I was misled by the brevity of Ruth. I forgot how long and repetitive a Bible book typically is, and embarked on I Samuel with good spirits, before slowly realizing that it is longer and more tedious than the pandemic has been. I feel completely beaten down by it. It’s the one where we meet David. Let’s get into it!
Samuel opens with a repeat of a story we had earlier: a man has two wives, and one of them, Hannah, is barren. He loves her anyway and tries to cheer her up by saying she has him and isn’t he better than ten sons! which goes over about as well as you’d expect. As if this isn’t bad enough, every year the family makes a pilgrimage to the temple in Shiloh, and Hannah has a frenemy there who mocks her for her barrenness and makes her cry. One year, she is praying to the LORD that if he will only give her a son, she’ll dedicate him into His service and never shave his head, and Eli, the Priest, notices her muttering to herself and accuses her of being a drunk. She replies, “No, I’m…praying? Because this is a temple? And I’m really sad?” And Eli feels badly about it and says the LORD will grant her prayer.
Well, you’ll never guess! He does! She has a son, Samuel, and after he is weaned, she gives him over to the temple so that he will go into the service of the LORD.
Things are not on the up and up in Eli’s temple. His sons are worshippers of Belial with all the bad behavior that implies, and the temple servants are corrupt and bossy and they take the best parts of the burnt offerings for themselves and so on. Eventually, the LORD gets sick of this and comes down and tells Eli that he has not kept the covenant that the LORD made with the priest class in Egypt and so the LORD will be smiting everyone in his house at a young age and rising up a new, virtuous priest, who will do everything right. Meanwhile, our Samuel has been modestly working away in the temple, and his mommy brings him a new little coat every year (she has since had five other children), and we all see where this is going.
One night, Eli is on his deathbed and Samuel is sleeping, and the LORD calls out to Samuel. But the LORD has been largely absent in Israel for a long time, so Samuel thinks Eli is calling him and runs in and wakes Eli up, and Eli says it was not him. They do this three more times before Eli is like, ugh, it’s probably the LORD, talk to him next time and stop waking me up. So Samuel does, and the LORD tells Samuel that he will soon be destroying Eli and his family for Eli’s laxity. The next morning, Eli asks Samuel what the LORD had to say, and Samuel feels awkward about it, but he is honest, and Eli says fair enough, and takes it like a man. Samuel flourishes in a general way and everyone in Israel comes to know that he’s the LORD’s new guy.
At this time, the Israelites go to war with the Philistines and get trounced, so they ask Eli’s two pagan sons to bring the Ark of the Covenant out onto the battlefield. At first, this rallies the Israelites and rattles the Philistines, but then the Philistines remember they’re better at war and they demolish Israel, kill Eli’s pagan sons, and seize the Ark of the Covenant. A soldier runs back and tells Eli this, and Eli falls off his chair and breaks his neck.
The LORD next wreaks subtle and shady revenge: first, the Ark is placed in the temple of the god Dagon in Ashdod. On the first morning, the effigy of Dagon has fallen onto his face. They pick him back up. The next morning, he is on his face again, plus his head and hands are cut off, leaving him only a stump. Everyone is now afraid to go into the temple again, they abandon it. And then, the LORD destroys all of Ashdod and smites them all with hemorrhoids (quite the escalation!). So they decided to send the Ark into Garth. But the LORD strikes everyone in Garth with hemorrhoids “in their secret parts,” so they send the Ark over to Ekron. But the Ekronites have heard about this butthole plague and they declare, I don’t fucking think so, send this thing back to Israel! But it is too late, sadly — the LORD kills nearly everyone and afflicts all the survivors with hemorrhoids and the Philistines all wail to the heavens.
