is not a cosmic foreign power capable of being negotiated with. The Biblical, and Qur’anic, view of the Divine is not the sort of statecraft imagined by Chinese Imperial Religion. God loves you, and wants your love.

So Samuel said:

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?

Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He also has rejected you from being king.”
1 Samuel 15:22-23

This means when God wins something, he does not just demand its destruction: He demands that thing is for Him, as well. The spoils of war are not merely material things: they are the souls of those who submit to God — including yourself:

They ask you concerning the spoils. Say, ‘The spoils belong to God and the Apostle.’ So be wary of God and settle your differences, and obey God and His Apostle, if you are faithful.
Qur’an 8:2

All Things Made Right

Nothing is bad in itself. When God does prohibit things, like certain foods (as described by both the Qur’anic author and Christ), the things are prohibited for our good, not because they are unclean in themselves.

As an example, take riding horses.

Joshua led an army without horses, and so it was natural that God commanded him to destroy the horses he encountered:

But the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow about this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” So Joshua and all the people of war with him came against them suddenly by the waters of Merom, and they attacked them. And the Lord delivered them into the hand of Israel, who defeated them and chased them to Greater Sidon, to the Brook Misrephoth, and to the Valley of Mizpah eastward; they attacked them until they left none of them remaining. So Joshua did to them as the Lord had told him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire.
Joshua 11:6-9

Later, King David (who finishes the conquest by taking Jerusalem), has different actions. The horses are not fully destroyed, for now the Lord has willed that Israel is capable of learning how to ride horses:

David also defeated Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to recover his territory at the River Euphrates. David took from him one thousand chariots, seven hundred horsemen, and twenty thousand foot soldiers. Also David hamstrung all the chariot horses, except that he spared enough of them for one hundred chariots.
2 Samuel 8:3-4

The Biblical completion of this is Christ riding on a colt to Jerusalem. What was God had prohibited, Christ now does in glory:

Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. 3 And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.”

So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it. But some of those who stood there said to them, “What are you doing, loosing the colt?”

And they spoke to them just as Jesus had commanded. So they let them go. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
Mark 11:1-8

The Army that once helped Joshua, the animal that served Jesus, all are included in glorious End:

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
Revelations 19:11-15

The moral lesson of all this — of Joshua’s hope and faith, of the belief that the impossible is possible if God wills it, is a lesson of redemption. No matter your sins, God can forgive you. Don’t trust in your own strength. It is God who will save you:

O you who have faith. If you are wary of God, He shall save you, and absolve you of your misdeeds, and forgive you, for God is a dispenser of a mighty grace.”
Qur’an 8:29

Conclusion

The eighth chapter of the Qur’an combines the stories of Moses and Joshua’s, Samuel’s and David’s, conquests to explain how God is sovereign, but provides and tools and possibilities of all he desires. The faithful do not despair, but obey God, fear Him and not the world, and strive to do His will.

So, is “The Spoils” in particular, and the Qur’an in general, an eliminationist screed? Is it as violent as the anti-Qur’anic litany implies?

Consider two verses, not mentioned above:

Like the precedent of Pharaoh’s clan and those who were before them, who denied God’s signs, so God seized them for their sins. God is indeed all-strong, severe in retribution.
Qur’an 8:52

and

Indeed, the faithless spend their wealth to bar from the way of God. Soon they will have spent it, then it will be a cause of regret to them, then they will be overcome, and the faithless will be gathered toward Hell so that God may separate the bad ones from the good, and place the bad on one another and pile them up together and cast them into hell. It is they who are the losers.
Qur’an 8:36-37

The first states that God will destroy an entire clan of a leader who disobeys. The second is that the faithless themselves are sorted, and the “Bad” faithless are cast down.

To me this is exactly as contradictory on its surface — and exactly as wise — as the Scriptural verse it reference:

You shall not bow down to them nor serve [idols]. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Exodus 20:5-6

Hear, o readers of the Torah and the Gospels, that the Lord our God is one Lord, and you should love him with all your heart, all your mind, and all your life.

Impressions of “The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest: Covenant, Retribution, and the Fate of the Canaanites,” by John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton

The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest is an examination of the Israelite conquest of Canaan as described primarily in the Book of Joshua. John H. and J. Harvey Walton argue the war was fought to properly order Canaan under God’s sovereign rule, and not as punishment for the Canaanites. The term herem, normally translated as “place under the ban” or “utterly destroy,” should be translated as “remove from human use” or even “purify.”  The process of establishing sovereignty in an area — called “Making a Name” or “Placing a Name,” — is completed by God through the Temple (though Saul, the builders of the Tower of Babel, and many other kings  previously tried to make a name for themselves, as recorded both within and outside the Bible). The authors introduce the idea of The Ban as a type, or foreshadowing, of Living in Christ, but do not convincingly argue this. Likewise, the propose an explanation for the apparent presence of inhuman monsters in Canaan. during the Conquest

Seven Days that Shook the World

And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; 6 but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground.

