FIRST SAMUEL: Is Psychology Biblical?

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Dr. John Coe is a specialist in the philosophical and theological foundation of the integration of faith and learning. His research focuses on understanding the nature of spiritual and psychological health, the history of spirituality, the work of the Holy Spirit in personal change and the interface between psychology, spirituality and philosophy. A particular interest is in exploring approaches to spiritual direction as a compliment to Christian psychotherapy. Coe is also the Director of the Institute for Spiritual Formation at Biola University.

The answer is yes and no, depending upon four different ways we can interpret this controversial question. But before we get to those four ways, let’s consider definitions of the term psychology.

Definitions: (1) As a task, psychology has to do with observing and reflecting on persons and their complex situations with the goal of understanding human nature and its components, growth, dysfunction, and wisdom for living. (2) As a product, psychology is the more or less systematic body of information resulting from a mind engaged in understanding human nature, change, etc. (e.g., Freud’s psychology). (3) As an intervention, psychology or psychotherapy is a relationship between therapist and persons that consists of empathic listening, understanding, loving care, and, when appropriate, verbal interpretations of dysfunction in order to facilitate healthy relationships, awareness, wisdom, and growth.

(1) Is there a psychology contained in the Bible? Understanding our original question in this sense, the answer is clearly yes. Theologians for centuries have talked about OT anthropology or psychology, NT psychology, Pauline psychology, etc. The biblical authors, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, provided numerous observations and reflections on the nature of the human soul (Gn 2:7; Lv 24:17), spirit (Is 29:24), body (Is 31:3), mind (Php 2:3), heart (Ps 90:12), dysfunction (Jms 1:8), flourishing (Eph 3:16–19), process of change (Rm 12:1–2), and wisdom for living (Pr). Clearly God, as Creator of mankind, has an exhaustive and systematic psychology of persons and has communicated many of these crucial insights through the reflections of the inspired biblical authors.

(2) Are psychologies formed apart from the Bible biblical? Obviously the psychological reflections of Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers are unbiblical in the sense that their musings are not included in the Bible. However, whether their views are biblical in the sense of being consistent with or reflected in the Bible is a more complex matter. For example, we can find correlation between Freud’s view of the “unconscious” and “repression” and the biblical understanding of the “hidden heart” that insists there is always more going on deep within a person than on the surface (Pr 14:13), often due to the heart’s deceptive nature (Jr 17:9; Rm 1:18). Though Freud had some true and wise things to say about the nature of the hidden motives of the heart, his worldly view of the “unconscious” and his causally deterministic explanation of mental functioning are clearly unbiblical. Thus psychologies based on observations and reflections from outside the Bible are a mixed bag that must be critiqued idea by idea.

The benefit of investigating these extrabiblical psychologies is twofold: (1) They may provide concrete examples that exemplify biblical truths. (2) They may further elucidate elements that the biblical writers only touch upon (e.g., addictions and anger).

(3) Is it biblical to engage in the task of psychology that involves not only the Bible but also extrabiblical observation and reflection? Contemporary Christians disagree on this point. Some adherents of the biblical counseling position deny any biblical warrant for this, while some integrationists maintain that there is biblical precedent for this task of doing psychology.

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The writers of Proverbs were OT wise men who had the unique role of instructing Israel to live well in all areas of life under God on the basis of their wisdom and experience (Pr 1:1–6, 8–9; 4:1; 6:20). The essence of this wisdom involves having a right relationship with God (Pr 1:7), who is the ultimate source of all wisdom (Pr 2:6) and revelation, which is central to the mental health of a people (Pr 29:18). However, the wise men also insisted that there is an important extrabiblical source of wisdom for living, discernible by observing and reflecting upon the natural world (Pr 6:6, 30:24–28) and especially persons and their complex situations (Pr 24:30–34). God created the world by wisdom (Pr 3:19–20) such that His wisdom is imprinted onto creation as the natural order of things (Pr 8:22–31). By observing these wisdom laws in nature and human life, one can discover a set of wise principles of sowing and reaping to avoid folly and live a good life under God in accordance with the created way of human nature (Pr 8:32–36).

