All posts by randymccracken

I am a teacher at Calvary Chapel Bible College York and the author of "Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel".

Pompeii and Fast Food Restaurants

Pompeii and Fast Food Restaurants

Thermopolia at Pompeii
Excavating a snack bar at Pompeii yielded this vivid picture of a sea nymph astride a sea-horse.

We all enjoy and appreciate being able to get food on the run. Fast food restaurants are a mainstay of modern life. If you thought they were unique to the modern world, however, you would be wrong. Pompeii, the famous city buried by volcanic ash in 79 A.D. when Mount Vesuvius exploded, had up to 80 fast food establishments! One of these establishments, the Thermopolium (snack bar) of Regio V, has recently been excavated in its entirety. The excavation revealed vivid art work. Furthermore, examining residues in food containers revealed the kind of food sold at the snack bar. Other discoveries included storage vessels, the bones of two humans, and the bones of a dog.

Ordering at Regio V in Pompeii

Snack bar in Pompeii
The food bar at Regio V in Pompeii.

If you were hungry in ancient Pompeii and walked into Regio V for a snack, what would you find there? The photo of the snack bar above, offers a few ideas. Two mallard ducks hung by their feet (left panel), and a rooster (right panel), suggest some of the delicacies that a hungry client might choose from. In fact, examination of the containers, or dolium, lining the counter (see photo above), produced the following residues: goats, fish, swine, snails, and even a fragment of duck bone.

Menacing dog at Regio V in Pompeii
Was this menacing dog a warning or a menu item?

Was the menacing looking dog in the picture above, a warning to guests to beware of hassling the workers, or another item on the varied menu at Regio V? Another interesting feature of this picture is the graffiti in the black area above the dog’s head. If you blow up the picture, you can barely make out the words of an unsatisfied customer. I won’t quote here what the graffiti says. Suffice it to say, the customer had a real potty mouth (quite literally). For a translation of the graffiti, and additional information about the snack bar, see the article at Speaking of dogs, archaeologists found the full skeleton of a small dog between the two doors of the Thermopolium. The dog was only eight to ten inches high, suggesting that the Romans were breeding pet dogs 2,000 years ago.

Human Remains

Human remains at Regio V
Some of the human remains found at Regio V in Pompeii.

Pompeii is famous for preserving the images of dying people caught in the ash and poisonous gases of the Vesuvius eruption. The bones of two victims were identified inside the snack bar. Unfortunately, treasure hunters from the 17th century moved the bones around. Excavator’s identified the remains of one man in his fifties, who appears to have died on his bed (the residue of wood and nails still laid underneath the bones). The bones of another man were found inside one of the doliums. The treasure hunters apparently put them there.

Massimo Osanna, Interim Director General of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, states, “The possibilities for study of this Thermopolium are exceptional, because for the first time an area of this type has been excavated in its entirety, and it has been possible to carry out all the analyses that today’s technology permits.” For further information on this discovery consult the link above and also see Pompeii Fast Food Restaurant Uncovered. For interesting video footage click here and here (please be aware this video is in Italian but it gives a good overview of the shop). To read more about the Romans love of fish check out, Fish Sauces–The Food That Made Rome Great.



Clothing in Samuel: You Are What You Wear

Clothing in Samuel: You Are What You Wear

Semites clothing
This ancient Egyptian pictorial from 1900 B.C. pictures Semites (this category includes Israelites) traveling to Egypt. The clothing would be typical of the time of Abraham or Jacob.

We will definitely be airing some dirty laundry in this post as we look at the clothing motif in the Books of Samuel. In daily life, clothes tell us something about the person wearing them. We might learn about their social class, or what part of the world they’re from. Formal and casual attire also communicate certain messages. One blogger writes, “On a larger scale, fashion is important because it represents our history and helps to tell the story of the world” (Why Is Fashion Important?). “Clothing, whether worn for a special occasion or not, did always convey a message, sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously, especially regarding social status, as there was clothing specific to gender, age, marital status, wealth, rank, modesty, place of origin, or occupation” (Barbosa, M. (2020). Women’s Fashion in the Old Testament World. In The Baker Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, p. 74).

Hebrew Words for Clothing in Samuel

Ordinary clothing
This relief is an Assyrian depiction of the conquest of Lachish. It shows the captive women of Judah dressed in plain garb.

There are six Hebrew words used a total of thirty-nine times to describe a person’s attire.  The words and their meaning are as follows:

  1. Beged is the most common word for clothing in the OT, and the most frequently occurring word in 1&2 Samuel. It occurs twelve times in eleven passages (1 Sam. 19:13, 24; 27:9; 28:8; 2 Sam. 1:2;  3:31; 13:31 [2x]; 14:2; 19:25; 20:8, 12 ) and is usually translated as “garment” or “clothing.” It has a broad range of meaning and refers to clothing in general.
  2. An ephod is mentioned ten times in nine passages (1 Sam. 2:18, 28; 14:3; 21:9;  22:18; 23:6, 9; 30:7 [2x]; 2 Sam. 6:14). An Ephod is an item of priestly apparel. It is especially associated with the High Priest, but is worn by others as well. In spite of the detailed description of it in Exodus 28 and 39, “a clear picture of what it looked like is difficult to obtain” (Meyers, C., Ephod (Object). In The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, Vol. 2, p. 550).   Both Samuel and David are said to wear “a linen ephod” (1 Sam. 2:18; 2 Sam. 6:14).  The ephod was used to seek answers from God, so at times, it is pictured as being carried, rather than worn (e.g., 1 Sam. 23.6).
  3. Meʿîl means “robe” and is found eight times in seven passages in Samuel (1 Sam. 2:19; 15:27; 18:4; 24:5, 12 [2x]); 28:14; 2 Sam. 13:18). It is an outer garment generally worn by people of rank. It is especially associated with Samuel and Saul, although it is worn by other people of high status.
  4. Maḏ occurs five times in five passages and is always connected with military or governmental attire in Samuel (1 Sam. 4:12;  17:38, 39; 18:4; 2 Sam. 10:4).
  5. Lābaš is normally used as a verb in Samuel (4 times) and refers to “putting on” a piece of clothing. However, on one occasion it is translated as a noun referring to Joab’s military outfit (2 Sam. 20:8).
  6. Keṯōneṯ passîm is an expression only found four times in Scripture. In each instance it refers to a type of garment that suggests royalty. It appears in the Joseph story as the “coat of many colors,” (Gen. 37:3, 23), and is found in 2 Samuel 13:18-19 describing the garment that Tamar, the daughter of David, was wearing. The word keṯōneṯ  by itself is more common in Scripture (e.g., Gen. 3:21; Job 30:18) and is used to describe Hushai’s garment in 2 Samuel 15:32 which he has torn as a sign of grief. For more on biblical clothing click the link here.

Meanings Conveyed by Clothing in Samuel

Having surveyed the passages in Samuel that mention clothing, I have concluded that there are five primary meanings. These meanings include status, mourning, deception, shame, and death.


Samuel rejects Saul
Both Samuel and Saul are characterized as leaders by the robes they wear.

Kings, priests, soldiers, aristocrats, and peasants all have distinctive outfits befitting their social and political rank. This is true of all societies and this feature is evident in Samuel as well. For example, all eight mentions of the robe (meʿîl) are connected with royal figures and political leaders. Hannah’s bringing the young Samuel a new robe each year (1 Sam. 2:19) foreshadows his destiny as Israel’s leader. The connection between the robe and leadership is made explicit in the story of Saul’s rejection. When Samuel turns to leave after telling Saul that God has rejected him as king, Saul grabs Samuel’s robe and it tears. Samuel sees this as a sign and responds, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” (1 Sam. 15:28). Samuel is so closely identified with his robe that when Saul visits the medium of Endor and asks her to call up Samuel, he recognizes him immediately by the woman’s description. She states, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” Then the text tells us,  “And Saul knew that it was Samuel” (1 Sam. 28:14).

Saul’s robe represents his kingship. When David cuts off a piece of Saul’s robe, David is convicted. “Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe (1 Sam. 24:4-5). Cutting off a slice of Saul’s robe is similar to defacing his kingship. Similarly, Jonathan’s gift of his robe and weaponry to David is a symbolic way of surrendering the kingship to him (1 Sam. 18:4).

Besides his robe, Samuel wears a linen ephod which indicates his priestly status (1 Sam. 2:18). Somewhat surprisingly, David is also said to wear a linen ephod when he brings the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem, thus suggesting some kind of priestly status on his part (2 Sam. 6:14).


Tearing clothes
Tearing clothing is a sign of grief in ancient times.

