Friday, March 12, 2010

Blessing: David and Samuel the Lamanite (1 Samuel 18:12 and Helaman 16:2-3, 6)

Few essays on Ancient Israel afford such beauty and majesty to the unsuspecting reader as Johannes Pedersen's chapter on "Blessing" in his classic Israel: Its Life and Culture. 2 vols. (Oxford University Press, 1973). For Pedersen Blessing is a vital, substantial power, an aura engulfing its possessor and everything that pertains to him.

Pedersen demonstrates the virtue of Blessing by showing step-by-tragic (or -blessed)-step how that power began to leave King Saul to devolve upon the head of David. The transfer of Blessing was moving forward nicely by the time Saul decided to eliminate his young rival:

1 Samuel 18:10-11:

10 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul. . .and there was a javelin in Saul's hand.
11 And Saul cast the javelin; for he said, I will smite David even to the wall with it. And David avoided out of his presence twice.

1 Samuel 19:10:

And the evil spirit from the LORD was upon Saul, as he sat in his house with his javelin in his hand: and David played with his hand.

And Saul sought to smite David even to the wall with the javelin; but he slipped away out of Saul's presence, and he smote the javelin into the wall: and David fled, and escaped that night.

"So strong was the blessing of David," Pedersen informs us, "that Saul could not even hit him at a distance of a few yards," Israel: Its Life and Culture I, 186, 191.

But Saul never gives up, not until the last drop of blessing has been squeezed from his nefesh, his soul, even as David grows in stature and authority. He accuses his daughter (and David's wife) Michal of treason and tries to injure his own son with a cast of the javelin, but David's blessing, like the protective hem of the shaikh's robe, now embraces even his family and friends.

An instructive parallel to the story, and to its underlying theme, appears in the Book of Helaman, which also speaks of spirits good and evil, of a wall, and the errant casting of weapons at a Blessed man:

But as many as there were who did not believe in the words of Samuel were angry with him; and they cast stones at him upon the wall, and also many shot arrows at him as he stood upon the wall, but the Spirit of the Lord was with him insomuch that they could not hit him with their stones neither with their arrows (Helaman 16:2).

When they saw that they could not hit him with their stones and their arrows, they cried unto their captains, saying: Take this fellow and bind him, for behold he hath a devil; and because of the power of the devil which is in him [note: a bound relative clause: that particular devil that is in him; that duende] we cannot hit him with our stones and arrows. Therefore take him and bind him [what is done with one mad or possessed], and away with him" (16:6).

In that most familiar of all Book of Mormon paintings, Arnold Friberg portrays Samuel, un-hit, to be sure, but at a very safe distance to begin with. The Fribergian walls of Zarahemla make up a berg indeed---a veritable tower of strength.

As David, who escapes down the wall of his home by night, so Samuel--leaping from the wall--flees Nephite lands (Helaman 16:7). It cannot have been too high a wall. . .

The story makes no sense, as Blessing, unless Samuel was an easy mark--in pointblank range.

And the point of the story is to illustrate that the Blessing had now, in large measure, departed from the Nephites to devolve upon their former enemies, the Lamanites:

And thus we see that the Spirit of the Lord began to withdraw from the Nephites, because of the wickedness and the hardness of their hearts.

And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words (Helaman 6: 35-36; see the whole argument as powerfully and conclusively set forth in verses 34-39).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.