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Consequently, the OT wise men provide biblical precedent and justification for the science of psychology. In the case of biblical proverbs, God worked through the wise men’s experiences to produce inspired observations and principles for living. While the wisdom collected in Scripture has a divine sanction and authority, the church’s ongoing work in psychology is subject to scrutiny from the Scriptures, reason, and observation. Though unbelievers can discover wisdom for living through psychology, only the believer can know and live out these principles as one ought in relation to God.

(4) Is psychotherapy biblical? Certainly the intervention of psychotherapy is biblical in the sense that Scripture encourages empathy, truthful understanding, and caring relationships between persons. This is evident in the admonition regarding “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), in the “one another” injunctions (Eph 4:32; Col 3:12–14; 1 Th 5:11, 14), in the gifts of the church (Rm 12:4–8), and in the reflections and counsel for wise living found in Proverbs (4:1–5). However, the content of what psychotherapy passes on as wisdom is to be judged by Scripture (Pr 21:30), truth (Pr 8:7), and its appropriateness to the situation (Pr 25:11).

1 Samuel 16:14 Scripture passages such as this seem to indicate that God sometimes behaves in demonic or evil ways (Jdg 9:23; 1 Kg 22:23; Job 12:16; Ps 18:26; Is 45:7; Ezk 14:9; Mt 6:13; Lk 11:4; 2 Th 2:11). Such passages must be understood within the overall framework of the Bible’s teachings about God. Scripture affirms that God is completely righteous (Jdg 5:11; Ezr 9:15; Ps 7:9; 48:10; 71:19; 111:3; 112:4; 116:5; 119:137, 142; 145:17; Is 51:8; Jr 9:24; Dn 9:7; Hs 14:9; Jn 17:25; Rm 1:17; Rv 16:5), hates evil (Zec 8:17), and never does anything unjust (Rm 9:14). At the same time, God created a universe with built-in rewards and punishments that reinforce divine moral law. For example, when people disregard His moral order and abuse their bodies through the misuse of food, alcohol or sex, they will predictably experience health problems. Such problems can be interpreted as warning signs motivating us to give up bad behavior and do what is right.

Saul had lived a life of chronic disobedience to God, and therefore had opened himself to demonic oppression. While it was a form of punishment, because of Saul’s disregard for God’s moral order, it was also intended to drive him to repent and turn back to the Lord. God, Who is Master of all the created order, will use even demons, against their will, for redemptive purposes.

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16:21–23 On whether Saul knew David well before David killed Goliath, see note on 17:55–58.

1 Samuel 16:23 How could David’s harp playing drive away an evil spirit from Saul? The Bible does not indicate how it happened, although the general effect of music on the emotions is well known. David was considered Israel’s favorite singer (2 Sm 23:1) and in the OT was credited with writing 73 psalms. David’s music combined with the Word of God in the presence of the demon drove it away (see Ps 119:50; Heb 4:12).

1 Samuel 17:4 How tall was Goliath? The ancient texts disagree on this matter: the Hebrew text states that Goliath was “six cubits and a span” (= 9 ft. 9 in.) in height, while the Septuagint, a Qumran manuscript, and Josephus indicate he was “four cubits and a span” (= 6 ft. 9 in.). The tallest known human being in modern times was Robert Wadlow, who attained a height of 8 feet, 11.1 inches before his death in 1940. In view of the excessive weight of Goliath’s armor and weapons, the biblical author evidently understood the Philistine to be awesome in size; the MT’s figure is therefore probably the original. The Bible does not state whether Goliath’s height included his shoes and helmet, though it would not be improper to have included these in the overall figure.

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1 Samuel 17:12 On how many sons Jesse had, see note on 16:6–11.

1 Samuel 17:50 Who killed Goliath, David or Elhanan? This dramatic account of David’s killing of Goliath seems to be contradicted by 2 Sm 21:19, where Elhanan is said to have performed the deed. The issue is complicated by the fact that 1 Ch 20:5 mentions that Elhanan killed Lahmi, the brother of Goliath—not Goliath himself.