What one did to one’s clothing, or the kind of clothing worn was a common way of expressing grief in the ancient world. For example, following a defeat in battle at the hands of the Philistines, a messenger arrives at Shiloh with torn clothes to deliver the news to Eli (1 Sam. 4:12). Similarly, after being raped by her brother Amnon, Tamar tears the royal robe she is wearing as a sign of grief and outrage (2 Sam. 13:19). David goes a step farther following the murder of Abner when he tells Joab and his men to not only tear their clothes but to put on sackcloth (2 Sam. 3:31). To demonstrate his grief of David’s flight from Jerusalem during Absalom’s revolt, Mephibosheth does not take care of his feet, trim his beard, or wash his clothes (2 Sam. 19:24). Finally, in an act of deception, Joab tells a wise woman to pretend to be in mourning by putting on garments of mourning (2 Sam. 14:2).


Saul and the witch of Endor
Saul puts on common clothing to deceive the medium of Endor. Credit: the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Our last example above regarding the wise woman illustrates how clothing can be used in Samuel to deceive. The wise woman pretends to be mourning over a lost son so that she might gain the ear and sympathy of the king. Michal, the daughter of Saul seeks to protect David by deceiving her father’s soldiers into thinking he is sick. She does this by laying an image in a bed and covering it with goat’s hair and clothes, giving David time to escape (1 Sam. 19:11-16). Saul also uses clothing to deceive the medium at Endor. Saul does not want to be recognized so that the medium will do his bidding in calling up Samuel. In the larger story, however, Saul’s removal of his royal apparel and putting on “other garments” (1 Sam. 28:8), is a symbolic way of suggesting that Saul is losing the kingship. Joab uses his military attire to deceive Amasa (2 Sam. 20:8), but this story also has another dynamic that we will examine below.


Saul removes his clothing
Saul prophesies naked (1 Sam. 19:22-24)

In the Bible, being unclothed is considered shameful. Only Adam and Eve in their pristine state before the Fall, could be naked and unashamed (Gen. 2:25). Not only did certain kinds of clothing denote honor and wealth, all clothing hid one’s shame (e.g., Ezek. 16:8, 36-37). Thus to be found in one’s “birthday suit,” was considered humiliating. Saul is twice pictured in 1 Samuel in a compromised situation. In his pursuit of David, Saul comes to Samuel in Ramah and is seized by the Spirit of God. There he lies down all day naked and prophesies (1 Sam. 19:23-24). In other words, in his murderous rage, the Spirit renders him powerless and vulnerable, to the point of shaming him by removing his kingly garments. One might muse that Saul is performing his own version of the “Emperor’s New Clothes!” Saul is found in an even more humiliating and vulnerable position when he goes into a cave to relieve himself (1 Sam. 24:3-7). The Hebrew uses the euphemistic phrase, “to cover his feet.” In other words, Saul drops his robe around his feet in order to take care of important business. David and his men are hiding in the cave, but David refuses to harm Saul. When Saul leaves the cave, David produces the part of the robe he had cut off in order to demonstrate his innocence to Saul (1 Sam. 24:11).

On another occasion after David himself has become king,  he sends ambassadors to pay his respects to the deceased Nahash, king of Ammon, Nahash’s son Hanun humiliates the men by cutting their garments off at the buttocks (2 Sam. 10:4). This insult precipitates a war between Israel and Ammon. We should also mention that Tamar’s tearing of her royal garment not only communicates mourning (as noted above) but shame as well.


Joab murders Amasa
Joab’s military garb is carefully described in anticipation of his murder of Amasa.

When garments are associated with death, it is usually in reference to those who are mourning the deceased (2 Sam. 3:31; 14:2). However, there is one passage in 2 Samuel that dwells on the military attire of Joab in anticipation of his murder of Amasa (2 Sam. 20:8). One could literally say that Joab “was dressed to kill!” On the other hand, the expression “cloak and dagger” seems apropos as well. This passage also fits under the theme of dressing to deceive noted above. Commentators are unsure of the exact manner in which Joab perpetrates this deception, but in the end, Amasa gets the point! As Amasa lies wallowing in his blood, the troops stand still in shock. But when Amasa is unceremoniously dragged off of the highway and covered with a garment, the mission continues (2 Sam. 20:12). This time a garment plays the part of concealing the horrible crime committed by Joab and acts as Amasa’s death shroud.

Conclusion: If the Shoe Fits

While some motifs, such as tallness, or dead dog (see posts here and here), have one main point to make, the motif of clothing is varied. For the most part, one could say that the clothing motif is “worse for wear” in Samuel.  Although the message of status is mostly positive, the other usages of this motif are quite negative. Context is the all-important guide when it comes to understanding what is being communicated by the clothing motif. Therefore the message(s) of this motif is not a “one size fits all,” but rather an “If the shoe fits, wear it.” In particular, the clothing motif in Samuel contributes to the main themes of honor and shame (e.g., 1 Sam. 2:30) and how appearances can be deceiving (1 Sam. 16:7).

For a more in-depth look at 1&2 Samuel see:

Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel. Available at the following sites: Amazon USA / UK, and WestBow Press as well as other internet outlets.

Family Portraits


Logos 9 is Here!

Logos 9 is Here!

Logos 9
Use this link to purchase or upgrade to Logos 9!

Although there are numerous new features for all who love using Logos for Bible study, Logos 9 is especially pastor friendly. I will list a few of the new features below, but if I was asked to summarize the biggest changes in Logos 9 it would include the expansion of the Factbook, the new Sermon Builder and Sermon Manager tools, and the new Counseling Guide. We will look briefly at each of these first.

The New Factbook

Using Factbook
Typing in Samuel in the “Go” box reveals a number of options, including the use of Factbook.

FactBook has been updated and now has about ten times the information of previous versions. Now you can enter a passage, person, topic, etc. into the “Go” box and the dropdown list will provide Factbook as one of the options, as seen in the screenshot above. (I know the pictures are small so feel free to zoom in on the screenshots). 🙂

Logos 9 Character study in FactbookChoosing the person Samuel results in the Factbook opening to a page with a multitude of resources and basic information to get you started on your character study. The screenshot doesn’t do justice to the various categories available such as media, key passages, events, various Bible dictionary articles, journals, sermons, guides, and workflows. Basic information is also provided on the key events of Samuel’s life.

Sermon Builder and Sermon Manager

What used to be called the Sermon Editor is now called the Sermon Builder. It can be found in the Tools menu. Logos 9 greatly enhances the ability to plan, create, preach, and store all of your sermons. Below I have listed several screen shots. The first demonstrates how to access Sermon Builder, while the second and third show the various features available.

Logos 9 Sermon Builder

By the way, notice that Dark mode is now available in Logos 9. The following screenshots are in Dark mode which can be accessed by clicking on the 3 vertical dots in the upper righthand corner of the screen. To enable this feature, you have to choose Dark Mode, quit Logos and then start it again. This is cumbersome. It would be nice if the feature automatically switched, or if Logos had a restart button rather than having to quit and restart Logos. Back now to the Sermon Builder!

Logos 9 Sermon Builder
This screen shows some of the options available in Sermon Builder.

In the second screenshot, you will notice that on the righthand side, the Sermon Builder gives you the option of creating a new sermon layout, or using a previously saved template. Below that is information that can be filled in to provide information when storing the sermon. If this sermon is part of a series, you can put in the name of the series, the topic, the passage(s), etc.Sermon Builder

In this last screenshot of the Sermon Builder, notice that you can input the date, church or location, and time the message was preached. I love this feature because if you speak at a number of different venues and churches, you never need worry about whether you are repeating a sermon you have taught before! On the left side of the screen is where you develop the sermon. One of the features I really like is how powerpoint slides are automatically added for each point! When you’re finished building your sermon, all you do is hit “Preach” in the upper box and you’re ready to go. In Preach mode you even have a built in timer to keep your sermon on schedule!

The Sermon Manager is another nice feature in Logos 9 for organizing your messages and series, and being able to easily find them later. I have not provided a screenshot, however, because I have to confess a little frustration with this feature. I built an example to make a screenshot of Sermon Manager. I put in some information for some make believe sermons, but then I ran into trouble. When I tried to correct a mistake, I couldn’t find a way to delete anything. In fact, I tried to delete the entire example because they are not sermons I have preached and I couldn’t find a way to delete them. I went to the “Help” file only to find that Logos 9 does not include any information on the Sermon Builder or Sermon Manager! The only information on sermons is under “Sermon Document,” which pertains to the old Logos 8 feature. So I’m left frustrated at the moment with how to use this feature and how to delete mistakes.

The Counseling Guide

As the demo for Logos 9 points out, the Counseling Guide won’t make you a counselor, but it is designed to help the busy pastor with resources and guidance. Logos 9 not only provides this Counseling Guide, but, depending on your version, it also provides a large counseling library. Below is a snapshot of the Counseling Guide. I have typed in the  topic of depression as an example. (You’ll notice I’ve switched back to the Light screen).

Logos 9 Counseling Guide
Logos 9 Counseling Guide

The screenshot below demonstrates that scrolling down the page of the Counseling Guide reveals some resources pertaining to depression that are included in certain versions of Logos 9.

Counseling resources in Logos 9
Examples of some of the counseling resources available in Logos 9.