Now the Philistines are committed to getting rid of this Ark, and they ask their Priests, how can we undo all this? The Priests say that they should send it back with a gift for the trouble, and they suggest making five golden mice and five golden hemorrhoids modeled after their own hemorrhoids, and then attaching two really sweet milk cows to carry it back. They say to let the milk cows just take their own way home, and if they take the coastal route to Bethshemesh, this will mean that this really was all revenge of the LORD, not coincidence. So, they do all that and the cows do take the coastal road, and when they get to Bethshemesh, the Israelites there are absolutely thrilled to see their Ark appear, and they set up a big stone in memorial, and offer up a burnt offering of the cows, but the LORD (still an asshole) does not like that the Bethshemites look at the Ark, so he kills 50,310 of them. As to why he gives his enemies hemorrhoids but straight up murders 50,000 of his own people, who can say, but this is why he’s so lovable that we still follow him to this day. The remaining Bethshemites are troubled by this and send the Ark to another Israelite city, where it stays for twenty years.
You’ll notice I’m not making much of the hemorrhoids thing. I honestly can’t think of how to improve upon it! I mean, what can I possibly say about this that is weirder or more entertaining than exactly how the Bible presents it? See the above image of a golden hemorrhoid, that really helps underline the entire thing.
Israel is having a hard time during this period, for the usual reason — they have fallen to worshipping false gods and idols. But their new ruler Samuel tells them to knock it off, and they all do a big apology to the LORD and burnt offerings and all that, and then the LORD finds favor with them again, and fully routs the Philistines on their behalf and things are good for Samuel’s long reign.
The Creation of Saul, Israel’s First King
When Samuel gets old, his sons, Joe and Abiah, are made judges, but they suck and take bribes and the people ask Samuel to make a king for them, instead of all these judges. They say every other nation has a king and it seems to work really well. Samuel talks to the LORD about it, and the LORD takes this as a personal rejection of Him and so Samuel tells the people a long horror story about how the king will press them all into servitude and take all their money. The people say that sounds alright, so the LORD says fine, give the stupid shits a king.
Meanwhile, in the land of Benjamin, a man named Kish loses his asses. He sends his son Saul to find them, and Saul and his servant search lands near and far. When they reach the land of Zuph, they turn around to go home again, but Saul’s servant mentions that a famous seer lives in Zuph and they should ask him their way first. They see some maidens and ask them about the seer, and the maidens say there is a big sacrifice that day on the high place and the seer always blesses the sacrifice and then everyone eats, so he will be up there. They go, and the seer comes out, and guess who it is?
Now we learn that the day before the LORD had told Samuel that he would be sending a man out of Benjamin to reign as captain over Israel to deliver them from the Philistines because the people have cried out to the LORD. This is a bit confusing because a chapter ago, the LORD was (as usual) pretty well done with his king-demanding people. But anyway. Samuel takes Saul up to dinner and sits him in the best place and tells him that he is the big man they’ve all been waiting for, and Saul is very confused, because Benjamin is like the least impressive tribe, sort of the District 12 of Israel. Early the next day, Samuel walks Saul to the edge of town and then has the servant go ahead so he can speak to him privately for a minute.
Samuel pours a vial of oil over Saul’s head and kisses him, and rather than punching him in the face, Saul patiently listens to Samuel’s prophecy. Samuel tells Saul a number of ultimately fairly pedestrian things that will happen to him as he goes on a little journey that day and it’s too boring to recount, but the gist of it is, Samuel will meet him at the other end of it and will crown him king. All of that happens, and then Samuel calls all the people together and gives them a disappointed passive aggressive lecture in the style of Moses before presenting to them the king they asked for.
But wait, where is the king? He’s not there! Because Saul has run off and hidden. But they quickly find him, and Samuel points out that Saul “was higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upwards.” He’s described this way more than once and at first, I thought it was just a weird way of saying “smart,” but I guess it actually means he has a super long neck, because now everyone acknowledges this physical attribute and that it points to Saul’s obvious superiority. Everyone gives him presents and is happy, and Saul heads home.
There’s an abrupt transition to set up Saul’s first leadership challenge: Nahash the Ammonite is camping in Jabeshgilead and the Bible really has this way of just talking about random people like you should know who they are, like your grandmother does. The men of Jabesh come out and tell Nahash that if he’ll make a covenant with them, they’ll serve him. I don’t know why; this seems like an unusual proposition to make to a random camper. Nahash is NOT APPROACHABLE and he says, yeah, sure, I’ll do it on one condition, that I can poke out all your right eyes as an insult to your stupid country. Well. The elders of Jabesh do not care for this proposal. So they ask for a week to send messengers across Israel for reinforcement and promise that if nobody will come to help them, they’ll do as Nahash suggests re: eyes.
