Imperfect Devotion

This week, I shared with the congregation my thoughts on God calling David “a man after my own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14)

I believe that in David’s case, the thing that made him “after God’s heart” was that he not only repented of his sins but actively grieved for the repercussions his sin had on others. David was truly focused on the sheep God had given him, which drove him to say things like, “But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house.” (2 Samuel 24:17, ESV)

David mourned the deaths of his sons Amnon, Absalom, Adonijah and his unborn child with Bathsheba. But he mourned them because he knew that these deaths were the results of his sin. David understood that no sin is victimless or private. As Nathan told David, “For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.” (2 Samuel 12:12, ESV) Our sin has repercussions – relational repercussions.

And it doesn’t matter if the sin is a ‘relationship sin’ like cheating on your wife or abusing your kids. All sin affects others.

During the message on Sunday, I mentioned how in the past I have done things that have destroyed people. Not a week goes by that I don’t think of the lives that my life has affected. I cannot claim to be perfect, because I am far from it. There are things in my life that I can never take back – lives forever changed because of my sin. Yes, those people made choices too; but that doesn’t relieve me of responsibility. Not a week goes by that one of those lives doesn’t echo in my inner thoughts.

But here’s the thing. You have to accept responsibility, grieve the repercussions of your sin and then get on with God’s agenda for your life. Too many people use their sinfulness as an excuse for laziness.

Think about THIS ONE for a moment. After the death of the infant he had with Bathsheba, David went back to her and “comforted her.” In other words, he went to the woman who had been the original sin at the beginning of the story, accepted his responsibility as her husband and as the king of Israel, and he conceived another child with her.

That child was Solomon, whom God called Jedidiath or “the beloved of YHWH.” Solomon is ultimately the ancestor of Jesus.

What’s more, David’s sin led to the death of three other sons who would have probably been terrible kings.

So, if David hadn’t stepped up to the plate and owned the responsibility that came from his sin. If he hadn’t been willing to invest his life in the relationship with Bathsheba and Solomon, all of history would have been changed for the worst.

Would God have done the same thing with David if David hadn’t been willing to own the responsibility for his sin and grieve the repercussions in the lives of others? Would God have turned David’s family tragedies into the imperfect beauty that it became?


Some Thoughts on GOLIAH OF GATH

And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. 6 And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me.   (1 Samuel 17:4-8, ESV)

Goliath of Gath – one of the most interesting characters in the Bible. I have heard teachers say that Goliath was as much as eleven feet tall. They have described him on a scale that is simply gargantuan.

But I have a problem with that method of interpretation. I think that in our attempts to be literal, we have become impractical. Let’s look at the description of Goliath and see if the text actually demands the interpretations often used.

Let’s Convert the Measurements

Let’s begin by converting these ancient measurements into modern scales, so we can speak frankly.

6 cubits, 1 span
93-126 in or 7.75-10.5 ft
Coat of Mail
5,000 shekels of bronze
125 lbs
Shaft of his spear
As a weaver’s beam
About 2-2.5 in diameter
600 shekels of iron
A little over 15 lbs

Now we can put these things in perspective. Let me deal briefly with his weaponry and then we can address his height.

The Armor

The only really recognizable piece of Goliath’s armor is his helmet of bronze. This term appears all over the Scriptures, and it seems to have been generally recognized and understood as a type of skullcap. It was not a full-face helmet, like that worn by the Greeks. Curiously, there is no indication that it was of anything but the usual construction and weight.

Goliath’s coat of armor is massive at 125 lbs. Interestingly, the Hebrew term for it is shiryown qasqesethiym or “armor of scales”. It is incorrect to translate the word as mail even though most English Bibles do. Mail is made of interlocked chains – a technique that was not used until the medieval period.

It might be some kind of scale armor, like that of a fish. It is certainly distinct from the shiryown that Saul offers to David (v 38) by its construction.

Like much in this passage, this term is isolated. We have no other texts to compare it to, so the actual meaning is basically lost. The best we have is guesses. We don’t even know if the scales were actually part of the construction or were simply painted on (something that might have been the practice).

Interestingly, all of Goliath’s armor is made of bronze. Only his spear (and apparently his sword) were made of iron. The skills for working iron had not been elevated to fine work yet. It could be made into long, striking implements like swords, spears and plows, but not into the smaller, more intricate elements required for helmets and breastplates.

Ironically, the one place Goliath did not have incredible armor on would have been his face. This is of course the place where David strikes. (By the way, one internet source notes the power of the sling: Projectiles can be slung over 1500 feet (450m) at speeds exceeding 250 miles per hour (400 kph) as well as noting that it could be used with tremendous accuracy.)