Other Features and Benefits of Logos 9

As noted at the top of this post, I have sought to focus on three of the main new features in Logos 9, but there are many more. I will give just two more brief examples. A minor feature, but one that I like a lot, is the ability to view your commentaries categorized in various ways. In the screenshot below, I have typed Psalm 60 into the “Go” box and then chosen “Passage Guide.” On the left where the commentaries are listed, you will notice that there are now various categories such as “Priority,” “Series,” “Author,” etc. In the example, I have selected “Type” and from the drop down list I have selected “Exegetical,” which shows me all the Psalms commentaries in my library that fit that category.

Commentary categories
Note the various commentary categories for view in Logos 9.

Finally I will mention that, as always, an update with Logos comes with a host of new books for your Library. I will note that my version of Logos 9 is Gold, so those with other versions will have libraries that vary. The Gold version includes an extensive counseling library, as I have already mentioned, including a 10 volume commentary series by well-known counselor Jay Adams. I am particularly excited that Lexham Press has produced Lexicons of the Hebrew, Aramaic, Septuagint and Greek. These Lexicons are a gold mine and differ from other Lexicons as they break down word meaning and usage according to various passages in the Bible. I am also excited about the new Atlases available with Logos 9 which includes the Carta Bible Atlas, Carta’s Historical Atlas of Jerusalem, The Sacred Bridge: Carta’s Atlas of the Biblical World, and others. The Gold version also includes Lexham’s Context Commentary (3 vols. on the NT and 1 vol. on the OT). Besides these and many other volumes, Logos 9 comes with numerous updated data sets and interactive media.

Evaluation of Logos 9

Overall I am very pleased with Logos’s latest update. As noted above, I believe pastors (and teachers) will find it especially helpful. There are a few bugs to be worked out, but this is true of any new update. Now is a great time to purchase Logos 9 as Logos is offering a 15% discount on all of its packages. Click on the link below, browse and choose the package that works best for you!

Get Logos 9 Now and Enjoy a 15% Discount While the Sale Lasts!

Many thanks to Logos/Faithlife for providing me with a free upgrade to Logos 9. I was not required to provide a positive review.

Capital Importance: Ancient Judean Capitals Discovered!

Capital Importance: Ancient Judean Capitals Discovered!

Davidic capitals
One of the royal Judean capitals recently uncovered. Photo credit: TZVI JOFFRE

While COVID-19 has certainly put a damper on the 2020 archaeological season in Israel, a number of exciting discoveries continue to occur. Just yesterday (Sept. 3, 2020) the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced the discovery of three 2700 year old capitals, along with other artifacts. According to the Jerusalem Post, “The capitals are linked to the Davidic Dynasty because such designs from the period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judea have only been found within the areas they ruled. The design has been found from later periods in other locations throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East (Davidic Dynasty Symbol Found in Jerusalem).

The discoveries were made in an area known as the Armon Hanatziv Promenade. This is a favorite tourist spot south of Jerusalem that allows a beautiful panoramic view of the city. It is in the area known as East Talpiot in Jerusalem, and about a mile from another sensational discovery made recently (see my post Administrative Site of the Kings of Judah Uncovered).

Perfect Intact Capitals Found Buried

The Capitals, which are in perfect condition, were found buried, one on top of the other. It is not known why the capitals were buried. What is known is that they are from either a royal administrative building, or a royal estate. An in-depth interview conducted by Eric Stakelbeck of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) with Ze’ev Orenstein can be found here.

The capitals date from the period between the Assyrian oppression, which resulted in the miraculous deliverance of Jerusalem in the time of King Hezekiah (Isaiah 37), to the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.). Since the style of these capitals are linked to the Davidic dynasty, it has been memorialized on Israel’s 5 shekel coin (see image below).

Ancient capital on 5 shekel coin
The design of the ancient capitals can be found today on Israel’s 5 shekel coin.

A similar capital was discovered in Jerusalem during Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations in the City of David (1961-67). This discovery prompted Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar in 2005 to search and uncover what she believes is King David’s Palace. In a video showing a tour of the City of David the guide in the video sits in the building discovered by Mazar. Beginning at 3:30 in the video you can hear him talk about the palace and you can see a replica of the capital that was discovered. Watch the video here. Note the identical nature of this capital to the ones just discovered!

ancient window frames
Ancient beautifully decorated window frames from the royal building.

Among other items found were lavishly decorated window frames (seen in the picture above). These window frames, along with the capitals, can be seen in this short video interviewing the archaeologist who discovered them. Other items are currently being studied and investigated. A future announcement will detail what else has been discovered.

Dead Dog: Motifs in Samuel

Dead Dog: Motifs in Samuel

dead dogWe live in a dog lover’s world and so it should come as no surprise that we use many idioms related to our four-legged friends. The positive use of an idiom involving dogs is usually related to puppies. We talk about having “puppy dog eyes,” or when speaking of teenagers we say they have a case of “puppy love.” Of course there’s also the colloquial expression, “What’s up dog?,” or “Yo dawg!” As much as we love our dogs, it’s surprising how often we use them in idioms with a negative meaning. “It’s a dog-eat- dog world,” “I’m sick as a dog,” “I’m dog-tired,” “You work like a dog,” and many more (see How friendly are these 29 dog idioms–disclaimer, some of these aren’t the nicest of expressions!). When a woman is called “a dog,” or worse, a female version of a dog, it’s not a compliment! If someone pranks me, I might threaten them good-naturedly by saying, “You’re a dead dog!” When someone is wasting time we might say, “You’re beating a dead dog,” although admittedly I’ve heard “horse” used in this idiom more frequently.  Although we are talking about dead dogs in this post, hopefully we won’t be beating any (i.e., I hope you think the article is worth your time)!

“Dog” in Scripture

vicious dog
Enemies in Scripture can be pictured as menacing dogs.

While current idiom’s can use “dog” positively or negatively,  dog language in Scripture is always negative. “The psalmist’s enemies are presented as menacing dogs (Ps. 22:16 [17]), and dogs represent a fool in Prov. 26:11, where the folly or sins of the fool are compared to the filth of dog vomit. Israel’s sentinels are called ‘silent dogs’ who sleep rather than bark, while Israel’s enemy is described as a voracious, devouring dog (Isa. 56:10–11)” (M.E. Taylor, Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 352). “Dogs were scavengers and kept towns clean by consuming garbage and unburied corpses (Ps. 59:14–15 [MT 15–16])” (Ibid.). The NT, like the OT, considers dogs to be an unclean animal (Matt. 15:26-27). In fact, in Revelation’s picture of the heavenly city, dogs are said to be on the outside along with other unsavory characters (Rev. 22:15).

“Dog” and “Dead Dog” in Samuel

There are 5 occurrences of dog language in Samuel with a possible sixth occurrence (which will be explained below). Three verses specifically use the words “dead dog” (1 Sam. 24:14 {MT 15]; 2 Sam. 9:8; 16:9). In the other two occurrences the speakers refer to themselves as “dogs” and later end up dead (1 Sam. 17:43; 2 Sam. 3:8). So it seems that we can legitimately label these as “dead dog” passages as well. These passages use the word “dog” in one of two ways: 1) When someone is called a “dead dog,” the person using the expression is speaking disparagingly of another. 2) When a person refers to themselves as a “dead dog,” it is usually a statement of humility, unless the context makes it clear that they do not see themselves as a “dog.”

Goliath and Abner: Dogs Who End Up Dead

Goliath becomes a dead dog
Goliath denies that he is a dog, nevertheless, he winds up eating the dust like a dead dog.

When David goes out to engage Goliath in battle, Goliath says, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” (1 Sam. 17:43). Goliath’s question is clearly rhetorical. He does not believe that he is a dog, and therefore, this is a derogatory use of the word. In other words, Goliath is not expressing humility by referring to himself as a dog. Ironically, a few verses later, Goliath winds up dead, proving he is, in fact, a “dead dog!”

When Ishbosheth accuses Abner of sleeping with Rizpah, his father’s concubine, Abner angrily retorts, “Am I a dog’s head of Judah?” (2 Sam. 3:8). Once again, we have a rhetorical question. Clearly Abner does not think that he is a “dog’s head.” There are several interesting observations that can be made about this response. Anderson observes, “Since sexual promiscuity of dogs is nearly proverbial, Abner’s exclamation is fairly apposite” (A.A. Anderson, WBC, 2 Samuel, p. 56). It is also noted by some scholars that “dog’s head” may, in fact, be a euphemistic reference that actually refer’s to a dog’s backside! (See e.g., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament): Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel–Vol. 2, p. 424). Finally, the word for dog in Hebrew is keleb. The name Caleb comes from this word. It’s possible that Abner was making a wordplay here. Recall that at this time David was reigning over Judah from Hebron (2 Sam. 2:1-4). Hebron was the city given by Joshua to Caleb (Josh. 15:13). When Abner says, “Am I a dog’s head of Judah?,” some scholars take this to mean “Am I the chief of Caleb of Judah?” “Head” here would mean “leader” (see my post on the head motif in Samuel). The reference to Caleb (which means “dog”) would be a way of referencing Hebron. Therefore, Abner would be saying, “Do you think I’m loyal to David who rules over Caleb’s territory in Hebron?” (On this interpretation see, McCarter, 2 Samuel, Yale Anchor Bible, p. 106). At the same time, the expression carries the idea of being a dog’s head and thus it would have a double meaning. If this is the case, then this would be a clever retort indeed! By the end of the chapter (2 Sam. 3:27), the man who sarcastically referred to himself as a “dog’s head,” is dead.