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
Genesis 2:2-7

The Book of Joshua is a war story, the third book the ExodusNumbersJoshua narrative that chronicles the life of the savior of Israel, Joshua, who follows (and then apparently deposes) Moses and leads an army against the Canaanite cities. Men, families, and entire cities are placed “under the ban” and “doomed to destruction” (herem). It is as exciting as a tale of the rise of ISIS told from the perspective of a military commander would be. Angels, stars, prostitutes, and spies are all characters in a book that makes church ladies uncomfortable all over the world.

But it came to pass on the seventh day that they rose early, about the dawning of the day, and marched around the city seven times in the same manner. On that day only they marched around the city seven times.
And the seventh time it happened, when the priests blew the trumpets, that Joshua said to the people:

“Shout, for the LORD has given you the city!

Now the city shall be doomed by the LORD to destruction, it and all who are in it.
Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.”
Joshua 6:16-17

This pattern will be created later, when the Temple is opened in seven days. The Creation, the Conquest, and the Indwelling of the LORD in the Temple are are three stages in the proper ordering of the universe. God creates the universe, God is granted title to the land, God is invested in the Temple. A force completely outside the cosmos orders the cosmos and lives in the cosmos. Christians of course will see parallels — antitypes — in this process to the Creation by the Word, the Victory at the Cross, and the Indwelling of the Spirit at Pentecost.

At that time Solomon kept the feast seven days,
and all Israel with him, a very great assembly from the entrance of Hamath to the Brook of Egypt. And on the eighth day they held a sacred assembly,
for they observed the dedication of the altar seven days,
and the feast seven days.
On the twenty-third day of the seventh month he sent the people away to their tents, joyful and glad of heart for the good that the Lord had done for David, for Solomon, and for His people Israel.
2 Chronicles 7:8-10

Under the Ban

The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest could have been written as an extended examination of two verses:

So all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua took and struck with the edge of the sword. He utterly destroyed them, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. But as for the cities that stood on their mounds, Israel burned none of them, except Hazor only, which Joshua burned.
Joshua 11:12-13

and

For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants.
Leviticus 18:25

Examining the three words in bold, the authors argue

  • utterly destroy, or herem, means remove from human (as opposed to Divine) use
  • defiled, or tm’, means ritually unclean or unfit for use, as in Judges 13:4
  • punishment, or pqd, means determine the density, and
  • iniquity, or ‘awon, means purify as with fire, as in Numbers 31:23
  • vomit is accepted as such, but can proceed the proper use of a thing, such as the whale’s vomiting of Jonah

The authors argue that Joshua “utterly destroyed” the kings by killing them,t the city of Hazor by burning it to the ground, and the other cities by transferring their sovereignty from the Israelite army (which had it by right of conquest) to God. The authors also argue that that Leviticus 18:25 really should read

For the land is unfit for use; therefore I will determine the density of its cleansing on it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants

The proposed translations are similar to Robert Alter‘s translation of the verse in Joshua:

And all the towns of these kings and all their kings Joshua took and struck them down with the edge of the sword, he put them under the ban as Moses servant of the LORD had charged. Only all the towns standing on their mounds Israel did not burn, except for Hazor alone that Joshua burned.

as well as Leviticus:

And the land was defiled, and I made a reckoning with it for its iniquity, and the land spewed out its inhabitants

This is persuasive. The Land of Canaan is to be put through an earthly purgatory, but the goal is to make it properly ordered, not to vindicatively punish it. As Rabbi Stuart Federow argues, many Christians ignore the Biblical emphasis on proper ordering by trying to reduce all forms of disorder to sin, just as some Christians ignore the Biblical emphasis on faithfulness by trying to reduce all forms of faithlessness to doubt. The lesson here, that God desires proper ordering of things and our allegiance to Him, means giving up some of pop Christianity.

Make a Name

The Israelite Idea of “Covenant” emphasized that Israel already surrendered to God, and was under an occupation regime similar to Japan’s experience after World War II. God, not Israel, was sovereign. Not just certain cities, but the entire nation, was under the General Orders (or “Laws”) of the Sovereign God-King.