The Spear

An average war spear, particularly for someone fighting the style that Goliath advocates, would be about 8-9 feet tall with a shaft about 1.5″ in diameter. It would be tipped with a 10-12 lb head. Thus Goliath’s spear, while larger than the normal head, is not gargantuan in scale.

Was Goliath really ten feet tall?

Robert Wadlow, the tallest man recorded in the modern era, was 8 ft, 11.1 in, tall. While impressive, Wadlow could barely stand on his own. What’s more, his heart was strained to keep his blood circulating to his extremities.

André the Giant, a professional wrestler, was billed at 7 ft, 4 in, tall. Both he and Wadlow got their great height and massive size as a result of tumors on their pituitary glands which cause the glands to continue to produce human growth hormone long after it should. The condition is known as acromegaly.

People suffering from acromegaly can live relatively normal lives, but the type of hyperactive pituitary gland that would allow Goliath to grow to 9-10 feet tall would have also practically crippled him. He would have barely been able to stand, nonetheless heft 125 lbs of bronze armor.

That is not to say someone with acromegaly must be weak. Both Paul Wight (The Big Show) and Dalip Singh Rana (The Great Khali) have leveraged their size and strength as professional wrestlers. Rana in particular was a bodybuilder before becoming a wrestler and could benchpress 400 lbs easily.

But both Wight and Rana are 7 ft tall and have had corrective procedures to prevent their acromegaly from becoming worse. They have had their growth checked through medications and surgery. Again, it is hard to see someone suffering from acromegaly and growing to 9-10 ft having any sort of capacity for warfare.

These disorders are not the only reasons people become extremely tall. Manute Bol, who at 7 ft 7 in, is credited with being the tallest man to ever play professional sports, did not have acromegaly. He was simply genetically gifted. He claimed his parents were both very tall, and that his grandfather was 7 ft 10 in. But again, Manute Bol was impressive for his height, not his dexterity or strength. Bol was very slender, and certainly not a man who could carry 125 lbs of armor into battle.

Is there an alternative explanation? Yes, actually there is. Goliath most likely was a large man, probably well in excess of seven feet tall. It is not hard to imagine him being built like Dalip Singh Rana. Below is a picture of Rana from when he was a bodybuilder in India. It’s not hard to figure out which one he is (all the men are standing by the way).

Goliath did not have to stand at 6 cubits, 1 span in order to be measured at that size. The description of Goliath, when read in Hebrew, is an awkward one. I’ll transcribe it here:

waytz’ iysh-habenayim mi-mahhanoth pelistiym GAL-YATH shamwo mi-gath gabhwo shesh ‘amoth wa-zareth

וַיֵּצֵא אִישׁ־הַבֵּנַיִם מִ‍מַּחֲנוֹת פְּלִשְׁתִּים גָּלְיָת שְׁמוֹ מִ‍גַּת גָּבְהוֹ שֵׁשׁ אַמּוֹת וָזָרֶת

The term iysh-habenayim, translated as “champion”, is literally formed from iysh or “man” and the dual form of beyn, which means “the two between”. Like so many other terms associated with the Philistines, this word appears only here. It is as if the writer of 1 Samuel had to invent a term for what Goliath was doing.

Likewise, the description of his height, gabhwo shesh ‘amoth wa-zareth, is an interesting phrase. Gabh means “height” and the -wo at the end is usually translated “whose” or “his” although it is simply a fixative and not a pronoun. It identifies the connection to Goliath, but it does not imply that this is his physical height.

In fact, in light of the rest of the description, it might be better to interpret the passage in terms of his impressiveness in terms of his fully armored state.

Allow me to put it another way. When you looked at Goliath, sheathed in armor and grieves, you saw everything including his spear. This means the height description might not just be his physical person but also his spear’s height as well.

He was, after all, not just a man (ish). He was the man who stands between the two (iysh-habenayim) and that title seems to have come with the armor and the weaponry.

Why couldn’t the height descriptor be of Goliath in all his regalia, thus including his spear? When the Hebrews wished to describe someone’s physical height, they had perfectly capable descriptors as when they described Saul as head and shoulders above all other men.  Being a champion meant that Goliath was probably bigger and stronger than Saul, otherwise Saul would not have hesitated to fight him.

Goliath was a giant, no doubt about it, but in my opinion, he was probably around 7 feet tall, not 10. People disagree, and that’s ok.

What’s Wrong with the Picture at the Beginning of this Post?

