When Did Saul Meet David?

It is a commonplace in liberal biblical scholarship to claim a contradiction between 1 Samuel 16:14-23 and 1 Samuel 17:55-58. The nature of the alleged contradiction lies in what Saul knew and when. In 16:19, Saul sends a messenger to Jesse, after he has been told about Jesse’s son by the young man of verse 18. The messenger tells Jesse to send David (“your son”) to Saul for purposes of musical distraction. In chapter 16, therefore, Saul knows whose son David is. In the very next chapter, however, Saul seems not to know this information. In 17:55 and following, Saul asks Abner about David’s parentage (Abner doesn’t know). Saul then finds out from David himself that David is the son of Jesse. So, which is it? Did Saul not find out in 16 about David’s father? Or are there other possibilities?

The first thing that must be said is that the author (or, to go momentarily on the liberal turf, the redactor) most likely already knew about this issue. Ancient authors weren’t quite as stupid as some modern scholars tend to think they were! How do we know? In the text of verse 23 lies what I believe to be the hint that points to the solution. The first two words of the verse are well translated, “Now, whenever…” The verse then describes a state of affairs that appears to have lasted a relatively long while before the events of 17. This points to the answer: Saul simply forgot whose son David was. The length of time combined with the stress of the events of 17 could easily explain Saul’s forgetfulness on this point.

To my mind, this explanation works better than some of the alternatives. Some believe that chapter 16 is about David’s identity, whereas 17:55ff. is about Jesse’s. This explanation does not take 16:18-19 adequately into account, where twice it is stated that Saul knew Jesse to be the father of David.

Another unlikely interpretation is that 16:14-23 is out of chronological order, and belongs in between 18:9 and 18:10. This would make the Goliath story the very first time Saul met David. Now, this would solve the issue. The Bible does not always record things in chronological order. What makes this solution unlikely is not the supposedly “unbiblical” nature of the solution, but rather the unlikelihood of the passage getting put intentionally out of place. If 16:14-23 was originally between 18:9 and 18:10, why would anyone move it?

Gleason Archer, in his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (175), argues that Saul’s concern in 17:55ff. was in building up his own personal bodyguard, and that Jesse’s identity was important because Saul viewed David as a “lead to obtaining more soldiers like him.” This is possible, and would be an additional element consistent with the idea of forgetfulness.

Robert Bergen adds two more aspectual possibilities in his commentary on Samuel (199). The issue of who gets the tax forgiveness could be another reason why Saul asks about David’s parentage. In addition, Bergen argues that the Spirit having left Saul means that Saul “was intellectually incompetent.” I might amend the latter to say that Saul was becoming incompetent, memory being not what it once was.

One last solution, possibly the least likely, is that of Robert Polzin. In his Samuel and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History, Part Two: 1 Samuel (171-6), he argues that Saul’s question is 17:55 is actually a demand for David’s allegiance, not a question about identity. Again, this would solve the issue. However, it is difficult to see why we should interpret the text that way. Are there other instances in ancient literature where asking about the identity of a person’s father is equal to a demand for allegiance? This seems highly unlikely to me. The other solutions are better.

Exegetical Response to Leithart, Part 2

In this post, I will address 1 Samuel 24:1-22. This is the amusing story of how David had Saul in his power, when Saul was “relieving himself,” but did not take advantage of the situation in order to make himself king, but honored the Lord’s anointed. David’s righteousness is surely defined by verse 6: “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” I will argue that this is an application of the fifth commandment and is thus primarily about David’s relationship to the law of God. Leithart’s position is that this use of tsedeq counts as an example of the meaning “count as a friend.” Leithart’s own words: “David did not count him as an enemy, but as a friend, and that witnessed to David’s undiminished loyalty to the king” (p. 210). I don’t doubt that Leithart would acknowledge that the fifth commandment is involved. But I think that he would draw different conclusions from that fact than I would.

