My sister thought I was in a cult, and I’m not sure she was wrong

Why did she think that? I’m not sure. I know it had something to do with the Word of Faith movement. At the time, I had a great uncle who had Alzheimer’s. Everybody was saying there was no cure, which medically was true. If you’re in the Word of Faith, you don’t accept no cure. Your answer is, “Oh yes, there is. Faith in Jesus Christ.”

One of my word of faith teachers preached on using fasting to increase the power of your prayer. The text came from Isaiah 58. By the way, spoiler alert. That’s not what Isaiah 58 says when you read it in context. This teacher that I thought was just so brilliant and so anointed and just spoke the uncompromised Word of God, yeah, he took it out of context, like just about every other Bible verse he preached. But I didn’t know that at the time.

And I was thinking I was the only one who believed in the power of faith to heal. Everyone else believed, “Yeah God can heal, but you don’t know if it is God’s will.” And I’d be like, “Well, Isaiah 53:5 says, But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isa 53:5 KJV)

1 Peter 2:24 says, Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (KJV)

Note: I’m using the King James Version because when I was in the Word of Faith movement, it was the preferred translation. It is not necessarily the most accurate. More on that in future posts.

They taught and still teach if you belong to Christ, the Bible says Jesus’ death didn’t just bring you forgiveness of sins. It’s not just about the sweet by and by. It’s about the rotten stinking here and now. You can have peace of mind and healing for your body along with forgiveness for your sins. Why settle for one when you can have all three?

If it says it in the Bible, then it is God’s will. If you can find a verse in the Bible that says you have it, it’s yours. If you find a promise in the Bible, you can claim it. And if you do that in faith, and believe and do not doubt, and don’t believe the lies of the Devil that you are sick when the Bible says you’re well, God will have no choice but to give you what to ask. That is what I learned from the Word of Faith on how to get your prayers answered yes.

With all the focus on health and wealth, it can sound selfish. This wasn’t selfish. My great uncle had Alzheimer’s, and it was ravaging his brain. He needed to be healed. I had one side telling me we don’t know if it’s God’s will to heal your uncle. I had another side telling me it is always God’s will to heal, because the Bible says so.

People’s Temple cult leader, Jim Jones, in sunglasses and priest’s collar.
Not “Word of Faith, “ but definitely a cult leader. Rev. Jim Jones at an anti-eviction rally Sunday, January 16, 1977 in front of the International Hotel, Kearny and Jackson Streets, San Francisco Photo by Nancy Wong

It sounds like a no-brainer, but I didn’t know anyone else who believed this. There weren’t any full gospel churches (as “true believers” called it). But inevitably, there will come a time when you pray for yourself and someone, and they don’t get healed. How can that be if God promised it? It’s because either you didn’t know about the promise of God, or you didn’t believe that God would heal you or whoever you prayed for. Those are pretty much the only reasons. It’s never because it wasn’t God’s will, because it is always God’s will to heal.

If it is to be, is it up to me?

I was the only one in my immediate family who believed this way. Therefore, I was the only one who could exercise faith to get my uncle healed. If it was going to happen it had to be through me, through my faith and my belief. And I needed all the help I could get. My favorite televangelist preached on this passage on Isaiah 58.

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? (Isa 58:6 KJV)

So fasting will supposedly release you from bands of Satan and break every yoke the Devil has put on you.

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. (Isa 58:8 KJV)

There it is, thine health shall spring forth speedily, because you fasted. And Daniel once fasted for 21 days, the angel arrived and gave him the answer he wanted (Dan 10:1–11:39). And then he would tell stories about himself or other big names in the Word of Faith when they fasted because they weren’t getting their prayers answered, or some stubborn demon wouldn’t leave, and they would be saved, delivered, and healed because they were super-charged with the power of the Holy Ghost. So I thought that was what I needed to do.

One weekend, I came home from college. My sister and I were there. My parents had gone away, and we were supposed to call Domino’s or Pizza Hut to get a pizza or something for dinner. But I can’t eat. I’m fasting so I could focus my prayers for uncle Raymond. So I told my sister that I wouldn’t be eating anything for dinner, so she could get whatever she wanted. She kind of freaked out. In fact, anytime I fasted, none of them took it well. I’m like, “What? Like this hasn’t been a common religious practice, not only in Christianity but Judaism and Islam and Buddhism for thousands of years?”

I thought she was overreacting. But like I said, I was deep into this Word of Faith doctrine. And if I remember correctly, she had just recently seen a movie about people who got sucked into a cult. That’s how it always works with a cult, you know, you kind of get sucked into it. They seem to have all the answers you seek. They may not be correct, but they’re easy to understand, and they’re easy to believe, and they appear to make sense out of your life. When I listened to this one teacher, I felt like he was pulling back the veil and revealing the glories and mysteries of the heavenly realms.

The other shoe always drops

And so, you think you are getting the truth from them, and you can’t get it from anyone else. Or maybe, like me, you thought they could teach you how to have supernatural gifts and manifestations of God, just like you read about in the Bible. You end up doing things you wouldn’t normally do in the name of your faith.

She had watched me for years with my, shall we say, eccentric ideas about God and religion and faith. So I’m guessing it wasn’t just what I said about fasting and praying for our uncle to be healed that she was reacting to. I think she had been worried about this for a while, and this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.

So she called the pastor of the Presbyterian Church the rest of the family attended. My Word of Faith teachers called churches like this “one of those dead churches, stuck with their dead religion that care more about their dead traditions than they do about the Bible. And that’s why they don’t get their prayers answered, and then they say it’s the will of God. It wasn’t the will of God. They don’t believe the Bible.” Yeah, that was their standard answer basically to everything that was wrong with denominational churches. So, if I wanted help getting my prayers answered, I knew I couldn’t get any help from that pastor.

Gothic church with many spires and statues on top of each
Anyone want that “old time religion”? Photo by Alessandro Cavestro on Unsplash

Poor guy. He just had no chance with me at the time. I mean, they were promising me miracles and supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit with power. And that church was telling me I could pray, but it was really up to God.

But she called him and said, “I think my brother is in a cult.” She even wanted to have me kidnapped and deprogrammed. I guess she had seen that in the movie. She had told me this years ago, but she never told me what he said to her. I just knew that somehow he had talked her out of the whole kidnapping and deprogramming idea.

But I found out what he said, and I wish I had known back then, because I would have respected him a lot more. She and her husband came to visit. Down here — this was so cool — It was in February of 2020, and in our little town, the oldest venue there is the Opera House. And we were hosting Jeremy’s 10, a Pearl Jam tribute band. So I called my brother-in-law (or maybe texted him) and I was like, “You want to see a Pearl Jam tribute band?”

And he was like, “Do they really sound like them?”

“I think so.” I sent him some links from their website.

Wisdom in action

So they came down for the weekend. He and I went to see them, and my wife and sister had their fun just hanging out and talking about whatever sisters-in-law talk about when they get together. They watched a couple of episodes of Cold Case. I didn’t watch that when it first came out, but my wife and I ended up watching the whole thing on Roku.

Anyway, during that weekend she brought up that incident, and I finally found out what he had said to her. He asked her what was happening that made her think I was in a cult. After she explained it, he said, “It doesn’t sound like he’s a danger to himself or to you. If that changes, call me.”

I did a video and post earlier on what I think makes a good pastor. It’s not comprehensive. It was just a few thoughts off the top of my head, because where I am now the pastor is getting ready to retire, and he’s been really good. One of the things I am learning more and more is how important wisdom is for any kind of leadership, and how rare it is. So it is really important for a pastor to have wisdom, because you’re going to be getting calls like what my sister did that night. And you’re going to have to help them navigate not just theological territory that is confusing for them. You’re going to have to help them navigate emotional and family situations that come up and are scary. And his answer was perfect wisdom. He didn’t dismiss her concerns, and he had the wisdom to recognize the most important question is not, “Is he in a cult?” but “Is he a danger to himself or others?” Because even if she was right, I don’t think anyone could have convinced me I was in a cult. In my mind, I was in the Truth (with a capital T).

My family in general did not know how to handle this. That’s because no one knew about it back then. There was nothing to prepare them or guide them in dealing with a son or brother who swallowed this strange new theology hook, line, and sinker. Word of Faith back then was new to a lot of people, and I think because I had these strange ideas that were coming from someone who claimed to speak the Word of God, which of course meant you couldn’t question it in any way, it looked like a cult.

What is “the Word of God”?

And speaking the word of God did not just mean quoting scripture. Sometimes, they would even start speaking words from God directly, punctuating them with “says the LORD,” or “says your God,” so you know it’s not the preacher speaking now. It’s God. That was so exciting. I wanted to be able to access God directly like that. How can your Presbyterian church compete with that?

These days, you hear people talking all the time about the Prosperity Gospel. Well, Word of Faith was Prosperity Gospel before Prosperity Gospel. Our pastor did try to address it in one sermon. But even he didn’t understand why it had a hold on me and why it can have a hold on anyone, especially if you have a heart that wants to please God. And I doubt any of his classes in seminary taught him how to counter this false gospel.

He said at one point, “Nowhere in the Bible does God promise health and wealth and success if you have faith,” or something along those lines. Well, if it were that simple to refute, I would have left it a long time ago. But when people said something like that, I would think, “What do you mean nowhere in the Bible does it say that?” And I could roll off a whole bunch of scriptures that said just that, like, Isaiah 53:5 “By his stripes we are healed.” There’s the promise of healing. First Peter 2:24 promises forgiveness of sins and healing of the body. Protection from harm? Psalm 91. Healing for your loved one? Psalm 107: 20. He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions (KJV). When I pray for my uncle, God is sending his word to heal him and deliver him from destruction.

Prosperity? 3 John verse 2. Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth. (KJV). Okay, so there’s prosperity and health right there.

Abraham was rich because God blessed him (Gen 13:1–2). And Galatians 3:13–14 says,

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Gal 3:14 KJV)

Jesus died on the cross, so that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles. Well, that means if Abraham was rich, I have a right to be rich. I am entitled to any blessing God gave Abraham, because I belong to Christ. If it says it in the Bible, you have a right to it.

And people would say, you know, “God answers prayers, but sometimes the answer is no.” The Word of Faith said, if it’s promised in the Bible, don’t take no for an answer. God is looking for people who will challenge dead traditions, who will not take no for an answer, who will believe the Bible, who will take God at His word and believe it above all circumstances, above their symptoms, above what the doctor says, above how they feel, above their bank account, above everything, seen and unseen, that contradicts it. David believed in God more than he believed in the size of the giant, and God gave him victory because of it. That’s the kind of faith you need to have if you want to get your prayers answered. And if you don’t have that kind of faith, don’t expect any answer except No. If you’re happy with God saying No, believe that old time traditional church teaching. If you want to know how to get God to answer yes, listen to us.

Eventually, I found a “full gospel” church (that’s what Word of Faith folks liked to call themselves) that preached this message. The pastor one time was like, “‘Well, brother, we hope and pray…’ God already said in his word, knuckle head! I didn’t mean that! I didn’t mean that! I apologize! I was talking to myself.”

So we had a good laugh out of it, but that was basically the attitude we were taught to have. When you pray for something that is already promised in the Bible, you don’t hope and pray. You don’t pray, “If it be thy will.” If it wasn’t God’s will, God wouldn’t have put it in the Bible.

Of course, now I know that all came from quoting the Bible out of context. In order to maintain that belief, you have to ignore verses like,

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: (1Jo 5:14 KJV)

See, there’s the rub. If was ask anything according to his will, he hears us. There were situations where even Jesus did not heal every sick person he saw. There is no guarantee that if you pray for healing, it is according to God’s will. Or this?

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. (Jam 4:13–15 KJV)

They say praying If the Lord will shows a lack of faith. Yet that is exactly what James says to do, and it is in keeping with the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament. And all their prosperity talk does not explain this verse.

Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? (Jam 2:5 KJV)

What does that say about all those claims that if you are rich and making a lot of money, it’s because God is blessing you?

I think I will say this a thousand times if the Lord lets me live that long. The Bible is only the word of God when it is rightly read, rightly interpreted, and rightly applied. And rightly doing all that begins with three things: Context, context, and context. But I didn’t know that then.

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck

So I don’t know how much of the specifics my sister knew, but she knew I followed some televangelists who did not pass the smell test. And she had seen enough I guess that when I talked about fasting so that I can pray for our uncle like it was under my control — that I could make it happen because of my faith, regardless of whether it was God’s will or not — then she couldn’t help thinking I needed serious help. She was right about that. I’m still not sure if it was a cult, but I needed help. The problem was I don’t think anyone knew — me least of all — what kind of help I needed.

Word of Faith, or Prosperity Gospel, I don’t believe is a cult, because there isn’t one authoritative figure that everyone follows. I was never part of an isolated community like the Jim Jones cult. Their theology is strange and a different gospel, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are a cult. However, it is possible that they have adopted standard cult methods of mind control to manipulate true believers, like I once was, to do their bidding. Looking back, especially at that one teacher and self-proclaimed prophet I followed more than any other, I think I was manipulated. So that’s why I say I’m not sure my sister was wrong.

In case you haven’t guessed, my uncle was never healed of his Alzheimer’s. But I carried that burden of trying to “believe for his healing” for years. Thank God by the time he died, at least I had finally learned that it wasn’t because I lacked faith.

The reason I’m talking about these experiences is it’s the only chance I have to help others recognize bad religion. Whether I was in a cult or not, I have seen many ways religion can hurt people. If anything about my experience sounds familiar to you, maybe you should reconsider whether you are on the right path. If you want to know more, or you know you need help but don’t know where to turn, the International Cult Studies Association’s website is a good place to start. ICSA — Founded 1979 (icsahome.com)

In my next post, I will go through a “cult checklist” to see just how cult-like my experience was.

WRITTEN BYDavid Anderson

David Anderson is a multi-passionate author of fiction and nonfiction. His latest book is Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain.

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Dec 25, 2020

Who Were the Magi?

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,

(Mat 2:1 NRSV)

The Greek word for “wise men” is magoi, the plural of magus. It may read “magi”, “kings”, or “wise men,” depending on your translation. The word is usually more closely associated with magic than royalty or wisdom, so magi seems the most accurate. Gingrich’s Lexicon says it can mean “wise men” or “astrologers.” Friberg’s Lexicon says it refers to the high priestly caste of Persia. Thayer’s Lexicon says it was a name the Babylonians, Medes, and Persians used to refer to “wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, augurs, soothsayers, sorcerers etc.” …

Super Bowl 54, Kansas City Chiefs victory celebration, Patrick Mahomes holding up the Lombardi trophy surrounded by teammates.

The 49ers “Won” Super Bowl LIV

Would you like to take a little stroll down Memory Lane to a time before the Covid lockdowns? I thought so. Super Bowl LIV was exciting because the Chiefs struggled for three and a half quarters. The odds against them were staggering, but they did not give up. And in the last seven-and-a-half minutes, we finally got to see Patrick Mahomes going all Patrick Mahomes. They went on a tear and won 31-20. That kind of never-give-up attitude was admirable, and they could not have won without it. In football, as in politics, it is admirable to never give up while there is still time on the clock. But when the game is over, it’s over.