I gather from the context that Nahash is not a solitary camper as literally presented, but we are meant to understand that he is actually a large and imposing army who is camping outside Jabesh because he intends to conquer it. But it took a little work for me to infer this from what we’re told.
The men of Jabesh appeal to King Saul and Saul uses the trusty “send a dismembered corpse around the country” messaging system to rally the Israelites (this time the corpse is at least a yoke of oxen, rather than a raped and murdered woman), and he underlines it by threatening that the dismembered oxen will be YOU if you and your tribe don’t get your cowardly asses to Jabesh. We’ve all gotten this style of work email. So, everyone shows up, and Saul leads them in battle against the Ammonites and they are victorious. They all go to Gilgal and crown Saul in a big ceremony with offerings and so forth.
Next, in the grand tradition of the leaders of Israel, Samuel gathers everyone together and screams at them. He tells them that it was very wicked and stupid of them to ask for a king, but the LORD has given them one anyway, and then he recounts their whole history — all the things the LORD has done for them, and all the times they turned from the LORD and were wicked and so the LORD punished them. And he warns them for the millionth time that they mustn’t forget and do this again, or the LORD will destroy them, and he calls down some thunder and lightening to underscore the point, and everyone swears up and down that this time — THIS TIME! — they really are going to eat healthily and exercise forever after, and not go worship false gods, or whatever.
In year two of his reign, Saul leads Israel into war against the Philistines, but he makes a mistake. It’s confusing, but at some point in the battle, Samuel is supposed to come to meet the troops and he doesn’t show up, so Saul makes a burnt offering. Samuel turns up, but he is pissed. Apparently, Saul making this burnt offering is disobeying the LORD, and so rather than establishing the kingdom of Israel forever, which the LORD had previously been prepared to do at this point, Israel will have to keep fighting the Philistines.
We’re now told that the people of Israel do not at this time have any blacksmiths. They cannot make or sharpen their own weapons, because the Philistines will not let them have any smiths. How the Philistines manage to control this is unexplained, but at any rate, with the market cornered, the Israelites always go into Philistine towns to use their smiths when they need to sharpen their weapons, but now, being at war, the Philistines obviously put an end to that. So by this point, no one in the Israeli army has any weapons except for Saul and his son Jonathan.
This seems unlikely to me? But we’ll roll with it.
Except this doesn’t come up again, either. The storytelling in Samuel is really confusing, even by Biblical standards, and I’m not sure I’m really understanding what’s going on. We continue to have lots of war against the Philistines. Samuel’s son Jonathan is sort of an arrogant golden boy and he gets into a lot of scrapes — he and his servant decide to attack a small contingent of Philistines on their own, and Jonathan says that if they invite the two of them into their camp, that means the LORD will deliver them to him. They do, and Jonathan and his servant manage to slay all 20 of them. Then, there’s a day where Saul tells the army to fast, but they walk through a forest full of honey all over the ground (?) and Jonathan, not having heard the command to fast, dips his rod into the honey and eats some, and his eyes are opened to his father’s…either his father’s perfidy or heroism, it’s unclear. Jonathan has a great vision of how victorious they are and could be over the Philistines, and this is both evil and also inspiring to the people somehow, and then later, all the people kill a bunch of livestock and eat it with the blood, which is definitely not allowed, so Saul calls them all up to make sacrifices in expiation and somewhere in there, he finds out about Jonathan and the honey and is going to kill him, but the people intervene on Jonathan’s behalf because he’s helped them kill more Philistines. Or something. War continues.
And at last, inevitably, Saul falls from grace. It happens to the best of the leaders of Israel. At some point post-Moses (but I can’t remember where now), the Bible makes reference to an incident where a guy called Amalek had lain in wait for Israel and attacked them as they fled Egypt. This was not in the Torah from what I can recall, but it’s been mentioned a couple of times since. The LORD really wants revenge for it, but it keeps not happening for various reasons. So he sends his new king Saul into war against the Amalekites and tells him not to show any mercy or leave anyone alive. However, Saul takes the king, Agag, alive, and then the people also take all the best livestock for themselves.