Shimei, the Dead Dog

Shimei, the dead dog
Shimei’s cursing of David leads to his appellation as a “dead dog” by Abishai.

The clearest case of “dead dog” having a derogatory meaning is found in 2 Samuel 16:9. The context is a report of David’s flight from Jerusalem during the revolt of Absalom. As David is fleeing, Shimei throws rocks and dirt his way, while cursing him. Abishai, one of David’s commanders, gets fed up with this insulting behavior and says, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” David refuses to allow him and later, following Absalom’s defeat, when Shimei begs for his life, David pardons him (2 Sam. 19:16-23). However, David never forgets Shimei’s treachery and on his death bed he tells Solomon to deal wisely with him and see that he does not go to the grave peacefully (1 Kgs. 2:8-9). Eventually, Shimei breaks an agreement that he had made with Solomon. The result is his execution (1 Kgs. 2:39-46). In the end, Shimei truly winds up as a “dead dog.”

David & Mephibosheth: Dead Dogs

David spares Saul
David spares Saul. Image courtesy of

The final two occurrences of this expression in the books of Samuel are found on the lips of David and Mephibosheth respectively. On one occasion when Saul is pursuing David in the Wilderness, David spares his life. Later, David confronts Saul by showing a piece of Saul’s robe in his hand, demonstrating that he might have killed him. After pleading with Saul he states, “After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! (1 Sam. 24:14). David’s reference to himself as a “dead dog” is a statement of humility. He is claiming to be insignificant. This is also backed up by his reference to himself as a “flea.”

Mephibosheth the dead dog
Mephibosheth approaches King David with humility.

When Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s crippled son, is summoned to appear before David, he comes in fear. As he approaches the king, he falls on his face in reverence. David tells him not to fear, and promises that he will restore all of Saul’s land to him and have him eat at the king’s table as one of his sons. Mephibosheth responds by saying, “What is your servant, that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?” (2 Sam. 9:8). This statement certainly expresses Mephibosheth’s humility, but in most circumstances, these words would also be literally true. It was very common in the ancient world when a new dynasty was established, the new king would kill all of the remaining descendants of the former king.  This is why Mephibosheth was hiding out in a place called Lo-Debar (2 Sam. 9:4), and why David was unaware of whether Saul had any surviving descendants (2 Sam. 9:1). However, David proves to be true to his word to both Jonathan (1 Sam. 20:14-15) and Saul (1 Sam. 24:21-22) and does not destroy all of their descendants, but instead blesses Mephibosheth.

Is Nabal a Dog?

Is Nabal a dead dog?
Abigail pleads for David to forgive he foolish husband’s harsh words.

Having covered the 5 passages which clearly speak of a dead dog, we come to a sixth, questionable passage. The question has to do with how to translate the Hebrew. In 1 Samuel 25 we are introduced to a despicable man named Nabal, and his wise and beautiful wife, Abigail. Nabal is described in v. 3, along with his wife. Most English translations at the end of v. 3 read, “He was a Calebite.” We have already noted that the name Caleb means “dog.” Nabal, whose name means “fool” is introduced in a less than complimentary way–“the man was harsh and badly behaved.” This introduction looks especially bad when contrasted with his wife. Nabal lives in the area around Hebron. As we noted above, this is Calebite territory. The text could simply be telling us that Nabal was a descendant of Caleb. If so, he has failed to live up to his ancestor’s reputation! Some scholars, however, think that the designation, “he was a Calebite,” is meant to communicate, “he was dog-like.” This would certainly fit the negative description he is given, not to mention, the way he is depicted in the coming story.   To muddy the waters a bit, the Hebrew text, literally reads, “he was like his heart.” The difference between “he was like his heart,” and “he was a Calebite,” is one small letter. Also, although the text was written as “he was like his heart,” it was read as, “he was a Calebite.” For those who know Hebrew, this is the difference between the Kethib (what is written) and the Qere (what is read). This textual issue is why it is difficult to be sure that Nabal is being described as “dog-like.” Regardless, the rest of the story shows him to be a despised individual, and he dies in the end. Therefore, it is a strong possibility that Nabal should also be viewed as a “dead dog.”

Dog Language in the Ancient Near East

The Amarna Letters
There is a lot of “dog” language in the Amarna letters.

The discovery of ancient documents by archaeologists demonstrates that the dog language of 1&2 Samuel (as well as the rest of the OT) has a clear ancient Near Eastern (ANE) background. For example, among the Amarna letters (documents from the 14th century B.C. describing an invasion into Canaan) we find a number of expressions using dog language. The dog language is used either to speak derogatorily of an enemy, or in a self-deprecating manner evidencing humility. In other words, dog expressions in ANE literature are used the same way as they are in the books of Samuel. Here are two examples from the Amarna letters, showing the two meanings.

  1. “Who are the sons of ʿAbdi-Aširta, the servant and dog? Are they the king of Kaššu or the king of Mittani that they take the land of the king for themselves?” (EA 104:26). Moran, W. L. (1992). The Amarna letters (English-language ed., p. 177). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  2. “As I am a servant of the king and a dog of his house, I guard all Amurru for the king, my lord.” (EA 60:6-EA 60:9). Moran, W. L. (1992). The Amarna letters (English-language ed., p. 132). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Another example comes from Judah’s final days as they attempted to fight off the Babylonians. From the city of Lachish come some letters of desperation from the commander there, seeking help against the Babylonians. These letters, written on pieces of broken pottery, are known as the Lachish ostraca (see the link to the left, or my post on Tel Lachish). The dog language used in these letters is all of the humble variety since the commander is writing and addressing his superior. Because of the similarities, I have just listed one example below.

“To my lord Yaosh: May Yahweh cause my lord to hear tidings of peace this very day, this very day! Who is thy servant (but) a dog that my lord hath remembered his servant? May Yahweh afflict those who re[port] an (evil) rumor about which thou art not informed!” (Pritchard, J. B. (Ed.). (1969). The Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament  (3rd ed. with Supplement, p. 322 Princeton: Princeton University Press.)

Conclusion: Dead Dogs Do Tell Tales (or is it “Tails?)

dog's tailAs we have learned in earlier posts, the purpose of a motif is to accentuate one of the messages that the inspired author is seeking to communicate. The dead dog motif contributes to the theme of humility and pride, so prominent in Samuel. We saw this theme also emphasized in the motif of tallness (see last week’s post). One who is a dog, but doesn’t know it, like Goliath and Abner, are an example of pride. Pride always results in a fall in the books of Samuel. Shimei, who is correctly identified as a “dead dog,” is eventually executed. While there is some uncertainty as to whether Nabal is described as a dog, he certainly is dog-like in his words and actions. In the end, he succumbs to the Lord’s judgment and, therefore, might be regarded as yet another “dead dog” in Samuel. On the other hand, those who confess that they are a “dead dog” are an example of humility in the books of Samuel. In David’s case he is exalted to the kingship. In Mephibosheth’s case, he is lifted up to sit at the king’s table (1 Sam. 2:8; 2 Sam. 9:11-13). In the end, every dog has his day in the books of Samuel and gets his just desserts.

If you are interested in a more in-depth look at the various characters in the Book of Samuel, like those mentioned in this study (Abner, Shimei, or Abigail), please check out my book:

Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel. Available at the following sites: Amazon USA / UK, and WestBow Press as well as other internet outlets.

Family Portraits

Tallness: Motifs in Samuel

Tallness: Motifs in Samuel

Robert Wadlow, the tallest man on record was considered a “gentle giant.”

Tallness has its advantages and disadvantages. A tall person will have less legroom on a plane or may have to duck their head when entering a doorway. Tallness is great for reaching things in high places or for being able to see above the crowd when watching a public event. Of course, these are all trivial advantages and disadvantages. On a more serious note, a recent study suggests that taller people (over 6 feet) may be more susceptible to COVID-19 (read here). Another study suggests that taller people are more susceptible to cancer, whereas shorter people are at a greater risk for diabetes. The article states, “For several years researchers have identified strange associations between height and disease” (Why Shorter People are at Greater Risk for Diabetes). At times, tall people may be considered intimidating (Why Tall People Feel So Intimidating). On the other hand, the tallest man on record, Robert Wadlow, was considered a “gentle giant” (see photo above).