Attempting to resolve these discrepancies, some scholars suggest that a pre-Christian-era copyist introduced an error into 2 Sm 21:19 that created the mistaken impression that Elhanan killed Goliath; the correct reading of the original, in this case, would be preserved in 1 Ch 20:5. Another approach suggests that the contradiction between 1 Sm 17:50 and 2 Sm 21:19 is only apparent. Ancient rabbis suggested that Elhanan is another name for David (which in Hb means “beloved one” and could be a nickname). “Goliath” could be a title and not a name, so there may have been two fighters from Gath named Goliath.

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1 Samuel 17:54 Jerusalem was not under Israelite control at the time of this incident, but it was a city of great military interest to David’s tribe of Judah. The tribe had fought against the city (Jos 15:63) and had taken a war trophy there previously after temporarily conquering it (Jdg 1:8). Jerusalem was a city of great interest to David as well, the first city he set out to conquer when he became king of all Israel (2 Sm 5:6–9). Perhaps David took Goliath’s head there to intimidate Jerusalem’s Jebusite residents, letting them know that Israel was a nation to be feared. Alternatively, this verse may refer to an event that took place a few years later, after David had conquered the city.

1 Samuel 17:55–58 This passage seems to contradict 16:19–23, which shows Saul not only inviting David to come and work for him (16:19), but declares that he loved him greatly. However, this text does not indicate that Saul did not know who David was, only that he did not know the name of his father (see vv. 55–58). Saul’s was seeking the information he needed to issue the decree of tax exemption promised for David’s family (see v. 25).

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1 Samuel 18:1–4 The Bible indicates that Jonathan and David loved each other deeply (19:1; 20:17; 2 Sm 1:26) and made a covenant with each other (1 Sm 20:8, 16; 22:8; 23:18), but there is no indication of their having a homosexual relationship. Scripture teaches that God disapproves of homosexual activity (Lv 18:22; 20:13; Rm 1:24–27; Jd 7; see also the article “What Does the Bible Teach about Homosexuality?” p. 1716). Jonathan and David were men who were careful to obey God in all matters (1 Sm 23:16; 1 Kg 11:4), with the notable exception of David’s sin with Bathsheba. It is reasonable to conclude that these two men obeyed God in this matter as well.

In the ancient Near East, as in conservative Islamic societies today, adult men and women were not permitted to have friendships, casual or otherwise, with one another. Because social roles assigned to males and females differed greatly, men could not usually have close friendships, based on mutual interests, even with their wives. Women were excluded from many activities common to men; they could not take part in military affairs and were generally excluded from religious rites as well. Men, in like fashion, were not expected to engage in most activities associated with women. Men had to cultivate their friendships with other men, while reserving sexual activity for their wives (or prostitutes). Sometimes such friendships could be intense, but they did not have a sexual component. Jonathan and David were great friends, fellow soldiers, brothers-in-law, and brothers in the faith, but they were not homosexual “lovers.”

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1 Samuel 18:10 On God’s sending an evil spirit to torment Saul, see note on 16:14.

1 Samuel 18:10 Did Saul prophesy, or rave like a madman? Some English versions of the Bible state that Saul was prophesying here, but others say that he was raving. The difference arises from how translators choose to render the same Hebrew word. What was regarded as “prophesying,” in the ancient Near East, could take the form of frenzied and even self-destructive activity (cp the prophets of Baal, 1 Kg 18:28–29). Pagan cultures often regarded such bizarre behavior as proof that a god had come upon someone, and even associated prophetic activity with altered states of consciousness, insanity, or even epilepsy. This differed from the usual Israelite expression of prophetic activity, which involved a prophet’s speaking or chanting (1 Ch 25:1–3) coherently to an individual or group in the name of the Lord.

Because Saul’s act of “prophesying” was connected with an irrational attempt to murder David, his most valuable soldier and assistant, he was behaving more like a pagan prophet than an Israelite prophet. Accordingly, many Bible versions translate Saul’s activity as “raving.”

1 Samuel 18:12 Once God the Father gives the Holy Spirit to a person, does the Spirit remain with that person or can He depart? At least three other OT passages in addition to the present verse suggest that the Holy Spirit could be taken away from people who persisted in living in disobedience toward God (Jdg 16:20; 1 Sm 28:15; Ps 51:11). On the other hand, Jn 14:16 indicates the Holy Spirit will abide forever with people who receive Him.