Feb 2, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

What if the 49ers were clamoring for two and a half months after the game that they really won, and the only reason they lost was that the Chiefs cheated, the game was rigged, and the referees were biased against them, because the whole NFL was a secret child trafficking cabal of Satanic pedophile cannibals that their coach and only their coach threatened to expose. I don’t think anyone believes the NFL owners and commissioner are saints. But if you make an accusation that they are Satan worshipping child traffickers, pedophiles, and cannibals, you’d better have proof. And I mean a lot of proof, way beyond a reasonable doubt. Repeating an accusation 100 times or even 1,000 times doesn’t make it true. Any courtroom would say that’s hearsay, not evidence. Show us the evidence.

“Here is the evidence. The game was almost over. Seven and a half minutes left in the game, and we were ahead by a lot. The oddsmakers in Las Vegas calculated the Chiefs had a one in one thousand chance of winning at that point. And then, all of a sudden, the Chiefs score twenty-one points in the last seven-and-a-half minutes? When they had only scored ten points before that? And look at that, a helmet-to-helmet hit on our quarterback, and the referees did not call it. There is no way the NFL did not rig that game.”

You would say that is ridiculous. The game is over. They lost. They need to accept it and move on, and I don’t know, maybe work harder to get to the next Super Bowl and win that one?

But instead, when the NFL commissioner refuses to change the final score—because one, he does not have the authority to change the outcome of any game, and two, he doesn’t have the power of time travel to give the 49ers the chance to play those last seven-and-a-half minutes differently—instead of accepting the loss, he calls the commissioner and says, “We won by hundreds. I’m only looking for 12 more points. That’s all I need. You know, 49ers’ fans all over the country are angry. They’re saying they were cheated out of their victory, and they’re not gonna stand for it. Just 12 more points. That’s all I’m asking. Or even 11 points. Then we can have another game, or just play overtime, and let our season ticket holders choose the referees. Or even better, let our season ticket holders be the referees. That way we know the game is not rigged. I think that’s more than fair, considering we won by hundreds.”

The commissioner again refuses, because again, he can’t do that. The game is over. Even if you do find a couple of penalties that should have been called, you still can’t change the outcome of the game. But instead of accepting the rules that every team in the NFL has agreed to accept ever since the players wore leather helmets, a bunch of 49ers’ fans, who have been told for two and a half months that the game was stolen from them, storm the NFL headquarters, take all the owners hostage, and tell the commissioner at gunpoint that he’d better declare them the winner, take the Lombardi trophy away from the Chiefs and give it to them, or he’s dead.

The game is over. Do you get that? It’s over. I’m not saying the result is good or bad. I’m saying that’s the way it is.

“The Election Was Stolen!”

Maybe you keep thinking God has to overturn the election because your vote was stolen. No, your vote was counted along with 155 million other votes. You voted for the candidate who got fewer votes. He lost. That’s how democracy works. Even if it was stolen, you can’t change the results at this point any more than the 49ers can change the results of the Super Bowl.

That is why I always accepted the results of our elections, no matter how upset I was that my candidate did not win. I’m not saying I didn’t complain. But I didn’t try to overthrow the government either. In the end, when the candidate was sworn in, I accepted that he was the President each and every time.

Why did you accept a president that you voted against?

Because I understood no one is guaranteed they will get the candidate they voted for. You can try again in four years. That system has worked since 1789. No, it’s not perfect, but more than anything it is what makes this nation great. You accepted the win in 2016. Now you have to accept the loss.

Look, we’ve all got an extended case of cabin fever. The stress and anxiety of living in a Covid world are getting to us all. We’ve been watching a lot more social media where conspiracy theorists and false prophets run amok. They said God promised to give Trump the victory. Trump was God’s candidate, and Biden was Satan’s candidate, and there is no way God is going to allow Satan into the White House. Hollywood, the liberal elite, the Democrats, and antifa are all in some deep state underground sex trafficking ring run by the Devil, to whom they have all sold their souls. If I believed that, I’d think it was the end of the world too.

Gif: Saturday Night Live, Church Lady, http://satan.com

The Promises of God Are Sure. But …

There have been many times over the years that I felt God betrayed me, because God would make promises that did not come true. Of course, it was my fault they did not come true, because I didn’t pray enough, or I didn’t have enough faith, or some other reason that sounded biblical. It only works if you believe in it, so doubt was the enemy. I would censor any reports, any facts, that did not agree with “the promise of God,” or “the word of God.” I had a lot to learn about what those phrases really meant. But for a long time, false prophets spoke promises to me that did not come true, and I always assumed I must have messed it up some how. I assumed because they told me the word of God can never fail, so I must have failed. God wanted to bless me with health, wealth, and success, but because I had a mustard seed of doubt, I stopped God from doing what God wanted to do. At one point, I got so frustrated, I prayed, “God, stop making promises I can’t keep.”

So I understand why you refuse to believe the vote counts are real. Once God has spoken, you can’t allow for any doubt. If facts cause doubt, you must squash them. But what is the word of God, what the prophets on YouTube said or what the Bible says? It’s both? Okay, but the Bible says you will know false prophets when what they say does not come true.

It took a long time before I realized if God makes a promise, it will come true. You can’t stop it. I can’t stop it. The deep state can’t stop it. Antifa can’t stop it. The Democratic party can’t stop it. The electoral college can’t stop it. Congress can’t stop it. And even the agents of Satan on earth can’t stop it. No amount of doubt can stop it. So if it did not come true, God did not promise it. Or as Deuteronomy 18:22 says, that is a word that the LORD did not speak.

If the Facts and the Prophets Do Not Agree, What Should We Believe?

If the facts do not agree with what the prophet said, that is a word the LORD did not speak. The prophet spoke presumptuously. They presumed to think their own imagination or wishful thinking came directly from God. And I made that same mistake many times. When the facts do not agree with what the prophet said, believe the facts, not the false prophets.

Remember Micaiah said exactly that. If what he said did not come true, the LORD did not speak through him. But what he said did come true. He told the people of Israel that is how you will recognize a false prophet. Just look at the facts. If what they said did not come true, that is a word the LORD did not speak. They said Trump would win, but who got more electoral votes? The official count was 306 to 232. The one who got 306 won. Who is that? Not Trump. It was Joe Biden. This is 2021, not 2017. What the prophets said did not come true. Therefore, it is a word the LORD did not speak.

See, that’s the problem with believing “the Word of God” over the facts. The false prophets say, “Don’t believe the facts. Believe me because I speak for God.” The Word of God says the facts will tell you if the prophet is false. Therefore, God says they do not speak for God. And if their prophecies about the election did not come true, I guarantee it was not the first time. In a previous post, I tell you about 62 prophets who prophesied what God would do in 2020, and none of them got it right. Do they speak for God? No. So stop believing them, and start believing the facts. Joe Biden is the president-elect. You don’t have to like it, but those are the facts. As long as we have our democracy and constitution, you will get another chance in four years.

I’m Not Prophesying, But …

Joe Biden will be inaugurated on January 20. God didn’t tell me that. The constitution did. If somehow that doesn’t happen, I will take back everything I said in this post. But if it does, will you finally accept the results of our democratic election? And will you stop listening to the king’s prophets who over and over again have proven themselves false? Trust me, there is a lot better content on social media if you look for it. I’d like to leave you with a message from Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a video where I share my “Confessions of an Ex-Prophet.”

Meme: Jack Nicholson, courtroom scene from A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth!"

400 Prophets Can’t Be Wrong! Or Can They? Part 2

In the last post, we began a story about Ahab, King of Israel, in 1 Kings 22. At some point, the Arameans had taken a city called Ramoth-gilead from Israel, but the two kings reached a truce. They were at peace for three years, but Ahab wanted to take that city back. Of course, if the king of Aram defeated him before, it would not be easy, so he enlisted the help of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. As kings would normally do before going into battle, they inquired for a word of Yahweh. Ahab brought in 400 prophets of Yahweh, and every one of them said, “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king” (1 Ki 22:12).

But Jehoshaphat did not trust those prophets, because they seemed more concerned with saying what the king wanted to hear rather than speaking the word of the LORD. He asked for another prophet of the LORD. There was only one the king could call, Micaiah son of Imlah. Ahab summoned him, though he really did not want to, because he never spoke favorably of him but only disaster. But Jehoshaphat insisted. Micaiah has been coy with Ahab up to this point, but Ahab commanded him to drop the sarcasm and tell him the truth. We pick up there, verses 19-23.

Then Micaiah said, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, with all the host of heaven standing beside him to the right and to the left of him. And the LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, so that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’

Then one said one thing, and another said another, until a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, ‘I will entice him.’

‘How?’ the LORD asked him.

He replied, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’

Then the LORD said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do it.’

So you see, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has decreed disaster for you.”

(1Ki 22:19-23 NRSV)

Micaiah received the word from Yahweh and told him. So of course, Ahab was grateful. He said, “Boy, Micaiah, I’m sure glad we asked you. Thanks for warning me. I almost started a fight that would have killed me. I wanted to get that city back, but I know better than to go into a battle where the LORD is against me. Why is the LORD so bound and determined to destroy me? Maybe it’s because I haven’t been living up to God’s standard of justice and righteousness. What I did to Naboth proves that. In fact, I wonder if he was the one who volunteered to put a lying spirit in my prophets. He is there before the throne of the LORD still seeking justice for what I did to him. Oh, Naboth, please forgive me. LORD, I repent, and I promise from now on to uphold the rights of the poor, the widow, the orphan, the alien, and to honor our laws that protect family farms and release people from slavery every sabbatical year.

“Micaiah, I’m sorry I treated you the way I did. From now on, you will be my chief advisor, because I need a prophet who will speak the truth to me.

“And as for all of you, you lied to me. You succumbed to a lying spirit, and this is not the first time. You have never spoken the truth to me. You do not even know how to speak the truth because of the lying spirit the LORD has put on you. Micaiah son of Imlah is the only one who hears the word of the LORD and the only one who speaks the truth. What do I need 400 false prophets for when I have Micaiah son of Imlah? Can anyone find such a one as this, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? I want all of you gone from my palace by sundown, and I order all your schools of prophecy to be closed. Your license to prophesy in my kingdom is revoked. Micaiah and only Micaiah will speak the word of the LORD to me.”

By the way, in case you were wondering, that was sarcasm. Here’s what really happened. Verses 24-25.

Then Zedekiah son of Chenaanah came up to Micaiah, slapped him on the cheek, and said, “Which way did the spirit of the LORD pass from me to speak to you?”

Micaiah replied, “You will find out on that day when you go in to hide in an inner chamber.”

(1Ki 22:24-25 NRSV)

Zedekiah was the only one of the 400 court prophets mentioned by name, because he stood out by taking iron horns and charging like a bull and saying, “Thus says the LORD: With these you shall gore the Arameans until they are destroyed” (1Ki 22:11 NRS). He knows this doesn’t make him look good. So he slapped Micaiah on the cheek, and he’s like, “I don’t have a lying spirit. You have a lying spirit!” So here’s a classic he said-he said between two competing prophets.

“He’s a false prophet.”

“No, he’s a false prophet.”

How do we know who’s telling the truth? One says (along with 399 others) the king will be victorious in battle. The other says the king will meet with disaster if he goes into battle. In King Ahab’s mind, the prophet(s) who speaks favorably of him is always right. So who do you think he believes? Verses 26-27.

The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah, and return him to Amon the governor of the city and to Joash the king’s son, and say, ‘Thus says the king: Put this fellow in prison, and feed him on reduced rations of bread and water until I come in peace.’”

(1Ki 22:26-27 NRSV)

Ahab throws him in prison for daring to speak against him. And just for spite, he orders reduced rations of bread and water, just enough to keep him alive until he comes in peace. Micaiah’s answer to this is my favorite line in the story.

Micaiah Sums It Up

Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, you peoples, all of you!”

(1Ki 22:28 NRSV)

Micaiah knows the rules. He prophesied something in the name of Yahweh. If it does not come true, that is a word that Yahweh did NOT speak. According to the law of Moses, that means he should be put to death (Deu 18:20-22). Some of the most powerful statements are not in what someone says but in what they leave unsaid. If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me. That’s what he said. But what is left unsaid there? “If the LORD has spoken by me, you will not return in peace.” More like, “You will return in pieces.”

The last thing he says as he’s being taken away is, Hear, you peoples, all of you! Remember, this is not happening within the walls of a palace. This is happening out in the open at the city gate. A spectacle like this was sure to attract a crowd. He’s telling the people to remember what the prophets of the king said versus what he said and watch to see which one comes true. That is how they will know who the true prophet of the LORD is.

Now, remember, Ahab does not have to do this. He can take Micaiah’s counsel and not go to battle. But he is bound and determined to get this city back and prove Micaiah is “fake news.” The problem with kings and others who have a lot of power and are used to getting what they want is when they can’t get what they want, they often do not take it well. Continuing with Verse 29.

So the king of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah went up to Ramoth-gilead.

(1Ki 22:29 NRSV)

Wow, Jehoshaphat went with Ahab after what the prophet of Yahweh, that he asked for, said? Oh yeah. He must have been thinking, “He said it would be a disaster for you, not me. If you still want to do this, it’s your funeral.” Literally.

“I Will Disguise Myself and Go into Battle”

The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “I will disguise myself and go into battle, but you wear your robes.” So the king of Israel disguised himself and went into battle.

(1Ki 22:30 NRSV)

So he called Micaiah fake news, but now he’s not so sure? I guess I can’t blame him for wanting to hedge his bet. But does he really think he can disguise himself from Yahweh? It’s worth a try, I guess.

Now the king of Aram had commanded the thirty-two captains of his chariots, “Fight with no one small or great, but only with the king of Israel.”

(1Ki 22:31 NRSV)

The king of Aram must really be pissed. “I made a truce with that fool, and now he wants to break it? He thinks he can beat me because he’s got a friend with him? We’ll see about that.” Chariots were one of the most powerful weapons in the ancient world. The king of Aram could do some damage to the flanks of Israel with them. He could maybe send half against the armies and half against Ahab, but no. He wants all of his chariots to hunt down one man, the king of Israel. You’ve really gotta hate someone to do that.

Imagine you’re going into battle. You are one of thirty-two Apache helicopter pilots. And your general says, “Forget about everyone else. Forget their tanks, infantry, planes, helicopters, and artillery. I want every one of you to target their general. Seek and destroy him.”

Now Verse 32.

I’m Not the King of Israel!

When the captains of the chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, “It is surely the king of Israel.” So they turned to fight against him; and Jehoshaphat cried out.

(1Ki 22:32 NRSV)

Ahab told Jehoshaphat to wear his own robes (v. 30), but he still looked like the king of Israel. I guess Ahab and Jehoshaphat’s robes looked similar, because they saw him and thought, “That’s our guy! Get him!”