Height in the Bible

In previous posts we have noted how the Bible uses physical language in a metaphorical way to communicate spiritual truth (e.g., feet, and head). The same is true with the ideas of height or tallness. Thus height can be literal, figurative, or both. Just as in real life, biblical imagery of tallness or things that are high, has both positive and negative connotations. For example, God is pictured as “high and exalted” (Isa. 6:1 ), or as “God Most High” (e.g., Gen. 14:22–Hebrew = El Elyon). The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery states, “Implicit in this imagery is an implied vertical hierarchy in which God and the unseen spiritual world that he inhabits are qualitatively ‘above’ earthly experience. We should not ignore the physical basis of such imagery: the ‘heavens are high above the earth,’ as the psalmist puts it (Ps 103:11), and the human imagination has always pictured heaven as being ‘up.’ God is therefore named as being ‘high’ in the Bible. This is encapsulated in the epithet ‘Most High,’ which occurs well over fifty times (NRSV). God is ‘high and lofty’ (Is 6:1; 57:7, 15), the one who is ‘high above all nations’ (Ps 113:4), and he dwells ‘in the high and holy place’ (Is 57:15)” (p. 384).

Temple Mount
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

In Israelite and Ancient Near Eastern thought, God, or the gods, often met with people on mountains or high places (Deut. 12:2). For example, God reveals Himself to Israel at Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19:18-20), and later the temple is constructed on Mt. Zion (Ps. 48:1-2). Legitimate and illegitimate places of worship in the Old Testament are often described as “high places” (1 Sam. 9:12-14; 1 Kgs. 3:2-4; 11:7; 13:32). Not only is God “high” but he honors His people by lifting them up. The promise to Israel is, “. . . He will set you high above all nations which He has made, in praise, in name, and in honor, and that you may be a holy people to the Lord your God, just as He has spoken” (Deut. 26:19).

The Hebrew Root gbh (Tallness)

While the idea of height or tallness can be positive and negative throughout the OT, in 1 Samuel the picture is wholly negative. The Hebrew word we are looking at comes from the root gbh. It can be seen in the name of Saul’s hometown, Gibeah, which means, “hill” or “height.” Besides its occurrence in the name Gibeah, the root occurs 6 more times, all in 1 Samuel (1 Sam. 2:3 [2x]; 1 Sam. 9:2; 10:23; 16:7; 17:4). We will look at these passages in a moment, but first, more needs to be said about the negative connotations of this word in Scripture.

Tallness can equal arrogance
In the Bible when height is used in conjunction with the eyes or heart, it can be a reference to arrogance. Portrait–Leon Battista Alberti

Just as we might use the term “high” to refer to an arrogant person or attitude–“get off your highhorse,” “don’t be so high and mighty”–so too does the Bible. This negative aspect to the word is often connected with various parts of the body in Scripture. For example, the heart (Ps. 131:1), the eyes (Isa. 2:11), the spirit (Prov. 16:18), and the nose (Ps. 10:4), can all be said to be “high” (gbh). In all but one case (2 Chron. 17:6), this is a negative quality, variously translated as “proud,” “arrogant,” or “haughty.” Thus, while the word tallness, in and of itself, is a neutral term, context determines whether it carries the connotations of honor or arrogance.

Tallness in Samuel

Hannah's prayer
The words of Hannah’s prayer in 1 Sam. 2:3 set the tone for the meaning of “tallness” in 1 Samuel.

The first use of the Hebrew root gbh in Samuel is found in Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:3. It occurs twice in this verse and sets the tone for its usage in the rest of 1 Samuel. Most English versions translate the opening line of verse 3 similar to the NKJV which reads, “Talk no more so very proudly.” “Very proudly” is the English rendering of a double use of the word gebohah. When Hebrew uses a word two times in succession, it is for emphasis. Hence the use of “very” in English translations. We could translate Hannah’s words as “Talk no more proudly, proudly.” If we wanted to be very literal, however, we would translate these words as Robert Polzin does, “Do not multiply your words, ‘Tall! Tall!'” (Samuel and the Deuteronomist, p. 34). Another alternative is Keith Bodner’s translation, “Do not multiply your speech, ‘O Tall one! O Tall one!’” (1 Samuel: A Narrative Commentary, p. 28). In other words, although the word here means “tall” it’s intended meaning is “proud,” thus the rendering by English translations. As noted by many, Hannah’s song enunciates many of the main themes of Samuel (see my post on the Theology of 1&2 Samuel). Therefore the allusion that tallness represents pride anticipates the introduction of certain people in 1 Samuel. To be precise, there are three people in 1 Samuel who are said to be tall–Saul, Eliab, and Goliath. Bodner sums up this same point with some clever wordplay of his own. He writes, “Even a cursory glance ahead in the story of 1 Samuel reveals that ‘tall’ is a big issue in this narrative. Physical height can be, at the very least, illusory, and breed a false sense of security. Saul’s outstanding attribute is that he is taller than all the people, and Goliath’s height instills great fear in the fighting ranks of Israel. Yet both will fall down (forward) at different times before the end of 1 Samuel” (1 Samuel: A Narrative Commentary, p. 28).

Tall Saul

Tall Saul was not all he appeared to be!

Saul is certainly the most significant figure of the above trio. From the moment we are introduced to Saul we are told, “From his shoulders upward, he was taller than any of the people” (1 Sam. 9:2). This distinguishing characteristic, seems to be the one that most impresses Samuel. When Saul is chosen by lots to be king, we are reminded that, “he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward.” Samuel then continues by saying, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people” (1 Sam. 10:23-24). Ironically this “kingly” looking man was found “hiding among the supplies” (1 Sam. 10:22). This story already begins to hint that Saul is not all his physical appearance makes him out to be. This is confirmed later in the story in numerous ways. It is noteworthy that Saul, the tallest Israelite, cowers in fear when Goliath challenges Israel (1 Sam. 17:10-11). Saul’s lack of obedience (1 Sam. 15:11), his building of a monument for himself (1 Sam. 15:12), and his pleas for Samuel to honor him before the elders of his people (1 Sam. 15:30), all suggest a problem with pride.

Tall Eliab

David's anointing
David’s brothers, including tall Eliab are rejected in favor of him.

The next tall person we encounter in 1 Samuel is David’s brother, Eliab. After Saul’s rejection from being king, God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint a new king among the sons of Jesse (1 Sam. 16:1). As Samuel approaches Jesse’s sons, he comes to Eliab the firstborn and is convinced that the Lord’s anointed is standing before him (1 Sam. 16:6). Samuel is immediately rebuked by the Lord and told “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him” (1 Sam. 16:7). Once again Samuel is impressed by physical stature, but the Lord is not and offers a rebuke. Within the context, Eliab appears to be compared to Saul. He is said to be tall and that the Lord had rejected him–two things said of Saul as well. In the next chapter, Eliab opposes David’s inquiries about fighting Goliath (1 Sam. 17:28). In a subtle way, tall Eliab’s fear of fighting Goliath, once again compares him with Saul. Thus, for the second time in the narrative, tallness is rejected as a desirable quality. No doubt, the suggestion is once again that Eliab had a problem with pride (for more on Eliab, see my book Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel).

Tall Goliath

Tallness--David vs Goliath
Tall Goliath did not intimidate David.

Obviously, the most famous, or infamous, tall person in 1 Samuel is Goliath. 1 Samuel 17:4-7 gives a detailed description of Goliath, including his height (see my other articles on Goliath, here, here, and here). Tallness appears in what is clearly a negative context here. Once again, the tall person doesn’t turn out to be what we thought he was. Goliath is cut down to size by the young shepherd boy David, proving he was not as intimidating as he looked. Goliath’s pride is evidenced in his defying the army of Israel and its God (1 Sam. 17:25-26). Finally, there is some irony in these stories involving David’s interaction with Saul, Eliab, and Goliath. When David is introduced in 1 Samuel 16:11 and 1 Samuel 17:14, a certain Hebrew word is used that most English versions translate as “young.” This is a correct translation, and no doubt the intended meaning. However, the Hebrew word also means “small,” and is used intentionally to create a contrast between “small” David and these other “tall” individuals.

Gibeah, Ramah, and Tallness

As noted above, Gibeah was the hometown of Saul, while Samuel’s hometown was Ramah (1 Sam. 15:34). We have pointed out that the word Gibeah comes from the Hebrew root gbh and thus means “height,” or “tall.” Since Gibeah means “height,” it is not unusual that this name could be used to refer to different cities in Israel that were on a hill. This, indeed, was the case. The Gibeahs mentioned in Joshua 15:57, Joshua 18:28, and Joshua 24:33, are all different places and none are to be equated with Saul’s Gibeah. Ramah is a word that also means “height” or “hill.” Just as there were a number of Gibeahs in ancient Israel, so there were also a number of places called Ramah. The verbal form of Ramah ִis rûm (pronounced “room”), and means “high” or “exalted.” It is obvious that rûm and gbh are synonyms. It is interesting that the verbal form rûm occurs 7 times in 1&2 Samuel and always has a positive meaning (1 Sam. 2:1, 7, 8, 10; 9:24; 2 Sam. 47, 49). Notice that it occurs 4 times in Hannah’s opening song. In fact, in its first appearance in 1 Samuel 2:1, it actually takes the form “ramah.” The point of this is that, although these words are synonyms, the root for the word Ramah, always has positive connotations, while the root for Gibeah always has negative connotations in the books of Samuel. Not only does the root word for Gibeah have negative connotations in Samuel, Gibeah itself is remembered as a place where a terrible crime took place that turned into a civil war in Israel (Judg. 19-21). In fact, the story of Saul chopping his oxen into 12 pieces and sending them throughout Israel (1 Sam. 11:7) is an echo of the story of the Levite chopping his concubine into 12 pieces in Judges 19:29. All of this seems to be a subtle way of communicating that godly Samuel comes from Ramah (a word referring to a good use of “height,” meaning “exalt”), while ungodly Saul comes from Gibeah (a word associated with a negative use of “height,” meaning “pride”).