The LORD does not like this. He keeps senior citizen Samuel up all night long bitching at him about it, and by morning, Samuel is steaming. He confronts Saul, who is very proud of himself. “Look what a great job I did!” Saul says, expecting praise.
“Oh, did you?” says Samuel, sleep deprived and not having it. “That’s interesting. Why do I hear all this livestock bleating and lowing everywhere, then?”
“Well,” says Saul, thinking fast. “The people took the livestock. But only the best of it! And they only took it to offer up burnt sacrifices to the LORD!”
“Interesting,” says Samuel again. “Let’s review what’s happened so far and what I know, shall we?”
“You were some pissant from the lowly tribe of Benjamin and the LORD, for whatever reason, saw fit to raise you up as king over all his people. Then, he gave you some very clear instructions, didn’t he? He said go fight Amalek and leave nothing alive. Didn’t he say that to you, pissant?”
Saul, realizing he is in trouble, does as all good leaders do, and blames the people. “Oh,” he says. “Totally, and that is exactly what I did! But the people took this livestock, you know. They wanted them for sacrifices, what are you going to do?”
“Interesting,” says Samuel. “Tell me, do you think the LORD prefers sacrifices or do you think He prefers BEING OBEYED?”
Then, Samuel fires Saul as king (and I feel like he’s kind of been itching to do it ever since he was first made aware of the existence of Saul?) and Saul begs for forgiveness, and grabs Samuel’s clothing as he stalks away and a piece of it rips off in his hand. Saul is really not handling this graciously at all, but we’ll learn that dignified acceptance is not a characteristic Saul possesses. Samuel turns around and, ice cold, delivers this excellent line: “How funny, this is just like how the LORD tore the kingdom of Israel from your grasp today, and gave it to somebody better.”
Samuel then has Saul bring Agag before him and he hacks him to pieces with his sword himself. “That’s how it’s done,” says Samuel, and spits. And then Samuel never speaks to Saul again.
The Rise of David
Now poor Samuel has to find a whole new king. The LORD tells him it will be one of the sons of Jesse of Bethlehem, and that Samuel is to take a cow over there and make a sacrifice and audition the boys. Samuel does this, and it’s very like a beauty pageant — Jesse has his seven sons parade before Samuel and the LORD and they remark on their physical characteristics, but the LORD boasts that he doesn’t only care about appearance like most men do, and none of these boys are choice enough to tempt him. Samuel asks if Jesse has any other sons, and Jesse says this one musician who is really good at the harp, but he’s the youngest and keeps the sheep. So they bring this boy up, and he is really beautiful, the hottest piece you’ve ever seen, and for entirely unrelated reasons that he doesn’t mention, the LORD declares him the winner.
You know it is David!
Meanwhile, Saul, who has become evil since his abrupt dethroning, hears about this, and he commands Jesse to send David to him. I guess Saul is still technically the king until someone other than the LORD dethrones him? Because Jesse obeys him, and I think I see which way this is going, but the Bible continues to be wildly unpredictable, because David takes to Saul at first sight, and Saul feels the same, and David plays his harp for Saul, which turns Saul good again. David serves Saul as his armor bearer. I don’t know what that is, I guess it means that David carries Saul’s armor around from battle to battle. It seems like that’s not really a full-time job, but what do I know.
Saul is still out there warring with the ever-replenishing Philistines, and the current wrinkle is that the Philistines have amongst them a giant named Goliath, and they have challenged the Israelites to have a champion do hand-to-hand combat with Goliath to settle the whole war. (Although, it’s probably going to end up just being this current battle; I’m getting a sinking feeling that war with the Philistines will continue throughout the Old Testament.) Nobody wants to do this. David goes home to feed his father’s sheep, and his father loads him up with food and sends him back to give it to his three older brothers (who are fighting under Saul). When David gets back, he runs out onto the battlefield, and asks about the giant, who has apparently been coming out and taunting the Israeli army for forty days now, with still no takers. David’s brothers treat him like the annoying teenager I guess he is — they ask him what the hell he’s doing there anyway, and tell him to stop embarrassing them in front of everyone, and accuse him of finding excuses to keep showing up just so he can watch the war. Undaunted, David keeps asking everyone about the giant, and when he hears the story, he tells Saul that he can totally take that giant out, he has killed a lion and a bear both when they attacked his father’s sheep. Saul says fine, and suits David up in all his armor, but it’s obviously too big, so David takes it off again and goes out to battle Goliath with only his slingshot and some stones.