Jehoshaphat cried out. What did he cry out, I wonder? Did he say, “It’s not me! It’s him!” Did he know the orders the king of Aram gave them?

I guess they look similar.

"Coin" image, black and white, inscribed R(ex) Israel Achab
Rex Achab Israel (Ahab, King of Israel). Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Coin-like image, black and white, incribed Iosaphat Rex Iud(ea)
Jehoshaphat, King of Judah. By Guillaume Rouille – Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85736029

When the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel, they turned back from pursuing him.

(1Ki 22:33 NRSV)

So the king of Aram was serious. He does not want them going after anyone but the king of Israel. Even the king of Judah gets a pass from them. Fortunately, for Jehoshaphat, they knew the king of Israel well enough to see this was not him. Verse 34.

But a certain man drew his bow and unknowingly struck the king of Israel between the scale armor and the breastplate; so he said to the driver of his chariot, “Turn around, and carry me out of the battle, for I am wounded.”

(1Ki 22:34 NRSV)

A certain man? They don’t even tell us which side he was on. For all we know, he could have been an Israelite soldier. They make it sound like it was an accident, like the confederate soldier who shot Stonewall Jackson. Maybe he was fooled by the king’s disguise. Wouldn’t that be ironic? In trying to fool God, he outsmarted himself. It could have been one of the Aramean soldiers, but then it wouldn’t have been an accident, would it?

Verses 35-37.

Ahab, King of Israel, Dies

The battle grew hot that day, and the king was propped up in his chariot facing the Arameans, until at evening he died; the blood from the wound had flowed into the bottom of the chariot. Then about sunset a shout went through the army, “Every man to his city, and every man to his country!”

So the king died, and was brought to Samaria; they buried the king in Samaria.

(1Ki 22:35-37 NRSV)

The driver of the chariot must have been getting more and more worried as the floor of the chariot got ankle deep in blood. Kings often rode chariots with a driver, so they could shoot arrows. They often got very accurate, hitting targets at full speed while making it difficult for the enemy to shoot them. Ahab must have survived many battles that way.

Kurkh stela of Shalmaneser III that reports battle of Karkar, 853 BC.
Kurkh stela of Shalmaneser III that reports battle of Karkar, 853 BC, names King Ahab

In the ancient world, you couldn’t continue a battle after sundown, so they declared an end for that day. The king died. So who was the true prophet, Micaiah or the 400?

The epitaph of king Ahab in the Bible would not be kind. If you can say anything good about him, it was that he was courageous in battle. The Spartans would say he went down on his shield. The next verse describes what happened after he was brought home. It’s pretty graphic, so for sensitive listeners, I won’t read that.

But it did say that it happened according to the word of the LORD that [Elijah] had spoken. (1Ki 22:38 NRSV). This refers to an incident from the previous chapter. Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, had a man named Naboth murdered, so they could take his vineyard from him and his family. Again, this is exactly what Samuel warned the people kings would do to them. Here is what Elijah told him was the judgment from the LORD.

You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: Have you killed, and also taken possession?” You shall say to him, “Thus says the LORD: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.” (1Ki 21:19 NRSV)

In the minds of the Israelites, this was poetic justice. Just as he did to Naboth, it was done to him. I don’t want to encourage vengefulness, but for the ancient Israelites, this was like the Wicked Witch of the West melting.

Gif: Wicked Witch of the West, "I'm melting!"
“A certain girl” threw water on her.

(sing) “Ding, Dong, the witch is dead. Da da, da daa. Da da, da daa.”

An ignominious end to a controversial ruler (1Ki 22:38-40). Jehoshaphat, not surprisingly, gets a much more favorable assessment of his rule (1 Ki 22:41-46).

How Do We Know the Prophet Is False?

Some of you may ask, how was Ahab supposed to know who to believe? Many prophets spoke in the name of Yahweh, but only one got it right. The only way to know for sure was to go into battle. I used to think that with all the competing prophets and schools of prophets back then, how was anyone supposed to know which one to believe? If he was victorious, the 400 were right. If he died, Micaiah was right. So the only way Ahab could know was to die.

But now, I am convinced this was not the first time Ahab’s court prophets got it wrong. He saw them prophesy things that did not come true, but he continued to believe them anyway. Why? Because they only spoke what was favorable to him. They learned quickly he could not handle any truth that was not what he wanted to hear.

Meme: Jack Nicholson, courtroom scene from A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth!"

Now let’s imagine we are there at the city gate, watching all the prophets competing to be heard not just to say that the king will win, but how big a landslide victory it will be. “You will defeat them, for God is with you.” “You will annihilate them, for God is with you.” “With these horns, you will gore your enemies until they are no more, for God is with you.”

And then Micaiah son of Imlah comes along and says in effect, “God has decreed disaster for you if you go.” Who should we believe? Without the benefit of hindsight, how can we know? Micaiah actually gave the answer to that. If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me. Ahab might not know which one is correct before he goes into battle. But we are not going into battle. All we have to do is wait and see. At sundown, does the king return in peace or not?

The driver of the chariot brings him back and shows his body to everyone. Can you tell the difference between a live and a dead body? That’s all you have to do to know who spoke the word of the LORD. You don’t need to be a prophet yourself. You don’t need any gift of discerning of spirits. You don’t need a vision from angels. You don’t need to go off into the wilderness and fast for forty days until you are so near death you can hear God. And you don’t need any propaganda from false prophets and Ahab’s supporters saying he really won when he lost. Just answer that one question. Is Ahab alive or dead? He is dead. There’s your answer. Every prophet who promised victory for the king is false. You don’t need supernatural or spiritual vision. You just need to see the facts. The two eyes and the brain God gave you will do just fine.

“But the prophets had to be right. They speak the word of the LORD.” That’s probably what Ahab thought. “My prophets have to be right!”

Remember, Micaiah reminded us of the rules. If the king returns in peace, the LORD did not speak through him. The other 400 prophets could then claim the LORD spoke through them, and no one could prove them wrong. Did the king return in peace? No. The king did not have the victory the false prophets promised. Micaiah knew the rules, and he was the only prophet willing to play by them. Because even though Micaiah knew he could die if he was wrong, I guarantee not one of the king’s prophets was put to death for speaking falsely in the name of the LORD.

If a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; 

(Deu 18:22 NRSV)

So you’ve seen the king’s dead body. He’s dead. The chariot driver is washing the blood out of the bottom of the chariot. But a mob pushes the driver of the chariot away, props the king up and says, “Look! The king is alive! He returned in peace! Victory is ours!”

Then the corpse slips out of their hands and collapses. They pick him up again and say, “Victory is ours, just like the prophets said.” And it happens again and again, and each time they claim the king won

No, the king is dead, just like the prophet Micaiah said. What Micaiah said proved true. What the false prophets said did not come true. Yes, every prophet who promised victory for the king was false. It doesn’t matter how many times you prop him up. You can’t bring him back to life. You can’t have a do-over of the battle. It’s over.

God Told Me the King Is Not Dead

At what point do we admit the Trump prophets were false? When the votes are counted and Biden is the winner? When every legal challenge to the results has failed? When the electoral college casts their votes and Biden is the winner? When Congress certifies the results, despite an attempted coup, and Biden is still the winner? The king is dead. No matter how many times you prop Trump up in the chariot and decree, declare, or prophesy that he is the winner, he lost. I’m not saying whether that’s good or bad. I’m saying those are the facts. And the facts are how you know if the prophet is false.

What about when he is inaugurated? If Biden is inaugurated (which any other time in history was never even questioned), should we accept then that the prophets were false?

The prophets are not false! The election was stolen!

The “400 prophets” (I think that’s what I’ll call them from now on) didn’t say he would really win, but the election would be stolen. They said Donald Trump would win. The facts do not match the prophecy. And no, the election was not stolen. Your vote was counted along with 155 million other votes. You voted for the candidate who got fewer votes. He lost. That’s how democracy works. The votes have been counted, the electoral college has cast its votes, and Congress has certified the results, all in keeping with the Constitution. Biden won, Trump lost. You can try again in four years. That system has worked since 1789. No, it’s not perfect, but more than anything it is what makes this nation great. I know the prophets promised he would win, but he lost.

But we walk by faith, not by sight (2Co 5:7 KJV). You can’t see it now except through the eyes of faith. But Donald Trump won, and God will reveal it, and God will defeat every plan of Satan to put Joe Biden in the White House.

Gif: Saturday Night Live, Church Lady to Colin Jost, "Satan!"

2 Corinthians 5:7 was never meant to be an excuse for denying the facts. How did the Bible say to identify false prophets?

If a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; 

(Deu 18:22 NRSV)

If it does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the LORD has not spoken. I know I keep repeating that, but you seem to have a hard time accepting it. Micaiah told the people to watch what happens and see which prophet’s word comes true. That’s how you will know which prophet is true, and which prophet is false. You don’t need to “walk by faith not by sight” to know if the 400 prophets are false. Just compare what they said with the facts. The king is dead, and  306 electoral votes is still more than 232. At this point, no one can change the results of the election without overturning the Constitution.

All the prophets said Trump would win. How could all those prophets have been wrong?

All 400 of Ahab’s prophets were wrong. How did that happen? According to Micaiah, the LORD sent a lying spirit to them because he was sick of King Ahab’s injustice and unrighteousness. Did the LORD send a lying spirit to the false prophets of Trump? Or did the prophets simply speak presumptuously, as Deuteronomy 18:22 says? Did they presume to think their own wishful thinking was “the word of the LORD”? I don’t know. All I know is what they spoke did not come true, and Deuteronomy 18:22 and Micaiah both say that means God did not promise any victory to Trump, no matter what the 400 prophets said.

God shouldn’t even have had to put that in the Bible. Just use the brain God gave you. A prophet whose prophecies don’t come true is literally the definition of a false prophet. Simple common sense should tell you that. When God, the Bible, and common sense all agree, you’d better pay attention. You may even need to repent, like I did years ago.

“Hear, you peoples, all of you!”

I’m spending so much time on this, because even after the horrific events of January 6, there are reports that some people are planning even more violence on Inauguration day. If you are considering that, let me ask you. Even if by some crazy turn of events you are successful in stopping the inauguration and overturning the election by force, is that really a win? If that happens, we lose much more than one presidential election. We lose the greatest legacy of the Constitution, the peaceful transfer of power. And with that, we lose the world’s longest running constitutional democracy. That is not how you make America great again. That is how you become a fascist state.

Meme: Tom Cruise, courtroom scene from A Few Good Men, "I want the truth!"

400 Prophets Can’t Be Wrong! Or Can They? Part 1

I had written this post before the incidents of January 6. Ironically, that is Epiphany, the day many churches celebrate the visit of the wise men. But it looked like wisdom decided to take a holiday from Washington, D.C. I don’t have a lot to say that hasn’t already been said. But I will say my goal as a Christian is to follow Jesus’ commands, specifically, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, “Do unto others as you would have them to do you”, “Love one another as I have loved you”, “Love your enemies”, and “Turn the other cheek.” I don’t see any way to reconcile that with insurrection, terrorism, and storming the Capitol to stop our democracy from doing what it has done since 1789. But what do I know? I’m just a Bible scholar.

The House and Senate did their duty in spite of it, and for that, I commend them. Maybe some people need to take a lesson from how God handled losing an election, as I talked about in my last post.

I know for some of you, the idea of Trump leaving the white house without a second term is very upsetting. You think it’s the end of the world. But let me ask, does the reason you are so upset about losing an election (welcome to democracy, by the way) have anything to do with the prophets who promised God would give Trump the victory? If so, then there is a story from the Bible I want to point to you. You thought so many prophets all saying the same thing could not possibly fail. What if I told you one time 400 prophets all prophesied the exact same thing and got it wrong? That is the story I’ll bring you today.

Quick Background: A United Kingdom Now Divided

In the previous episode, I told you that while Samuel was judge, priest, and prophet in Israel, the people demanded a king. God did not like it, but God told Samuel, if the people voted for a king, give them a king. You see there? God did not agree with the results of the election, but God accepted them. When you finish this, maybe you’ll want to go back and read my post on that.

This story takes place about 160 or 170 years later. The people got their king. David ruled from about 1000-960 BC, and at first it worked out like the people hoped. He succeeded in uniting the twelve tribes into one nation and beating all of Israel’s enemies into submission. With stability within and peace with the surrounding nations, his son Solomon built on David’s success, and the nation enjoyed peace and prosperity under him (ca. 960-920 BC). Hail to the king!

But it came with a cost. Solomon used forced labor for his many building projects, one of several things Samuel warned the people a king would do to them. It is a testament to Solomon’s popularity that the people did not complain too much while he was king. But when Solomon died, they asked his successor, Rehoboam, to ease up on the forced labor. Rehoboam responded by telling the people in effect, “You thought my father was tough? I will be ten times tougher!”

The people rebelled, particularly the northern tribes, and the end result was the nation split into a northern and southern kingdom (ca. 920 BC). Rehoboam remained king in the south, but Jeroboam, the leader of the rebellion, became king in the north. From then on, the name Israel referred to the northern kingdom, and Judah referred to the southern kingdom.

As two nations instead of one, each of them became more vulnerable to enemy invasion.

The Relationship Between the Kings of Israel and Judah

Ahab was one of the northern kings from about 871-852 BC. He is perhaps best known for being married to Jezebel and being the king at the time of Elijah’s duel with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Ki 16:29-34; 18:1-46). He had been in conflict with the king of Aram (modern day Syria), but they came to a truce. For three years, he was at peace with the Arameans. But he still had an axe to grind with them, so he called Jehoshaphat, the king of the south (ca. 870-849 BC), to his capital city of Samaria. We’ll pick up the story in 1 Kings 22.

For three years Aram and Israel continued without war. But in the third year King Jehoshaphat of Judah came down to the king of Israel. The king of Israel said to his servants, “Do you know that Ramoth-gilead belongs to us, yet we are doing nothing to take it out of the hand of the king of Aram?”

(1Ki 22:1-3 NRSV)
"Coin" image, black and white, inscribed R(ex) Israel Achab
Rex Achab Israel (Ahab, King of Israel). Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Coin-like image, black and white, incribed Iosaphat Rex Iud(ea)
Jehoshaphat, King of Judah. By Guillaume Rouille – Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85736029

The notes in my study Bible say Ramoth-gilead had been a tax center for Israel before the Arameans took it from them. Back then, certain cities were designated for collecting taxes, most of which came in the form of agricultural products like grain, wine, and olive oil. These cities had the main storehouses for all of that, so this was a significant loss for Ahab’s kingdom. He wanted it back. Verse 4.

He said to Jehoshaphat, “Will you go with me to battle at Ramoth-gilead?”

Jehoshaphat replied to the king of Israel, “I am as you are; my people are your people, my horses are your horses.”