Conclusion: The Motif of Tallness Brings a Heightened Awareness in Samuel

The King of Akkad, Naram-Sin is depicted as towering over his enemies.

Once again by following a motif in the books of Samuel, we are given insight into the inspired author’s message. In her song, Hannah says that God will bring down the proud but lift up the humble (1 Sam. 2:6-8). The motif of tallness plays into this important theme of the book. Ancient people were smaller in stature and so a tall person would be impressive. Indeed, many of the portraits of ancient kings depict them as being taller than their subjects and enemies (the stele of Naram-Sin above is one example among others). The motif in Samuel turns this expectation on its head by stating that appearances can be deceiving (1 Sam. 16:7). Tallness becomes symptomatic of pride and arrogance. The books of Samuel teach, if you raise yourself up, be sure God will cut you down to size! But if you are lowly and humble, be encouraged for God will lift you up!

Administrative Site of the Kings of Judah Uncovered

Administrative Site of the Kings of Judah Uncovered

administrative site on slopes of Arnona
Aerial Photo of the Israel Antiquities Authority excavation on the slopes of Arnona (photo credit: ASSAF PEREZ/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

The IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) has recently uncovered a 2700 year old administrative site dating to the time of the biblical kings Hezekiah and Manasseh. This administrative site is located in a neighborhood of Jerusalem where the US Embassy now resides. The neighborhood, known as Arnona, is only 1.8 miles outside the Old City located between Talpiot and Ramat Rachel (where another ancient administrative site also exists). While preparing for a new residential complex two year ago, the discovery was made. As always in Israel, before any building activity can commence, an archaeological survey must be carried out by the IAA. Prior to excavation, the only ancient remains known consisted of a giant hill of flint stones. Excavating led to the discovery of a monumental concentric structure. The size of the site and the other objects discovered has led to the conclusion that it was an administrative site. The announcement about its discovery was released this past week (July 22, 2020).

An Administrative Site for Storage and Collecting Taxes

administrative site LMLK seal
LMLK seals usually consist of a disk with wings and ancient Hebrew script designating it as belonging to the king.

One of the discoveries includes a large collection of royal Judah seal impressions. The impressions on the handle of storage jars are known as LMLK seal impressions (see photo above). The letters LMLK in Hebrew mean “belonging to the king” (pronounced lam melech). About 120 of these stamped jars were found. Only about 1300 are known from various sites throughout Judah. The jars were normally used for tax collection purposes and included various agricultural items such as olive oil, and wine. The jars also include the names of four cities in Judah: Hebron, Socho, Ziph, and Memshat. Three of these are known from Scripture. The location of the fourth, Memshat, is still a bit of a mystery. These, and other finds, date the site to the eighth and seventh centuries–the time of Hezekiah and Manasseh, kings of Judah. One of the interesting observations to be made is that somehow this site survived the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib in 701 BC (Isaiah 37). It continued until the Babylonian destruction in 586 BC and began to be reused shortly after that up through the period of Persian rule.

What Else Was Discovered?

images from Arnona
Female and animals figurines, along with seal impressions were among the objects found. (Photo credit: Yaniv Berman/Israel Antiquities Authority).

Seals impressions bearing the names of a number of individuals were also found. These individuals are believed to be governmental personnel or wealthy land owners who held economic clout in the area. None of the names are known from the Bible, but they are found on jar handles at other sites in Judah. For the stout of heart who don’t mind reading ancient Hebrew names, here is the list: Naham Abdi, Naham Hatzlihu, Meshalem Elnatan, Zafan Abmetz, Shaneah Azaria, Shalem Acha and Shivna Shachar. Among the other items found are female and animal figurines which the excavators equate with idolatrous practices. This is not a surprise, since this is a well-known feature of ancient Judah. Although Hezekiah sought to rid the land of idolatry (2 Kgs. 18:1-6), his son Manasseh brought it back with a passion (2 Kgs. 21:1-10).

For more information on this discovery, including photos and videos of the excavation and surrounding area, check out the article in The Times Of Israel (Huge Kingdom of Judah Government Complex Found Near US Embassy in Jerusalem), and the article in the Jerusalem Post (Key Site From Biblical Kings’ Time Unveiled Near US Embassy in Jerusalem). The best video for English speaking people, as well as the most comprehensive, can be found at CBN News (Israel Uncovers Major Archaeological Find From the Times of King Hezekiah, Manasseh).

Cosmic Warfare in the Book of Joshua

Cosmic Warfare in the Book of Joshua

Ancient Jericho and Cosmic Warfare
Ancient Jericho or Tel es-Sultan, illustrates the aspect of Cosmic Warfare in Joshua. Courtesy of pininterest.

The book of Joshua has suffered a damaged reputation in recent years. Many archaeologists consider the account of the Conquest as fantasy. Kathleen Kenyon’s dating of the fall of Jericho to 1550 BC has led them to conclude that there was no city to conquer in the time of Joshua (1400, or 1250 BC, depending on the date accepted for the Exodus). This has been ably challenged by Bryant Wood and the team at ABR (Associates of Biblical Research), but conservative voices are easily overlooked these days, even if they offer persuasive evidence (see the article here, and the video here). The Book of Joshua has also come under fire for its language of “utterly destroying” the inhabitants of Canaan (e.g., Josh. 6:17, 21). I have written elsewhere on the problem of violence in the OT (see my series, Violence in the Old Testament). Here I would like to focus on a point that is far too often overlooked. This involves the Book of Joshua’s outlook on the Conquest as Cosmic Warfare.

What is Cosmic Warfare?

Cosmic Warfare
Battling the prince of Persia (Daniel 10).

It is sometimes stated (and I have probably done so myself), that warfare in the OT is physical, whereas warfare in the NT is spiritual. However, a more accurate picture of what Scripture teaches would be to affirm that both testaments teach that warfare is physical AND spiritual. Cosmic warfare involves understanding the Bible’s teaching that spiritual forces battling it out in the heavenly realm often manifest that conflict in the physical realm. Daniel 10 gives us a glimpse into this dynamic. Daniel is given a vision and waits 21 days until a heavenly messenger is able to come and reveal to him its meaning. This heavenly being states that he was opposed in arriving sooner because of opposition from the prince of Persia (Dan. 10:13). The vision, however, reveals what will happen “to your people in the latter days” (Dan. 10:14). Daniel’s visions involve the revelation of real historic events. Thus there is a combination of spiritual and physical realities. While this is widely recognized as a feature of the Book of Daniel, a similar dynamic is at work in the Book of Joshua. This outlook is pervasive throughout the book, but I will limit my observations to 5 (groups of) passages.

Meditate on the Word and Follow It (Joshua 1:7-8)

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

The theme of Cosmic Warfare is inaugurated from the outset of the Book of Joshua. When God appears to Joshua promising to give Israel the land (Josh. 1:2-3), He does not do what we would expect. Certainly a general who is being sent on a military expedition, especially one as vast as the conquest of Canaan, needs some sage military advice. A clever plan outlining successful military tactics is what most commanders would hope for. Instead, Joshua is told to know and keep the Law of Moses! The Lord specifically says that if Joshua knows the Word, then he will prosper and have good success. Such a statement clearly implies that Canaan will not be won because of brute military strategy and force. The battle is more than a physical battle; it is first and foremost, a spiritual one! Although Joshua will battle a physical enemy, he needs to know that the physical resistance is a symptom of a greater spiritual reality.

The Preparation for Cosmic Warfare (Joshua 3-5)

Cosmic warfare-Crossing the Jordan
Israel prepares for cosmic warfare by following the ark across the Jordan.

