Sabbath Reflection for Friday, 9 January 2015
Was there a gay “love” between Prince Jonathan of Israel and his friend, David, son of Jesse? This post is not an attempt at showing what the Bible says, or does not say, about homosexuality. Only what Samuel says.
This will be the first article in a series on these passages. We’re going for understanding, and sometimes, understanding requires slow-going. How much more is this true in a day and age where homosexuality is the new cause célèbre?
The claim is this: David and Jonathan were gay, these passages prove it, and since David was a man approved by Yahweh, and since Yahweh nowhere denounces this homosexual love, they are clearly the Bible’s first approved gay couple.
This argument can be placed into a syllogism like this:
Premise 1: David and Jonathan are approved by God.
Premise 2: David and Jonathan are gay lovers.
Conclusion: Therefore, some gay lovers are approved by God.
This is a sound argument if both premises are true, but I reject premise 2 as true, and I believe a very basic rule of biblical interpretation—the kind that almost anyone knows yet so few actively practice—proves me right.
There are three basic rules to biblical interpretation:
When you follow the context of 1 and 2 Samuel, you understand the purpose of these passages and, therefore, the meaning, and you realize thy have nothing to do with homosexuality and everything to do with Yahweh, Israel’s God, and what happens when you oppose him.
The context to the “gay love” passages is crucial. Without clearly seeing the plot unfold, those passages cannot be understood properly. Along these lines, it is important to remember two facts regarding the social context of Samuel before we get to the literary context:
First, Samuel tells the story of Israel moving from the period of the Judges to the period of kings and dynasties. The refrain from Judges is critical foreshadowing of the events of Samuel:
In those days, there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
This refrain is found four times in Judges and lets us know that not only did Israel need a king, but also that the king would direct Israel towards Yahweh’s righteous ways (the four refrains are Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25 and come with the backdrop of Deut 17:14-20).
Second, Hannah’s song at the beginning, in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, is explicit at what Yahweh was about to do:
There is none holy like Yahweh:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God…(2:2).
Yahweh will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed (2:10).
Yahweh’s king must have the faith and trust of Hannah. After all, if a “nobody woman” in Israel could swing with such faith, surely Yahweh’s king—the Anointed—ought to hit a grand slam for faith when he’s at bat. Indeed, between Saul and David, the contrast here could not be greater.
With that two-fold social context set, see here the literary context set in summaries that are, I admit, someone alterable depending on who does the summarizing. We start in chapter 8 for the sake of time.
1 Samuel 8: Israel and Kingship
(8:1-9), Israel demands a king, rejecting Yahweh.
(8:10-18), Samuel warns that kings will not follow Yahweh—they’ll be tyrants over Israel, and Yahweh will not answer Israel’s pleas for help.
(8:19-22), Yahweh grants Israel’s demands for a king, rejecting Israel.
1 Samuel 9: Saul chosen to be King
(9:1-2), Saul’s physique emphasized (he’s a hottie).
(9:15-17), Yahweh directs Samuel to Saul.
1 Samuel 10: Saul anointed/declared King
(10:1-16), Samuel pours oil upon Saul, anointing him in a private ceremony.
(10:17-27), Samuel’s public declaration of Saul’s kingship.
1 Samuel 11: Saul demonstrates Kingship
(11:1-11), Saul defeats the Ammonites.
(11:12-15), Israel accepts Saul.
At this point it helps to explain how kingship typically took root in the nation. Three words: designation, demonstration, confirmation¹.
First, a king was anointed privately, set aside, or otherwise designated. Saul had this.
Second, he seized opportunity to demonstrate his kingship, i.e., he was expected to bash some heads, especially Israel’s enemies. The tyrants of future Israel and Judah sometimes are notable in that they reject this pattern, seizing power for themselves, declaring it so, and bashing in Israelite heads instead of the pagans around them and within their borders. There is some debate whether Saul did this, especially because he fails to “do what lies at hand” (Samuel’s command to Saul) in 10:7, which was most likely to attack the Philistine camp at Gibeath-elohim mentioned in 10:5. Saul falters at his first task, and so is given another opportunity here in 11:1-13 when he attacks the Ammonites. Things don’t seem to be starting well.
Third, the designated and demonstrated new king was to be confirmed as King of Israel, and we would expect, the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 17:15:
…you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.
Designation, demonstration, confirmation. You’ll have to wait until chapter 13 for the surprise confirmation….
1 Samuel 12: Samuel rehearses Israel’s history, reminds them of their wickedness in asking for a king—specifically the kind of king they got
(12:1-11), Israel gets a history lesson from the Patriarchs to Judges
(12:12-18), Israel called wicked for rejecting Yahweh as king, urged to follow only Yahweh.
(12:19), Israel asks for mercy so they would not die.
(12:20), Samuel implies Saul is an “empty thing that cannot profit or deliver”, and they are urged to follow after Yahweh.
(12:21-25), Israel warned they will be swept away if faithless.
1 Samuel 13: Fighting the Philistines, and Saul’s life begins to unravel
Now we get to that confirmation bit. Here’s where you’d expect Saul to step forward and all Israel to see he’s the Man. But you don’t. In fact, someone else steps to the plate.
(13:3-4), Jonathan defeats a Philistine troop garrison; Saul gets the credit.
(13:5-7), Philistines muster an army and Israel hides and trembles.
(13:8-19), Saul refuses to obey Yahweh’s law and is stripped of kingship.
Just to be clear on the timeline, in an incredibly short time, Saul is anointed, given the kingdom, and loses the kingdom. Samuel declares:
You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of Yahweh your God, with which he commanded you. For then Yahweh would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue (13:13-14a).
It is entirely possible that, failing this final, comprehensive exam of the school of Kings and Rulers, it could be said, in fact, that Saul never had the kingdom truly in his hands. Debatable, perhaps. But Samuel’s words are heavy.
At this point, it is completely over for Saul, and the following point is crucial to understanding the texts about gay love and what was really happening. Here it is:
Had Saul truly loved Yahweh and desired to obey his voice above all else, he would have immediately relinquished kingship.
Instead, Saul does not. This singular refusal on Saul’s part is the biggest indicator of his heart and faith than anything else in Samuel. The consequences for Saul would be extraordinary, comprehensive, devastating, and lead directly to our main “gay-proof” texts.
Next week, we’ll pick up with 1 Samuel 14 and see how this continuing thread of Israel’s disobedience, Saul’s rebellion, and Yahweh’s covenant choice of King for his people demolishes the myth of approved homosexual behavior between Jonathan and David, two absolute paragon’s of faith in the Old Testament.
¹ I am grateful for Provan, Long, and Longman’s book for pointing out this three-stage process, and they are drawing on other scholars. You can read more on pages 209-214 of A Biblical History of Israel.