28 July 2011

Psalm 52 (Part 3- An Answer & 'Holy Doegs')

Who is David referring to in the opening verse of Psalm 52? David says that this man is a hero or mighty man who boasts of evil, whose tongue plots destruction, who is deceitful, loving evil more than good, lying more than truth and loves words that devour. David wrote this Psalm after the unfortunate incident recorded in 1 Samuel 21 & 22.

In my opinion, the best way of approaching this Psalm, as it relates to the story that inspired it, is to work from the Psalm backwards to the story. So then, what is this Psalm about?

May I propose that this Psalm is about where one puts his/her trust and hope. To put it another way, it is about which basket one puts all his/her eggs. It is about what in our lives is our pillar and our hope and even our boast.

Where am I getting this from? Well, notice that the end of verse one "the steadfast love of God endures all the day" doesn't fit in well with the rest of the section (Verses 1-4). It almost stands alone, unrelated to what is being said, notice:
1Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
2Your tongue plots destruction,
like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
3You love evil more than good,
and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah
4You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue.
~Psalm 52:1-4 (ESV)
In this phrase, however, lies the key to understanding the Psalm. The man described in this Psalm did something that was evil and wrong and yet was considered heroic and mighty. He boasted in this evil act and it defined him. This mighty act, the name and everything else that came as a result of it became his refuge. Thus David says in vs. 7 that the righteous will see this man when he is punished by God and say:
"See the man who did not make God his refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of his riches
and sought refuge in his own destruction!"
This man didn't trust in God but in what he had accomplished and that accomplishment became his refuge, his pillar if you will. It was the basket in which he put all his eggs.

David, on the other hand, who could have trusted and depended in and on the fame he garnered from his defeat of Goliath and the fact that he had been anointed King of Israel (things actually noble), did not make these things his refuge. He did not boast about them or put his trust in them, he did not depend on those things. He trusted, rather, in God's steadfast love:
"But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God
I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever..."
~Vs 8
This explains David's odd statement in the first verse. What David seems to be doing there is contrasting. Why boast of evil accomplishments when you can boast of God's steadfast love? Why boast and trust and seek refuge in accomplishments that are even evil when God's steadfast love (a much more appealing and rewarding thing) lasts forever and ever?

Having understood the heart of the Psalm, we can now infer that Doeg, having annihilated an entire town, boasted of it. Being the only man who was willing to carry out that daring instruction, Saul may have rewarded him materially and politically (interms of a promotion for he was merely Saul's head shepherd), thus the statement "...but trusted in the abundance of his riches..." in verse 7.

The town of Nob was a town for the priests and Doeg killed everyone of them except one who escaped. This would have made him famous at best and infamous at worst. His name was on everyone's lips and he did not hesitate to mention anywhere he went that he was the face behind that name. Being an Edomite and therefore an alien (The Edomites and Israelites weren't the best of pals) he would have found it easier to kill the priests and would have bragged about it to his fellow Edomites. Thus we see that Doeg had reason and motive to boast in his evil actions.

How do we reconcile the lying? Doeg knew that he would be endangering the life of Ahimelek the priest by revealing that he had helped David. One can tell because he brutally killed not only Ahimelek but the whole town of Nob. Surely if he was really trying to be a good servant of the King he would have killed Ahimelek only, why kill the entire town? There was obviously something else going on. He wanted Ahimelek to suffer and perhaps even the entire town of priests. He lied by making it look as though Ahimelek was conspiring with David. He deceived the King by appearing loyal to him when in actual fact he had a personal vendetta. Thus David calls him a liar and deceiver who loved devouring words.

What did Doeg have against the priests? It is not mentioned. It could have had something to do with his detainment (1 Sam 21:7). This is the most convincing for me, as he may have become bitter about being detained and taken it out on all the priests. Perhaps he harboured some resentment against the priests. It could have had something to do with the fact that he was an Edomite. We cannot be sure, but he certainly had a bone to chew with them!

We are like Doeg sometimes. Perhaps not in brutality but in our accomplishments and all that comes with them. They become our refuge, security, pillar and even our boast. While Doeg boasted and found refuge in an evil accomplishment, perhaps we find refuge and boast in noble accomplishments. For instance, a graduate can find security in the high grades or honours achieved and feel their furture is secure based on them. Or a woman can find security in marrying a good man when her friends have no one. Those pursuing their careers may find security and refuge in a good job recently acquired etc. Notice that David who could have boasted and taken refuge in things noble preferred rather, to boast and take refuge in the steadfast love of God.

Perhaps those most obvious example of this are men and women in the afternoon of their lives who have achieved great things. Especially professors who will leave no person who they meet 'unturned', letting them know what they have accomplished in their lives. I am reminded of one particular professor we greeted as 'Mr.' and he asked us not to take away his professorship because he did not receive it on a silver platter. "Call me Dr. or Prof.- I worked hard for it," he said. There is nothing wrong with that, unless it becomes our boast, refuge and security. We then become nothing but holy Doegs.