(1Ki 22:4 NRSV)

The study notes say Jehoshaphat’s response indicates he was a vassal of Ahab, so the northern kingdom was more powerful than the south at that time. Ahab wants to take Ramoth-gilead back from the Arameans. But if they took it from him before, he does not want to fight them again without an ally. If Jehoshaphat was his vassal, did he have the right to say no or not? Ahab asks as if he does, but maybe this was a formality. Still, Jehoshaphat did at least have some wiggle room, if not a right of refusal, as we see in the next verse. Also, you’ll note that in this story, the narrator never calls king Ahab by name. He only refers to him as “the king of Israel,” indicating he does not have a high opinion of this king.

Inquire First for the Word of Yahweh

In the ancient world, you always wanted to inquire of your gods before a major undertaking, like war. King Leonidas of Sparta went to the oracle of Delphi, and Jehoshaphat wants to ask the prophets of the LORD before he commits to this. Verse 5.

But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the LORD.”

(1Ki 22:5 NRSV)

It’s important to note in this verse that LORD is in all capital letters. In the NRSV that I use, and most English translations, when LORD is in all caps like this, it refers specifically to Yahweh, the God of Israel and Judah. This is key because at that time, the Canaanite god Baal was also called “the Lord.” The prophets frequently denounced the kings and the people for worshipping Baal along with Yahweh. You cannot serve two lords, to paraphrase Jesus. What was the first commandment?

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

(Exo 20:2-3 NRSV)

The prophets constantly reminded them Baal did not bring you out of slavery. Yahweh did. Baal did not give them this land. Yahweh did. Baal is not your God. Yahweh is. But both Israelites and Jews wanted to have it both ways. They thought Yahweh was good for some things, but Baal was more reliable for other things. So it was not uncommon for there to be shrines both to Yahweh and Baal, even in the same city. So when they ask for “a word of the LORD,” do they mean Yahweh or Baal? If “lord” is in all caps, as it is throughout this story, that means the original text says Yahweh. Verses 6-7.

Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred of them, and said to them, “Shall I go to battle against Ramoth-gilead, or shall I refrain?”

They said, “Go up; for the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.”

But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no other prophet of the LORD here of whom we may inquire?”

 (1Ki 22:6-7 NRSV)

LORD is in all caps in both cases, so Ahab brought in prophets of Yahweh, not Baal. But Jehoshaphat still doesn’t trust them. He wants to hear from another prophet of Yahweh.

Jehoshaphat Dares to Question the Prophets

What’s your problem, Jehoshaphat? You asked to inquire of a prophet of Yahweh, and Ahab brought you 400 of them. And you still want to inquire of another prophet of Yahweh? Why do you need one more? Every prophet is in perfect agreement. Doesn’t that tell you this has to be the word of Yahweh?

For some reason, this does not pass the “smell test” for Jehoshaphat. The reason becomes clearer a few verses later, so I’m going to skip ahead to verse 10.

Now the king of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah were sitting on their thrones, arrayed in their robes, at the threshing floor at the entrance of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets were prophesying before them.

(1Ki 22:10 NRS)

Two Thrones at the City Gate

You might have assumed, as I did at first, that if one king is in his capital city (Samaria) and receiving another, they would discuss their business in the palace. But they were actually at the entrance of the gate. A lot of important business took place at the gate of a city back then. The elders would usually gather there to counsel people, settle disputes to avoid going to court, or be witness to some official transaction. Here, it says both kings were sitting on their thrones. Remember, this is Ahab’s capital. He has a throne here, presumably in addition to the one in the palace. But there is a throne for the king of Judah as well. I don’t know if it was for him specifically, or if it was for any king who had come to negotiate with the king of Israel. But if Ahab had a throne for the king of Judah, I think it speaks to the fact that even though they were no longer one nation, they were on friendly terms. The two kingdoms had a shared history and, for the most part, a shared religion. True, they had been through a pretty nasty divorce, and they were “never ever getting back together” (as Taylor Swift would say), relations at that time were amicable.

This is a different scene than what I pictured at first. If you don’t read the Bible regularly, just know that this will happen sometimes. Continuing with verses 11-12.

Writer’s Tip: Don’t do what this writer did here. If you realize halfway into a scene you have to add details to make it clear, that’s jarring for the reader. They had pictured the scene one way, but then they have to tear that down and rebuild it, and then reimagine what has already happened in order to catch up.

Prophecy or an Echo Chamber?

Zedekiah son of Chenaanah made for himself horns of iron, and he said, “Thus says the LORD: With these you shall gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.”

All the prophets were prophesying the same and saying, “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.”

(1Ki 22:11-12 NRS)

Before, it sounded like the king asked if he should go and attack the Arameans at Ramoth-gilead, the prophets said yes, and that was it. Why would that look suspicious? But in these verses, we see the prophets had been speaking the whole time. And not just speaking either. In true prophetic fashion, they were all dramatizing how the king would utterly defeat the Arameans, each one trying to make their voices heard over all the others. One called Zedekiah son of Chenaanah stood out by making himself horns of iron, probably so he could charge like a bull and trample and gore imaginary enemies. And this is all happening by the gates of the city for everyone to see.

Now are you starting to see why Jehoshaphat did not trust these prophets? This was not 400 prophets who each heard the word of the LORD independently, and lo and behold, they all agree! This was an echo chamber of 400 clamoring sycophants who have learned that when they prophesy, “the word of the LORD” had better be favorable to the king and whatever he wants to do. So with 400 prophets each trying to be the most enthusiastic supporter of the king, Jehoshaphat leans over to Ahab so he can hear him speak. Now, we go back to verses 7-9.

Is There No Prophet of Yahweh Here?

But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no other prophet of the LORD here of whom we may inquire?”

The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is still one other by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.”

Jehoshaphat said, “Let the king not say such a thing.”

Then the king of Israel summoned an officer and said, “Bring quickly Micaiah son of Imlah.”

(1Ki 22:7-9 NRSV)

Jehoshaphat wants a prophet who will actually inquire of the LORD and tell the truth, whether it is favorable to the king or not. Ahab says, “Yeah, there is one, but he is fake news.” Why is he fake news? Because his prophecies do not come true? No, because he never prophesies anything favorable about me, but only disaster.

So he is “fake news” because he knows God is under no obligation to speak favorably of the king. Jehoshaphat is like, “That’s the one I want to hear from.”

One of the responsibilities of a prophet was to speak truth to power, whether they liked hearing it or not. Jehoshaphat understood that, but Ahab did not. He only wanted to hear from prophets who would tell his itching ears what he wanted to hear. He demanded loyalty. Micaiah gave him honesty. He did not want to hear the minority report, but he knew Jehoshaphat would not agree to anything without it. Reluctantly, he sent for the prophet, Micaiah son of Imlah.

Micaiah: Not a Team Player

The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.”

But Micaiah said, “As the LORD lives, whatever the LORD says to me, that I will speak.”

(1Ki 22:13-14 NRSV)

Come on, Micaiah. All the other prophets have already spoken favorably to the king. Just go along with them. Can’t you be a team player for once?

And Micaiah is like, “That’s not how it works. I don’t speak favorably or unfavorably to the king. I only speak what the LORD tells me.”

When he had come to the king, the king said to him, “Micaiah, shall we go to Ramoth-gilead to battle, or shall we refrain?”

He answered him, “Go up and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.”

But the king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the LORD?”

(1Ki 22:15-16 NRSV)

I think Jehoshaphat must have got a good laugh out of this. I mean, technically, he said what the king wanted to hear. So why did the king get angry and tell him to say nothing but the truth?

Meme: Tom Cruise, courtroom scene from A Few Good Men, "I want the truth!"

When I was in the Word of Faith, they placed so much emphasis on being careful with your words. Never say something you don’t mean or that you don’t want to come to pass, so sarcasm was out. God doesn’t understand sarcasm. God only understands the literal meaning of the words you speak. But here we have a prophet speaking the word of the LORD with sarcasm. The problem with sarcasm is it doesn’t always come across on the written page. But there is no other reason for Ahab to think he doesn’t really mean what he’s saying. I picture him giving a smirk before he speaks and mimicking the enthusiasm of Ahab’s prophets.

How ironic is it that Ahab orders him to tell nothing but the truth in the name of Yahweh, but he told Jehoshaphat he did not want to bring in Micaiah because he spoke the truth. Okay, Ahab. You want to hear the truth? Micaiah son of Imlah is about to lay it on you. Verse 17.

Then Micaiah said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep that have no shepherd; and the LORD said, ‘These have no master; let each one go home in peace.’”

(1Ki 22:17 NRSV)

It’s kind of a roundabout way of saying, “Don’t go up to Ramoth-gilead.” But the message is still clear to Ahab. In Biblical language, saying all Israel is like sheep that have no shepherd is a critique of his leadership, which someone like Ahab hates. And if he says everyone should go home in peace, that doesn’t sound like getting ready for battle, does it? Verse 18.

The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “Did I not tell you that he would not prophesy anything favorable about me, but only disaster?”

(1Ki 22:18 NRSV)

Disaster? He said let each one go home in peace. You haven’t heard disaster yet. He says he wants the truth. Can he handle it?

This post is getting pretty long, so I’ll stop here and continue it in the next post. In the meantime, enjoy this classic clip from the movie, A Few Good Men.

Police in helmets and riot gear downtown Washington, DC

What Happened When God Lost an Election?

Some of my Christian brothers and sisters are disappointed with the results of the election. Well, disappointed is an understatement. To be honest, I’ve been disturbed at their inability to accept reality. I mean, the electoral college has met, and Biden has 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 228. That’s about the same margin of victory as Trump had over Clinton in 2016. I know denial is one of the stages of grief, but at some point you have to move on to acceptance. You will never recover from this if you don’t accept reality. That’s the price you pay for living in a democracy.

Police in helmets and riot gear downtown Washington, DC

But I understand. All the self-proclaimed prophets told you Trump was going to win. You think Trump is God’s anointed, and you can’t accept that God could possibly lose an election. But what if I told you the Bible records an instance where that actually happened? If you believe the Bible, this is not the first time God lost an election. If you want to know how God got over it, this post is for you.

For this episode, we’re going back to the time of the Judges. If you don’t know, this is the period of Israel’s history following the conquest of Canaan under Joshua. They divided up the land, setting boundaries for each of the twelve tribes. It was a difficult time for them in a number of ways. Though they were technically one nation, they functioned more like twelve individual tribes. Despite claims in the book of Joshua that they annihilated all the Canaanites and other peoples native to the land, they still lived among them. The neighboring nations frequently raided them, killing some, enslaving others, and plundering their food and goods. Nowhere was safe.

In the book of Judges, God raised up leaders when crises arose who would unite a few tribes to team up against a particularly bad enemy, like the Philistines. They would defeat the enemy and be safe for a while. But they would slip back into apostasy, worshipping the gods of other nations, God would hand them over to their enemies, they would cry out for deliverance, God would raise up another leader (called a judge) to lead an army to defeat the enemy, and they were safe again. Until they slipped back into apostasy, and the cycle would repeat. By the end of Judges, the people of Israel were behaving even worse toward each other than their enemies were. To answer the unspoken question, “Why?” the author says,

In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

(Jdg 21:25 NRS)

Obviously, a system like this wasn’t sustainable. But a light of hope came not in a military commander but rather a spiritual leader. His name was Samuel, and in the years from about 1040-1020 BC, he became something like a Wesleyan circuit rider, traveling from one shrine of Yahweh to another. He reformed the worship and helped settle disputes, so they wouldn’t slip into the kind of depravity we see in chapters 17-21 of Judges. He reminded them of the sacred traditions about Yahweh, the God who had sent Moses to call them out of Egypt and be his people, who had given this land to them and the law of Moses, so they could learn the ways of justice and righteousness.

When I say the purpose of the law of Moses was to teach justice and righteousness, some of you are skeptical. You say there is a lot of the law of Moses that does not look just and righteous to you. I understand. I plan on doing a full explanation in a later post. For now, I will refer you to Genesis 18:19.

“… for I have chosen [Abraham], that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

(NRSV)

God says here the way of the LORD is righteousness and justice, and God wants Abraham to teach his children and his household after him to learn and practice this. I know not everything Abraham did was righteous and just, and the same is true of the law of Moses. But that was always the goal, and Samuel not only taught it but lived it to the best of his knowledge.

Not the P.K.’s

The people loved and respected Samuel, so they listened to him. But they saw a problem down the road. Samuel’s sons did not have his integrity. Do you know what a P.K. is? A “preacher’s kid.” There is a stereotype of them being wild and rebellious. Samuel’s two sons were “P.K.’s” in the worst sense of the word. Samuel had done a lot to root out corruption in their religious institutions, but he was getting old. He made his two sons judges to take over some of his duties, and they threatened to undo all the good Samuel had done.

Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.

(1Sa 8:3 NRSV)

Whereas Samuel administered justice, his sons perverted justice (1 Sam 7:14-8:3). The most discouraging part was Samuel did nothing to correct them. They came to Samuel with a solution. So now, I’ll read from 1 Sam 8, starting with verse 4.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.”

But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the LORD,

 (1Sa 8:4-6 NRS)

Ramah was Samuel’s home, where he would rest between circuits. The elders come to him on behalf of the people and tell him they do not trust his sons like they trust him. They like him, but they don’t want his sons governing them. And to be fair, their concerns are legitimate. This is one more failure of a hereditary-based system of rule. But their solution is to set up another hereditary-based rule. They want a king to govern them, like other nations.

The last sentence of the book of Judges, quoted above, makes it sound like this is the solution they need. When there was no king, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Samuel at first takes it personally. He sees it as a rejection of himself.

It’s not you, Samuel, it’s me

… and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only–you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”  

(1Sa 8:7-9 NRS)

So to paraphrase, God tells Samuel, “They are not rejecting you. They are rejecting me.” Their history toward God, ever since they came out of Egypt, has been, rejecting him, “Please take me back,” rejecting him, “Please take me back,” and this is just another chapter in that story. If you are in a relationship like that, you have my sympathies.

But God says something specific about this episode. They have rejected me from being king over them. I see God saying here, “If you want a king, fine. I’ll be your king.” God is literally offering them the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, but once again they will reject it. As much as God must be getting sick of this cycle of rejection and reconciliation, God tells Samuel twice, Listen to the voice of the people. So God is saying he will accept the results of the election, but first God wants Samuel to warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them. Let’s see what that means.

Be careful what you pray for

So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers”

(1Sa 8:10-13 NRSV).

Let’s stop for a minute and see what this means. You want a king like the other nations? Well, here is what the kings of other nations do to their people.

He will take your sons. Right away, this suggests slavery. Chariots, horsemen, and commanders point to conscripted military service. Instead of plowing their own fields and reaping their own harvests, the king will force your sons to do that for him. They will be forced to make implements of war and chariots. Taking their daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers doesn’t sound that bad, but again, it won’t be for themselves or their households. They will be taken from their families and forced to do this for the king and his court. Apparently, under Samuel, service to the state was voluntary. A king will make it mandatory, just like other nations.

The most puzzling thing for me is when he says he will make your sons run before his chariots. Why did kings do that? I don’t know, but what happens to you if you are running in front of a chariot, and you can’t run as fast as the horses? Have you seen Ben-Hur? Let’s continue.