The NT teaches that the death and resurrection of Jesus fundamentally changed certain aspects of humanity’s relationship with God. The old covenant at Sinai was replaced with the covenant of Christ’s body and blood (1 Co 11:25; Heb 8:13), and with this change the Holy Spirit began operating differently in the lives of God’s people. The NT speaks of the Holy Spirit as a gift to believers in Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; 10:45) and a seal on their hearts, a guarantee of eternal life (2 Co 1:22; Eph 1:13). Besides being given to women and Gentiles (there are no examples of either of these receiving the Spirit in the OT), the Holy Spirit is a permanently indwelling presence in the lives of all Christians. The NT provides no instance of the Holy Spirit departing from a Christian; this suggests that what happened to Saul cannot happen to a believer in Christ.

1 Samuel 18:19 On who was married to Adriel the Meholathite, see note on 25:44.

1 Samuel 18:27 How many Philistines did David kill to gain the right to marry Saul’s daughter Michal? The ancient texts disagree: the Hebrew text gives 200 but the Septuagint only 100. Even though Saul had only required David to kill 100, the larger number is probably correct. David was a zealous fighter for the Lord (v. 17) and his king (vv. 25–26), and this figure convincingly reflects David’s high level of commitment to both.

1 Samuel 19:1 On whether Jonathan and David had a homosexual relationship, see note on 18:1–4.

1 Samuel 19:9 On God’s sending an evil spirit to torment Saul, see note on 16:14.

1 Samuel 19:13–17 Was Michal right to deceive and lie? God hates lying (Pr 6:16–17; Zec 8:16–17) and expects people to tell the truth (Ex 20:16; Lv 19:11; Eph 4:25; Col 3:9; Rv 22:15). On the other hand, Saul’s intentions were to kill an innocent man; Michal was not obligated to give him information that would help him carry out this wicked act. If Michal did not hide David’s escape and then lie about her cover-up, both she and David would probably have died.

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Michal’s example does not give Christians, or anyone else, permission to lie for the sake of personal convenience, or to hide wrongdoing. But Michal’s actions demonstrate that, within an environment where human sin abounds, it is not always possible to choose between pure good and pure evil (see note on Ex 1:19).

1 Samuel 19:19–24 On Saul’s prophetic activity, see note on 18:10.

1 Samuel 19:23–24 On why there are two different accounts of the origin of this saying, see note on 10:11.

1 Samuel 19:24 On whether this contradicts Samuel’s previous statement that he would never again see Saul, see note on 15:35.

1 Samuel 20:6 David’s actions—skipping a required engagement and asking Jonathan to lie about the reason—seem to have violated God’s command to tell the truth (see Ex 20:16; Eph 4:25), as well as his duty to the king. Normally his actions would have been wrong, but in these circumstances they were justifiable. David had good reason to believe that Saul intended to kill him, though he had done nothing worthy of death (see 1 Sm 18:11, 17, 25; 19:1, 10–11, 15, 20–21, 23–24). David had the right to protect himself. His plan prevented the king from committing a crime, and preserved an innocent human life. Furthermore, it did not involve the use of physical force against someone, or the destruction of property, see 19:13–17.

1 Samuel 20:17 On whether Jonathan and David had a homosexual relationship, see note on 18:1–4.

1 Samuel 20:28–29 For a discussion of whether it was right for Jonathan to lie to his father, see note on 20:6.

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1 Samuel 21:1 Who was the high priest at this time—Ahimelech, Ahijah, Abiathar, or Abimelech? In the present verse Ahimelech is seemingly the highest-ranking priest, since he had the authority to give David access to Goliath’s sword and to give him some of the food normally reserved for priests. Interestingly, when Jesus referred to this same event during a discussion with some Pharisees (Mk 2:26), He declared that Abiathar, not Ahimelech, was the high priest who supplied David with food.

The situation becomes even more complicated when one considers 1 Sm 14:3. There Ahijah was the priest who wore an ephod, a linen garment reserved for officiating priests (see Ex 29:5; Lv 8:7). Being with the king at that time, he was presumably the highest-ranking priest. Furthermore, 1 Ch 18:16 lists Abimelech as the son of Abiathar as priest, though its parallel passage in 2 Sm 8:17 gives his name as Ahimelech.

