“The Lord Be Between Thee and Me For Ever”
1 Samuel 18–20; 23–24
LDS manual: here
Last week, we saw how Jehovah/Jesus rejected Saul and chose David instead. Saul hasn’t been too happy about that, so Saul and David have been having what I can only describe as a murdering contest, and David’s winning. At least, he has all the fans.
18:6 And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick.
18:7 And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.
18:8 And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom?
18:9 And Saul eyed David from that day and forward.
As a result, Saul tries to kill David a number of times. But it’s not really his fault; he’s under the influence of another one of those evil spirits from the Lord.
18:10 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he prophesied in the midst of the house: and David played with his hand, as at other times: and there was a javelin in Saul’s hand.
18:11 And Saul cast the javelin; for he said, I will smite David even to the wall with it. And David avoided out of his presence twice.
As before, Joseph Smith is here with his very helpful reimagining of the Bible, and he rushes in to tell us that this evil spirit was not of the Lord.
JST 1 Sam. 18:10 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit which was not of God came upon Saul
Ah, the creative not. Smith must have felt that it was very important to point out that God does not send out evil spirits into the world. But wait — what about Satan? And one-third of the spirits from the War in Heaven? Didn’t he cast them down to earth to tempt and deceive us? How is allowing that different from sending them around to Saul directly? Is that really an important distinction?
If Saul can’t get David by javelin, maybe he can get him killed in battle. Saul offers David his daughter to wife, and all he has to do is get 100 Philistine foreskins. David, realising that a simple request would probably not be well-received by these guys, kills 200 men — you have to admire him going the extra mile — and takes their foreskins to Saul.
18:27 Wherefore David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full tale to the king, that he might be the king’s son in law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife.
It seems a bit wasteful to kill a man just for his foreskin. In some places, they use every bit of the Philistine.
Saul’s quite impressed by the haul; 200 foreskins would make quite a pile. And the pile would have been even bigger if David had rubbed them a little.
18:28 And Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal Saul’s daughter loved him.
Ask: How can we recognise when someone has the Spirit of the Lord with them?
Possible answer: They’re carrying lots of bloody foreskins from people they’ve just murdered.
The rest of the reading is devoted to Saul chasing David around, and David escaping.
At a few points in the story, David has the chance to kill Saul (when Saul is ‘covering his feet’, or as we know it, taking a leak). But he refuses to do so. Instead, he cuts off part of Saul’s robe. Then, at a safe distance, he tells Saul that he doesn’t want to kill him.
24:10 Behold, this day thine eyes have seen how that the LORD had delivered thee to day into mine hand in the cave: and some bade me kill thee: but mine eye spared thee; and I said, I will not put forth mine hand against my lord; for he is the LORD’s anointed.
24:11 Moreover, my father, see, yea, see the skirt of thy robe in my hand: for in that I cut off the skirt of thy robe, and killed thee not, know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee; yet thou huntest my soul to take it.
Saul is chastened, and promises not to kill David.
Interestingly, this episode happens twice: once in chapter 24, and again in chapter 26. I’m beginning to suspect that this might be a composite story, as we saw in the last lesson. There might have been two versions of the same story floating around, and they were both added in when it was time for compilation.
Main points from this lesson
David and Jonathan’s deep love for each other
The LDS Church is terribly homophobic as religions go, and it’s worked hard to block equality for people in same-sex relationships. With that in mind, it’s nice to see the appearance of David and Jonathan in this lesson. The question is often asked: Were they gay?
The lesson manual attempts to pass them off as ‘friends’. Other people are happy to say, yes, D+J: totes gay.
And then there are a lot of people who say that David and Jonathan weren’t ‘gay’ as such because gayness in the sense that we know it is a modern social construct. Well, okay, so maybe they weren’t listening to the Pet Shop Boys or anything, but is it so hard to believe that at this place and time in history, there wasn’t a boy that had a thing for another boy?
I don’t know what David and Jonathan had. But look at the way the Bible describes them.
18:1 And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.
18:3 Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.
18:4 And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.
19:2 But Jonathan Saul’s son delighted much in David
20:42 And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, The LORD be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever. And he arose and departed: and Jonathan went into the city.
And when Jonathan was killed in battle:
2 Sam. 1:25 How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places.
1:26 I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
And consider: David had usurped Jonathan, who would no longer get to be king. And yet they loved. Regardless of your orientation, your politics, or your religion, isn’t that kind of beautiful?
How to act like a prophet
We’re starting a new segment on GDG: how to tell if someone is a true prophet. This is one of the most difficult things I had to deal with as a Mormon. You see, the leaders of the church are supposed to be prophets, seers, and revelators. You would think that having access to a god would mean that you were more accurate than some normal person, but this is not necessarily so; many pronouncements from prophets have been retroactively disavowed when they’ve proven to be embarrassing (Adam God) or just plain wrong (moon Quakers).