This pattern (to a smaller extent) already existed in the Near East. The Babylonians, for instance, would grant specific cities or fields to their Gods similar to how modern companies will grant sovereign rights to consular compounds:

As long as heaven and earth and mankind will be, in future no son of man may inhabit [this land. I have offered] it to Tesub my lord, together with fields, farmyards, vineyards… [Let] your bulls Seri and Hurri [make it] their own grazing land

Yet because the other Near Eastern peoples treated Gods as a very powerful external partner, but not their ultimate Sovereign, they could congratulate themselves on entering into alliances with gods who were then bound by law to defend them. As one Assyrian memorial records:

Marduk, the king of gods, is reconciled with the king my lord. He does whatever the king my lord says. SItting on your throne, you will vanquish your enemies, conquer your foes, and plunder the enemy

Thus, what is happening in Joshua is that the Israelites are conquering a country and then transferring the title to The LORD in keeping with the Instrument of Surrender (“Covenant”) negotiated by Moses. By removing Canaan from Israelite use — making it herem — it is God, not Israel, that places his name in the Holy Land as recorded in the Chronicles

Yet I have chosen Jerusalem, that My name may be there, and I have chosen David to be over My people Israel.
2 Chronicles 6:6

This contrasts with King Saul’s attempt in The Book of Samuel to indicate that he, and not God, is sovereign

So when Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, it was told Samuel, saying,
“Saul went to Carmel, and indeed, he set up a monument for himself; and he has gone on around, passed by, and gone down to Gilgal.”
Then Samuel went to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed are you of the LORD! I have performed the commandment of the LORD.”
But Samuel said, “”hat then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”
1 Samuel 15:12-14

As well as against the Babylonian’s attempt to do likewise with their Tower

And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
Genesis 11:4

Living in Christ

If the theme is the rule of God — His creation of the universe, His sovereignty over Canaan, His indwelling at Zion — what does the King of the Universe want from us? Simple this: the full use of us.

The Waltons connect Herem from the Hebrew Bible with the Christian idea of being in Christ, or putting off the “old man” in the Letter to the Ephesians

But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:20-24

The old man is “put off” (or “crucified” in Romans 6:6), not as a punishment, but as a necessary preparation for something greater. As the Waltons write:

We don’t destroy our former selves because they committed crimes and deserve to be destroyed; we destroy them because they are in the way of God using us for his purposes.

The logic of this is that just as God placed Canaan as herem or “under the ban,” God also placed us under the ban as well

Herem of identity in the new covenant means removing from use all identities (which recapitulate the Canaanite nations) other than Christian from the self (which recapitulates the land)

This is fascinating, but not as convincing. For one, the Septuagint Bible used by Bible translates Herem as Anathema, a term he never uses for living in Christ. Further, the Waltons extend the claim to viewing our individual identities not as things for God to use, but as things for us to reject. This seems to lead to a reductio ad absurdum of placing one’s identity as male or female under the ban, but the Waltons seem to accept this

On the other hand, and privilege or status that accompanies the identity markers is not to be asserted. Paul has the identity of apostle, but he repeatedly refuses to assert the rights that accompany that identity.

The obvious scriptural counter-argument to this is never addressed:

He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created.
Genesis 5:2

Inhuman Monsters

A second interesting idea is explaining the otherwise inexplicable inclusion of Rephaism and Nephalim in the Joshua accounts. Rephaim appear to be the ghosts of dead kings (as in the Canaanite Story of Danel), while Nephalim would be the gigantic offspring of half-angelic / half-human hybrids. The Waltons argue that this is part of the trope of invincible barbarians called “umman manda” who are described with inhuman features.

There hands are destructive and their features are those of monkeys; he is one who eats what [a goddess] forbids and does not show reverence. They never stop roaming about…
they are an abomination to the gods’ dwellings. Their ideas are confused; they cause only disturbance.

I was fascinated by this. The apparent presence of these supernatural creatures in both Genesis and Exodus is striking, and whether these are thinking creatures or Augustinian symbols, the Divine Author meant something by them. But the Waltons’ interpretation does not square with the description in Numbers and Joshua as the Canaanites as having strong, established cities. The Waltons’ later claim that Gog represents another form of barbarians, instead of something more bizarre or post-modern, is also questionable.

And as before, the obvious Scriptural complication to a purely human view of inhuman monsters is not mentioned

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6:12

Final Thoughts

I have trouble recommending The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest because of the way it is embarrassed by the Scriptures, and bows too much to church ladies all over the world. Likewise it is not as persuasive a discussion of a concept as was Salvation by Allegiance Alone or even The Lost World of Genesis One. But it gave me a new way to understand herem, and tied it both to later discussions of King Saul and the Apostle Paul, as well as older Near Eastern myths and documents.

I read The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest in the Kindle edition.

