Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Fidel Castro of Israel: 1 Samuel 21 - 22:5

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

David, on the run, starts a guerrilla revolt against Saul's government, which rapidly proves the thesis that there is very little righteousness in war on either side. In this case, we have the "God-chosen" David blaspheming God and consorting with enemies of Israel, and the God-damned Saul chasing after him with the armies of an Israel he doesn't deserve and shouldn't have. Very good fiction, though. David has become the Fidel Castro of ancient Israel.

His campaign gets off to an ignoble start when he thoughtlessly violates the laws of Moses, with a complicit priest named Ahimelech. Arriving at Nob, David orders the priests to get food for his men. First, David openly lies to the priest (so much for the "Ten Commandments"), claiming that he is on a secret mission from King Saul. No dice! says the priest, who has only holy bread available. That's okay with David, who foolishly argues that he has the right to this bread because he and his men haven't had sex recently. So much for the sacrificial laws, which don't say anything about getting special access to the consecrated foodstuffs after you've abstained from sex. This is a very curious "man after God's own heart," seeing as he doesn't appear to give a damn about God's own laws. David eventually gets his way and takes the bread, though only after advancing the even more dubious proposition that "men's bodies are holy even on missions that are not holy." What the fuck? By some bizarre fluke, Ahimelech the priest also just happens to have Goliath's old sword on hand, so David takes that as well.

David's been spotted by one of Saul's flunkies, so he's off again, this time leaving Israel entirely to meet up with king Achish in Gath. Worried that he's going to be recognized as a dangerous Israelite general (and probably executed as a result), he feigns insanity, scratching the walls with his fingernails and drooling all over the place. Achish eventually grows tired of the performance and orders the mad Israelite kicked out of his palace. (Hilariously, he phrases it thusly: "Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow into my house?" Tragically, the pagans are much wittier than the Israelites, who don't crack these sorts of jokes at all, at least not in 1 Samuel.)

Dvaid moves from Gath to Adullam, where he gathers a group of 400 men who are "in distress or in debt or discontented" - basically, a bunch of malcontents and miscreants. He meets the Moabite king, who agrees to grant asylum to David's father and mother lest they be harmed by Saul. Then he and his men go into the Hereth forests to continue their campaign.

I don't necessarily mind that David doesn't care about the sacrificial law, because I don't care about it either. But what is intriguing is that David's character here is thoroughly opportunistic and manipulative - and in retrospect, it always has been. David loves both Jonathan and Michal - but ultimately he uses them against their father for his own benefit. He deceives the priest into giving him bread. Israelites aren't really supposed to consort with foreigners like the Gathites and the Moabites, but, like Samson before him, David doesn't seem to mind. Neither do the Gathites or the Moabites, who see an opportunity to weaken Israel and, like good political realists in any age, they promptly seize it.