Let us therefore trust in the steadfast love of God which endures forever and ever. Let it become our refuge and boast and then like David, we will be like green olive trees in the house of the Lord!

Why do you boast of anything other than God's love? It is steadfast and endures all the day!

"The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms..." ~Duet 33:27.

25 July 2011

Psalm 52 (Part 2- The Puzzle)

Psalm 52 was written after the tragic tale recorded in 1 Samuel 21 & 22. Part 1 of this series of posts narrates the story and is necessary in appreciating the Psalm. To read Part 1 click here.

Psalm 52 reads as follows (ESV):
To the choirmaster. A Maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, "David has come to the house of Ahimelech." 
1Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? The steadfast love of God endures all the day. 2Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. 3You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah

4You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. 5But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
6The righteous shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying, 7"See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!"

8But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. 9I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.

The puzzle of this Psalm lies in the question, who do the negative opening statements of this Psalm refer to? Who is this mighty man who boasts of evil, plots destruction, works deceit and loves evil and lying? Who is David referring to who loves devouring words and has a deceitful tongue?

There are three schools of thought:

  • Doeg?
Perhaps like me, you immediately thought Doeg the Edomite must be the man in question. Unfortunately though, Doeg doesn't quite fit the bill. That he was a 'mighty man' or 'hero' as some translations render the first verse, can be proved quite easily. It takes a mighty man to annihilate an entire town but on the other hand, Doeg spoke the truth. Something which should actually be commended. Saul asked where David was and Doeg spoke up and told the truth:
Then answered Doeg the Edomite, who stood by the servants of Saul, "I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, and he inquired of the LORD for him and gave him provisions and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine." ~1 Samuel 22:9.
Clearly, cold blooded killers come in all shapes and sizes. This particular killer was inclined to truth. His king asked for the whereabouts of his enemy and Doeg did what was expected of him as a member of Saul's kingdom and more so as Saul's employee. Having seen this enemy of the king a little earlier, he spoke up.

Could it be that David in his Psalm calls Doeg, the only man who told the truth in the story, a liar and lover of deceit? If anybody should NOT be pointing fingers at liars it is David who lied in the account as recorded early in chapter 21 of 1 Samuel. He lied to the chief priest Ahimelek saying the king had sent him on a secret mission when in actual fact he was running away from the king and merely trying to save his own skin. Which leads me to the second school of thought.

  • David?
Some say that David is actually referring to himself. I don't blame them. He is the only one who lied in this account. Was David a 'mighty man' or 'hero'? Most certainly! His acts were so heroic that people composed hit songs about him, "Saul has killed his thousands and David his ten thousands", they sang. In fact, it is because of his popularity that he was on the run from the king who thought his head would begin to grow along with his popularity and ideas would start creeping into the young warrior's head. Was David then calling himself a plotter of destruction, worker of deceit, lover of evil, etc.? Well, perhaps he was being a little hard on himself but who wouldn't after causing what David had caused, the annihilation of the entire town on Nob.

But this point of view is not consistent with the immediate text. It is doubtful that David 'boasted' in evil (vs. 1) but also, David goes on to contrast himself from the man he describes in the opening verses saying, towards the end of the Psalm:
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. ~vs. 8.
Its either David is the good guy or bad guy here. There is no middle ground. That the opening verses refer to David himself, would be tough to prove. Could David be referring to himself?

  • Saul?
Finally, some have proposed, in a bid to solve this puzzle, that Saul was the man David was referring to. To those who think so I say, "Leave the poor man alone!" Saul is to be pitied, not accused.

Here is a man who was chosen to be the first king of the small but great and famous nation of Israel. He tried his best to please the Lord but God rejected him as king. He then turned into a paranoid fellow who slept very little being tormented by an evil spirit. Even David felt for this man. Even though he was on the run from him and the target of Saul's paranoia, he spared his life when he had a chance or two to take it. He tried his best to make things right with him. Is it poor Saul who David is referring to? Possible, but I doubt it. Saul was too busy trying to catch David, he had not time to go aound boasting of annihilating the town of Nob. Its David he wanted. Apart from that Saul, even though he was a 'mighty man' or 'hero' in his own right, is not recorded to have uttered a single lie in this entire account. Could David be referring to Saul?

  • Conclusion
By now I think I have betrayed my position. I think Doeg is the guilty man. In my next post, I offer an explanation to the questions that arise if Doeg was to be the man referred to and draw a lesson or two.

Thanks for reading.

21 July 2011

Psalm 52 (Part 1- The Introduction)

I find the Psalms abit puzzling. It seems that for most of them there is a central theme and yet, they tend to strike me as somewhat incoherent. I often wonder how each part of the given Psalm fits into the overall portrait the Psalmist is painting.

Psalm 52 is also puzzling except in a different way. Or maybe even in the same way.

David wrote Psalm 52 after an incident that is recorded in 1 Samuel 21 & 22.

