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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Reflection on 1 and 2 Samuel

Reflection on 1 and 2 Samuel
“The book of Samuel essentially tells a single story”[1] of the departure from rule under the judges where the Israelites “did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25) to God’s establishment of the monarchy with the reign of Saul and David. Samuel is “full of wordplays, intricate plots with subtle twists, and portraits of complex characters. Minute, seemingly meaningless details can sometimes shed an entirely new light on events or characters.”[2] It becomes quickly apparent even in an uneducated reading of the text that,
The books of Samuel are masterful examples of ancient Hebrew narrative art. They possess all the characteristics of a timeless literary classic: a magnificent central plot involving kings, international wars, ambition, murder, deception, and sexual intrigue; complex character portrayals; skillful use of varied settings ranging from mountains to deserts; and masterful use of wordplays and allusions.[3]
A proper reading of the narrative leads one to step back from the details and apparent contradictions, which may be present, since “faith does not require that the factuality of the biblical events be proven (such proof is, at any rate, seldom possible), … [but rather] what truth claims are implied by each narrative within its broader context.”[4] The interpreter must look at the larger metanarrative in order to properly understand what God is working through the author’s writings. In reflecting back on my original thoughts on biblical narrative, character development, and plot, simply because of my background of working in entertainment, it was not difficult for me to appreciate how literary style works in the telling of a story. However, this is not a story, but Scripture. Therefore, in combining a deeper study of literary tools with the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, the one character who I learned about most this semester was God.
First, I learned that God does not need facts - as we would consider something to be facts, that of non-contradictory statements - in order to tell a true story. It was originally difficult for me to accept that there are contracting accounts of certain details throughout the narrative, for example how Goliath died, yet regardless of how we feel the historical facts should be presented, God is not concerned with details of circumstance, but rather eternal truths. “Instead of weeding out [conflicts], … scholars thus pay close attention to the way in which [literary aspects] function in the text.”[5] In the end, I have come to understand that we can be reasonably sure of the historicity of biblical narrative; yet, it does not truly matter, because he is “creating a world and fashioning people, examining the inner workings of characters and knowing the outcome of things at the outset.”[6] Whereas the human author is bound by the limits of language, he is granted god-like abilities “to describing events consecutively, thus creating the impression that the narrator is now here and then there, looking first into one man’s heart and then into another’s, constantly transferring the point of view from one place to another”[7] in order to fulfill God’s purposes. God’s intent is to teach us about whom he is, see how he has worked through history, and teach of his redemption of mankind, so that we can understand and apply those truths to our lives for our continued sanctification and growing in the image of his Son.
A second major characteristic of God I have learned this semester is what it means to be “after God’s own heart.” We see that David is a man with incredible faults, yet is still seen as the model of kingship. “David is more than a probing representation of the ambiguities of political power. He is an affecting and troubling image of human destiny as husband and father and as a man moving from youth to prime to the decrepitude of old age.”[8] This dichotomy of affecting and troubling can be greatly demonstrated through David’s act of repentance.
Although David has sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba, he confesses that he has sinned against the Lord. To put it a bit differently, David does not say that he has sinned against the Sinai commandments—although he has violated the sixth (murder), seventh (adultery), and tenth (coveting your neighbor’s wife)—but that he has sinned against the Lord.[9]
Not only does “this indicate the real nature of David’s sin,”[10] but his heart. God desires those who seek him. He is aware of our faults, but in all, he wants us to seek him when we fall and not run and hide. I am truthfully still grappling with how much of David’s repentance was circumstantial in the fact that he was rebuked by Nathan and whether or not he possessed true feelings of guilt and sin against the Lord and would have repented without being caught. There is no textual evidence to know, however what is evident is that when David was confronted with sin, he ran to God and submitted to God’s judgment and mercy. I believe this is what God considered to be after his own heart, someone who wants to be seen as redeemed in God’s eyes, willing to accept God in totality, just and loving.
In conclusion, I have been convicted by the Deuteronomistic principle that God will bless those who are obedient to him and stay true to his commandments. With this course, in addition to that conviction, I have been moved from an effected person calling out “Please!” to God, to wanting to be an impacting worker for his kingdom, desiring to please God.  This conviction was strengthened throughout both the narrative critical and exegetical analysis of 1 & 2 Samuel, realizing that “for not as man sees does God see. For man sees with the eyes and the Lord sees with the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Regardless of our outward appearance, God knows our inward intentions. “The narrative does not just inform our understanding of mankind, but we were also given an insight into the character of God,”[11] a character that desires for broken hearts to be surrendered to him.
[1] Steven L. McKenzie, Introduction to the Historical Books (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2010), 84.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, NAC (Nashville, TN: B& H Publishers, 1996), 32.
[4] V. Philips Long, “The Art of Biblical History” in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 343-345.
[5] Tremper Longman III, “Literary Approaches to Biblical Interpretation” in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 153.
[6] Shimeon Bar-Efrat, Narrative Art in the Bible (London: T & T Clark International, 2004), 17.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Robert Alter, The David Story (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1999), xviii.
[9] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 334.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Bryan Babcock, “Lecture 7-2: What Have We Learned?,” MAABS BI-6613: Interpreting the Old Testament Historiography, 1.


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