He gets Goliath right between the eyes with his first shot, and Goliath passes out, and then David cuts his head off with a sword. Saul asks everyone who this hot young teen is, because he either has severe short-term memory loss, or this Book is translated really poorly and confusingly and David is not actually Saul’s armor bearer, or at least was not prior to this part of the story.
Speaking of confusing narratives, we were briefly told earlier that Saul and David loved each other at first sight, but I think this was a mistake in the writing, because it now turns out that Saul loathes, fears, and is jealous and resentful of David. And David, a young, sexy, cheerful dummy, is blissfully unaware of this. He thinks Saul is great, his good friend! Also, we’re now told that Jonathan, Saul’s son, is the one who loves David — and he loves loves him, in what seems to be a not very platonic way. We’re told that the soul of Jonathan is knit with the soul of David, that Jonathan loves him as his own soul, that they make a covenant together because Jonathan loves David so much, and Jonathan takes off all his garments and weapons and gives them all to David. This is the Biblical story most beloved by the gays, and sure, you can say it’s reading into it, but we’re literally told here that Jonathan loves David so much that he strips off his robe and dresses David in his girdle and enters into soul marriage with him. The subtext is text! Given what we know about David, however, he might very well be entirely oblivious to it.
When the men return to Saul’s city, the women come out dancing and singing for the conquering heroes and they sing, “Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” I love these rabble rousing women! David has as far as I know slain exactly one giant, but they clearly know this is going to infuriate Saul, and indeed, it does!
Saul doesn’t do a great job hiding his dislike of David after that: he throws his javelin at David’s head twice while David is playing his harp, and David ducks both times, and then, I guess, is like, “Oops, boss, you accidentally threw a javelin at my head, haha! What a funny mistake you made! And Jonathan keeps getting in my bed accidentally! You Benjamite men are so silly.”
The Endless Tom and Jerry Episode That Is Saul and David’s Relationship
Saul knows David is the LORD’s guy, so his position is delicate. He hates David and wants to kill him, but he has to hide this and seem like he wants David to succeed. Given that the LORD is omniscient, this seems impossible, but Saul does not appear to think of this. He makes David captain over a thousand soldiers, and betroths David to his daughter, Michal. He believes Michal will be a snare to David and will turn the hand of the Philistines against him. I’m not sure why; presumably Michal knew how to read or something. Saul says that as a dowry, he requires merely 100 foreskins from murdered Philistines, which is a normal sort of thing to request in this society at this time. He doesn’t need any hemorrhoids this time, mind you — just the foreskins. Saul expects this to be the end of David, but David is thrilled at such a modest ask, and he goes forth and easily gathers 200 Philistine foreskins and presents them proudly to his father-in-law to be.
Try to actually picture this. David presents Saul with 200 foreskins from murdered men. Really imagine it. Did he package them up in a box nestled in some hay, like a selection of chocolates? Were they bundled into bound groupings of ten to make for easy counting, like a briefcase full of cash? Did he string them into garlands and drape them around the room? What did Saul do with the foreskins once he had them? We don’t know. The Bible is exhaustively detailed about extraneous nonsense I do not care about (ark construction, genealogies, covenants), but when it finally has my attention, it is woefully closed-lipped.
Meanwhile, David has become extremely popular with everyone, and has earned a reputation for beauty, effectiveness, bravery, and wisdom. So, Saul decides enough duplicity; he’s just going to have this twink murdered and he’ll take his lumps from the LORD. Hilariously, he asks his super straight and disinterested son Jonathan to do it. Oh, Saul. Jonathan immediately tells David to hide and then he tells his father all about how awesome David is and what a great job he’s been doing at being Israel’s new champion, so why would Saul want to kill him? And Saul is convinced! He says, you know what, you’re right. David is the best, I don’t know what my problem is.