A lot.

Goliath’s spear is too short and the head is wrong. He is carrying an oblong shield, which doesn’t really make any sense. A shield was a deflection weapon and was generally round or square. He’s not wearing a javelin, but he is wearing some kind of metal kilt.

Also, David’s sling is far too short. Also, David was the youngest son of a great man in Bethlehem. He would not have put on his classy bearskin skirt for a battle. I’d even buy that he was wearing an Egyptian kilt, but the Tarzan chic  was definitely not his chosen attire. I’d say they got his build right but I would make him taller.

Comparing Saul and David

The contrasts between Saul and David appear throughout 1 Samuel. Here are just a few of them to consider along the way.

Saul David
Tribe Benjamin Judah
Patronym Son of Kish Son of Jesse
Description …a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome.
Herding Lost Donkeys Contented Sheep
Found Wandering through Ephraim, Benjamin and Zuph In his father’s fields, tending the flock
The Feasts Public in Mizpah Public in Bethlehem, but David does not attend
Relationship to Samuel YHWH sends him to Samuel Samuel goes to him
Anointed Alone, outside of town In front of his family, in town
After his anointing The Spirit comes upon him He plays for Saul, because the Spirit has left him

Of course, I’m only one reader but it does seem rather strange that this many things appear in both narratives. It only makes sense that it is an intentional device meant to contrast the two kings and show the clear superiority of David.

Chaos & Kings – Yahweh and Shaddai

In the Hebrew Scriptures, YHWH is undoubtedly the God of Judah. David adamantly demanded that the elders of all the sebetiy (tribes) follow him. The worship of YHWH was one of the strongest unifying forces of his rule, but also one of the most short lived. Although Judah remained, more or less, worshipers of YHWH, the other sebetiy worshiped all kinds of other gods, as they had before David. YHWH had a lot of competition for the people’s devotion.

We have to remember that gods were geographic and cultural. If you lived in certain areas, you worshiped the gods of that area. If your culture overwhelmed another, it was because the gods of your region were now stronger than the gods of the neighboring region and wanted to extend their dwelling.

Even YHWH worship was not exclusively monotheistic – an idea that is hard for us to comprehend. In the Psalms, it is sometimes apparent that YHWH was not the only god the Israelites recognized, calling him “king above all gods.” [Psalm 95:2] While we often downplay the presence of the term “YHWH my God” in David’s Psalms, it probably indicates the pluralism of his day. It is an open admission that other people worship other gods.

What is fascinating is that the worship of YHWH seems to have been able to appropriate many of the names and attributes for the gods of the other peoples. They absorb these things into their descriptions of YHWH – so YHWH absorbs the imagery of Ba’al-Hadad [Psalm 18:3, 104:3], and they fully appropriate the term ‘El, which was originally a generic term for any deity. It is not necessarily syncretism because they recognize the truth of YHWH that the pagan culture hints at and redeem it while leaving behind (in theory) the paganism itself.

Perhaps nowhere else is this more startling than the appearances of the name ‘el shaddai in the books of Job and Ruth. These are startling because it is possible that shaddai may be the origin of the name Satan although the two come to mean very different things.

In Job and Ruth, YHWH and SHADDAI appear in what most commentators refer to as parallelisms. Often YHWH or ‘ELOHIM (the plural of ‘EL) is credited with a decision and the SHADDAI acts upon it. Most often, SHADDAI is translated into English as “The Almighty”. Here are some examples:

Even by the God of your father, who shall help you
And by the Almighty who shall bless you.

JOB 8:3
Does God pervert judgment?
Does the Almighty pervert justice?

RUTH 1:21
I went out full, and YHWH hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing YHWH hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?

You can see in the Ruth quote how YHWH “testified” and SHADDAI “afflicted”. While this is not an absolutely clear situation, it does at least appear that SHADDAI is distinct from YHWH in someway. It is more than likely a vestigial distinction – meaning that by the time the books had been completed, YHWH had appropriated SHADDAI completely, but it does give a tantalizing glimpse into the ancient way of thinking.

There are two possible meanings for the name SHADDAI. It could mean “destroyer” but it could also mean “mountain.” It really depends on whether we’re talking about a southern Semitic  (Moabite) origin or a northern Semitic (Aramean or Syrian) origin. More than likely, it derives from Moabite sources. This would fit with its usage in many places in Job and Ruth. If that is the case, however, the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures would not have missed the connection to “mountains” and probably used it as a double entendre – something that is very, very common in Hebrew.