In attempting to harmonize these passages, it is worth noting that there is no evidence that the Pharisees accused Jesus of error when he named Abiathar as the high priest that helped David, a circumstance lending tacit support to the identification. Further, Abiathar was the name of both Ahimelech’s father (2 Sm 8:17; 1 Ch 24:6), though Abiathar was also known as Ahitub (1 Sm 22:20), and his son (1 Sm 22:20; 23:6). The Abiathar to whom Jesus referred could have been Ahimelech’s still-living father, who because of his seniority would have been considered the high priest (cp. the joint priestly roles of Caiaphas and his father-inlaw Annas during the arrest and trial of Jesus, e.g., Jn 18:13). Alternatively, Jesus could have referred to Ahimelech’s son Abiathar, who became high priest after the death of 85 priests at Nob (1 Sm 22:18).

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Another possibility is that Ahijah, Ahimelech, Abiathar and Abimelech are different names for the same person. Finally, though textual evidence is lacking, a careless copyist might have substituted the name Abiathar for Ahimelech in the Mark manuscript, creating a conflict that did not exist in the original text. Or the name Abimelech for Ahimelech in 1 Ch 18:16 could be a pre-Christian scribal error; both ʾahi– and ʾabi– were common elements in Hebrew names.

1 Samuel 21:2 Did David lie to Ahimelech in order to obtain food? David stated that “the king” had given him a mission that required secrecy. Ahimelech did not ask the identity of the king, and David did not clarify to whom he was referring (see also v. 8). Since God is King (Nm 23:21; Ps 10:16; 47:2; 98:6; 1 Tm 1:17) and David was arguably following God’s orders in this matter, he was telling the truth.

If David’s words to Ahimelech still seem misleading, it should be borne in mind that he was attempting to defend himself against a man who would wrongly take his life. He told the truth in a guarded fashion; to have told Ahimelech more would have brought the priest into the deadly struggle between David and the king. Sadly, David’s best efforts failed (1 Sm 22:17) and this occurred anyway, due to the presence of a treacherous observer (1 Sm 21:7).

1 Samuel 21:12–15 The narrative of 1 Sm presents two differing pictures of Achish’s relationship with David (cp. 29:6–9). Here David is afraid of Achish, who considers him a madman. In the later passage, David is Achish’s trusted ally and bodyguard (27:12; 28:2; 29:6–9).

These accounts are not at odds with one another; evidently Achish changed his opinion of David over time. During David’s earlier career, Achish knew him only as a dangerous enemy of the Philistines and loyal servant of Saul. Later he learned that David had become Saul’s most feared enemy, which made him potentially a valued partner with the Philistines. Achish gladly modified his stance toward David, and accepted him as a comrade-in-arms.

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1 Samuel 22:18 How many priests did Doeg kill? Ancient authorities provide three figures for the death toll in the slaughter at Nob: the Hebrew text gives 85, the Septuagint 305, and Josephus 385. The differences suggest that a scribal error affected one or more ancient textual traditions. The weight of tradition stands in favor of the Hebrew reading in the MTs.

1 Samuel 22:20 Was Abiathar the son of Ahimelech, or Ahimelech the son of Abiathar (see 2 Sm 8:17)? Both are true: Ahimelech’s father was named Abiathar, and Ahimelech named his son Abiathar. As in many American families today, families in Bible cultures sometimes reused the names of respected elders from previous generations (see Jesus’ genealogy, Mt 1:1–16).

1 Samuel 23:1 On whether this verse contradicts an earlier statement regarding the Philistines fighting against Israel, see note on 7:13.

1 Samuel 23:13 According to 22:2, David had 400 men in his militia, but this verse states he had 600. These numbers reflect changing circumstances in the nation of Israel; no contradiction is involved. Saul’s unpopular actions in slaying the priestly families at Nob (22:18–19), combined with David’s military success at Keilah (23:5), had brought hundreds of men over to David’s side in hopes of bringing about a change in Israel’s leadership.

