Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The End of the First King of Israel

You'd think that because the Deuteronomic history books (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the Books of Samuel, and the Books of Kings) are some of my favorite books in the Bible, I'd have a lot to blog about, but for some reason inspiration has decided to play hide and seek.  So, today's post is more about the discipline of writing then it is about having something to say.

So, Saul, the first king of Israel...Saul doesn't exactly go out in a blaze of glory.  I'm not sure I'd go as far as to say that Saul was losing his mind by the end of his life, but he was certainly becoming unstable.  As Saul's story reaches its conclusion, we find him paranoid, obsessed with conspiracy theories, and losing national support like sand slipping through an hourglass.  There is a fascinating story about Saul that takes place shortly before he is killed in battle.  Desperate to bring about victory against a Philistine army, Saul consults a necromancer.  The New Revised Standard Version calls her a medium, but the idea of death-magic might be more accurate to how the woman would have seen herself.  As an interesting side note, archeologists have found pits used for rituals much like what probably happened in I Samuel 28.  Mediums/necromancers like the one we find Saul consulting would have literally gone down into a pit to meet with the dead.  They would physically enact the idea of going down into the pit of Sheol.  Anyway, Saul meets with such a person to ask advice of the dead.  If you think about it, this is pretty spooky.

Who knows if Saul descended into the pit with the woman, but as she calls the dead, the story gives the impression he's right there with her.  So if Saul was with her, picture two people in a cramped and deep pit in the ground.  It's dark; it's cold; it's at night (such rituals weren't done during the day).  The necromancer has asked Saul who he would like to call back from the land of the dead, and he has chosen Samuel.  So, as Saul watches, the woman calls Samuel back from the dead, but things quickly go wrong.  The woman does not know that it is King Saul who has asked her to do this, so she does not realize which Samuel she is bringing back, but she is terrified by the Samuel that emerges.  I'm not sure what is considered "normal" when meeting with the dead, but apparently she wasn't used to the dead looking like the gods themselves.  This Samuel is no hazy effigy, but a being of power, and now the pit is even more crowded, at least for her.  Now she is down in a pit with a man she just realized was the king who put a bounty on the heads of all necromancers and the ghost of the greatest leader Israel had seen since Joshua.

Then the night gets weirder.  The King of Israel bows down to the spirit of Samuel, and Samuel looks to Saul and asks, "What did you call me back for?"  Saul's response, "The Philistine army is here.  I don't think I can win.  You have to help me."  Samuel's response is great, in the darkly sarcastic sense of great, "Then you shouldn't have called me back.  I told you the last time we talked that God was taking away your kingdom, and that is exactly what is going to happen.  In fact, tomorrow is when that is going to happen.  Today you have brought me to you.  Tomorrow God will bring you to me."

Creepy, huh!  The next day Israel's army is crushed.  Saul and all his sons are killed on the field of battle.  As I said, Saul doesn't necessarily go out in a blaze of glory, but he at least goes out with some pizazz.  How many people do you know that bring the ghost of their estranged mentor back from the underworld only to have that ghost tell them they'd soon be going to the underworld themselves?  Personally, I'd have to say none.

Thus ended the reign of the first king of Israel.

Stopping point: II Samuel 7

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