Impressions of “Saul, Doeg, Nabal, and the ‘Son of Jesse’: Readings in 1 Samuel 16-25” by Joseph Lozovyy

I recently finished Saul, Doeg, Nabal, and the ‘Son of Jesse’: Readings in 1 Samuel 16-25 by Joseph Lozovyy. It’s an academic book about an episode in the Book of Samuel. Lozovyy’s dissertation examines the relationships of the only characters in that book to use the phrase “Son of Jesse” as an insult: the Mad King, Nabal, and Doeg. The work also serves an an interesting foil to Dumbrell’s Covenant Theology, Mullen’s Canaanite Mythology, and Alter’s literary approach.

saul doeg nabal son of jessee

I’m writing this because I read all of Saul, Doeg, Nabal and I found it fascinating. I liked it. But much of this review is probably “unfair.” Thank goodness no one has reviewed my dissertation by these standards!

Doeg, Chief of the Mad King’s Shepherds

Doeg was “chief of King Saul’s shepherds.” In the pastoral economy of ancient Israel, sheep were the major form of wealth. Ancient Israel did not have a professional police force: Doeg’s responsibility in maintaining the flocks made him like a ranhcer in the early west, or like a major drug dealer in American cities. Nonetheless Lozovyy records numerous academics who believe the text of the Book of Samuel is defective, because a shepherd would never be violent! When we first meet Doeg he is “detained before the LORD in the temple,” which may have meant he was forced to wait while the priests inspected the ritual purity of the animals. After reading Lozovyy’s explanation, I picture a powerful but nervous drug distributor waiting as a large customer inspects the merchandise.

While being “detained” Doeg notices David, the prince, enter and speak to the priest. David leaves with bread and a sword. At the time, Doeg did not know that David had fled from Saul and was about to become a fugitive.

ahimelech and davidBut later, Doeg knows without doubt. The Mad King is increasingly isolated, the only remaining Israelites around him from his own tribe of Benjamin, and who are humoring him. Lozovyy does not focus on the narrator’s steps, but they are important: Saul begins the paragraph looking like a king talking to servants, proceeds through paranoid, and ends as a hysterical and self-pitying wretch:

Saul said to his servants who stood around him, “Hear now, O Benjamites! Will the son of Jesse also give to all of you fields and vineyards? Will he make you all commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds? For all of you have conspired against me so that there is no one who discloses to me when my son makes a covenant with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you who is sorry for me or [d]discloses to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me to lie in ambush, as it is this day.”
1 Samuel 22:7-8

What happens next is the Book of Samuel at its literary best. Neither Chief Shepherd Doeg’s report, nor Priest Ahimelech’s reply, can be compared to an objective description of the events. Like King Saul, the reader does not know what really happened. Both the Chief Shepherd and the Priest have their own reasons to both fear and flatter the king. What is actually happening in this scene?

Then Doeg the Edomite, who was standing by the servants of Saul, said, “I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. He inquired of the Lord for him, gave him provisions, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.”…

Then Ahimelech answered the king and said, “And who among all your servants is as faithful as David, even the king’s son-in-law, who is captain over your guard, and is honored in your house? Did I just begin to inquire of God for him today? Far be it from me! Do not let the king impute anything to his servant or to any of the household of my father, for your servant knows nothing at all of this whole affair.”
1 Samuel 22:9-10, 14-15

Doeg’s later actions — massacring an entire town — completely fits an amoral Western antihero, but wouldn’t fit the cartoon version of a shepherd. They also fit such leaders as (with his hardened heart) Pharaoh, and (in his later years) Moses, and the fictional Walter White.

doeg edomite

Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn around and attack the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned around and attacked the priests, and he killed that day eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod. And he struck Nob the city of the priests with the edge of the sword, both men and women, children and infants; also oxen, donkeys, and sheep he struck with the edge of the sword.
1 Samuel 22:18-19

Also interesting was Lozovyy’s discussion of a rabbinical reinterpretation of Doeg. In the second and third centuries A.D., Doeg was written about as if he were a rabbinical scholar, but one who twisted his learning for evil ends. This was probably an early, and hostile, reaction to Christianity, with Doeg presented as a forerunner to the early evangelists: a persuasive pharisee who turned his knowledge against the Temple, and seemed (in his own way) to prevail. In the New Testament, the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Hebrews are convincing “Jewish” arguments for the Messiah Jesus. Doeg is how such gentile Messianic Jews were seen by their enemies.

Nabal, whose business was in Carmel

Another mysterious character is Nabal, a man with “business” in Carmel. The epsiode between David and Carmel is odd, because it appears that David is simply shaking down a local landlord for money.