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1 Samuel 24:5 David was upset after he cut the corner off of Saul’s robe. Though he had not physically injured the king, he had sinned. Saul was still God’s chosen and anointed leader for Israel, and the king’s robe was a symbol of his divinely appointed office. David’s act could be taken as rebellion against God Himself. Furthermore, the law of Moses required all robes to have tassels at their corners to remind people of God’s laws (Nm 15:37–40). For David to remove this reminder from Saul’s clothing was to hinder the king’s relationship with the Lord. Any act that makes it harder for another to serve God is sinful (cp. Lk 17:1–2).

1 Samuel 24:21–22 If David took an oath not to cut off Saul’s descendants, why did he later allow the Gibeonites to kill seven of them? David’s agreement was that he would not wipe out Saul’s descendants as a way of “cleaning house” when he took over the kingship of Israel. That was the normal practice in the ancient Near East when a ruler established a new dynasty (that is, a ruler of a different family line from the previous king); it was done to eliminate other potential claimants to the throne (see 1 Kg 15:29; 16:11; 2 Kg 11:1; 25:7). David not only kept his agreement, he invited a member of Saul’s family line to eat at the royal table and restored a generous inheritance to him (2 Sm 9:1–13).

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Saul, in attempting to exterminate the Gibeonites, had brought great guilt on himself by violating the centuries-old agreement in which the Israelites had allowed them to live in the land (Jos 9:3–15; 2 Sm 21:2). Because Saul, as leader, represented all Israel (for discussions on corporate solidarity, see notes on Dt 2:30; 5:9; 19:6), his guilt led to the spread of famine (2 Sm 21:1). To bring an end to God’s judgment, David agreed to let the Gibeonites take limited revenge on the house of Saul. As a remedy for Saul’s homicidal actions, this “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth” principle (Dt 19:21; cp. Ex 21:24; Lv 24:20) was effective; God lifted His punishment from Israel (2 Sm 21:14).

1 Samuel 25:1 Did David go to the Wilderness of Paran or the Wilderness of Maon to avoid Saul? Modern Bible translations disagree, reflecting variant readings in ancient manuscripts. The NIV and NLT follow the Greek tradition, while the HCSB and other versions accept the Hebrew text. There is no compelling reason to depart from the Hebrew tradition, as the Greek reading may be due to a copyist’s error.

1 Samuel 25:37–38 How did Nabal die? English Bible versions differ based on the translators’ decisions about how far to pursue a medical diagnosis based on the Hebrew description. The MT in verse 37 reads, lit., “His heart died in his midst, and he became stone.” This could be taken to mean that Nabal experienced a heart attack, became dispirited, had a seizure, or suffered a stroke. Temporary loss of consciousness, paralysis or coma could have followed. Since the Hebrew provides only a description of symptoms, not a diagnosis, most modern versions opt for a reading that closely follows the Masoretic Text.

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1 Samuel 25:43 Throughout his lifetime David acquired at least eight wives (2 Sm 3:2–5, 14–16; 1 Ch 3:1–5) and 10 concubines (2 Sm 15:16), in addition to Saul’s harem (2 Sm 12:8). The Lord did not approve of David’s departure from His plan for marriage. It would have destructive consequences later, when deadly rivalries developed between the women (see 1 Kg 1:1–4; 2:17–25) and families (2 Sm 13:1–32; 1 Kg 2:24–25) within David’s harem. God’s ideal plan for people from the beginning was for one man to marry one woman, and for the couple to remain in an exclusive sexual relationship for as long as both partners were alive. (On the Bible’s view of polygamy, see notes on Ex 21:10; Jdg 8:30–31.)

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1 Samuel 25:44 Who became Michal’s next husband after David? The text here states that Saul gave Michal to Palti (also known as Paltiel, 2 Sm 3:15); however, in 2 Sm 21:8 many English versions state that Michal’s husband was Adriel. This textual tension apparently arises from an ancient scribal error in 2 Sm 21:8, where the MT links Michal with Adriel. On the other hand, the Septuagint, Syriac, and even some Hebrew manuscripts state in that same verse that Merab, not Michal, was Adriel’s husband. Especially in the light of 1 Sm 18:19 and 2 Sm 6:23, it seems the Septuagint and Syriac preserve the correct reading.