The emphasis on spiritual preparation for battle continues in chapters 3-5. In chapter 3, the people are called upon to consecrate themselves as they prepare to follow the ark of God across the Jordan River (Josh. 3:2-4). Following the ark reinforces the idea that God is leading the way and fighting for Israel. The parting of the Jordan emphasizes God’s presence and recalls the similar miracle at the Red Sea when Israel left Egypt (Exod. 14-15). Just as the Lord had done battle with Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt and had triumphed (Exod. 15:4-12), so now He was leading Israel in the conquest of Canaan and its gods. After Israel crosses the Jordan, they do something counter-intuitive–they circumcise all the males (Josh. 5:2-9). Since the generation born in the wilderness had not been circumcised, this meant that every male of the nation needed to be circumcised except for Joshua and Caleb (the only two remaining from the previous generation). Such an action left the entire nation vulnerable to attack! All one need do is recall the story of Simeon and Levi attacking and wiping out the town of Shechem after all the males were circumcised (Gen. 34:24-29). For Israel, however, keeping the covenant (Gen. 17:9-14) was more important than physical vulnerability to the enemy. Following the recovery from being circumcised, Israel observes the Passover (Josh. 5:10-11). Once again, Israel is not following proper or even logical military protocol. The text is teaching us that being spiritually fit in order to maintain the Lord’s presence in the camp is far more important.

The Commander of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5:13-15) and the Battle Plan for Jericho (Joshua 6:1-5)

Joshua and the Commander of the Lord's army
Joshua and the Commander of the Lord’s army by James Tissot. The Commander’s appearance is a clear announcement of Cosmic Warfare.

On the eve before the conquest of Jericho, Joshua has a strange and surprising encounter. He sees a man with a sword and inquires “Are you for us, or for our adversaries” (Josh. 5:13)? The man reveals that he is under allegiance to no one but the Lord by his response of “No.” He then proceeds to identify himself as “the commander of the army of the Lord” (Josh. 5:14). His deity is emphasized by the fact that Joshua falls down before him and the commander tells him to remove his sandals as he is on holy ground (Josh. 5:14-15). This statement is, of course, a direct allusion to God’s revelation to Moses at Sinai in the burning bush (Exod. 3:1-6). The continued references to the Exodus story remind us that just as the Lord conquered Egypt, so the Lord will conquer Canaan. The appearance of the commander of the Lord’s army could not be a more explicit reference to the nature of the coming conflict. What faced Joshua and Israel was not only a conflict with the people of Canaan, but a cosmic conflict.

The Fall of Jericho
The destruction of Jericho emphasizes that Israel was engaged in Cosmic Warfare.

The battle plan against Jericho (Josh. 6:1-5), as well as the subsequent account of the battle, continues to emphasize the spiritual nature of the battle. From a human point of view, Israel could not have had a worst strategy. March around the wall everyday with the ark and the priests leading the way and on day 7 march around 7 times, blow the trumpets and shout, and the walls will fall down. The skeptical would surely say…”Right, now there’s a sure-fire plan!” Yet the text states that this is what Israel did, and as the song says, “the walls came a tumblin’ down.” Even archaeologists who are skeptical of the biblical account will admit two things that the Bible makes clear. 1) The walls fell outward (a very unusual thing–usually they fall inward); and 2) Jericho was well fortified. This initial story of the conquest not only emphasizes that the Lord fought for Israel, but that the battle could not be won by flesh and blood alone. Again, cosmic warfare is being waged.

Cosmic War and the Sun and Moon Standing Still (Joshua 10:12-14)

Cosmic Warfare
Joshua 10:13-14 clearly demonstrates cosmic warfare, as Joshua calls on the sun and moon to stand still.

One of the most famous stories of the Book of Joshua is the battle to save Gibeon in which Joshua calls on the Lord to have the sun and moon stand still (Josh. 10:12-14). While there is no consensus on what Joshua was asking the Lord to do, our point here is to notice how the theme of Cosmic Warfare is once again being emphasized. The mere fact that the sun and moon are involved in this story suggests that the focus is cosmic. It is not uncommon in the Bible to see the Lord use the elements of nature (or the cosmos) to fight against the enemy. In Exodus 14-15, God uses the sea. In Judges 5:20-21, Deborah and Barak celebrate by singing that the stars and the Kishon River fought against their enemy Sisera. 2 Samuel 18:8 declares that, “the forest devoured more people that day than the sword.” In Joshua 10, we are told that the Lord sent great hailstones upon the enemy and that more died from the hailstones than by the sword (Josh. 10:11). Once again, the Book of Joshua could not be more explicit about the nature of the conflict. This is not merely a physical war between two nations, this is cosmic warfare.

The Destruction of the Anakim (Joshua 11:21-22)

To this point it is evident that the Book of Joshua depicts cosmic warfare. But the emphasis on the destruction of the Anakim clinches it beyond all doubt. Militarily speaking, the Israelites would have had little chance against the population of Canaan on their own. This is emphasized by the strength of the Canaanites and their fortified cities (Num. 13:28; Deut. 3:4-5). However, while Israel would have needed God’s help to defeat the Canaanites, the Scripture reveals that there was an enemy even more fearsome whose roots were in both the physical and spiritual realms. This enemy was the Anakim, the descendants of the Nephilim (Num. 13:32-33). No one has done more to demonstrate the cosmic view of Joshua than Michael Heiser by his investigation of the significance of this people group for the Conquest (see Heiser’s The Unseen Realm, especially Part 5 Conquest and Failure, pp. 181-217). Heiser writes, “Since the Nephilim were part of Israel’s supernatural worldview and their descendants turn out to be Israel’s primary obstacle for conquering the promised land, the conquest itself must also be understood in supernatural terms” (Unseen Realm, p. 185).

Cosmic warfare
The sons of God and daughters of men produced the Nephilim (Gen. 6:1-4)

We first learn about the Nephilim in Genesis 6:1-4. The union of “the sons of God” (spiritual beings) with “the daughters of men” (human women) results in the birth of these hybrid beings. It is specifically the presence of the Anakim that terrify 10 of the 12 spies. They report, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Num. 13:32-33). A number of passages in the OT demonstrate that the Nephilim and their descendants were spread throughout Canaan, Transjordan (Bashan), Edom and Moab (Gen. 14:5-6; Deut. 2:10-12, 20-23; 3:8-11; Amos 2:9-10). These passages show that they were called by various names including Nephilim, Rephaim, Anakim, Emim, Zamzumim (Zuzim), Horites, and Amorites. Heiser contends that the spiritual powers of darkness purposely planted their progeny in and around the Promised Land in order to prevent God from giving it to His people Israel. The main task of the Conquest was to rid Canaan and Transjordan of these people groups, as well as those who were intermixed with them such as the Canaanites, so that Israel could take up possession of the land. If Heiser is correct, and I think he is, this makes the Conquest more than just a clash between nations. It makes it cosmic warfare. This point is driven home in Joshua 11:21-22 which purposely focuses on the destruction of the descendants of the Nephilim. There we read, “And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain.” (For more on this aspect of the Conquest, see my article Giants or Canaanites? The Conquest.)

Joshua and Cosmic Warfare

More could be said, but the above discussion is sufficient to establish that the Book of Joshua pictures a cosmic conflict. When interpreting and teaching the Book of Joshua, as well as any discussion about the violence in Joshua, it is important to keep this ancient context in mind. In fact, the biblical worldview would teach us that with any conflict we need to see beyond the mere physical manifestation of that conflict. Scripture is clear, in both testaments, that there are spiritual enemies attempting to thwart God’s plan for this world. It is this worldview that prompts the apostle Paul to use the language of cosmic warfare as he reminds believers, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

Revolutionary Revelation in a Cultural Package

Revolutionary Revelation in a Cultural Package

OT scholar John Walton refers to divine revelation as “revolutionary revelation” in his OT Theology

The Old Testament (OT) is a strange and foreign world to many, including many Christians. The reason for this is simple: The writings which compose the OT ( or Hebrew Bible) were written in a cultural milieu much different from ours. Yet in spite of its many similarities with the culture of the ancient Near East (ANE), the OT has many unique features and beliefs not found in any other neighboring country or region of that era. OT scholar John Walton refers to this phenomenon as, “revolutionary revelation in a cultural package” (Old Testament Theology for Christians: From Ancient Context to Enduring Belief, p. 12–see link below).

This post is about some of the unique features of the OT. Such uniqueness causes one to ask, “How did writers in ancient Israel, come up with beliefs and ideas that were so counter-cultural?” Were they a race of geniuses? Or could it be that their claim of Divine Revelation is actually true? The context in which Walton uses the expression, “revolutionary revelation in a cultural package,” explains his answer to this question and is worth quoting at length. (The bold type and italics in the quote below are Walton’s and serve as one of the subheadings in his introductory chapter):

revolutionary revelation--John Walton
OT scholar and author John Walton

“Theology is to be understood within the framework of the ancient world, yet as the result of revelation that draws the people out of those ways of thinking. The Israelites were thoroughly immersed in the world and cultural framework of the ancient Near East, just as all of us are immersed in our own native cultures. However, God’s revelation of himself, though grounded in a specific culture, is capable of transcending culture. As a result, we can be transformed by that revelation, regardless of the time and space that separate us from the original revelation. The situation with ancient Israel was no different—God’s revelation called them away from the ways in which their culture inclined them to think and to be transformed in their minds. We have, then, a revolutionary revelation in a cultural package. But it is important to note that the Old Testament’s theology is situated against the backdrop of the ancient world’s customary ways of thinking.” (Walton, OT Theology, p. 12).