So David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, visit Nabal and greet him in my name; and thus you shall say, ‘Have a long life, peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. Now I have heard that you have shearers; now your shepherds have been with us and we have not insulted them, nor have they missed anything all the days they were in Carmel. Ask your young men and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your eyes, for we have come on a festive day. Please give whatever you find at hand to your servants and to your son David.’”
1 Samuel 25:5-8

Lozovyy argues that the count of sheep and goats ascribed to Nabal would make it clear this is not simply a landlord, but one of the very richest in Judah. Again, considering the overlap between security of sheep and military power, it’s perhaps fair to see Nabal as something between a governor and warlord. He, Saul, and Doeg are the only characters in the Book of Samuel to use “Son of Jesse” as an insult, providing a further of his connection with Saul’s legalized underworld.The story of David and Nabal was thus not (or not simply) an instance of banditry or a protection shakedown.
Rather a critical episode in David’s consolidation of the south, in which he attemptd to turn a warlord through a combination of flattery and threat.

And it is the Nabal’s, Abigail, who is the other character I learned about from “Saul, Doeg, Nabal.” Abigail’s speech is the longest of any woman’s int eh Hebrew Bible

abigail_and_david

She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the blame. And please let your maidservant speak to you, and listen to the words of your maidservant. Please do not let my lord pay attention to this worthless man, Nabal, for as his name is [which means Fool], so is he. Nabal is his name and folly is with him; but I your maidservant did not see the young men of my lord whom you sent.

“Now therefore, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, since the Lord has restrained you from shedding blood, and from avenging yourself by your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek evil against my lord, be as Nabal. Now let this gift which your maidservant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who accompany my lord. Please forgive the transgression of your maidservant; for the LORD will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD, and evil will not be found in you all your days. Should anyone rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, then the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living with the LORD your God; but the lives of your enemies He will sling out as from the hollow of a sling. And when the LORD does for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and appoints you ruler over Israel, this will not cause grief or a troubled heart to my lord, both by having shed blood without cause and by my lord having avenged himself. When the LORD deals well with my lord, then remember your maidservant.”
1 Samuel 25:24-31

Unfortunately, it is in the discussion of this episode that the same dehumanizing view of the text in Covenant and Creation emerged. Lozovyy repeatedly claims Abigail is an intercessrix, as her prayers cause the LORD to save David’s life. But within the text, how we do know this? Only because David says it, and David (until the death of his first son) consistently says whatever is either in his own interest, or in his interest that the hearer believe. Abigail may have been an intercessrix, but the Book of Samuel (which like the Gospel of John dwells on the hidden nature of divine works) but by taking all of David’s words at face value, the reality that David was a human is lost.

Also, like Dumbrell, Lozovyy seems to reject Dual Causation, the Biblical pattern of identying an important act as the work of God mediated through or occurring alongside human hands. The fall of Jericho, for instance, involved a worship service with trumpets, but also spies. And as to the resolution of Nabal’s story…

About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died.

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal and has kept back His servant from evil. The LORD has also returned the evildoing of Nabal on his own head.” Then David sent a proposal to Abigail, to take her as his wife.
1 Samuel 25:38-29

… any human causation is elided over by the narrator. Which, to Lozovyy, indicates no human cause at all.

Too bad. The core message of Christianity is that the Creator so loved His creation He became a creature. Thus,the dual causation in the Book of Samuel should not be a cause for an embarrassment, but a reminder of God’s presence in human affairs.

Academics, in the Ivory Tower
I liked Saul, Nabal, Doeg, but it obvious it was a dissertation. The writing style, and even the author’s perspective, changes dramatically from chapter to chapter. I assume the dissertation had originally been written chapter-by-chapter in different seminars, and then edited together before a full academic committee. Because every professor is allowed to be a pimp in his own classroom, and each professor on a dissertation committee effectively has a veto over the student graduating, each chapter is probably a reflection of the different professor’s biases.

In the previous book I read, Covenant and Creation by William Dumbrell, I was introduced to the idea of “covenant theology.” Without explanation or warning, a “covenant theology” is introduced by Lozovyy’s midway in the work. But there are important differences between Dumbrell’s and Lozovyy’s views. The list of covenants is different — Lozovyy specifically mention’s the LORD’s covenant with Calab, which appeared nowhere in Covenant and Creation. Likewise none of the implications pushed by Dumbrell are referenced by Lozovyy’s. Neither uses covenant in the sense of an instrument of surrender, and both Dumbrell and Lozovyy adopt a strident and ideological view when describing their own views of “covenants.”