David becomes one of the family again. But then, there’s another battle and David slays a lot of Philistines, and Saul once again gets jealous and throws another javelin at David’s head while David is playing the harp one night. This time, even David gets the message, and he runs away. Saul sends assassins to David’s house, and Michal helps David escape out the window, and sets up an elaborate dummy in David’s bed. Is this the first sitcom? Probably! She tells the assassins, look, he’s sick in bed, you can’t kill him now, and the assassins go back to Saul and are like, we couldn’t see him, he was sick. One can imagine Saul’s reaction to this. He explains the obvious and sends them back.
David, meanwhile, runs to Samuel, and the two of them go into hiding with a bunch of prophets, and there’s this bizarre bit where Saul keeps sending assassins after them, but when the assassins catch them, the assassins just start prophesying, and everyone’s like, whoa, I guess they’re prophets now, too! And then Saul sends more assassins and those assassins start prophesying. Like a big St. Vitus dance affliction, only with prophesying. So Saul goes himself, and then he strips off all his clothes and starts a-prophesying his own self. “Hey, everybody, Saul is a prophet now, too!” the people cry.
Actually, this whole long episode reminds me of What About Bob? Saul is a real Dr. Marvin, and David is everyone’s Bob. They can’t get enough of him, and Saul just can’t get his vengeance to land, no matter how hard he tries. Was What About Bob? a retelling of the story of David and Saul? It is entirely possible!
Next comes an extremely long and overly complicated and unnecessary chapter (in the BIBLE? you exclaim, and I know it is surprising) in which David goes to ask Jonathan if Saul really wants to kill him.
Now, look. I know this was before widespread education and the men in these stories are basically cavepeople in terms of sophistication and intelligence. But are we to believe that after all of this, these two dipshits are still genuinely unclear as to whether or not Saul means David harm? It’s like the old saying: blatantly try to murder me once, shame on you. Blatantly try to murder me seven times, clearly tell me and everyone else that you intend to murder me, and send a squad of hitmen to pursue me all over the country, and I don’t know, man, I’m starting to wonder if maybe we aren’t actually friends!
Anyway, there’s this long boring story where Jonathan and David (himbos) come up with this overly elaborate plan where David will hide in a field while Jonathan talks to his dad to find out if he really wants to kill David, and either way, he’ll shoot some arrows over David’s way and then have a servant go pick them up, but he’ll holler out something about the arrows being too far out if David should keep running and hitting their mark if it’s ok for David to stay. Obviously, Saul does want to kill David — in fact, he throws a javelin at Jonathan’s head even for asking such a dumb question — so it’s the former, but the whole arrow system is pointless anyway, because after the servant gets the arrows, Jonathan just goes over to David and tells him this and they cry and kiss and hug goodbye.
David first runs to Nob to Ahimelech the priest and asks him if he has anything to eat. Ahimelech says he has only the sacred temple bread which David can only have if he’s kept himself pure from women and David confirms that he has not been laid in three days (at least by a woman), so he eats the bread. Then, he asks if the priest has any weapons he can take, and the priest has Goliath’s sword, so he takes that. Next, David goes to Achish the king of Gath, but the servants there recognize him and praise his great feats, so David gets afraid (I guess that this king will be jealous like Saul), so he acts like a madman, scrabbling at the walls and drooling into his beard. Next, he runs and hides in a cave at Adullam, and his family hears he’s there and all go to him.
Everyone around Adullam who is in debt or unhappy comes to hang out with David, the outcast king, and soon David has an army of 400 men. He hides his parents with the king of Moab, and then he and his men get on the move. At this point, Saul hears that David has popped up again with followers, and he calls all his servants and yells at them for their disloyalty in not knowing about this and telling him sooner. One of them, Doeg the Edomite, had been at Ahimelech’s temple when David was there, and he now tells Saul that Ahimelech gave David food and a sword. Saul calls Ahimelech and the priests to him for this and has Doeg kill them all, and then he and his men raze the city of Nob and kill everyone in it. One priest, Abiathar, runs and tells David about this. David feels really badly about it, because he had seen Doeg at the temple and realizes he sort of caused Nob’s downfall.