“He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.”

(1Sa 8:14-15 NRSV)

There was a tithe of grain and vineyards and olive orchards under Mosaic law, but it was meant to feed people who did not have the means to grow their own food, i.e., priests, Levites, and the poor. A king, who is already rich, will take your tithe for himself and his courtiers.

“He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.”

(1Sa 8:16-17 NRSV)

Again, he will take the best or your hard-earned labor for himself, and leave you with the least. And God saved the worst for last. You shall be his slaves. Remember, this was a nation founded on deliverance from slavery. They were allowed to own slaves, as noted in this passage. That is one of those things critics say make the Bible irrelevant or immoral. I understand. I don’t want anyone to think I’m advocating for slavery. But it was a different time. Every period of history has its moral blind spots, and slavery was so much a part of the social fabric I don’t think they could imagine a world without it. But the memory of slavery was supposed to temper their treatment of slaves. A king will make you slaves once again, and he would not have any of the restraints toward his slaves that they had.

The LORD will not answer you in that day

“And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

(1Sa 8:18 NRSV)

Now that warning is about as stark as you can get. God called Moses back to Egypt, because they cried out from the harsh treatment of Pharaoh and his taskmasters. But when they cry out again because of their king, the LORD will not answer you in that day. Why? Because this is your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves. You made your bed, and you will lie in it.

Even God can’t change the election results

Protesters with signs "Count the Votes," "Count every vote," "Democracy means count all the votes."
The votes were counted, and God accepted the results.

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”  

(1Sa 8:19-20 NRSV)

So God tried to be elected king by will of the people, and lost! They didn’t even have a candidate to run against God. They didn’t have anyone to vote for. Their only purpose was to vote against God. And then, they wanted God to pick who would be king. “We voted against you. Now, we want to you to pick the person to fill the office we rejected you for.”

If anyone had a right to complain about an unfair election, God did. But did God complain?

When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD.

The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.”

(1Sa 8:21-22a NRSV)

“But a king is going to oppress them! A king is going to do all the evil to them they want to be saved from, and worse! This is a fraudulent election! They didn’t even have a candidate! How can you have an election without an opposing candidate? This is the greatest fraud in history! And look at this chart! I was ahead in the vote count at sundown! That means I won! Samuel, if you don’t overturn the results of this election, you’re fired!”

No, one thing God is not is a sore loser or a snowflake. Listen to their voice and set a king over them. God accepted the results of the election and the will of the people, even though God knew it would not give them what they wanted.

Why was God opposed to a king?

There were actually a number of good reasons for a king, and I’ve already mentioned most of them. I don’t think God had a problem with a desire for a king. In fact, after David took the throne, God blessed him and his dynasty beyond anything even David had imagined. I think the problem was their reasons for wanting a king. Three reasons:

1. They wanted a king to govern.

No problem there. They had to have some sort of government. The law of Moses even commanded them to set up a government, though it did not include a king. Still, for the time, it was not an unreasonable request. A monarchy can work pretty well if the king is wise and benevolent. Remember, the author of Judges advocated for a king to establish order and justice. By having a king to govern all twelve tribes, it would unite them and make them into a nation powerful enough to defend itself against its enemies.

2. They wanted a king to go out before us and fight our battles.

God did not call them to be a military nation. They were not even allowed to have a standing army. It’s true they needed to be able to defend themselves against the hostile nations surrounding them, who constantly invaded, raided and oppressed them. But when you talk about a king to go out before you into battle, you’re not talking about defense. You’re talking about doing some invading and raiding yourself. In a dog eat dog world, they did not just want to be safe. They wanted to be the alpha dog.

3. They wanted to be like other nations.

Remember that verse I showed about how God wanted Abraham’s descendants to be the vessels through which God would bring righteousness and justice into a dark and unjust world? The children of Israel were those descendants of Abraham. The desire to be like other nations would lead them to copy their ways, not only in having a king. It would mean copying their injustice and unrighteousness. Their kings would copy the kings of other nations in oppressing their own people.

The author of Judges thought a king would be the answer, not only to oppression from their enemies but to the injustice that Israelites did to each other. Isn’t it ironic that the very thing Judges said would save them from injustice, God said would become an instrument of injustice that they would be powerless to stop. And as you watch the history of Israel unfold from the Judges to the Exile, everything God said the kings would do to them, they did.

And even knowing all this, God accepted the results of the election. My brothers and sisters in Christ, could it be time for you to do the same, and stop demonizing those who simply counted the votes?

A Lost Book Found. Sort Of.

As a writer and a Bible Geek, I get frustrated by verses like this:

Now the rest of the acts of Rehoboam, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah?

(1Ki 14:29 NRSV)

The author says this as if we could just go down to the local library to check this out, or search for The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah online. Apparently, he never envisioned a time when such a book would not be available to his readers.

Back in 1993, I went on an archeological dig organized by professors from Duke University, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Connecticut. (Good thing it wasn’t for basketball). The topic of theoretical sources like “Q” (which scholars say was a common source for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke) came up. Some students wondered why scholars would make up these sources if we don’t have any manuscripts of them. One professor pointed out about two-thirds of all ancient books we know of, we have no manuscripts for. We only know they existed because they are mentioned in manuscripts of books we do have, as in the example I gave above. If we had copies of them, who knows what more books we would learn about?

Among the books mentioned in the Bible that we have no copies of today are

  • The Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14)
  • The Book of Samuel the Seer (1 Chronicles 29:29)
  • The Book of Nathan the Prophet (1 Chronicles 29:29)
  • The Book of Gad the Seer (1 Chronicles 29:29)
  • The Records of the Prophet Shemaiah (2 Chronicles 12:15)
  • The Book of Iddo the Seer (2 Chronicles 12:15)
  • The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah (1 Kings 14:29)

And I have to include here Solomon was said to have written more than a thousand songs (1 Kings 4:32), yet only two are preserved in the book of Psalms (72 and 127), and of course the canonical Song of Solomon. The imagination boggles at the information lost because the Biblical authors assumed these sources would be preserved forever.

The Book of Jashar

One more of these is the Book of Jashar (also spelled Jasher). In Hebrew it translates as “The Book of the Upright” or “the Book of the Just Man.” It is mentioned in Joshua and 2 Samuel.

On the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the LORD; and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.”

And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in midheaven, and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. 

(Jos 10:12-13 NRSV)

This is one of the most famous stories in the Bible, God making the sun stand still because Joshua prayed for it. Maybe you think this did not really happen. If so, I don’t blame you. But what I’m interested in is the mention of a book that we no longer have any copies of.

Then it is mentioned in reference to “The Song of the Bow,” which David likely composed, but again, we have no manuscripts.

[David] ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.

(2Sa 1:18 NRSV)

So imagine my excitement when I found out there is a copy of something called “The Book of Jasher” today. Turns out it is not the same book as mentioned in the Old Testament. It is an eighteenth-century forgery that alleges to be a translation of the “lost” Book of Jasher by Alcuin, an eighth-century English scholar.

Another book by this same name, called by many “Pseudo-Jasher,” while written in Hebrew, is also not the “Book of Jasher” mentioned in Scripture. It is a book of Jewish legends from the creation to the conquest of Canaan under Joshua, but scholars hold that it did not exist before A.D. 1625. In addition, there are several other theological works by Jewish rabbis and scholars called “Sefer ha Yashar,” but none of these claim to be the original Book of Jasher.

So potentially, there were at least three or four copies of the Book of Jashar that turned out to be fake. But just out of curiosity, I got a copy of one of these on Kindle. It presented some intriguing possibilities for biblical fiction, as I had hoped.

Making sense of Abraham’s first meeting with God

For example, Abraham’s first encounter with God is in Genesis 12. God just appears to Abraham and tells him to leave his father’s house and country and go to a land “that I will show you” (Gen 12:1-3), and he does it. I always wondered how Abraham recognized the God called Yahweh or El Shaddai when the only gods he had been exposed to were the gods of Ur and Harran. This version of the book of Jasher presents an interesting answer, even if it is speculation.

Like his neighbors, his father had idols of Babylonian gods. It was customary to offer food to these idols. In this version of The Book of Jashar, Abraham wanted to test the idols of his household. He prepared some savory meat (like Esau), placed it before them, and invited them to eat. Nothing happened. He invited them again. Don’t they smell that enticing aroma coming from the meat? Don’t they want to taste it?

He sat for hours, waiting for them to eat this delicious food he had prepared for them. They didn’t eat. They didn’t answer him when he asked why they didn’t want to eat it. And then it dawned on him. These idols have no power of their own. These gods have no power of their own. So he smashed the idols to pieces and waited to see if the gods would kill him. No harm came to him. He turned his back on the gods of his people, and that set the stage for Yahweh to introduce himself.

Two shadows of people kneeling in prayer beside a giant golden dollar sign
I don’t think that will accept Abraham’s offering either.

Helpful for biblical fiction. Sort of.

If I were to write a novel based on Abraham, that would present a believable scenario for how Abraham came to know the God he called Yahweh. There are many other examples like this that present intriguing possibilities for filling in some of the gaps in the Biblical narratives. The best stories were those associated with Abraham and his family.

But after Abraham, especially when it gets to the sons of Jacob, it goes too much into flights of fancy to be at all believable. For example, the sons of Jacob over and over again face armies in tens of thousands with one or two hundred and utterly destroy them. Two hundred shepherds obliterate armies of thirty, forty, or fifty thousand, even those in walled cities, which one man tears down with his bare hands? Not just once but several times? Come on!

“But it’s fiction,” you say.

Do you know the difference between fiction and real life? Fiction has to make sense. In Egypt, 150 Israelites kill 400,000 of Pharaoh’s army? That doesn’t make sense, because then, how could the Egyptians possibly have enslaved them? The book tries to explain it by saying they tricked the Israelites into making bricks in order to weaken them first. Then they enslaved them. But if 150 can kill 400,000 trained soldiers of the most powerful empire of the time, there is no way making bricks is going to weaken them enough to enslave them. There is no labor at all that could weaken them.

So it can be a source for Biblical fiction. But as with everything, you have to separate the wheat from the chaff.

References

https://www.gotquestions.org/book-of-Jasher.html

http://jasher.thebookofenoch.info/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Jasher_%28biblical_references%29

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Q_source

https://www.christianity.com/jesus/is-jesus-god/the-gospels/what-is-the-q-source.html

Church in Kafr Kanna

Cana Grace and Mother’s Day

I originally published this on a different blog. But it struck me this is a perfect story to say Mother’s Day, to my mom and mothers everywhere.


If you remember your wedding day, how would you have felt if your wedding planner came to you during the reception and said, “We’ve run out of food and not all the guests have been served”? I suppose you would have panicked for a moment and then expected the wedding planner to fix it. Find some food. I don’t care where you get it. Just get it here now. You would not have expected any of the guests to get it for you.

When Jesus and Mary are at a wedding in Cana[1] (see John 2:1-12), Mary hears they have run out of wine. She probably felt their embarrassment, especially if they were friends of hers. In Galilee in the first century, “those invited might be expected to contribute provisions such as wine” (HarperCollins NRSV Study Bible, John 2.1 note). So it was not necessarily unusual for her to ask her son to help.

Interesting fact about Jewish weddings in the first century: Receptions lasted a full week. During this time, the bride and the bridegroom had their honeymoon in their new home. The wedding guests celebrated outside.

Church in Kafr Kanna
Called the “wedding church” in Kafr Kanna, believed to be on the site of the wedding described in John 2:1-12.

Jesus appears unconcerned at first.

“Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

(Joh 2:4 NRS)

I know mothers are going to ask, why did he call her “Woman,” instead of Mother or Mom? That probably was not disrespectful in that culture (compare 19:26; 20:15). But the next line he says indicates her request is about more than wine. In other words, “This is not the time to reveal myself as the Messiah and Son of God.”

But his mother tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (Joh 2:5 NRS)

I imagine at this point, she gave him The Mother’s Look. You know what I’m talking about. Your mother wants you to do something, and she gives you that look that tells you there is no arguing with her about this. That sets the scene for Jesus’ first miracle–or sign as John prefers to call it–turning water into wine. She knows something about her son, something he does not want to reveal–at least, not yet. He does not think it is the right time to show his miracle working power. His hour has not yet come. Really Mom? You think this is how I should reveal to the world I am the Son of God? But he does it anyway.

Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.

(Joh 2:6 NRS)

So the servants need to get wine fast. They are waiting for Jesus to tell them what to do. He sees six large stone water jars, and as a Jew, he would know these are used to hold water for purification rites. He says to fill them with water. What were the servants thinking? How is purifying ourselves going to help us get wine?

But Mary is there, and maybe she reminds them. “I said, do whatever he tells you!”

They follow his directions, filling the jars to the brim. They draw some out. At what point did the water change to wine? When it was in the jars or when they drew some out (in a pitcher I imagine)? When the chief steward tasted it? Who knows. And I have to wonder, as important as washing for purification rituals was for Jews, how could these jars have been empty?

At any rate, this water that would normally be used to wash people and objects for ritual purification has turned into wine, and the social crisis is solved. With the capacity of each jar, they would have had 120-180 gallons of wine, presumably enough to last the entire reception.

It’s a strange story, so I feel more compelled than usual to ask,

What can we learn from this?

The purification vessels are empty then filled with water, which allows them to fulfill their original purpose. Jesus repurposes them when he turns the water into wine. One commentator says,

The pots contain only water. Soon Jesus will fill them with eschatological[2] wine, a rich symbol in the biblical tradition inferring prosperity, abundance, good times; the wine will overflow the water pots. Their true purpose will be fulfilled. Changing the pots of water into pots flowing over with good wine becomes a metaphor for Jesus’ ministry as he brings vitality to the ancient religion.[3]

 You can be spiritual and still join others in celebration. Two of the fruits of the spirit are love and joy. One way to show love is to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. A wedding feast is a time for rejoicing with those who rejoice, and any religion should make room for joy when it is appropriate.

 It is okay to pray for “unimportant” things. I hear people all the time say, “Don’t pray for that. God has more important things to do.” Did Jesus have more important things to do than keep the party going? Yes, and he would go on to do them. But for now, he is there, and they need wine. Someone asks for his help, and he answers.

Any religion should make room for “Cana Grace.”
Cana Grace? This is a new term for me, but one commentator explains it this way.

…it is worth a miracle because it manifests the glory of God—the very God who wants even now for the community of faith to be a celebration of people. Brothers and sisters in Christ eating on the back porch and laughing until the sun goes down; a new members’ dinner at someone’s home that ends with folks giving thanks to God for the welcome they have received at church—it is called Cana Grace. Give thanks for everyone in your church and in your life who has the knack for throwing a party. What a way to begin a ministry![4]

So what if there were much bigger problems in the world. Yes, it was almost incredibly embarrassing for the hosts, but social embarrassment is not the end of the world. But if we’re honest, it sure feels like the end of the world. Jesus saved the day by bringing “Cana Grace” when his friends needed it. It was not the way he planned to launch his ministry, which strangely makes it feel even more appropriate. And the reason is one we can all relate to. He had a very hard time saying no to his mother.