The fifth commandment has traditionally been interpreted as including submission to the proper authorities in government (as being ordained by God). This is why verse 6 is so crucial. I am a bit puzzled, frankly, as to why Leithart does not discuss this verse in connection with his claim, since I believe it challenges his claim. Verse 6 clearly connects David’s contemplated action with his relationship with the Lord and with the Lord’s law. The Lord God Himself ordained that Saul should be king. He is the Lord’s anointed, mentioned twice in verse 6. And surely the phrase “the Lord forbid” should clue us into the fact that David believes it is unthinkable for any attack to be made on the Lord’s anointed. In fact, the Lord did forbid any attack upon Saul. He forbade it in the fifth commandment. So, David’s relationship to the law is clearly the substance of verses 17-18, where Saul acknowledges that David upheld the law. The law is never far away from Saul’s speech here in this chapter. Now, surely we can see that interpersonal relations between Saul and David are surely important here. That is evident from verse 17, where the reasoning for Saul’s declaration is that David has upheld the second great commandment by loving Saul, his neighbor, as himself. However, it is the conclusions that Leithart draws from this that I challenge. His argument goes like this: tsedeq is here used in a broader way than a judicial setting (although he clearly acknowledges that this is at least somewhat judicial: his term is “quasi-judicial”); it is used in an interpersonal setting; if justification terms can be used in broader settings than judicial, then justification itself has more dimensions than judicial. There are two things that need to be said here. First of all is the hermeneutical point that I have already made: just because a term is used in broader senses than just one meaning does not mean that the doctrine of justification needs to be broadened. Words are not equal to concepts. Justification can be explained without any reference to tsedeq the term. I could say “Christ’s law-keeping, or merit is imputed to us and our sins are imputed to Christ when God graciously gives us faith.” The word-concept fallacy is a fundamental fallacy that Leithart makes here. It is tightly related to the illegitimate totality transfer explained in previous posts. Secondly, the setting is more than quasi-judicial here. David explicitly calls on God to judge (vs. 12) between Saul and David. How much more judicial does it need to be? Are we assuming that it has to be in a courtroom in order for it to be completely judicial? The Lord doesn’t need a courtroom! Furthermore, it can be argued that many if not most judicial scenes in the OT don’t actually take place in a courtroom. Think, for instance, of the standing stones. They are placed in whatever location it was thought to be needed, and they served as a testimony (see Joshua 22:10-34, for a good example). So, the Samuel passage does not prove what Leithart thinks it does.

(update): I agree with Pastor Shaun. I hope some FV guy takes it up, since these are really, really good questions.

Was Michal Paltiel’s Wife?

The issue is this: Michal, Saul’s daughter had originally been given to David as wife. The bride price had been 200 foreskins of the Philistines (recorded in 1 Sam 18). Later, however, Saul gives Michal to Paltiel (1 Samuel 25:44). Then, in 2 Samuel 3, David gets Michal back. The difficulty comes in verse 15-16, where the text calls Paltiel her אִישׁ (“ish”). This word could mean “man,” or it could mean “husband.” Most translations have “husband.” But was Paltiel really her husband? David says in verse 14 that Michal is his wife. Plainly he does not regard the union of Michal with Paltiel to be legitimate. Furthermore, in the second passage quoted above (1 Samuel 25:44), the text makes a point of saying that Michal was David’s wife even when she was “given” to Paltiel. I conclude that the union of Michal to Paltiel was forced on Michal without the consent of either Michal or David, and was thereore illegitimate. Therefore, in interpreting “ish” in 2 Samuel 3, I would say that there are two possibilities: either the text is ironic, saying in effect that Paltiel wasn’t really her husband, or the text is simply calling him temporarily what everyone else except David was calling him.

The implications of this passage for divorce are important. This passage cannot be used to justify the belief that a second union entered into without a proper divorce is legitimate. The passage, when properly interpreted, does not say that that union was proper. This might have application today to marriages where a divorce has happened in accordance with the will of both parties. In that case a second marriage does have to be called a true marriage. In this biblical case, Michal was ripped away from David and given to someone else. That second union was not a proper marriage, and so David could take her back again, if he forgave her any willingness on her part to enter into the second relationship. What do you all think?