Next, the Philistines are warring over in Keilah and so David and his army go over there (at the command of the LORD who promises they shall be victorious) to help. Saul hears about this, and thinks, perfect: Keilah is a walled city, so he can trap David there! He heads over. Meanwhile, Abiathar brought along an ephod (which is like a sleeveless priest smock) when he ran to David from the temple, and when David hears that Saul is coming, he has Abiathar bring him the ephod. The ephod now becomes David’s conduit to the LORD: going forward, every time David wants to talk to the LORD, he puts on the ephod and summons him up like a genie. The LORD now confirms that Saul is indeed coming to Keilah, so they all leave and go hide in the wilderness.
Then, there are many, many repetitive chapters wherein David hides somewhere and Saul comes to find him and can’t find him, and the locals tell Saul where David is, but Saul still can’t find him, and Jonathan comes and visits for a bit, and he and David make more “covenants” together, and at various times, first David and then Saul take a break from chasing each other to fight the Philistines somewhere, and then they go back to their usual focus, and all this goes on for some time.
Finally, everybody is in a wilderness somewhere and Saul goes into a cave to cover his feet (unexplained) and David goes in after him and cuts off his skirt. Then, when Saul leaves the cave, David calls after him and weeps and prostrates himself and says, look, I could have killed you, but I just cut off your skirt, I would never kill you because you are a chosen man of God, so can we just go back to being pals? And Saul weeps and calls David virtuous and has him swear before God that even though David will be king, he won’t fuck with Saul or anyone in Saul’s family, and David swears, and everything is ok again!
Except not for Samuel, who finally dies. Not with much prelude either. Just “And Samuel died,” starts off the next chapter, just like that. Samuel was no Moses, but everybody who is anybody goes to his funeral. It only gets a single verse, though, because the Bible is only interested in David these days.
David heads out into another wilderness, and meets a rich man with a lot of livestock named Nabal. Nabal is married to a sexy lady named Abigail, who is way too good for him. David sends some of his gang to ask Nabal to feed them, but Nabal (an early conservative) says, “I’m sorry, I have never heard of any of you, there are runaway servants everywhere and it’s really not my job to feed them. The food I have is for my own servants.”
I actually feel like this is a fairly reasonable response, but David does NOT. David is no longer the pretty little harp-playing slingshot lad he used to be. He has a tough new persona and his own gang now, and he’s learned a new slang phrase and you can tell he’s enamored of it, because he says it a couple of times: he’s going to kill everyone in Nabal’s camp who “pisseth against the wall.” They all prepare to go kill Nabal and everyone in his households. But meanwhile, Abigail hears about all this, and unlike her husband, she keeps up with current events and knows who David is, so she goes into hyperspeed damage control and puts together enough food to feed an army and loads it onto a bunch of asses and rides out quickly to intercept David and his men and throws herself facedown in the dirt and apologizes for her dumbass husband and flatters and praises David.
David loves this. He tells her that she is very lucky because he was just about to kill everyone who pisseth against the wall, but now he’ll spare them for her. Abigail goes home and Nabal is in the midst of throwing a feast and is very drunk, so she doesn’t mention any of this until the cold light of day, and then she interrupts his hangover with this news. Ten days later, “the LORD smites Nabal” (sus) and he dies, so David snatches up Abigail to wive. He also marries some chick named Ahinoam of Jezreel we have not heard anything about. (We’re also told that he and Michal are no longer married because Saul gave Michal to some other dude while David was gone all that time.)
Aaaaand I really thought we were done with this, and I’m so bored with it, but there’s another repeat of the whole Saul/David abusive relationship pattern, fml. Saul pursues David into the wilderness, David goes and sees Saul sleeping and his men urge him to kill him, but he says he won’t, and he takes Saul’s spear and water to prove he was there and didn’t kill him, and then calls out to Saul and tells him this, and Saul apologizes for his wickedness and says he won’t ever try to kill David again.
I mean, this is all stupid and boring and repetitive from a storytelling perspective, but beyond that, aren’t the Israelites fed up with it? Saul just will not relinquish his throne! The LORD has given them a new king who is supposed to lead them better, but it’s now been, what, 40 years after David was supposedly anointed, and all this time, he’s just been hiding out in the wilderness and going through this repetitive nonsense with the old deposed king? Who is actually governing? Thank goodness our transfers of power are smoother and more efficient now.
