I don’t have enough time this week to write about everything I wished, (trying to finish my medical application by Monday), so go listen to my podcast here where I talk about David, Goliath, and the Philistines.
One important concept that appears this week has been seen before, but I don’t think I’ve talked about it. This is the idea of cherem (that’s a guttural ch, like Loch, not a “cheese” ch.) This word and associated noun are translated various ways. It’s important to understand the concept, as it is largely foreign, as closely related to the idea of holiness (which is also not generally well understood).
Within the Old Testament there is the idea that some things are singled out as particularly taboo for the community to handle. In Hebrew, the term used is ḥerem which is sometimes translated as “banned thing” or “thing devoted.” To the writers of the Old Testament, an object was in ḥerem either because of extraordinary uncleanness or because of exalted sanctity.- “The Palace of Zimri-Lim at Mari” in Biblical Archaeologist Vol 47:2 (1984).
This is one of those words that gives rise to many different translations dependent upon context. As the subject can be either extremely holy or extremely unclean, we really get a variety. The KJV gives us “be utterly destroyed” (Exo 22:19, frequent translation), “holy unto the Lord, as a field devoted (hrm)” (Lev 27:21), “cursed thing” (Deu 13:18), “accursed” (Josh 6:17), “man whom I appointed for utter destruction” (lit. “man of my herem” 1Ki 20:42) “doom” “place under the ban” and other translations.
Chaim Potok novels use cherem in the later Jewish meaning for being cut off/excommunicated/forbidden. The Islamic term for Temple Mount in Jerusalem is Haram Esh-Sharif where it means “sanctuary” or holy place. This is a similar usage to the harem, the circle of women that is off-limits/forbidden/holy.
The idea of cherem in terms of complete destruction runs throughout the Old Testament. It’s the concept behind the warfare in Joshua and Judges, Samuel, and elsewhere. We have direct evidence that this usage was not solely Israelite, as the Moabite Mesha Stele uses the cognate verb in describing a war in which the Moabite king says,
“And Kemosh [the Moabite national deity] said to me:
“Go, take Nebo from Israel!”
And I went in the night,
and I fought against it from the break of dawn until noon,
and I took it,
and I killed [its] whole population,
seven thousand male citizens (?) and aliens (?),
and female citizens (?) and aliens (?), and servant girls;
for I had put it to the ban [hrm] for Ashtar Kemosh”
The Context of Scripture, 2:138, lines 14-18.
It may well have functional parallels elsewhere in the ancient Near Eastern, such as at Mari.
One of the reasons Saul is rejected has to do with how he has carried out a cherem. Saul is portrayed as disobedient in this respect, but Jewish scholarship disagrees.
Saul’s assertion that “I have fulfilled the LORD’s command” (1 Sam. 15:13) can be fully justified, and it is only the anti-Saulide [pro-David] writer who misrepresents his valid execution of the ḥerem as an act of heresy.- The JPS Torah Commentary, Numbers, 430. (I’ve included this Excursis here.)
Again, the question of who is doing the writing and how their perspective affects the story comes into play. Let’s set that aside for some better questions.
Logic, Revelation, and Prophets
Both Saul and David are chosen and anointed by Samuel.
Imagine you have a big decision that will affect lots of people. You do the best you can, and it seems good at first, but eventually turns out to have very negative consequences. Then you’re called upon to make the same kind of decision again. How confident do you feel?
Saul had been tall and handsome; he looked the part. (1Sa 9:2)
What’s Samuel’s first impression in picking Saul’s replacement? The tall handsome oldest. When he picks again, he picks wrong.
When [Jesse's sons] came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD.” (1Sa 16:6 NRS)
This leads to the Seminary scripture,
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1Sa 16:7 NRS)
Apparently, Eliab’s being the firstborn, tall, and handsome made him kingly in Samuel’s eyes… like the last time with Saul. But not so. Note that Samuel then has to go through process of elimination with the other sons.
Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”
9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the LORD chosen this one.”
10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The LORD has not chosen any of these.”
11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”
12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”
(1Sa 16:8-12 NRS)
Eventually, the right guy is found. But what about Saul and Samuel? Note 15:35-16:1
Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel. (Then) the LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul?
Is Samuel mourning over his own failings or perceived failings in 16:1? Did Samuel pick the right guy with Saul? Did it undermine Samuel’s confidence that the guy he choose went bad?
I’m operating off the assumption that Saul was indeed chosen, but how does Samuel feel about it? Can the prophets make mistakes?
