Saturday, May 31, 2014

I Chronicles 12

In I Chronicles 12, Israel comes to David while he is in Ziklag to support him.  David is still on the run from King Saul of Israel.  I have four thoughts about this chapter.  In this post, I will use the King James Version, which is in the public domain.

1.  I Chronicles 12:1-2 state: “Now these are they that came to David to Ziklag, while he yet kept himself close because of Saul the son of Kish: and they were among the mighty men, helpers of the war.  They were armed with bows, and could use both the right hand and the left in hurling stones and shooting arrows out of a bow, even of Saul’s brethren of Benjamin.”

Benjaminites, people from Saul’s tribe, were coming to David to support him.  They were ambidextrous, which means that they could effectively use both their right and their left hands.  They were probably left-handed but trained themselves to use their right hand as well.  The left-handedness of the Benjaminites is mentioned also in the Book of Judges.  The Benjaminite judge Ehud was left-handed (Judges 3:15), as were the Benjaminites who were fighting the rest of Israel near the end of the Book of Judges (Judges 20:16).  Because the Benjaminites were ambidextrous, they could be formidable in battle, for their enemies may have been unaccustomed to fighting people who could use both hands!

According to the Intervarsity Press Bible Background Commentary, “Left-handedness was not acceptable in the ancient world because it was generally associated with evil or demons”, so “anyone who was left-handed became ambidextrous because the use of the left hand in many situations was not approved” (page 415).  Yet, the Bible depicts Israel using left-handedness as opposed to stigmatizing it.  That does not necessarily mean that Israel was vastly more progressive than the rest of the ancient world, for the fact that left-handed people in Israel were ambidextrous may indicate the ancient Israel, too, attached some stigma to left-handedness: Why else would left-handed people feel a need to learn to use the other hand?  Still, the stigma must not have been that strong, for ancient Israel used left-handedness to her advantage, and the Bible does not criticize the left-handed for being left-handed.  This coincides with how I would like to see God and God’s community: as accepting and inclusive, and as acknowledging the talents of all members, allowing each to play an important role.

2.  I Chronicles 12:8 states: “And of the Gadites there separated themselves unto David into the hold to the wilderness men of might, and men of war fit for the battle, that could handle shield and buckler, whose faces were like the faces of lions, and were as swift as the roes upon the mountains”.
The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary believes it is significant that the tribe of Gad was the first Israelite tribe to side with David.  Building on such Jewish sources as Genesis Rabbah 99:2 and the Midrash Lekach Tov, it notes that Gad is notorious for firsts: it was the first tribe to enter the land of Canaan, it was the first to accept David as king when David was still in exile from King Saul, and Elijah (perhaps a Gadite) will be the first to recognize the Messiah. 
People are different.  Some are enthusiastic, take risks, and like to rush into things.  Others are quiet and reserved and may prefer to step back and think about things before jumping into the fray.  Both are important, for enthusiasm motivates others, while being reserved adds wisdom to the mix.

3.  I Chronicles 12:18 states: “Then the spirit came upon Amasai, who was chief of the captains, and he said, Thine are we, David, and on thy side, thou son of Jesse: peace, peace be unto thee, and peace be to thine helpers; for thy God helpeth thee. Then David received them, and made them captains of the band.”

There is debate about whether this spirit that came upon Amasai was the spirit of God or Amasai’s own human spirit.  John MacArthur interprets it as the spirit of God, commenting that what happened to Amasai was “A temporary empowerment by the Holy Spirit to assure David that the Benjaminites and Judahites were loyal to him and that the cause was blessed by God.”  V 18 does not explicitly say that the spirit is the spirit of God, however, and so Jewish interpreters Mefarash, Radak, and Metzudos contend that the spirit there is “the enthusiasm which prompted Amasai to assume the role of spokesman for his companions” (Artscroll).  I am drawn more to MacArthur’s interpretation, for I like stories about God working and influencing things to turn out smoothly.  That motivates me to ask God in prayer to send his spirit into certain situations, especially ones that intimidate me because they appear so uncertain.  At the same time, I think it is important for me to honor and have gratitude towards those who, by their own initiative, have helped me out.

Interestingly, I Chronicles 12:18 states that the spirit clothed Amasai.  In the Septuagint, the Greek word that is used for “clothed” is enduo.  That is the same Greek word that is used in Luke 24:49, where Jesus promises his disciples that they will be clothed with power from on high, which probably refers to their empowerment by the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.  In the New Testament, Holy Spirit can dwell within people, even fill them.  But, for certain tasks, the Holy Spirit clothes them.

In the Jewish Study Bible, David Rothstein relates I Chronicles 12:18 to the general ideology of the Chronicler.  Rothstein states: “Whereas many biblical books view prophecy as the exclusive prerogative of ‘professional’ prophets whose activity centers on the monarchy, Chronicles maintains that any individual, even a non-Israelite, may, under the proper circumstances, serve as a conduit for conveying the divine will; hence, Amasai, a military man, experiences ad hoc prophecy.  The possession formulae (the spirit seized) introduce the speeches of ‘non-prophets’ only, indicating that Chronicles differentiates between this group and ‘professional’ prophets.” 

Rothstein is probably right about the Chronicler’s ideology: that it respects the professional prophets, while recognizing that God can speak through anyone.  I think of II Chronicles 35:21-22, in which the Egyptian king Neco warns the righteous Judahite king Josiah not to fight the Egyptian forces, and Neco’s words are considered to be a message from God.  At the same time, at least against the background of biblical thought, I do not think that the Chronicler was revolutionary in believing that God could speak through other people besides professional prophets.  Amos was not a professional prophet, nor was Elijah.

4.  I Chronicles 12 strikes a number of scholars as idealistic, for things did not go as smoothly for David in I-II Samuel.  Whereas I Chronicles 12 depicts Israel coming to David in support while David was still on the run from King Saul, I-II Samuel presents David enduring a rough road: even after Saul died, the Kingdom of Israel was split between supporters of David and supporters of Saul’s son and successor, Ish-bosheth.

Can I learn any spiritual lessons from I Chronicles 12, even if its picture may be overly idealistic?  For that matter, can I trust stories from Christians about God’s work in their lives, or should I instead regard them with skepticism, as idealistic, or as Christians conforming events to their own ideology?  I one time heard a Christian say that, if you are unsure what story to believe, believe the story that glorifies God.  Maybe that is good, on some level, since it encourages people to hope.  At the same time, there have been far too many Christian leaders who have referred to God’s alleged work in their lives as a way to prop up their power, to imply that those who question or oppose them are actually going against God.

I will pray for God’s spirit in my day-to-day life.  As far as other people’s stories about their spiritual experiences are concerned, I will respect them, and I will not discount that God may have acted in such a manner that convinced them of God’s love and care for them.  Yet, I will remember that life can be messy, and I will not conclude from people’s spiritual experiences that everything they say, do, or promote is right.  God showed them his care and concern.  God may have even done so with a broader agenda in mind, to perform a great move that would bless a lot of people.  That does not obligate me to recognize them as an authority over my life.

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