Because Saul, Doeg, Nabal was written by an academic for academics, it reminded me a lot of The Assembly of the Gods by Theodore Mullen. But the striking difference between these books seems to reflect the differences between biblical criticism and ancient semitic literature. To the extent possible, Assembly of the Gods treats the Canaanite texts as works of art. While the pieces of the stories are clearly missing, all the characters are treated as coherent individuals whose actions and motivations are described in the text. On the other hand, the Book of Samuel is seen as a composite of many authors. The “Dumb Semite Theory” — that the Hebrews were semiliterate and were unaware when additions to their scriptures were beign made — always seems to stalk Saul, Doeg, Nabal. Speculation that this line, or that story, was added in such-and-such a century, or was redacted in such-and-such place, is rife. Almost every option is explored , except that The Book of Samuel actually is a coherent ancient text from the early Kingdom.

That said, a fair comparison might be made to Biblical Games by Steven Brams. Neither properly view their texts as a work written by an author (or Author). But both focus on specific episodes in ways that provide more depth. Brams game theory is occasionally interesting, such as his discussion of what Abraham expected God to do (as the LORD had already given him a son in extreme old age, physically eaten dinner with him, and had proven himself open to intercessions). And likewise Lozovyy hints at the internal states of characters, and why actions that appear to be random or arbitrary contained clues that would have been obvious to the original audience.

I enjoyed Saul, Doeg, and Nabal, but it hard to recommend. The composite nature of the work, each chapter seemingly written for a different professor and written to flatter their views, is a negative. As are the oscillations between dumb semite theory and dehumanizing covenant theology. Alter’s “literary method” (assuming the text was written by someone who understood writing) is referenced in passing, but as Alter greatly influenced my understanding both the Old and New Testaments, it was not engaged with enough to my liking. And then there’s the price.

As an academic dissertation, and either costs $150 on Amazon, or for free as a PDF from the Edinburgh Research Archive. So I split the difference and read the PDF on my Amazon Kindle.

Letter to the Philippians

Philippi_Daumet_Direkler

My friend Steve Boint called it “the dumb semite theory”: the view of some people that the ancient Hebrews were so simple minded that their holy text is a line-by-line collection of various sources, almost randomly edited together. Many scholars, such as Robert Alert and E. Theodore Mullen have written on how ancient Hebrew and Canaanite writing works.

Without repeating all of that, it is worth describing doublets in Hebrew literature, escalating parallelism in Hebrew poetry, and how St. Paul combines both in two lines of the Letter to the Philippians.

Ancient Hebrew Literature

One of the bad consequences of the “dumb semite theory” is one of the greatest works of ancient literature, the Book of Samuel, is read only by academics who believe that complexity is a result of random editing.

For instance, the phrase “Is Saul, too, among the prophets” occurs twice in the Book of Samuel. There are actual scholars who believe this is because the ancient Hebrews were so illiterate they actually included the same incident twice, and later on had to change the details to cover their tracks.

Fools.

Saul Before Samuel and the Prophets

The first time, Samuel says that Saul will be seized by a spirit, “prophecy” (act like a mad man), and this is a proof of his kingship:

“After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you.
1 Samuel 10:5-7

Sure enough, the spirit seizes Paul, he acts like a mad man, and he is the true king of Israel

When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them. And it happened, when all who knew him formerly saw that he indeed prophesied among the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What is this that has come upon the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” Then a man from there answered and said, “But who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” And when he had finished prophesying, he went to the high place.
1 Samuel 10:10-13

But later, we learn the truth. This is brought home as David’s war against Saul begins and Saul seeks a meeting with Samuel to perhaps end it

But he can’t keep his composure. He acts like a mad-man, tearing off his clothes, embarrassing himself and showing Samuel — the man who anointed him — the horror of that anointing. The same phrase — Is Saul, too, among the prophets — is used again. The reader remembers happier times and the heart breaks

Then he also went to Ramah, and came to the great well that is at Sechu. So he asked, and said, “Where are Samuel and David?”

And someone said, “Indeed they are at Naioth in Ramah.” So he went there to Naioth in Ramah. Then the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he also stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Therefore they say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
1 Samuel 19:22-24

Samuel misread the signs. Saul was crazy from the beginning. Samuel anointed a Mad King.

Ancient Hebrew Poetry

The poetry of the Hebrew Bible is based on parallelism, where the first incident of a concept is in some way magnified by what comes after

Lamech and his Two Wives 1795 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05061

The form is used three times in perhaps the oldest poem in the entire bible, in inexplicable Song of Lamech – a story of killings further removed from Paul than Paul is from us

Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
Genesis 4:23-24

The is used in the Writings, such as Psalms

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Psalms 22:9-10

Verse 9 uses two concepts of a mother’s body, womb and breasts, and escalates, from the physical location of the infant before birth (the womb) to the plcae the child is loved, all of its life (the breast, or heart).

