Monday, July 28, 2014

1 Samuel: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, and then summarize it in my own words.  I will also include biblical artwork by famous artists.

Toward the end of era of the Judges of Israel, there lived a man named Elkanah.  He had two wives named Peninnah and Hannah.  Peninnah had sons but Hannah was barren (unable to conceive), and this made her very sad.

Once, while Elkanah and his family were offering their yearly sacrifices, Hannah prayed for a son.  The priest Eli blessed her, and soon after she had a son named Samuel.  Hannah sang a song and dedicated Samuel to God, to become a priest.  The boy Samuel lived with the priest Eli and his two sons.  One day, God called Samuel and told him that he would be a great prophet and priest of Israel, and that Eli and his sons would no longer be priests.

Meanwhile, Israel’s neighbors, the Philistines, attacked them, and stole the Ark of the Covenant.  They put the Ark in the temple of their god, Dagon.  This angered the Lord, so he made the Dagon statue fall down before the Ark, and broke off his hands and head.  Wherever the Philistines took the Ark, a great plague would break out, so finally they returned the Ark to Israel.  Israel went on to defeat the Philistines in battle.  Meanwhile, Samuel became famous as a great prophet and priest of Israel.

The elders of Israel told Samuel that they wanted a king, like the other surrounding nations.  Samuel warned them that a king would oppress and tax them, but the people were insistent, so Samuel (and God) said, “Alright, you can have a king.”  Samuel (and God’s) first choice for a king was a guy named Saul, who was very tall and handsome.  Samuel anointed Saul and proclaimed him king, though they both had reservations about the whole thing.  For example, at the anointing ceremony, Saul hid in his luggage, he was so afraid.  But, finally, he was anointed.

"Saul Hiding Among the Stuff" by James Smetham (1866)

At first, Saul turned out to be a great king.  He led Israel to victory against the Ammonites and the Philistines.  But then Saul started making mistakes.  Once, he took over the role of the priests and offered a sacrifice, which angered Samuel.  Another time, during battle, he ordered his men not to eat until they were victorious, which made them unnecessarily tired.  God also got mad when he took some extra booty from one military campaign, and spared the life of the king.  It eventually became clear that Saul was a flawed king.  So Samuel gave up on him, and went in search of a better king, and found one in David, a young shepherd.  Samuel anointed David, but it would be a while before he became king.  

Once, when the Israelites were (again) fighting the Philistines, the young David became a hero by killing the strongest of the Philistines, Goliath ( a gigantic man), with only a sling and some stones.  Then David cut Goliath's head off.

"David and Goliath" by Titian (1544)

Saul welcomed David into his house, and gave him his daughter Michal as a wife.  Also, David and Saul’s son Jonathan became best friends.  Saul began to develop anxiety and depression, and David’s harp playing and singing comforted him.

But Saul soon became jealous of David, because the people seemed to love him more.  Saul tried to kill David with his spear, but David escaped, with Jonathan’s help.  Thus began a great chase throughout Isreal—Saul in pursuit of David, trying to kill him.  Saul was on a rampage.  He even went so far as to kill a whole city of priests and their families, whom he suspected of helping David.  It became increasingly clear that Saul was spiraling into despair and madness, as David was gaining favor with God and the people of Israel.

"Saul Attacking David" by Guercino (1646)

A critical moment came when David was hiding in a cave, and Saul came into that same cave to take a piss.  David could have killed his enemy in the darkness of that cave.  Instead, he slyly cut a piece of Saul’s robe off.  Then, outside the cave, David showed himself, and told Saul that he just spared his life.  Saul was so moved by this that he decided to stop pursuing David, and even referred to him as “My son David.”  Saul wept, and finally acknowledged that David would make a better king.

Then the prophet Samuel died.

When David and his men were traveling through the land, they came upon the flocks of a man named Nabal, and helped the shepherds with their sheep.  David then asked Nabal for some food for him and his men.  But Nabal, being greedy, did not send anything.  So David and his men went to kill Nabal and his house.  But Abigal, Nabal’s wife, interceded, giving them food.  Nabal soon died, and David took Abigal as his third wife (his other wives were Michal and Ahinoam).

Apparently, Saul’s forgiveness of David was short-lived, because Saul once again began pursuing David.  Again, David spared Saul’s life when he had the chance to kill him in his sleep, and again Saul asked for forgiveness.

David spent some time living in the land of the Philistines, because he was tired of constantly running away from Saul, whose temperament was unstable.  The Philistines were again arming themselves for war against Israel.  Saul consulted a “Spirit Medium” who conjured the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel, and Saul spoke with Samuel’s spirit.  Samuel basically re-stated what he’d said during his life: that Saul’s kingdom would not last, and David would become king.  This made Saul more depressed and afraid.

"Ghost of Samuel Appearing to Saul" by William Blake (1800)

While living among the Philistines, some people came and raided David’s city and took his wives captive.  David took his men and killed all those men, and rescued his wives.  Saul, meanwhile, was defeated by the Philistines.  Jonathan and Saul’s other sons were killed.  Saul was shot by arrows, and fell on his own sword, so that his enemies would not have the honor of killing him.

"King Saul Falls on His Sword" from the Worms Bible (c. 1148)

The book ends with a funeral for the Saul, the slain king.

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