Addendum

Did you know the joy of the kingdom of God/Heaven is often compared to a wedding or wedding feast? Just a few examples:

  • Isa 62.1-5
  • Hos 2.16, 19-20
  • Mat 22.1-14; 25.1-13
  • Rev 19.7-9; 21.2-4

References

[1] Cana was a small town in the middle of Galilee, about 10 miles north of Nazareth.

[2] Eschatological or eschatology relates to the end times. God’s future action to end this world and inaugurate a new one is a common theme in the Bible. What will this new world be like? That is what eschatology is concerned with.

[3] Bridges, Linda McKinnish. Exegetical perspective. Cited in January 17, 2016: Abundant life: Focus on John 2:1-11. Feasting on the word curriculum.

[4] Brearly, Robert M. Pastoral perspective. Cited in January 17, 2016: Abundant life: Focus on John 2:1-11. Feasting on the word curriculum.

Snake!

Sorry this is a little late, but we had a little incident in our home.

I woke up on Palm Sunday. We weren’t going to church, because of the Coronavirus restrictions. But it was Palm Sunday. My wife and I decided to take advantage of the fact that many services are available online now, especially in response to Coronavirus. Particularly, my sister–a Presbyterian minister–had started filming her services at home to broadcast on Facebook and YouTube. My wife gathered some palm leaves, tied a ribbon around them, and taped them to the door.

Palm leaves on front door
Staying home on Palm Sunday

She made blueberry pancakes, and I made scrambled eggs. We were looking forward to a pleasant breakfast and my sister leading worship right in our home. While I was getting my plate together, my wife called out from the dining room. It almost sounded like the way she screamed when she saw a mouse, but there was something different about it. I figured it must be a critter of some kind.

She rushed back to the kitchen. I asked what it was, but she couldn’t even tell me. I went to see, and there in the middle of our dining room floor was a snake. Not a big one, it was only a little more than a foot long. But still, a snake. In our home. That cannot stand.

Perhaps the truest verse in the Bible is when God told the serpent there would always be enmity between women and snakes (Gen 3:15). She hates snakes, and I wasn’t thrilled about it either.

It started crawling for the china cabinet. I stepped on it before it got there. The front half was under the cabinet, so I figured that would block it from making a quick strike on my foot. But I was only wearing sandals. Maybe its head would come back out. So I lifted my foot, and it went under the china cabinet. Great! Now how are we going to get it out? Needless to say, Palm Sunday and worship were forgotten at that point.

You Will Trample the Serpent Under Foot?

Why didn’t I just keep my foot on the snake? I had stopped it from going under the china cabinet. And the Bible says, “You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot” (Psa 91:12).

I had it under my foot, just like the Bible says. Should I grab it at the bottom half and pull it out? I shouldn’t have been afraid to do it. After all, the Bible says, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: … they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mar 16:17-18 NRS).

So I could just grab that snake and not worry about whether it was poisonous, and then take it deep into the woods outside my home and release it. That’s supposed to be one of the signs of a believer. While I had it under my foot, why didn’t I grab it? For the same reason I don’t drink cyanide, strychnine, or diesel fuel, even though this verse says it won’t hurt me. Folks, hear me when I say this. NOT EVERYTHING IN THE BIBLE IS SUPPOSED TO BE TAKEN LITERALLY.

So no, I’m not going to grab that snake with my bare hands because of a couple of Bible verses taken out of context. The point of Psalm 91 is not for you to go to the local zoo, climb into the lion’s cage, and jump on its back and say, “Look, I can trample a lion underfoot, because I believe in Jesus Christ.” Many Christians in the first century found that was not meant literally, in case you’ve forgotten.

So we were trying to figure out how to get him out from under there, and how to trap him once he did. While I kept an eye on the snake to be sure he didn’t leave and crawl under something else, my wife brought a Hello Fresh box, a rake, a paint roller, a broom and dustpan, a yardstick, and a pillow case for various ideas we had. I tried calling local pest removal services, but they were closed. Whether because of Coronavirus or that it was Sunday, I don’t know. Finally, I went to the best how-to source on the web, YouTube, and found this from a Tampa area pest control expert.

Glue traps. That was his advice. My wife went to the dollar store to get some.

Rat Guard(R) Disposable Glue Traps
Works on rats, mice, insects, and snakes (small ones at least)

Meanwhile, I wondered if we might need to move the china cabinet to force him out, so I removed everything from the top section. We never moved it. Instead, we put some glue traps under it. But how do we force the snake onto the trap? My wife fashioned a coat hanger and prodded it into the corner, where I had set a trap. Then its tail showed out the back. I folded another glue trap over its tail to make sure I had it. It was hard to pull out, because the front half was indeed stuck to a glue trap.

A rat snake caught in two glue traps
We caught the snake with glue traps

I thought about killing it, but the guy in the video reminded me a lot of snakes kill and eat other pests, like mice and rats. It didn’t look like any of the poisonous varieties of snakes in this area, so I was okay with letting it go. He said you could free it from the trap with vegetable oil. I tried the tail first (after going outside, of course). The snake worked its tail free, so one trap down. I took it deep into the woods and poured oil over it. Within a few minutes, he worked himself free and crawled away. Later, I found out it was a rat snake, so I’m glad I let him go.

Lessons for Coronavirus

I had never had to remove a snake from my house before. I didn’t know what to do, so how did I do it? By quoting Bible verses, or naming and claiming promises from the Bible? Truth is, I did quote this verse in my mind.

“You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.”

(Psa 91:12)

But you already said not to take that verse literally, so what good was that supposed to do?

I said don’t take it literally. I didn’t say don’t meditate on it. I meditated on that verse the whole time I was trying to figure out what to do, the whole time I pulled the snake out and took it outside, and while I was pouring oil over it to release it. I wasn’t treating it as a promise that God was somehow obligated to put a force field around me and my wife, so the snake couldn’t touch us. “Come on, honey. We can just wait for it to come back out, and I’ll grab it then. Here’s two verses that say snakes can’t hurt us, because we’re believers. Don’t you believe the Bible?” How do you think that would have gone over?

I still put on whatever protective equipment I could: socks, shoes, long pants, and gloves. I didn’t expect that quoting that verse meant the snake couldn’t bite me. I meditated on it for one reason only: To keep myself calm through the process.

I listened to an expert, I did what the expert said, and it worked. I didn’t use the scripture as a substitute for expert advice, only as something to meditate on so I could stay calm. The author of this Psalm did not mean for it to be taken literally. It would help all of us to remember Psalms were originally sung. Songs and poetry most of the time are not meant to be taken literally. They are meant to move us emotionally. Emotions were running high with a snake in our house. This song was made for moments like this. It was meant to help you stay calm and trust God when you have to do something that scares you. And I can tell you in that way, it worked for me.

So with Coronavirus, just as with snakes, listen to the experts and follow their advice.

What Time I Am Afraid, I Will Trust in Thee

Psalm 91 is one of the most popular scriptures for promoting peace of mind in stormy circumstances, and with good reason. It is not a license to abandon common sense. As I heard a preacher today talking about his reasons for closing the church and moving services online, “Faith works best when it’s combined with common sense.” So with the understanding that this is not a “promise” that “obligates” God to protect you from Coronavirus by becoming your invisible hazmat suit, I invite you to meditate on these scriptures from Psalm 91 that I am meditating on for comfort and peace in the storm.

You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.”  

(Psa 91:1-2 NRS)

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence;  he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge;

(Psa 91:3-4 NRS)

You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday.

(Psa 91:5-6 NRS)

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.

(Psa 91:7 NRS)

Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. 

(Psa 91:9-10 NRS)

When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.

(Psa 91:15-16 NRS)

-Grace and Peace to you.


If you want something to read while staying at home, check out my award-winning ebook, Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain, also available in paperback. And check out other books I recommend on Biblical Fiction, Depression, and Self-Publishing.

Character Study: David, Abigail, and Nabal Conclusion

In my last post, I began a character study on David, Nabal, and Abigail. The story is found in 1 Samuel 25. If you want a quick review, check out this puppet version.

What’s happened so far is David has been protecting Nabal’s estate and flocks from outlaws.  He asked for some food for him and his men. His request was perfectly within reason for that time, even if he had not been protecting Nabal’s estate. Nabal not only refuses David’s request. He insults David so egregiously that honor demands he take revenge. He tells his men to kill every male of his household. But Nabal’s wife Abigail is on her way to meet him. Let’s see how she handles this.

Abigail to the Rescue

When Abigail saw David, she hurried and alighted from the donkey, fell before David on her face, bowing to the ground. She fell at his feet and said, “Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt; please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant.

1Sa 25:23-24 NRS

Your servant, spoken twice. This was not necessarily literal. It was a common expression of humility to someone from whom you were about to ask a favor. Or, as in this case, forgiveness. David used the same language when he first made his request to Nabal (v. 8).

 “My lord, do not take seriously this ill-natured fellow, Nabal; for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him; but I, your servant, did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent.

1Sa 25:25 NRS

For as his name is, so is he. She’s basically saying, “Don’t listen to my idiot husband. He’s a fool, just like his name says. How could you take anything the fool says seriously?”

Escalante's Prudent Abigail
Prudent Abigail By Juan Antonio de Frías y Escalante, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8860089

My Lord and the LORD

 “Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, since the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from taking vengeance with your own hand, now let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be like Nabal.

1Sa 25:26 NRS

My lord, Heb adoni, refers to David. The LORD, whenever this appears in all capital letters, it refers to the divine name for God, sometimes represented with the letters YHWH.

Since the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt, now that was smooth. She is talking to David as if he has already granted her request not to take vengeance with his own hand. Also, this subtly reminds him God is watching him now.

 And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord.

1Sa 25:27 NRS

This present, see vv. 18-20.

 Please forgive the trespass of your servant; for the LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD; and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live.

1Sa 25:28 NRS

The LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house, a promise that Nathan repeats to David, in more detail, after he has taken the throne (2 Sa 7:11-16). Abigail is not referred to as a prophet, but she is doing a pretty good job here.

Because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD. What could be a higher compliment to a pious warrior like David? The LORD sees what you have done. You have fought for righteousness and against the enemies of the LORD. That includes the fighting he did to protect people like her and Nabal’s servants from those out to harm them. Even if her idiot husband doesn’t see it, she does. And more importantly, God does.

Appealing to His Better Angels

Evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. It didn’t quite turn out that way, but the reference to a sure house certainly did. I think this was typical language petitioners would use toward a king. If so, she is subtly reminding him of the destiny God has for him. He should consider his actions in light of God’s promises to him.

 If anyone should rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living under the care of the LORD your God; but the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling.

1Sa 25:29 NRS

If anyone should rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, Saul, for example. This was also typical of blessings for a king. God (or “the gods” in other cultures) will keep you from harm and cut down your enemies.

You are under the care of the LORD your God. Therefore, anyone who would be your enemy is already defeated. In other words, David, you know better than to take vengeance into your own hands when the LORD has already promised the throne to you. Don’t incur bloodguilt on someone who is already as good as dead.

According to All the Good the LORD Has Promised

When the LORD has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you prince over Israel, my lord shall have no cause of grief, or pangs of conscience, for having shed blood without cause or for having saved himself. And when the LORD has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.”

1Sa 25:30-31

Her whole plea is couched in getting David to look at this decision in light of God’s promises to him. Remember, David, What you do today will stay on your conscience for the rest of your life. Think about the day when God has appointed you prince over Israel. You know the day is coming when the LORD has done…all the good he has spoken concerning you. Do you want to remember this as a day when you brought bloodguilt on yourself? Or do you want to remember this as the day you were the bigger man, because you trusted in God’s promises to you?

This is another reason I don’t believe this was David’s normal way of operating. If he was already known for killing every male when people refused to give what he asked, her appeal to his conscience would have been meaningless. What good could it possibly do to talk of avoiding bloodguilt if he already had bloodguilt?

My Lord, Remember Me

Your final words are the most important. They are what people most often remember. She says, Remember me when the LORD has dealt well with you. Normally, it does not go over well to ask a favor when you seek forgiveness. But it’s smart the way she does it. At the same time she asks him for kindness, she reminds him that God would one day fulfill God’s promises to him. When God has made you king of Israel, I ask you to remember me. What did the thief say to Jesus? “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luk 23:42 NRS). It’s almost word-for-word what Abigail said to David 1,000 years before.

Later, David’s son Solomon would write, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Pro 15:1 NRS). I wonder if he was thinking about this incident at the time. Nabal stirred up anger with his harsh words. Abigail turned it away. Abigail sounds like she has had a lot of practice turning away wrath with soft answers. No wonder considering who she’s married to. And just as Nabal knew what insults would hurt David, Abigail knew what to say to David to bring him back to his senses. She is a good teacher for this, so let’s see what we can learn from her.

How to Apologize to Men Ready to Kill

For anyone who has to turn away wrath, Abigail has given a great model. She was humble and apologetic throughout. In ancient Israel, to ask someone for forgiveness, you must apologize and also acknowledge that you (or someone associated with you) were wrong. It was common for people in these situations to refer to the offended party as “my lord,” and themselves as “your servant.” It was often not literally true, but it was a powerful way to humble yourself to them. Abigail refers to David as “my lord” and herself as “your servant” throughout her petition to David. In this case, she may have been thinking literally, because she believes he will be king one day.

She came bearing gifts. A “peace offering” for them did not always guarantee the person would accept an apology, but it was a way to put your money where your mouth is, so to speak. She brings the food David asked for initially. Without this, I don’t think any apology would have been strong enough to stop David.

She separated herself from her husband. She tells David, “I, your servant, did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent” (v. 25). The implication is if she had been there, she would have given them what they asked. She called her husband a fool for the way he acted, which in this case was appropriate. This not only separates her from her husband’s insults, it also blunts the impact of his words. What is an insult from a fool? It is empty and meaningless.

She spoke to him as if he had already granted her request, without being pushy or presumptuous. The worst mistake people often make when they apologize is to presume they have forgiven you before they actually forgive you. It works in her case, however, because the way she does it is not presumptuous. “Now then, my lord, as the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, since the LORD has restrained you from bloodguilt and from taking vengeance with your own hand, now let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be like Nabal” (v. 26). She slips it into the middle of her apology, making it subtle, almost subliminal even. She appeals to his piety, …as the LORD lives…since the LORD has restrained you…. And she follows it with a curse on David’s enemies, even including her husband. This reminds him God is not only watching him. God is watching Nabal as well. God knows the wrong he did to you, so trust God to execute justice on him and all your enemies.

She appreciated what he had done up until now. “The LORD will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the LORD” (v. 28). What did she mean? It could be referring back to when he led the armies of Israel into battle. I believe it also included the fighting he did to protect her husband’s estate from outlaws. In the minds of the people in that time, a good and just king protected the weak from the lawless. At any rate, the greatest compliment David could hear was that the work he did pleased the LORD, and Abigail gives him that pat on the back.