David had just confirmed that his king and father-in-law, whose bodyguard he led, wanted him dead. Thus David hits the road. When he reached the town of Nob, hungry and tired, he needed to be refreshed. David went to Ahimelek the head priest. You'll notice from the text that Ahimelek is shaken to see this high ranking soldier walk into his abode unattended and unarmed. The man after God's own heart lies to Ahimelek telling him that he is about the king's business on a secret assignment. David then asks for food and weapons, he is given bread and the sword of Goliath.

If it wasn't for the presence of a man named Doeg, an Edomite and head of Saul's shepherds, at the temple, Psalm 52 would never be written. Doeg saw everything that happened. Infact, if Doeg wasn't there, an entire town would have been saved from the sword.

Later, Saul is in the town of Nob. He is looking for David and is both paranoid and cranky. He accuses everyone around him for being joint conspirators with David against him. As he asks the men of Nob where David is, Doeg, the man who was at the temple when Ahimelek helped David, steps up and 'rats out' Ahimelek.

Saul finally has a lead. He calls for Ahimelek who soon goes to him. "Why have you been conspiring with David against me?" is Saul's question to Ahimelek. Ahimelek, who is taken aback by such an audacious accusation, gives an unassailable answer in his defence:

Ahimelek answered the King, "Who of all your servants is as loyal as David, the king's son-in-law, captain of your bodyguard and highly respected in your household? Was that the first time I inquired of God for him? Ofcourse not! Let not the king accuse your servant or any of his father's family, for your servant knows nothing at all about this whole affair." ~1 Samuel 22:14

Well Saul wasn't listening to a word he said. He wasn't open to reason, a trait of most paranoid men. The words "Ahimelek helped David" were still ringing in his ears. To put it in the words of one of the commentators I checked out, "a paranoid man with power is a dangerous man". Saul ordered his men to kill Ahimelek. None of them were stupid enough to lay a hand on a priest of Yahweh except one. Saul turned to the only man who had helped him thus far and enthusiastic Doeg, killed not only Ahimelek but also his family, all the other priests numbering eighty five (85), all the men, women and children of the town and even the sheep and cattle. Doeg eliminated an entire town.

Only one of Ahimelek's family escaped, namely, his son. Abiathar son of Ahimelek escaped and went straight to David. David remembered catching the traitor observing everything that transpired in the temple from the corner of his eye. "I knew it!" David said, "I knew he'd be sure to tell Saul." Obviously David hoped that he would not. But he did and an entire town was annihilated. David blamed himself for it.

The introduction of Psalm 52 tells us that David penned the words therein after that dreadful incident.

The Psalm can be split into 3 or 4 parts, the first being about this evil man who boasts in his evil and is deceitful and is some sort of hero or mighty man. The second part speaks of this man's destiny. The next speaks of the perception that the righteous will have of this man when he is finally destroyed (which, incase you were wondering, is his destiny) and finally the last part speaks of how the righteous man differs from this evil man.

In my second post (part 2- the puzzle), I'll explain the puzzle of this Psalm and in my last post (part 3- a solution & lesson) I'll propose a solution to the puzzle and perhaps a lesson or two that can be drawn from this Psalm of David.

Thanks for reading.

01 July 2011

Who Killed Goliath?

I haven't been doing much writing lately, I wish I could say I have been doing a lot more reading instead but that wouldn't be true. Truth be told, I have glanced at a few pieces of writing here and there, and this particular set of articles has been most intriguing to me. Dr. Mariottini, a Professor of the Old Testament, runs a blog I follow and has done a few articles an apparent contradiction in the bible:

1 Samuel 17:49-50 affirms that David killed Goliath:
“David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand” (1 Samuel 17:49-50 NRSV).

2 Samuel 21:19, affirms that Elhanan killed Goliath:
“Then there was another battle with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam” (2 Samuel 21:19 NRSV).

Some translations have murdered the 2 Sam 21:19 text by adding, 'the brother of' before 'Goliath the Gittite' such as the KJV, if I am not mistaken, but this is a very misleading (if at all anything can be 'very'  misleading) insertion.

In his post, the Doctor offers four arguments that have been peddled to explain this apparent contradiction, namely:
  1. David got credit for Elhanan's defeat over Goliath, in other words, David didn't do it. Quite a radical point of view!
  2. David and Elhanan are the same person.
  3. Elhanan killed Goliath's brother which is derived from 1 Chronicles 20:5 in which the Chronicler actually said that Elhanan did not kill Goliath, but the brother of Goliath and this even in the original translation. The doctor proposes quite an interesting view in refuting this.
  4. And finally, a fourth which is the unfortunate alteration of the 2 Sam text by some translations.
Dr. Mariottini goes on to propose a fifth explanation in his final post which he derives from a clue given by an archeological discovery. He mentions that until more/other evidence is found, he holds on to his proposed view.

I encourage you to read the set of posts, they are most intriguing, the posts are linked below:

Feel free also to comment on his posts to ask any questions of clarification, he is quite friendly!