I sometimes wondered if there was a way to know in advance whether a statement from a church leader was official, binding, and approved by the Lord. About the best I could come up with was: A doctrine is provisionally official if it hasn’t been thrown under the bus yet.
That was fine for me at the time — continuing revelation being what it is — but as I got older and had more experience in the church, I noticed that leaders were disavowing things I’d been taught, one by one.
- Leaders who once taught that Africans were neutral in the War in Heaven claimed that the doctrine had never been taught
- The ‘Family Proclamation’ saw the role of women shift from unequal to almost-equal-but-not-quite
- More recently, the teaching that you can have dominion over your own planet bit the dust.
At the time, I made up a sardonic joke: What’s the difference between true Mormon doctrine and false Mormon doctrine? About 40 years.
But occasionally in the Old Testament, a prophet will do something that makes everyone realise: “Wow, he’s really a prophet.” Surely these things must have some relevance to the modern church. So we’re going to compile a list of these items when they come up.
The suggestion for this lesson: You know someone’s a prophet when they strip off all their clothes, lay naked all night, and prophecy.
19:20 And Saul sent messengers to take David: and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as appointed over them, the Spirit of God was upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.
19:21 And when it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they prophesied likewise. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they prophesied also.
19:22 Then went he also to Ramah, and came to a great well that is in Sechu: and he asked and said, Where are Samuel and David? And one said, Behold, they be at Naioth in Ramah.
19:23 And he went thither to Naioth in Ramah: and the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on, and prophesied, until he came to Naioth in Ramah.
19:24 And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Wherefore they say, Is Saul also among the prophets?
Additional ideas for teaching
The witch of Endor
With all the murder in the Old Testament (oh, but those are Philistines, so they don’t count), it seems strange to get one’s underwear in a wad over something trivial like divination. It’s especially strange when Joseph Smith and others in frontier New York were so commonly engaging in folk magic, like using seer stones to look for buried treasure and so on.
And yet, when Joseph Smith reworked the Bible, he took pains to adapt the story of the witch of Endor (Endora, if you will). Saul wants to speak to the by-now-very-dead Samuel, and so heads to a medium.
Mediums aren’t what they used to be. Nowadays, they just say, “I’m getting an M!” But back in the day, they could haul up a prophet from the Great Beyond.
Yet Joseph Smith tried to write Samuel out of it, as though the witch of Endor had merely seen “the words of Samuel”, and not Samuel himself.
JST 1 Sam. 28:12 And when the woman saw the words of Samuel, she cried with a loud voice; and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.
KJV 1 Sam. 28:12 And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice: and the woman spake to Saul, saying, Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.
The church (through the chapter headings in its scriptures) also goes to some length to say that it was the witch and not Samuel that foretells Saul’s death.
Saul enquires of witch of Endor for revelation—She foretells his death, that of his sons, and the defeat of Israel by the Philistines.
I can only assume that when the story was written, the Hebrews were in a bit of flux, somewhere between mono- and polytheism. Other gods existed, but Jehovah was the most powerful. And so with a lot of competing forms of magic around, maybe it didn’t seem unusual for a witch to come and dig up a prophet.
Now that Jehovah has been established as the only god in the minds of his followers, obviously this kind of thing is unacceptable, and the witch of Endor has to be explained away somehow (e.g. It wasn’t really Samuel, or it was just his words). This scripture, then, is a snapshot from a time when Jehovah was still establishing his cred.
Something else is odd about this: modern Christians believe that there’s an afterlife where the spirits of the departed live, but the Hebrews of the Old Testament didn’t appear to have any such belief. This is the first time I can remember where someone’s come back. Moses didn’t come back. Adam didn’t come back. Let’s look at this as an interesting step on the road to a belief in spirits. This theme will pop up a few more times in the Old Testament before coming to full strength in the New.
I love the King James translation. Where else could you find the word piss in the Bible? And not once, but six times! It appears twice in chapter 25 alone.
In this case, it’s in the phrase “him that pisseth against the wall”, meaning the males.
25:22 So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.
The interesting thing about piss in the Bible is not that the word was acceptable to the Hebrews, but that it was acceptable to the translators of the KJV in the 1600s. It’s been 400 years, and the word piss has changed quite a bit in its acceptability since then. Tony McEnery, in his book Swearing in English, notes that piss, once fairly innocuous, became more and more sweary throughout the 1700s — so it was just in time to be included in the KJV. One hundred years later, and the scriptures would have been just a little more boring.
We’ll be monitoring the Bible for more naughty words, as they appear.