She let him know she believed in his destiny as much as he did. God had promised to make David king of Israel. Regardless of his present circumstances, this was his destiny. Nabal’s insults attacked that very promise that must have been sustaining David through these years of looking over his shoulder. David’s anger made him lose sight of the destiny he was working towards. Abigail reminded him, several times in this petition, God’s promises are true. The insults of a fool cannot negate them. She painted the picture of his destiny in such vivid language it drove the wrath out of him.

She appealed to his conscience. Conscience actually is a powerful motivator to those who have one. If you read chapter 24 of 1 Samuel, you know David’s conscience could make him absolutely miserable. I don’t know if Abigail knew about this event, but she brought up his conscience at the end. She told David on the day when he becomes king, “my lord shall have no cause of grief, or pangs of conscience, for having shed blood without cause or for having saved himself” (v. 31). When you take the throne, won’t that day be much happier if you don’t have any grief or pangs of conscience?

She urged him to consider his actions in light of God’s promises. Everything she said to him was in the context of the time “when the LORD has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you prince over Israel.” David, you know what God has promised you. You know God will fulfill all the good he has spoken concerning you (v. 30). God has been watching you and seen the good you have done (v. 28). God has also been watching my fool of a husband (vv. 25-26, 29). Don’t you think you can trust God to execute justice on your behalf? And may the LORD do so to all the enemies of you, my lord.

A Soft Answer Turneth Away Wrath

Were these words effective on David? You’d better believe it. He told her what he had planned, but because of her, the plan has changed. He accepted her gift and called off the raid he ordered (vv. 32-35). His men probably were not happy about that, but they obeyed. Listen to what he tells her.

“Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today! Blessed be your good sense, and blessed be you, who have kept me today from bloodguilt and from avenging myself by my own hand!” For as surely as the LORD the God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there would not have been left to Nabal so much as one male.”

1Sa 25:32-34 NRS

He sees her as a messenger from the LORD, the God of Israel. He tells her she can go back to her house in peace, because “I have heeded your voice, and I have granted your petition” (v. 35).

I think there is enough evidence here to prove Nabal’s wealth and success had nothing to do with him and everything to do with his clever and beautiful wife. She showed she was capable of rebuilding the bridges he burned. Her words were wise, not only for David but for us. We all need a voice like hers when we lose our temper to bring us back to our senses.

A Fool’s Reward

Her words were prophetic as well. God made David prince of Israel and established a sure house for him. God fulfilled all the good God had promised concerning David, just as she said God would. As for her husband, her words about him also came true. He looked like he was sitting pretty, getting drunk on fine wine and feasting like a king, all without paying David for services rendered (v. 36). But the next morning, Abigail told him what she had done. Here is what happened.

In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him; he became like a stone. About ten days later the LORD struck Nabal, and he died.

1Sa 25:37-38 NRS

It sounds like he had a heart attack. His arteries were probably already clogged up with all the rich food and wine he had consumed. However, that usually kills quickly, not ten days later. Was he in a coma? There is one other instance in the Bible I know of, Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:1-11). I’m not qualified to make a medical diagnosis. But according to the American Heart Association’s website, it is possible but extremely unlikely for a person to be literally scared to death. Even when it happens, there needs to be an underlying condition that makes a person’s heart weak enough to be susceptible to it.

Abigail told Nabal about her encounter with David. She probably stressed how he and every male that belonged to him would be dead right now if it weren’t for her. She might have even told him next time he angers a powerful man like David, she will not save him. She will just let him reap what he sowed. Whatever she said, it appears to have been enough to scare him to death, if that’s possible.

David and Abigail “Mourn”

David, I’m sure, will respond with appropriate and pious respect for the dead. I’m kidding, of course.

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the LORD who has judged the case of Nabal’s insult to me, and has kept back his servant from evil; the LORD has returned the evildoing of Nabal upon his own head.”

1Sa 25:39a NRS

Well, I can’t blame him too much for that. He had withheld himself from exacting revenge by his own hand, because Abigail urged him to trust the LORD. He trusted, and the LORD both avenged him and kept him from evil. David never received any blessing without thanking the LORD. It probably also served as an object lesson in how to deal with Saul. Saul stood between him and the throne and sought his life, but the LORD would take care of it when the time was right.

And now, Abigail is single, and David made a promise to remember her (v. 31).

Then David sent and wooed Abigail, to make her his wife. When David’s servants came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you to take you to him as his wife.”

1Sa 25:39b-40

Is that too soon? Abigail is a newly grieving widow. Common decorum says she should wait an appropriate amount of time before she can accept David’s proposal. Surely, she is going to send a message back to David that though she would love to marry him, it is too soon. She respectfully asks if he would be so kind to give her time to finish her period of mourning first. You know I’m kidding, right?

Sympathy for the Fool?

She rose and bowed down, with her face to the ground, and said, “Your servant is a slave to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.”

1Sa 25:41

Talk about a colloquialism. Not only does she follow the custom of saying she is David’s servant. She also says she will wash the feet of David’s servants. A pretty convoluted way of saying, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.”

Perhaps we could say in our own colloquialism, “David’s wish is my command.”

Abigail got up hurriedly and rode away on a donkey; her five maids attended her. She went after the messengers of David and became his wife.

1Sa 25:42 NRS

Got that one wrong too. I don’t begrudge them their happiness, but I keep thinking they should feel just a little bad for Nabal. Yes, he was a fool, mean and surly, so ill-natured that no one could speak to him. He could not have been easy for Abigail to live with all those years. It was probably an arranged marriage, so she had no choice. And David’s only dealings with him were not pleasant (to say the least). But still, you shouldn’t celebrate when someone dies, should you?

Okay, I’m not exactly shedding tears for him either. Maybe I’m thinking I should have more sympathy for him. It’s hard to feel bad for him, even though I think I should. After all, when his parents named him “Fool,” how could you expect him to turn out to be anything but?

Happily Ever After … Sort of

In spite of that, both of them have reason to be excited. She gets to marry the future king of Israel (not to mention a man who can be reasoned with, for a change), and he gets to marry a clever and beautiful woman who will enhance his reputation in that territory. After their encounter, how could he not be in love with her? It looks like it could be the beginning of a great love story. Unfortunately, royalty and romance don’t go together in the ancient world. Like most kings, he will have more than one wife. In fact, it begins in the very next verse.

David also married Ahinoam of Jezreel; both of them became his wives.

1Sa 25:43 NRS

David and Abigail probably had a great honeymoon before he married Ahinoam of Jezreel. In Geraldine Brooks’s The Secret Chord, one thing I think she got right is despite David having multiple wives, Abigail remained a favored wife and one of his most trusted advisors until she died. Perhaps she was even a maternal figure for him, sort of like Camilla to Prince Charles. It’s not quite “happily ever after” as we think of it. But if you were a king, or married to a king, it was the most you could hope for.

There is one more matter to complicate this story. David was married to Saul’s daughter, Michal. In David’s absence, Saul has given her to another man (v. 44). Right now, David is probably not thinking about that. But when David takes the throne, what to do about Michal will be an issue he can’t ignore. Just a little bit of foreshadowing to end the chapter.

Conclusion

As a writer, I am really impressed with how richly human these characters are. David and Abigail are exceptionally gifted in different ways, David as a warrior and leader, Abigail as a negotiator and businesswoman. Not to mention, she doesn’t get enough credit for her prophetic gifts. It’s easy to see how their abilities will complement each other. She will make David a wiser and more just king. Yet both of them show they can be frustrated. David had been running from Saul for years. When Nabal compared him to a fugitive slave, all his frustration boiled over.

As for Abigail, I think all those years of cleaning up Nabal’s messes came to a head. We’re not told exactly what she said to Nabal, but it scared him enough that it was the last thing he heard. Maybe a weak heart, combined with clogged arteries from his feasting and drinking, made it possible for her words to upset him so much it killed him. And maybe she knew it could happen, but no one can prove it.

I don’t want to condone even a possible murder. If this was her acting out years of frustration, and it led to an accidental death, I don’t blame her. But if she knew her words would kill him, I find that a little chilling. Truth is, though, most people cheer when the villain dies.

Nabal was not only a fool. He was the worst kind of villain to ancient Israelites. A rich man who gained all his wealth from the efforts of others (Abigail, his shepherds and servants, David, and probably more), yet acted as if he had earned it all. A man of obscene wealth who kept it all for himself. A man who could feast like a king, let others around him go hungry, and sleep like a baby. A man who acted as if basic hospitality would drive him to poverty when he really had more than enough for everyone. To be fair, his parents named him “Fool.” We should think about what it must have been like growing up with everyone calling him “Fool.”

Not the Godfather

Godfather meme: "You got some nice sheep and goats. Would be a shame if something happened to them."
This is not David.

Hopefully, I have made the case that the way we see David in this episode is not how he normally operated. Did you think David and his 600 men were the only outlaws riding around? They weren’t. If they were, I would believe the theory of David running a protection racket was most likely true. But since there were other gangs of outlaws, it served David and his men better in the long run to protect people from bandits than to act like bandits themselves. Did you think when he told Nabal nothing was missing from his flocks while he and his men were around, he meant, “You owe us because we didn’t take anything”? No, he meant nothing was missing because they protected Nabal’s property from bandits.

I can only conclude this idea of him operating a protection racket came from not understanding the historical background David and these other characters lived in.

This is what happens when you read the Bible out of your own experience rather than its original context. Context includes historical and cultural background. It includes translating from the original languages. Our own context may suggest David was running a protection racket. The original context says he was more like an informal police force protecting landowners and ordinary folk from theft and harm. David and Abigail were already interesting characters. Getting to know them in the text and the context has made them ten times as interesting to me as before.

Kill Any That What on the Wall? A Character Study of David, Nabal, and Abigail

One way I like to combine my love of Bible study and writing is with character studies of fascinating Biblical figures. David is one of the most interesting characters in the Bible. One particular story from 1 Samuel 25 tells us a lot about him and a woman who eventually became his wife. I am reposting it because it seems like a good time to bring it back. This is the first of a two-part series.


When you hear David and _______, what do you fill in the blank with? Or rather, who do you fill in the blank with? Probably David and Goliath, perhaps David’s most glorious moment. Maybe you think David and Bathsheba, definitely not David’s most glorious moment. Have you heard of David and Nabal?

The story of David’s dealings with Nabal (1 Samuel 25) is one of the most controversial episodes from David’s time before he became king. Many commentators read it this way: David asks a rich man named Nabal for some food for his men, so they can have a feast. When Nabal refuses and insults him, David totally overreacts and almost commits a mass murder. He tells his men to kill every male of Nabal’s household. Only the intervention of Nabal’s wife, Abigail, prevents him from slaughtering many innocents.

This is true for the most part. However, many people read this as David’s M.O. He would first ask for what he needed. If they gave it to him, no harm would follow. If they did not give it to him willingly, he and his men would ride roughshod over everyone, kill all the males, and take everything they could carry. Among those who present that view are Geraldine Brooks, author of The Secret Chord. This is an excellent work of Biblical Fiction concerning David, written from the perspective of Nathan, David’s court prophet and close adviser.

In The Secret Chord, while David is on the run from Saul, he gathers together a band of men, in part for his protection, and in part because leading warriors is something he’s good at. If you have an army, one of the most urgent and constant questions is how are you going to feed them? According to Brooks, he does to everyone what he does to Nabal: He asks and waits. If they give him the food he needs, he leaves them in peace. If not, he kills all the males of the household. The reason is more than just revenge. He wants to send a message to all he will encounter, “Give us what we want, or there will be no mercy.”

Was this David’s M.O.?

This was an old tactic among armies in the ancient world. Wholesale slaughter of one city creates terror in the surrounding areas. The next city might not even resist if they know how dire the consequences will be. And even if they do, a terrified enemy is much easier to defeat. His men, David tells Nathan, are his first responsibility. He will do “whatever is necessary” to feed them and care for them.

In many ways, Brooks did a wonderful job of fleshing out David’s story. However, when it comes to the question of whether or not this is how David normally operated, I have a different take on it. This is the only text where we see David behave this way, so let’s take a look at it.

Nabal the “Fool”

There was a man in Maon, whose property was in Carmel. The man was very rich; he had three thousand sheep and a thousand goats. He was shearing his sheep in Carmel. Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife Abigail. The woman was clever and beautiful, but the man was surly and mean; he was a Calebite.

(1 Sam 25:2-3 NRS)

Nabal means “fool” in Hebrew (v. 25). You have to wonder what kind of parents would name their son “Fool.” It also says he was a Calebite. It’s hard to know whether this was a significant detail or not. Every culture has its racial and ethnic stereotypes. Were they known for being surly and mean? (Cf. 30:14; Jos 14:13; 15:13). Whether or not he is typical of Calebites, we will see in this story he lives up to the name his parents had given him.

David heard in the wilderness that Nabal was shearing his sheep.

1 Sam 25:4

This is an important detail. Shearing the sheep for sheepherders and goatherders was like the harvest for farmers. This is when they get paid for the work they’ve done. They have plenty, they will usually celebrate with a feast, so this is when they are normally most generous. But, as we’ve been told, Nabal was surly and mean.

A Peaceful Delegation

So David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, “Go up to Carmel, and go to Nabal, and greet him in my name.

“Thus you shall salute him: ‘Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have. I hear that you have shearers; now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing, all the time they were in Carmel. Ask your young men, and they will tell you. Therefore let my young men find favor in your sight; for we have come on a feast day. Please give whatever you have at hand to your servants and to your son David.'”

1 Sam 25:5-8

Look at verse seven for a minute: …we did [your shepherds] no harm, and they missed nothing, all the time they were in Carmel. Why do people think this is referring to some mafia-style protection racket? I suppose if you have Godfather movies on the brain, this might sound like a veiled threat. But the rest of the chapter makes it clear: They missed nothing, does not mean “We didn’t take anything, so you owe us.” It means David and his men protected them from bandits, who would have taken anything they wanted by force.

Let’s pause for a minute and notice a few things:

  1. David did not approach Nabal with all 600 of his men brandishing swords, which would clearly have been a request “they could not refuse.” He sent a delegation of ten. That doesn’t sound like he’s looking for wholesale slaughter.
  2. His greeting and request could not have been more polite, not like common bandits would ask.
  3. He asks at a time when Nabal has plenty, so it will not place any hardship on him.
  4. He reminded Nabal of the protection he had given his men and flocks before this. Since Nabal has reaped the benefits of David’s protection, was it unreasonable to ask him for help when he needed something?
  5. The bandits who roamed the land, looking for easy plunder, would not have been so polite. They were the reason why Nabal’s sheep and goat herders appreciated David’s protection.
  6. He asked on a feast day, when it was tradition to share your bounty with those in need.

On a Feast Day

Why does David mention they have come on a feast day? In Hebrew, the phrase is yom tob, literally, “a good day.” However, the Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon (BDB) says yom tob sometimes refers to a “festal day,” or a feast (cf. Est 8:17; 9:19, 22; Zec 8:19).