Verse 10 does the reverse, taking an abstract concept “from birth” and emphasizing its concrete reality (“from my mother’s breast”).

… and Job, with a parallel between lips and tongue, going further inward to emphasize the inwardness of the sufferer

my lips will not say anything wicked,
and my tongue will not utter lies.
Job 27:4

It is used in the Latter Prophets

Kings will be your foster fathers,
and their queens your nursing mothers.
They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground;
they will lick the dust at your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”
Isaiah 49:23

They “bow” — but then they “lick the dust.” The same concept of submission is paralleled, but its manner is escalated

as it was in the Former Prophets..

The waves of death swirled about me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
2 Samuel 22:5-6

… from waves to torrents, from cords to snares.

Saul’s Reuse of Biblical Literature and Poetry

Saul — the other Saul, Saul of Tarsus — was a “a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6). That is, unlike the Sadducees, he believed the entire Hebrew Bible, including the Prophets and the Writings. Thus he was more exposed to the use of ancient Hebrew literature and poetry than Sadduccees, and would have been more influenced by that tradition than even many other educated Jews.

Saul uses the same literary technique of escalating parallelism, combined with the ‘twist ending’ used in the Book of Samuel, in the Letter to the Philippians. The letter is short, and mostly retreads themes of letters presented earlier in the Bible.

In the first chapter of the Letter to the Philippians, there’s this odd line:

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorium and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ;
Philippians 1:12-13

That word “praetorium” is tricky. It might be a reference to the imperial jailers or guards (fitting, as Paul is under a sort of house arrest while during a long appeals process in Rome), or palace guard, or even imperial palace.

Perhaps Paul has attracted sympathizers with his jailers.

Praetoriumreal_syria

But in the second to last verse of the letter, the meaning is clarified.

All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.
Philippians 4:22

Paul literally has sympathizers in the headquarters of the military. And in the household of the Emperor himself.

The twist ending – Paul has access, not just to his jailers, but to those close of the head of government.

And he showed this through two lines of Hebrew poetry, wrote in Greek, which bookend his letter to the Philippians

It has become known throughout the whole praetorium
All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

The Good News

What has become known, the greeting of the saints, is the Gospel, the good news. As Paul writes:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:6-8

The LORD has become Man!

The Creator has become a Creation!

He suffers with us, He dies with us, He lives with us.

With us He is hung on a tree. With us He weeps.

david-absalom

With us – with Paul, with you, with me – He despairs

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
Philippians 1:21-24

With us He is not understood

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.”
Matthew 27:46-47

With us — even with Nero, the Caesar of Casear’s household — He has a mother

Nerón_y_Agripina

With us He drinks milk!

abraham3visitors

With us He drinks wine!

wedding-at-cana

With us, even when we don’t see Him!

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Acts of the Apostles

[And Moses said] The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

Deuteronomy 18:15-16

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
John 14-15-17

The Son of David was murdered, hung on a tree.

The Gospel of Luke tell us what happens next: the resurrection and ascension of Jesus

When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
Luke 24:50-53

The first time this happened, when Joab murdered Absalom, David did not see his son ascend. He had to hope.

So the watchman said, “I think the running of the first is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.”

And the king said, “He is a good man, and comes with good news.”
2 Samuel 18:17

But you know what they say about hopes

Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”
2 Samuel 18:33

The stuttering, the stammering, the weeping from the King recalls Moses paralysis at the illness of his wife

And Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “God, pray, heal her, pray.”
Numbers 12:13

But David was no Moses, and Absalom was not healed.

We go to the dead. They do not go to us.

And he said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
2 Samuel 12:22-23

Like David we do not see the ascension. We are not part of that happy few.

We will not see the resurrection of the dead, until we are dead.

So what now?


absalom

The Teaching of the Acts

Acts of the Apostles begins as a rambling and somewhat weird (the Apostles as a corporate organization; the Holy Spirit is doing things) continuation of the Gospel of Luke. Another Messiah is dead and, much worse, is turns out that while flames do not harm the Son of Man, nails are pretty effective at shutting him up. After the hustle and bustle of life after the birth and death and resurrection and everything else is the writing itself, written in Greek but recalling ancient Hebrew.

In Genesis and the older parts of the Hebrew Bible, the difference between the objective situation and verbalized description is used to explain character and motivation. This goes beyond someone simply “not telling the truth.”  The difference between how the LORD instructs Moses to threaten Pharoah, and how Moses actually threatens Pharoah, gives a foreshadowing of Moses’s arrogance and bloodlust (Robert Alter, summarizing William H.C. Propp).  Likewise, both meaningful silence of both  Abner and David in fully answering Saul’s question (1 Samuel 17:57-58) foreshadow their future treatment of the Branch from Kish.