Now, let me insert here. I tend to find two extremes, two poles of LDS assumptions. One end places far too much emphasis on divine control and revelation, and too little on the humanity of God’s chosen servants. Every scripture, program, General Conference talk, General Authority statement, Ensign article, etc. is inspired from on high as if God himself had written it in stone on tablets. It’s a caricature. This view is often accompanied by an assumption of complete harmony and consistency in history, doctrine, and scripture. When I encounter this kind of view, I try to gently acquaint them a bit more with reality, from within a faithful perspective, so they see that this assumption is not necessary. (I find this view and assumption fairly rigid and dangerous.)
On the far other end of the pendulum swing, I encounter people who place far too much emphasis on the humanity of the Apostles, with far too little faith in any actual inspiration, revelation, or that God has actually chosen them. In this view, they are little more than a bunch of old white guys in Utah, who know little beyond their own sheltered circles and outdated views. This is also a caricature. When I encounter this kind of view, I tend to push back the other direction. (It’s no surprise I also find this view and assumptions fairly rigid and dangerous.)
The reality is in-between, that God chooses humans to inspire, with all the human baggage that entails, and scripture/revelation are inevitably affected by that (see my posts here, here, here, here,here, and here), but I suspect there are more of the first view in the English-speaking Church than the second, so I tend to try to counter-act that view more than the other. YMMV, but know your local audience/Gospel Doctrine class.
“With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their problems without inspiration in many instances…. Thus the opinions and views, even of a prophet, may contain error, unless those opinions and views were inspired by the Spirit.” Elder McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, “Prophets,” 608.
(President Uchtdorf has been more blunt about this recently.)
We have some examples of other prophetic “mistakes” or at least reversals. (See 2 Sa 7, with Nathan, David and temple. Or see Isaiah, Hezekiah and the fig in 2Kings 20)
And since I’ve already spent too much time writing, let me conclude cheaply, with some quotes from a handout I use on these chapters. Make of these what you will.
“There have been times,” Elder Harold B. Lee pointed out, “when even the President of the Church has not been moved upon by the Holy Ghost. There is, I suppose you’d say, a classic story of Brigham Young in the time when Johnston’s army was on the move. The Saints were all inflamed, and President Young had his feelings whetted to fighting pitch. He stood up in the morning session of General Conference and preached a sermon vibrant with defiance at the approaching army, declaring an intention to oppose them and drive them back. In the afternoon he rose and said that Brigham Young had been talking in the morning but the Lord was going to talk now. He then delivered an address the tempo of which was the exact opposite of the morning sermon. Whether that happened or not, it illustrates a principle: that the Lord can move upon his people but they may speak on occasions their own opinions.” -Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Williams (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996), 542
What was Brigham Young’s view of prophets and revelation vis-à-vis the people? Too much rejection, or too much complacent pedestal worship?
I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whisperings of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. “-President Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 9, p. 150.
On dealing with things from the pulpit we may not like.
If we hear any principle taught from the stand that we do not understand, let us seek to comprehend it by the Spirit of God. If it be not of God, we have the privilege of knowing it. We are not required to receive for doctrine everything that we hear. We may say, “I do not know whether this is true or not; I will not fight it, neither will I endorse it, but I will seek knowledge from God, for that is my privilege, and I will never rest satisfied until I have obtained the light I require.” If you hear a doctrine that does not agree with your feelings or that you do not believe, take this course; do not reject nor endorse hastily without knowing or understanding. By taking this course you will develop the principle that God designs we should possess, and we will thus become a wise and understanding people, for we will be based on the rock of revelation. (Apr. 21, 1867, JD 12:46) – President George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, 270
On apostasy, policy, and differences of opinion.
A friend . . . wished to know whether we had said that we considered an honest difference of opinion between a member of the church and the authorities of the church was apostasy, as he said, we had been credited with having made a statement to this effect. We replied that we had not stated that an honest difference of opinion between a member of the church and the authorities constituted apostasy; for we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the authorities of the church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion, and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife, and to place the acts and counsels of the authorities of the church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate; for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term. We further said that while a man might honestly differ in opinion from the authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adversary would take advantage of him and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy, and be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern his church.” -Deseret News editorial, President George Q. Cannon, editor, impression of Nov. 3rd, 1869.
- The purpose, as listed in the manual, is “trust in the lord rather than their own understanding.” I know this riffs of Proverbs 3:5, and it’s great rhetoric, but what does it mean? We should only do what seems counter-intuitive or illogical? We should seek inspiration? We should cede our own agency and moral responsibility to Church leaders? All of the above? None?
- Saul is described and crowned as king, and this describes his role over all the tribes, but not the trappings that we usually think of. There appears to be no formal capitol, no palace, and Saul works out in the fields. (Note that King Benjamin also appears this way.)
Not until David is established do we get a king the way we think of them. Jerusalem becomes the capitol, a stone temple is constructed as well as a palace, and David doesn’t appear to work in the fields the way Saul does. For more on ancient kingship, see here.
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