Here’s an example from the Book of Nehemiah. On the festival of Rosh Hashanah, the priest, Ezra, reads the entire copy of the Torah to the people, and they have interpreters to help people understand. The people weep, probably because they know they have disobeyed it. But Ezra is quick to tell this festival is not about putting a guilt trip on them. It’s a time to celebrate and thank God for all the ways God has blessed us.

Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Neh 8:10

A festal day, a day that is holy to our LORD, is a day for celebration. It’s a day to enjoy your bounty and share it with those for whom nothing is prepared. The Law of Moses even told them to collect a tithe for that purpose.

Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake.

Deu 14:28-29

And again in Deuteronomy,

When you have finished paying all the tithe of your produce in the third year (which is the year of the tithe), giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns, then you shall say before the LORD your God: “I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to the Levites, the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows, in accordance with your entire commandment that you commanded me; I have neither transgressed nor forgotten any of your commandments:

Deu 26:12-13 NRS

Part of the purpose of the tithes was to make sure everyone would have something to eat on the religious holidays, or as is said in our passage, a feast day. Those who had an abundance were supposed to share with the poor and needy on the feast days. David and his men were needy. Try feeding 600 men, plus their wives and children, in the middle of a wilderness if you don’t believe me.

This is said today as part of the Passover Seder:

“This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat: Whoever is in need, let him come and celebrate the Pesach”.

(Haggadah)

I know this comes from a time long after David. But like most traditions in the Haggadah, they were well known among the Jews and Israelites long before they were written down. I’m not saying this was part of the Passover Seder in David’s time, but the spirit of it was in their culture. You see it in the tithes they collected for the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows. They should never go hungry but especially on a festal day. David’s request for some food, so he and his men could celebrate a feast, just like Nabal (who was enjoying a feast fit for a king, v. 36), was consistent with the spirit of the Law of Moses regarding feasts. That’s why he makes a point of saying it’s a feast day.

The Fool Responds

So David’s men make the request and wait. In vv. 10-11, we get Nabal’s response.

But Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and the meat that I have butchered for my shearers, and give it to men who come from I do not know where?”

(1Sa 25:10-11 NRS)

Nabal says, “Who is David?” as if he were a nobody. He likens David to a fugitive slave – because he ran from Saul. He compared David to an outlaw, the very kind of people David and his men protected Nabal’s flocks and herders from.

He said David and his men “Come from I do not know where.” He called them aliens. They really weren’t, but calling them this made him even more culpable. What does the law in Deuteronomy 26:13 say again? “Then you shall say before the LORD your God: ‘I have removed the sacred portion from the house, and I have given it to…the resident aliens.’” If they are resident aliens, as he said, the Torah specifically requires him to share his abundance with David and his men, even if they had not protected him all year.

For a guy who claims not to know David, he seems to know exactly what insults will wound him the most.

Of course, David is furious. He orders 400 of his men to come with him while 200 stay with the baggage. Why? They need to protect their own stuff from bandits (see ch. 30).

Quick, Tell Abigail

The 400 who came with David were out for blood. Fortunately for Nabal’s household, one servant told Abigail.

But one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he shouted insults at them. Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we never missed anything when we were in the fields, as long as we were with them; they were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep.

(1Sa 25:14-16 NRS)

One of Nabal’s herders says he had felt safe because of David’s protection. Back in verse seven, David’s envoys told Nabal, “Now your shepherds have been with us, and we did them no harm, and they missed nothing, all the time they were in Carmel.” Was this as a description of David’s mafia-style “protection” business? “You got some nice sheep and goats here. Would be a shame if something happened to them.”

I might be open to that kind of interpretation if it weren’t for two factors:

  1. David and his merry band of outlaws were not the only armed nomads in the area. If they had been, that interpretation would be likely. However, the land of Israel was notorious for bandits. It was a great territory to operate if you were a criminal. Because of the many caves, you and your gang could hide from the authorities, if they ever happened to show up (which many times they did not).
  2. The eyewitness report of the young man who tended Nabal’s flocks. He said they were very good to us…we suffered no harm…we never missed anything…as long as they were with us. They were a wall to us both by night and by day, so no bandits could slip past them and steal from us. Does that sound even close to what you would say about mafia henchmen coming to collect their “rent”?

Now let’s hear the rest of his testimony.

Now therefore know this and consider what you should do; for evil has been decided against our master and against all his house; he is so ill-natured that no one can speak to him.”

1Sa 25:17

See? You were gonna skip that, weren’t you? How did he know evil has been decided against our master and against all his house? Because that’s how David operated.

No, that’s how bandits operated. How did he know David was planning evil against them? Because he saw his master take good from David and reward him with evil (v. 21). He knew David and his men were skilled warriors. He heard the insults Nabal hurled at him, and yes, David had his pride. He could not let such insults go unpunished. Any fool would have known that. That is, any fool except Nabal, a man so ill-natured that no one can speak to him. I bet the young man tried, but it was like trying to reason with a brick wall.

I imagine he had a lot of experiences like this: His master acting like an ass, and no one could tell him to shut up. He had learned where to go when his master was mean and surly. We’ve already been told Abigail, unlike her husband, was smart (v. 3). She knew what to do. Whenever you see a fool like him somehow rich, it has to be one of two reasons: 1) he inherited it; or 2) he has a clever wife who covers for his idiocy.

She gathered together enough for a feast for David and his men, loaded it on donkeys, and sent them ahead of her. She did not tell her husband, of course (vv. 18-19). Duh! We already know she’s no idiot.

Evil Is Coming

Next, we find out exactly what evil David has planned against Nabal and all his house.

Now David had said, “Surely it was in vain that I protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; but he has returned me evil for good. God do so to David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.”

1Sa 25:21-22

Most modern translations clean up the language. However, if we go back to a time before such sensibilities about cursing in a holy book, this is how the King James Version renders that last verse.

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.

1Sa 25:22 KJV
Who's Next Album Cover
Better not let David catch you, boys.

In other words, any male—man or child—who is old enough to stand up to urinate, is good as dead. And now we are back to the question, was this David’s normal way of supporting himself and his men while he was on the run from Saul? So far we’ve seen not only David but Nabal’s own servant say he had been protecting Nabal’s men and flocks, so no. This was not his M.O. The next questions I think need to be answered are,

  1. What was he doing instead?
  2. Why did he change his mind here?

What Was He Doing Instead?

This is my take. I haven’t seen anyone else say this. But if David was not taking what he wanted by brute force, how did he support himself and his men? I think the answer is in what he had done for Nabal up until this point. He protected honest farmers, herders, and villagers from outlaws, and in return they gave him and his men the food they needed. Ever heard of Barzillai? Probably not. We don’t meet him until the second book of Samuel, but his history with David went back to these same days before he became king.

Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man.

(2Sa 19:32 NRS)

He had provided the king with food. David protected Barzillai, and Barzillai fed David. I don’t think he was the only one. There were humane reasons for it, and practical reasons on both sides. Men like Barzillai needed protection from bandits, who will kill anyone who stands in their way and take everything. David and his men needed food, so you gave them what they needed, and they would protect you from the bandits. If you hired guards, you would have to feed and pay them anyway, so this was not unreasonable.

For David, it helped him keep practicing his leadership and military skills. It also built support for him among the people. Saul either could not or would not protect them from outlaws. David did, and they would remember that when he became king.

In his King Arthur trilogy, Bernard Cornwell wrote the story of Arthur from the perspective of Arthur’s friend, Derfel. In the first volume, The Winter King, one of my favorite scenes is where Arthur explains to Derfel why they can’t just rush into villages and slaughter and plunder anytime they have a disagreement with the people.

It’s easy for us, he tells Derfel, to come in and take whatever we want and kill whoever we want. We have swords, shields, armor, and horses. They don’t. We are trained to fight. They aren’t. But there’s an unspoken agreement between us. We fight to protect them, because they can’t fight for themselves. In return, they grow the food that feeds us, produce the clothing we wear, and forge the armor and weapons we use to fight. As long as they know we are on their side, we don’t have to take what we need. They’ll either give it or sell it to us.

I think that is the kind of ethic David was trying to live by, and that he was trying to teach his men to live by. Which brings us to the second question.

Why Did He Change?

This is not an apology for David. I am not interested in defending the indefensible. I am, however, interested in understanding his state of mind at the moment. Writers need to understand their characters’ motivations, whether they agree with them or not. In David’s case, I think he felt pressure in a number of ways to behave like a bandit and outlaw. He resisted successfully for a while, but this was the moment when many factors came together at once and pushed him over the edge. Those factors were:

  • The death of Samuel (1 Sam 25:1).
  • It was a rough world.
  • A “Biblical” concept of justice
  • His men wanted him to do this
  • Building frustration over having to hide like a criminal
  • Insults that touched his own insecurities

Let’s look at each of these factors in turn.

The Death of Samuel

Just before this story begins, we are told,

Now Samuel died; and all Israel assembled and mourned for him. They buried him at his home in Ramah. Then David got up and went down to the wilderness of Paran.

1Sa 25:1

Anyone can feel lost after the death of a mentor. Samuel was the one who started David on his journey that had taken him from being a shepherd to being commander of the king’s armies. Samuel had been with the people when they demanded a king. Against his better judgment, he accepted their pleas and anointed Saul. But after an act of disobedience, Samuel told Saul the LORD had rejected him as king. Since kings ruled for life, he could not remove Saul from the throne. That didn’t stop Samuel from calling David out of the fields and anointing him as king, even though Saul was still alive.

After defeating Goliath, David caught the attention of Saul, who brought him into the palace. He made David an officer in the army, where he quickly rose up the ranks and became a commander. Saul probably did not know Samuel had anointed David (they would keep that a secret for obvious reasons), but he still saw David as a threat. His jealousy over David’s rising popularity led him to put a price on David’s head, which was why David was hiding out in the wilderness.

That is a greatly oversimplified summary of how David got into the situation we see him now. All of that was to say Samuel’s death had to have affected him. All of Israel mourned for Samuel, and David probably mourned him more than most. The man who anointed him king was now dead. He had been on the run from Saul for years at this point. How does that make sense if the LORD had chosen him to be king? Samuel’s death probably left him with some unresolved questions.

It Was a Rough World

We’ve already noted bandits roamed throughout the countryside. You could barely travel from one city to another without running into them. The men David would have attracted could easily have fallen in with one of these gangs. They knew the ways bandits and outlaws operated. They accepted David’s leadership, but he had to be strong to keep their respect.

He told his men they would kill “every male of all that belongs to him,” but he did not invent that expression. It was already well known, both as a saying and as a tactic, among the outlaws and armies. I’m not saying he was right. I’m saying it was a rough world, and people sometimes sink to the lowest level of their world when they are under pressure.

“Biblical” Justice

David’s reasoning was, “We protected all that belongs to him. Now, we will kill all that belongs to him.” We wouldn’t call that justice, to kill the innocent of an entire household because one man returned evil for good. But there are parts of the Bible that show for people of that time, that kind of logic partially defined justice for the Israelites. For example, here’s an early pronouncement against men who abuse widows and orphans.

You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.

(Exo 22:22-24 NRS)

If you abuse any widow or orphan, I will kill you. Then your wives shall become widows and your children orphans. It is the same kind of logic David used to justify what he was about to do. Over time, that attitude would change. In the later prophets, like Jeremiah, you see the people, and God, coming around to an idea that people should pay for their own sins, not for their masters’ or their parents’. To Israelites of that time, however, there was justice in what David was planning.

His Men Wanted It

This is another example of what a rough world it was. He was leading rough men. They respected him, but his hold on them was tenuous (1 Sa 30:1-6). I’m sure they were watching to see if David was strong enough to do what was “necessary” when someone tried to take advantage of David’s decency.

When David announced his plan, did any of his men say, “Wait a minute, David. Don’t you think that’s a little extreme? Of course we’re gonna kill Nabal, but come on now. We know the young men who watched his flocks. They’re good people”? No. I bet they were excited, like, “This is what we’ve been waiting for! Every man, strap on his sword!” At a time when David needed a voice of reason, there were none.

Rising Frustration That Came to a Head

David was supposed to be king. God sent Samuel years ago to anoint him. Why was he still having to hide out in the wilderness? In most nations, when one man believed the gods have made him king, he claimed it by killing the current occupant of the throne. David could not do that, and he could not send someone else to do it. His conscience would not allow him to lift his hand against the LORD’s anointed (1 Sa 24:5-6). Yes, the LORD had rejected Saul as king. That was why Samuel anointed David to take his place. But as far as David was concerned, once God anointed someone, that anointing never left. Even though Saul was trying to kill him, David could not defend himself like he would against any other enemy. So basically, he was waiting for Saul to die by God’s hand. Today, we would call it natural causes.

Now Samuel was dead. Maybe some questions he had been carrying in his heart became more urgent. If God has anointed me king of Israel, why must I live like a fugitive? Why would God anoint me before I could take the throne? Maybe Saul found out. Of course. That is the reason why Saul thinks I want to kill him. And why he will never believe I mean him no harm. There is nothing I can do to change that, so why did God put me in this position? How long will I have to wait before God fulfills his promise to me?

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

(Psa 13:1-2 NRS)

Pressure was building inside him, and it only took one fool to say the wrong things to make that volcano blow.

Insults that Touched His Own Insecurities

I mentioned before that Nabal knew exactly what insults would wound David the deepest. He compared David to a fugitive slave, because he was hiding from his master, Saul. That wasn’t true, of course. Even though God had made him a rival to Saul’s throne, he always tried to do right by Saul. He couldn’t bring himself to kill Saul, even when God gave him into his hands (ch. 24). But this could be interpreted in a bad way. He was living like a fugitive and an outlaw, despite his best intentions. It was a sore point for David, a scab no wise person would pick at. But what do you expect from a man whose name means “Fool”?

Nabal said, “Who is David?”

David thought, “Who am I? I’m the one who’s been protecting everything that belongs to you, your young men, and your flocks.”

Nabal said, “Who is the son of Jesse?”

David thought, “Oh, so he insulted my father too?”

Nabal said, “Shall I take my bread and my water and the meat that I have butchered for my shearers, and give it to men who come from I do not know where?”

David thought, “The reason you have this abundance of bread and water and meat is because my men and I have been protecting you. Without us, bandits would have taken all of it. And after all that, you talk as if I don’t even have a right to be here in the whole territory of Maon? I was anointed king of Israel. This whole nation is mine. I’ll show you who has a right to be here, and who doesn’t!”


This was a crossroads for David. If he had gone through with his plan, I don’t think it would have stopped with Nabal. I think it would have changed his character forever. The irony would have been he would have become exactly what Nabal accused him of. But remember, Abigail was already working behind the scenes to clean up her idiot husband’s mess—again (I guarantee this was not the first time she had had to do just that). What she did to assuage David’s anger was positively brilliant. I will pick up with that in the second part of this character study.