Tuesday, May 24, 2005

More reflections on I Samuel (Chapters 3-6)

Continuing my reflections on I Samuel, I'm struck by how some Christians argue that the Bible is supposed to be "clear" on certain moral issues, while apparently not thinking through certain passages, such as the parts of Chapter 1 I mentioned yesterday that give no statement about whether or not the multiple wives of Elkanah was morally permissible. (In fact, I would argue that the absence of such a statement suggests that it was, although conservative Christians would be appalled at such a notion.)

I should be very clear that I'm not trying to read these passages with a "hostile" eye. The way that an atheist would read them, for example. Rather, I'm trying to put myself in the mind of how someone might read them who is not yet familiar with these stories (or may half-recollect only certain parts), yet is honestly curious about them. So far, I'm finding that the text raises quite a lot of questions that the church is not only not answering, but seems to actively ignore.

Ah, well, on to the reflections on Chapters 3-6 (Which looks like it should be more to do than for Chapters 1 and 2, but the actual amount of text works out to be pretty close. Again, for those following along, I'm using the TNIV):
Reflections on I Samuel Chapter 3

V1: Would seem to imply that there was a particular time (possibly the present when this was written?) that visions from the Lord were common?

V3: is this the ark of the Covenant? Or were there lots of “arks?” If the former, why does Eli, of all priests, have it?

V13: We’re reminded that Eli failed to restrain his sons. This is certainly true, though I note again that he tried to do so. Did he not try hard enough? Or is he responsible for his (obviously adult) sons actions regardless?

V19-21: Clearly time is passing. How much, I wonder, between the word of God as related earlier, and the fulfillment of it in chapter 4?


Reflections on I Samuel Chapter 4

V3: It does seem clear (with the explicit references to “Shiloh” and the full statement “the ark of the LORD’s covenant”) that the ark in ch3v3 really is the ark.

V4: Eli’s sons are named again, this time with language that could be taken to mean these are his only two sons, though this is not absolute.

V15: We get a current age for Eli: ninety-eight. I think this is the first time, so no way to gauge how long since chapter 3, but Eli’s gone from being “barely” able to see (ch3v2) to apparently being totally blind, yet he’s “watching” (v13) for news of the battle….

V18: Apparently Eli dies from the bad news (falling off his chair at the hearing of it). By “heavy” do they mean Eli was fat? The number 40 is such a loaded number, I have doubts about whether it should be taken literally.

V20: “You’re going to die, but at least your baby’s a boy!” Yeah, that’s really reassuring. Would Phinehas have had to die in despair if the child was a girl? And what about that prophecy (c2v32) that ensured that the family line (always measured through the male children) would not survive to old age? Did Phinehas' wife not know about this? Did her attendants?

V21: If the previous prophecy is any indication, young Ichabod won’t have to worry too much about not having any parents, since he’s likely to die soon himself….


Reflections of I Samuel Chapter 5

V5: Must be something about thresholds, because this “explanation” means absolutely nothing to me….

V7: I guess it never occurred to the people of Ashdod (nor the rest of the Philistines in later verses) that ceasing the worship of Dagon was an option. What might have happened if these people kept the ark, but became worshippers of the LORD?

V10: At least the people of Ekron are starting to get the message that having the ark of the LORD isn’t good for them….


Reflections on I Samuel Chapter 6

V11: It occurs to me that any Israelite who touched the ark wrong was pretty instantly toasted. That doesn’t seem to happen here….

V14: “Thanks, cows, for returning the ark for us. Now we’ll kill you.”

V19: This is more like what I remember. Don’t look at the ark wrong. It’s not healthy.
As a final note, I was curious about that kid (Ichabod) for whom I'd predicted an early death on the basis of the prophecy against Eli's family (see Chapters 2 and 3). I therefore got out a concordance and looked him up. Apparently this is the only time we see him directly. The story very clearly jumps to a tale of the ark of the Covenant. However, he is mentioned one other time. In I Samuel 14:3, we meet Ahijah, "son of Ichabod's brother Ahitub son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the LORD's priest in Shiloh." Since Phinehas died before his wife did, we must assume that Ahitub is an older brother. Yet mentioning Ichabod implies that he was important somehow (and therefore presumably lived), although the Bible says nothing more about him itself. Although Ahitub is mentioned here for the very time, it appears that he does figure more in the story as it continues on, but apparently never in his own right. The name Ahitub is always mentioned in the context of being the father of someone or the son of someone else (in which case, he's not the same Ahitub anyway). As to Ahijah, the name shows up elsewhere, but I assume that they do not always refer to the same person, as Ahijah is given a different father in at least one reference. Oddly enough, at least one reference is to an Ahijah that is a prophet of Shiloh. Either this decendent of Eli was not cut off, or we see a very interesting coincidence.

Either way, I'm getting ahead of myself, and would need more proper commentaries and histories to learn more, which goes against the original intention of this exercise....

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