When Kings Go Out – When Messengers Sally Forth

In 2 Samuel 11:1, the setup for David’s sin with Bathsheba and subsequent cover-up has an intriguing ambiguity in the manuscripts we have, as pointed out by Alter and Polzin. Many have the word for “kings,” which seems to make the most sense. It is kings that go out, or sally forth, to battle. This is a time when David should have been out in the field with his army, and instead he is lounging at home, looking at rooftops. Yet the received text has the word for “messengers” instead, which is never used in conjunction with the verb “to go out” or “to go forth.”

So which word is it? Kings or messengers? One suspects that this “scribal contradiction” is actually a literary device used by the divine Author Himself. The ambiguity between the two words seems deliberate.

Throughout the next two chapters, it literally is the time when messengers go out. David sends messengers, Joab sends messengers, and Uriah becomes the messenger of his own death warrant. The whole story takes place through the mediation of messengers.

And then, for the climax of the episode, God sends His own messenger, who declares that the sword will not swerve from David’s house.

It is a time for messengers to go out, indeed.


The Responsibility of Hannah’s Vow

Hannah vows that, if the LORD would give her a son, she would give the son back all the days of his life. After Samuel is born and weaned, Hannah and Elkanah present the boy in the temple. Many times, this is presented as Elkanah being supportive of Hannah’s choices and obligations. That he was an understanding husband, a passenger on the ride of Hannah’s righteous choice. Elkanah certainly was an understanding husband, but not in the way that is typically implied.

To understand what is really going on, we have to understand the proper authority of the husband over his wife and family, which even extends over vows made. Numbers 30:3-16 outlines the basic relationship, but it can be summed up by quoting verses 6-8:

“If she marries a husband, while under her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if, on the day that her husband comes to hear of it, he opposes her, then he makes void her vow that was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she bound herself. And the Lord will forgive her.

Elkanah had the right and authority to dissolve Hannah’s vow the moment he heard of it. We don’t know when Hannah told him of the vow, but we do know that whenever she did, he confirmed it. In 1 Samuel 1:21, it says the man Elkanah went up to “pay his vow.” His vow. Hannah’s vow was now Elkanah’s vow, and as the husband, it was now his responsibility to ensure it was fulfilled.  Hannah, understandably, wants to delay, and Elkanah offers a gentle reminder in 1 Samuel 1:23:

Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; wait until you have weaned him; only, may the Lord establish his word.”

The husband’s role in all of this if further clarified in Numbers 30:15:

But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.

Like the entire relationship between a husband and his wife, this confirmation of authority also serves to provide a picture of Christ and His church. The husband takes responsibility, and bears the iniquity.

What light does it shine on husbands today? In most cases, we have abdicated or had this responsibility usurped.

The Herald that Hannah Gets, Not the Herald She Deserves

In the Bible, whenever we are presented with a barren woman, we should be expecting the announcement of good news. Many times, a herald will come and pronounce that her suffering will be over, and a child is on the way.

  • Sarah hears of the news from 3 angelic beings, one of them being a theophany of God himself.
  • Manoah and his wife get the prototypical angel of the LORD to announce the coming of Samson.
  • The Shunammite Woman in 2 Kings 4 has Elisha tell her that she will bear a son.
  • Zechariah, in Luke 1, has an angel tell him that his wife would bear him a son named John.

In the opening chapter of 1 Samuel, we are presented with Hannah, and like other barren women, she will be blessed with a child. But the herald she gets saddled with is Eli.

Eli is introduced to us as a bumbling priest, who can’t even tell the difference between someone praying and someone being drunk. This hints at what is to come. We will be informed later that Eli’s eyes are dim, and his sons are out of control. Judgement is coming on his house (and by proxy, the nation) because of his apathy and impotence.

Here, acting as a herald, he doesn’t even know the content of Hannah’s petition. He simply offers a generic blessing. “May the God of Israel grant your petition.” Its a far cry from a prophet like Elisha or an angel of the LORD pronouncing something with authority. Neither Hannah nor Samuel seem to get the mighty herald they deserve, but as Robert Alter observes, Eli’s parody of such a herald sets the rest of the story up nicely, where Eli’s faulty authority will be replaced by the leadership of Samuel.