But we’re not all fated to be like Moses before the Pharaoh. Sometimes, people can reveal good character.

Consider the Revelation to Cornelius

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
Acts 10:1-6

And Cornelius’s retelling of it

Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 3
Acts 10:30-32

What differences there are the result of virtue, not vice.

  • Cornelius downplays the reception of his “prayers (“come up as a memorial offering” v. “remembered”)
  • Elided over speaking directly to the Angel (“What is it, Lord?” v. passively listening to orders)
  • Emphasized Peter’s social position (“a man named Simon” v. “for Simon”, and Peter as simply staying with Simon v. being a guest of Simon’s)

This writing — what Cornelius saw, what he told to Peter — was placed their by Luke. He’s demonstrating he understands the literary style of the Torah and the Prophets. The purpose is to make one sentence make sense, because it is the most important sentence written after the Gospels.

cornelius and peter

The Most Important Sentence

In the Hebrew Bible, the first words spoken by a character indicate his true personality — his heart and his spirit.

If you know only this about Abraham, know this: he is smart, loving, and very cautious

When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.”
Genesis 12:11-13

If you know only this about Moses know this: he is a natural ruler of a people:

The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?
Exodus 2:13

If you know only this about Samson, know this: he is bold and earthy

Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”
Judges 14:1

And the nightmare at the heart of the Hebrew Bible: the kindest and most timid man in Israel:

When they reached the district of Zuph, Saul said to the servant who was with him, “Come, let’s go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.”
1 Samuel 9:5

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Prophets and Apostles

As the greatest writing of the ancient world, the Hebrew Bible contains the most complex characters. The Book of Samuel, specifically, is the greatest work of psychological realism — with the conflicting motives, roles, experiences, and ages of characters — before the modern world

This is Samuel, who anointed that humble man Saul, and learning from his mistakes, anointed David:

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
1 Samuel 3:4

If you know anything about Samuel, know this: he is that he is.

And David, annoited by Samuel and first king of the line that ends with Jesus Christ:

David said to the men who stood by him, “What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine, and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?
1 Samuel 17:26

Rabble rouser, warrior, and looking for a deal.

But Samuel and David, with their inner lives and inner faults, are not villains. They (ultimately) do the right thing, if not for the right reasons.

But now, in Acts, we meet a man doing the wrong thing

And Saul approved of their killing him

That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him.

But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.
Acts 8:1-3

But Saul does this without saying a word. We have read eight chapters of Acts, and still do not know who Saul is.

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Aside: The Character of God

According to the four Gospels, these are the first recorded sentences of Jesus

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
Matthew 3:15

The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!
Mark 1:15

Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?
Luke 2:49

Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?
John 1:38

Two statements, emphasizing now.

Two questions.

Now, what are the answers?

TonguesofFirebyathyGrimm©2012

Who is Saul of Tarsus?

This is all you need to know about Saul

He asked, “Who are you, Lord?
Acts 9:5

Saul — truly and in his heart — is a man searching for God.

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The Unknown God

It’s striking how often people think Saul is a god.

In Asia

And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.
Acts 14:12-13

In Malta

But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.
Acts 28:5-6

The people saw Saul and thought that god must be very close. They weren’t wrong.

But Saul says, God is unknown

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things
Acts 17:22-25

Saul says, he hopes for the resurrection of the dead.

When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.)
Acts 23:6-8

But you know what they say about hopes

Who knows whether the spirit of the sons of men goes upward, and whether the spirit of the animal goes down to the earth?
Ecclesiastes 3:21

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The Teaching of the Unknown

Immediately after Ecclesiastes exposes the greatest existential doubt of Scripture, the teacher concludes

So I perceived that nothing is better than that a man should rejoice in his own works, for that is his heritage. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?
Ecclesiastes 3:22

Paul agrees. There is a great uncertainty. Even among those who spoke the most with God — Abraham and Moses, Samuel and David — each was so different from the other. We are like blind men searching without sight

From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
Acts 17:26-28

It is appropriate that Paul’s life is the great unfinished life of the Bible. The truth – his execution, his martyrdom – is well known. But Acts ends a little before, open ended

Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him
Acts 28:30-31

And thus Acts concludes, perfectly matching Luke.

We don’t see the ascension. We search for God and, perhaps, grope for Him and, perhaps, find Him.

But we can receive others. We can have confidence.

As do the priests. As do the cardinals. As do the writers of the Torah and Samuel, as did Father Abraham and King David, as did the evangelists and the letter-writers.

It is for the Spirit that they grope, and, when God wishes, with the Spirit that they grope.

We can rejoice in our work. Delight in our searching.

st paul writing in rome

Now,

why do you work,

and what do you want?