This time, though, it seems to have sunk in even for David that Saul is not going to stick to any of his many resolutions to the contrary and is for sure eventually going to murder him. So David takes his crew and leaves Israel altogether; he goes to hide out in the land of the Philistines with a guy named Achish in the city of Gath, and Achish gives David his own country town, Ziklag, which we are told is a sort of summer home for the kings of Judah to this day. It’s their Balmoral. David stays there for a year and four months, and from there, he continues warring against some neighboring territories, leaving no mere child alive and all that. But he tells his man Achish that he’s been warring and murdering Israelites and that he’s fully a Philistine now.
Before long, there is another big war between the Philistines and the Israelites, and Achish is excited to have David on his side. David says he’s excited about this, too. They go into battle against Saul and his forces, and Saul is afraid of the hordes and calls out to the LORD and the LORD doesn’t answer. So Saul asks his servants to find him a…basically I think he asks them to find him a witch, who can tell the future. So they do and Saul dresses up in a disguise to consult with her (this is hilarious). And the witch says, hey, you know how that Saul asshole has hunted down all the witches and warlocks and spooky people and put them all to death? I can’t really help you, because maybe you’ll turn me in. And Saul promises that he absolutely will not, that he hates that Saul guy and loves witches, so she should go ahead and call up Samuel for him. She does, and as soon as she sees Samuel’s ghost, she realizes that she is talking to Saul in disguise and she flips out. But Saul reassures her and she talks to Samuel for him.
Samuel, predictably, reads him the fucking riot act. He tells him for about the thousandth time that the LORD has intentionally fired him and hired David to take over, that this was not a mistake or an oversight, but the LORD really meant it, and that Saul needs to goddamn accept it already, and how very dare he call up Samuel from the dead just to get into all this shit with him AGAIN. He says that furthermore, the LORD is going to deliver Israel to the Philistines tomorrow. Saul passes out from the rebuke to his astounding entitlement, and the witch coddles and babies him, and feeds him a fatted calf, because #patriarchy I guess.
Back to the war: the other Philistines are distressed at the presence of David and his army. Achish vouches for him and is like, no, he’s really on our side now, I swear, but the Philistines are apparently the only intelligent people in the Book of Samuel, and they say absolutely 100% not, get that champion of Israel out of here. So David and his army leave the battlefield and go back to Balmoral, but on the way, they wander into another war: the city of Ziklag is being razed by the Amalekites, and the Amalekites also attack David and his crew and carry off their women and children, including David’s wives.
“And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him.” Apparently he wasn’t that pressed about his wives.
David dons the ole ephod and asks the LORD for advice, and the LORD tells him to go after the Amalekites and he’ll be victorious. So he goes after them, and 200 of his men are too tired to join so they wait by a brook. David comes across the Amalekites dancing in victory and he easily kills all of them and takes back all the captives and also all attains all the spoils of war. Then, David’s men try to say that the 200 men who sat the battle out shouldn’t share in the spoils. But David is having none of this: he says that everyone gets a share, whether they go to battle or not; that this is what decent people do for each other. He makes a statute of this, which we’re told is an ordinance for Israel to this day. This seems super woke for this crew! I’m pleasantly surprised.
They all go home to Ziklag and even though David is palling around with followers of Belial now, he still sends portions of the spoil to the elders of Judah and all his old friends.
Meanwhile, the Philistines are winning the battle against the Israelites, and they’ve chased Saul down and wounded him with arrows. Saul knows his time is nigh, so he asks his armor bearer to kill him, and when the boy refuses, Saul falls on his own sword. After which, his armor bearer also falls on his own sword. All Saul’s sons are likewise slain, including poor Jonathan. The Israelites near and far flee their cities, and the Philistines occupy them. And then the Philistines do some gross stuff with Saul’s body and head, which it’s hard to feel too bothered by given how well we’ve gotten to know Saul as a person, and with that, we close out I Samuel. It’s quite the cliff-hanger to end on, and yet, I could not be less interested in what comes next.