Bible Reading Plan for the New Year

Towards the end of last year, I gave Grant Horner’s Bible Reading System a spin. It’s main assumption is that Christians don’t read enough Scripture (true enough), and we are especially unfamiliar with the Old Testament (ditto again). Professor Horner’s prescription is a reading of 10 chapters a day. It seems like a lot, because it is. That’s the whole point. His intention is not that this will replace normal, in-depth Bible study, but provide readers with better context, giving their more in-depth studies greater value.

Basically, every book of the Bible is bucketed into one of 10 lists, and every day you read a chapter from each list. The Pentateuch is a list, the Gospels are a list, and the book of Psalms is its own list. When you get to the end of the list, you just start over. You end up reading all of Gospels every 89 days, for example. View a complete rundown here.

So I gave it a shot. I got into a rhythm. It took me a total time of 40-50 minutes per day, and I would read half in the morning and half at night before going to bed. Eventually, I took Sunday’s “off,” and made Saturday a “catchup” day. This made the whole thing less intimidating and more enjoyable, but it still ended up being fragile.

In November I went to my company retreat, and with the change of my daily routine for the week, my daily reading habit of almost two months was shattered. Even after the trip, I couldn’t get back in the rhythm. It seemed too much. The good news is that I still read 2 chapters a day, and after spending so much time reading 10 chapters per day, 2 chapters felt like nothing at all.

New Plan for 2015

At the start of the new year, I wanted to start reading more again, but I knew that it would be just as fragile, and I travel enough that it was a worry. So I tweaked the plan. In the original, both Proverbs and Acts were their own single-book lists. I understand why. These are important books, and Proverbs in particular rewards repeated, constant reading. But they also tend to have the longest chapters and were part of the reason why my readings were taking so long. It made things that much more daunting.

So I shuffled some things around. Proverbs is now grouped in with the rest of the Wisdom literature, and Acts is now grouped in with the Gospels. Here are my version of the lists:

  1. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts (117 days)
  2. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (187 days)
  3. Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Hebrews (78 days)
  4. 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude, Revelation (65 days)
  5. Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (93 days)
  6. Psalms (150 days)
  7. Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (249 days)
  8. Major and Minor Prophets (250 days)

So now I try to read 8 chapters per day. This is still a large amount of Scripture, but I feel its much more sustainable, and much less fragile. It now rarely takes me longer than 35 minutes to finish my reading. I might end up moving Acts to the beginning of list 4 after trying this for a while, but we’ll see.

If you’re looking for something challenging, and a bit more interesting than your typical yearly Bible reading plan, I’d encourage you to try it out.

When God Became Dust

Text: Hebrews 2:5-8

The Triune God is eternal, the alpha and omega, the great I AM, He who always has been, and always will be, everlasting and never changing, the very source of the fabric of reality as we know it. A God who spoke the worlds into existence, laid the foundations of the earth, placed the barriers of the sea. A God who knows the number of hairs on your head, and everyone’s head, who knows when every sparrow falls from the sky, when every blade of grass withers, who sustains us through every breath and with every heartbeat…A God who holds together every atom that makes up your body, your skin, your blood, your mind, with nothing but his Words.

This God, who stepped down into history, into time, and became dust. This God who is the rock and anchor of all time and reality became a vapor. This unchanging God was born of a woman, and began to grow older. This God outside of time, to whom one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day, was born on earth and felt every…crawling…second. This everlasting God was born into a body that was pierced and torn. This eternal God who…died.

How…do you come up with an analogy for that? How do you truly fathom the weight of the significance?

And just as he was fully God, he was also fully man. When he was a baby, he soiled his diaper. God in the flesh, his backside being wiped by his mother, because he couldn’t control his bowels. Just like all babies that age. And when he was born, do you know he made his mother unclean, according to the Law of Moses? God made someone unclean.