(There’s also a relatively new interpretation that says SHADDAI might mean “breast” or “fertility”, which would explain passages like the rest of Genesis 49:25. I’ll let you look it up to read it and decide for yourself.)

This is just one of the examples of an area where we really do not know enough about the original context of Hebrew to make a decision, and unfortunately our cultural baggage (and it isn’t often I will refer to monotheism as baggage) has obscured something that might be going on in the text.

Resources for Chaos and Kings 2

Here is a link to a page that has a lot of information about the Sea People. Some of the conclusions are iffy, but it is a fairly exhaustive list of textual and archaeological evidence.

Resources for Chaos & Kings

Resources for Chaos & Kings

As mentioned during the message today, there is a lot of information we were not able to cover during the service.

Why David Is So Important to Me

Most people think of Moses or Abraham as the most important person in the Hebrew Scriptures, but I think it is actually David. He is the keystone of the entire narrative. He is called the ‘sweet songwriter of Israel’ not because he was the Byron of the Bronze Age but because he composed the liturgy of the worship of YHWH at Jerusalem.

David united Israel under YHWH. He, the leading chieftain of Judah, won the acclaim of the other tribes and became king over all the tribes. What’s more, he united them and managed to expel the Philistines, which was something that not even Egyptian pharaohs could pull off.

That is not just a bit of an impressive accomplishment – it is one of those historic moments that happen once every few centuries. What’s more, there are kings who have done less whom we have more archaeological and textual evidence for their existence.

(For example, in the 6th century CE, a man named Mahendravarman built a kingdom in India. It was a powerful kingdom that built massive works, but he had no chronicler and he is known only from inscriptions. The same could be said for hundreds of unifying kings like David.)

David, unlike so many other kings, not only had a record made but he also gave the people of Israel a common language and a common narrative to unite them. This makes him more unique than any king of his period or possibly of any period.

The Bronze Age Collapse

The narrative of David’s reign sits in the middle of a period known as the Bronze Age Collapse. It marks the end of the Bronze Age in the Levant, and when kingdoms re-emerge around 950 BCE, they are very different from their predecessors. A good online starting point is this Wikipedia article which discusses a lot of things that were going on at this point in history.

Judah and Ephraim

I only alluded to the tension between Judah and Ephraim. This tension is actually one of the themes of the Hebrew Scriptures, and I am a bit surprised that no one seems to pick up on it (in academic circles). Everyone acknowledges the division between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. It is also very common to recognize that Israel was often called Ephraim, but I have not yet seen a work where the two are clearly distinguished throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.

Both tribes claimed primacy based on their patronymic ancestors – Judah being a son of Israel and Ephraim being the chosen son of Joseph (who was the son of Israel). Time and time again, the two of them appear in juxtaposition. This later truly manifests in the prophetic literature, especially in the book of Ezekiel.

The table below shows the ways that these two tribes developed alongside each other.

Tribe Judah יהודה Ephraim אפרים
Meaning יהוח be praised (Gen 49:8) Dual of אפרתה (fruitful, Gen 49:22); it is a play on words, indicating the ‘double’ of Ephrath
Origin The 4th son of Israel; the ‘righteous’ son of Leah (Gen 29:35) The 2nd son of Joseph (who was Israel’s chosen son through Rachel)
Blessing Receives the birthright after his older brothers are disqualified; incest with Tamar, so unclean until David Receives Israel’s deathbed blessing meant for Manasseh as Joseph’s successor
Wilderness Camp East (Num 2:3) West (Num 2:18)
Spy in Canaan Caleb (Num 13:6) Hoshea/Joshua (Num 13:8)
King at Division Rehoboam, son of David Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:26)
State “Divine right” of בות דוד, claim an unbroken succession back to David “Might Makes Right” but according to archaeology, still claimed to be בות דוד, at least until Omri
Original Capital Bethlehem was the burial place of Rachel & Jacob; Hebron, the burial place of Abraham & Isaac Israel camped at Shechem with his sons; later built up by Jeroboam as his capital
Divided Capital Jerusalem, taken by David Samaria, purchased by Omri (1 King 16:24)
End Taken by Babylon (586 BCE) & restored Taken by Assyrians (702 BCE) & lost

I cannot overemphasize how important the rivalry between these two tribes is to the development of the Hebrew Scriptures. You can actually see it in the books of the Hebrew Scriptures. There are anecdotal stories supporting both tribes’ claim to supremacy. You could even argue (and I happen to believe this) that the books of Joshua and Judges show the ‘occupation’ of Canaan from the perspectives of Ephraim and Judah respectively.