1 Samuel 27:7 Ancient manuscripts disagree as to how long David was in Philistine territory The MT states that David was among the Philistines a year and four months, while the Septuagint indicates that the time was only four months. Especially in light of Achish’s statement in 1 Sm 29:3, the Hebrew reading should be accepted.

1 Samuel 27:8 On whether this reference to the Amalekites contradicts an earlier passage in 1 Sm, see note on 15:7–8.

1 Samuel 27:9 David took even the women’s lives when he attacked the Geshurites, Girzites, and Amalekites. David’s actions described here were aimed at finishing the work that Joshua and later generations of Israelites had left undone, that of ridding Canaan of its pagan cultures. (For further discussion of this question, see notes on Nm 31:13–24; Dt 1:30; 2:21; 7:16; 1 Sm 15:3.) The people groups against which David fought were residual populations that had not yet been dealt with.

1 Samuel 27:10 Was it right for David to deceive Achish? In response to the pagan king’s inquiry David gave a direct and geographically accurate answer, though not the entire truth. He did not tell which people groups he had been fighting, for to do so was to risk forcing more than 1,000 Israelites—David, his men, and their families—back into a deadly confrontation with Saul. Needless bloodshed would have ensued. (For further discussion of lying, see notes on Ex 1:19; 1 Sm 19:13–17.)

1 Samuel 27:12 On whether Achish’s relationship with David in this passage contradicts the earlier description of their relationship in 1 Sm, see note on 21:12–15.

1 Samuel 28:1 On whether this verse contradicts an earlier statement regarding the Philistines fighting against Israel, see note on 7:13.

Twisted Scripture

1 Samuel 28:5–20

Many channelers and trance mediums cite this passage as evidence that communication with the dead is possible. Even if such an argument could be made, biblical law strictly forbids contacting spiritualist mediums (see Lv 19:31; 20:27; Dt 18:10–12; Is 8:19). Despite these injunctions, King Saul asked the medium of Endor to conjure up the spirit of Samuel, the dead prophet. Whether she actually succeeded or not is debatable. Saul’s actions were costly: “Saul died for his unfaithfulness to the Lord because he did not keep the Lord’s word. He even consulted a medium for guidance, but he did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse” (1 Ch 10:13–14).

1 Samuel 28:6 Why didn’t the Lord answer Saul’s plea for help? The Bible teaches that people who consistently reject God’s leadership in their lives, and refuse to follow the guidance He has already provided, should not expect Him to deliver them from trouble resulting from their poor choices (Job 27:9; 35:12; Pr 1:23–28; Is 1:15; Jr 11:11; 14:12; Ezk 8:18; Mc 3:4; Zec 7:13; Jms 4:3). Saul had consistently disobeyed God (1 Sm 13:13–14; 15:11–23), even going so far as to kill the Lord’s priests (22:17–19). He had created vast problems for himself and his nation. The Lord was not going to promise the king supernatural deliverance from those problems, even though Saul earnestly sought His help. Instead, God would use the Philistines as the instrument of judgment against Saul.

1 Samuel 28:6 This passage says that Saul inquired of the Lord, while 1 Ch 10:14 says he did not. The contradiction is apparent only in English translations. In this verse Saul “asked” (Hb dāraš; “inquired of”) the Lord to provide guidance, but the Lord did not answer him. In 1 Ch 10:13–14 Saul “asked” (Hb dāraš; “consulted”) a medium for guidance but did not “seek” (Hb darash; “inquire of”) the Lord. The point is that Saul died because he committed a capital offense in consulting a medium (see Lv 20:27) rather than seeking to obey God.

1 Samuel 28:8–22 Did the medium of Endor really conjure up the dead prophet Samuel? Though scholars disagree on this question, the Bible suggests that she did. The law of Moses sternly forbids consultation of mediums (Lv 20:27; Dt 18:10–12) but never says that communicating with dead people is impossible. Saul was seemingly able to speak with a figure that not only accurately repeated key themes from Samuel’s previous private conversations with Saul, but also correctly predicted the deaths of Saul and his sons. This suggests that the king was indeed speaking with Samuel.

By John Coe

The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007)

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