John Walton is not only an OT scholar, but is a scholar of the ancient Near East. As such, he is eminently qualified to address this topic. His writings include other works on the ancient Near East such as, “Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament,” and “Ancient Israelite Literature in its Cultural Context.” The rest of this article will focus on 9 aspects of this “revolutionary revelation” in the OT as revealed in Walton’s Old Testament Theology. These are not the only unique features of Israel’s religion, there are others. These are enough, however, to substantiate that Israel’s outlook  and practices were qualitatively different in many aspects, in spite of sharing a common culture with its ancient Near Eastern neighbors.

Revolutionary Revelation in the Old Testament

  1. One Supreme God–this is probably the most obvious difference between Israel and its neighbors. It’s difficult to underscore just how revolutionary this belief is. All the nations of the ANE believed in a pantheon of gods. While one god might be considered the head of the pantheon, this could change. For example, the Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish recounts how the god Marduk is elevated to the head of the pantheon. The OT reveals that God has a council of divine beings (e.g., Ps. 82:1, 1 Kgs 22:19-22). However, none of these beings are equal to God. In fact, all were created by God. God allows these beings to participate with Him, just as God allows humans to participate in His plans. Walton explains how foreign this concept was to the other peoples of the ANE. He points out that people functioned and found their identity within community. They believed the gods did likewise. Walton then states, “With this brief discussion as a backdrop, we can understand the challenge of the theology revealed to the Israelites. How could one God do it all? Why would one God do it all? It would have been difficult for them to think of Yahweh as a cosmic deity, a phenomenon deity, a national deity, and a clan deity all at the same time. It just would not have made sense” (OT Theology, p. 38). The fact is, many Israelites had a hard time accepting this belief themselves. The OT is full of examples of Israel worshipping other gods. Given the mindset of the ANE, the idea of one supreme God overall only makes sense if it was received by divine revelation. No one in that culture would come up with such an idea!

    Moses and the burning bush
    Revolutionary revelation: A God who reveals Himself! Courtesy of pininterest
  2. A God who communicates and reveals Himself–I was honestly shocked to learn this one.  In the ANE although gods did, at times, reveal answers to oracular questions through divination (Should we go to war?, Will this famine end soon?), they didn’t offer an account of their plans or their attributes the way we are accustomed to seeing the God of Israel do in the OT. Walton states, “In the ancient Near East it was more common for the gods to manifest themselves rather than to reveal themselves. Gods “manifested” themselves in objects, images, names, celestial bodies, or other things that comprised the divine constellation” (OT Theology, pp. 43-44). Revelation of the kind we are used to speaking of, simply was not a thought that occurred to an ancient person. The gods were about having their needs met (see below), not about revealing themselves.
  3. A God of relationship–Of course, one of the reasons for self-revelation is for the purpose of relationship. It appears the gods of the ANE were little concerned with developing a relationship with their worshippers. One of the aspects of the God of Israel is his desire to dwell in their midst (e.g., the tabernacle and temple). Walton states, “Other gods dwelled among people, but they were not prone to claim a people group as their own” (OT Theology, p. 65). No other ANE deity ever said anything like, “I will be your God and you will be My people” (Exod. 6:7; Lev. 26:12; Jer. 7:23; etc.). While the OT is full of expressions of God’s love for His people, and people’s love for God (Deut. 6:4; 7:7-8; 23:5; etc.), such an expression from the ANE gods is rare. Walton writes, “The gods in general are considered to love (e.g., in Akkadian râmu) people, and people likewise love the gods, though it has been demonstrated that terms such as these in the ancient world are sometimes used to express the presence of political relationships rather than emotions. But such expressions from the gods are rare and are more often directed to the king than to the people at large. Even considering the myriads of royal inscriptions wherein the kings speak at length about the relationship between themselves and a god, clear expressions of emotion in either direction are little attested” (OT Theology, p. 57).
  4. Exclusive worship–If God is the one true God then it makes sense that He would require exclusive worship. While other nations had patron deities, for example, the Moabites’ god Chemosh, or the Babylonians’ god Marduk, no one expected them to be worshipped exclusively. After all, exclusive worship would offend the other gods! When one ancient Pharaoh by the name of Akhenaten attempted to force the worship of only one god (the sun god Aten), he was considered a heretic (see wikipedia article here).  Walton says that Israel’s practice was, “an idea unmatched in its particularity in the rest of the ancient world” (OT Theology, p. 66). Even today the insistence on worshipping only one God as the true God causes offense to many. Why would Israel go against the grain of ancient society, unless, as they claim, such action had been revealed to them?

    Atrahasis Epic
    The Atrahasis epic contains one version of the Babylonian creation story.
  5. The reason for creation–Perhaps the most revolutionary revelation (besides one supreme God), is in regards to creation. In the accounts of the creation of the world and humanity, there is a significant difference between Israel and the nations of the ANE. Most people who read this blog are probably aware that other nations of the ANE had creation stories (as well as Flood stories!). Scholars have noted some similarities between these accounts with the account in Genesis 1-3. One similarity relates to the creation of humanity. Genesis states that Adam was created from the dust of the ground. The Atrahasis epic states that 7 male and 7 female embryos were fashioned from clay. However, the major difference between the ancient creation accounts and Genesis is why God/the gods created human beings. Walton refers to the ANE ideas contained in the various creation accounts as “The Great Symbiosis.” Several quotes from Walton flesh out what is meant by the Great Symbiosis, and how this contrasts with the biblical account. “According to the theology of the Old Testament, God created the world for humans. This theology, however, stands in contrast to the ancient Near Eastern idea that the gods created the cosmos for themselves. In this view, humans, as afterthoughts, were to function as slaves of the gods to ensure the cosmos would continue to serve the deities’ needs” (OT Theology, p. 71). A few pages later, Walton writes, “The other gods order the cosmos to function for themselves, and people merely function as cogs in the machinery…. But in the Old Testament, Yahweh orders the cosmos to serve people, not himself, and it is ordered to be sacred space (by virtue of his presence there) (OT Theology, pp. 83-84). One final quote from Walton emphasizes the ANE perspective on the creation of humanity: “Conventional wisdom was that the gods wanted to be pampered, and if the people succeeded in meeting their every whim, the gods might just treat them well. After all, if the gods desired all of this pampering, they had to protect and provide for those who were diligent and conscientious in their ministrations. Experience, as the people interpreted it, had taught them that the gods were fickle, demanding, capricious, and disinterested in the cares of humans; the gods were interested only in their own comforts and were concerned primarily with their own needs” (OT Theology, p. 112). I have spent extra space on this point and provided extra quotes from Walton because it is such a significant difference. The idea that humans were created as the slaves for the gods to do the work they didn’t want to do was ubiquitous throughout the ANE. The biblical depiction is clearly superior and certainly more attractive. The question once again arises, “How did Israel come up with such a radically different concept?” As a side note, I find it interesting that many people today have a more ANE view of God than they do a biblical view. The picture of a god who only wants to use people for his own purposes aligns perfectly with the ANE, but is diametrically opposed to the God of the Hebrew Bible.

    Enuma Elish
    The Babylonian tablets containing Enuma Elish, one of the ANE accounts of creation.
  6. Cosmic Conflict vs. No Conflict in Creation–We can keep this one short. The Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish speaks of conflict between the gods resulting in the creation of the world. Genesis evidences no such conflict. The Creator God is in complete control and all of the cosmos is created by his sovereign word.
  7. The image of God–The biblical creation story states that all human beings (male and female) are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28). The image is not a characteristic or quality; it is a status. Humans are to rule the earth as God’s representatives. We have already noted that, in the ANE, humans were created to be slaves to the gods. The only one mentioned as being in the gods’ image is the king. Only the king is granted the status of rulership. Walton states, “…in the Old Testament, the image of God provides the primary description of human purpose and meaning. Human dignity in the Old Testament is found in the status and function people have as God’s image” (OT Theology, p. 97). Because humanity is created in God’s image, this also means that Israel was not to permit any other likeness or image of God. This, of course, is stated clearly in the 10 commandments (Exod. 20:4). Walton writes, “Aniconism is observable in various ways in other times and places in the ancient Near East….However, total aniconism in the ancient Near East outside Israel is unknown. The significance of this is far-reaching and cannot be overstated” (OT Theology, p. 150).
  8. Sin and separation from God’s presence–Walton writes, “There is nothing like the fall in ancient Near Eastern literature because there is no idealized primeval scenario (OT Theology, p. 102). Furthermore, “Even the discussion of sin is problematic in an ancient Near Eastern context” (OT Theology, p. 102). People in the ANE certainly knew what it was like to offend a deity and to suffer for it, but the concept of sacrificing for atonement to restore a relationship was foreign to them (Remember, the gods were not interested in a relationship as such. Their interest was in how they could benefit from human existence). In the biblical understanding, sin separates a person from God. An unrepentant sinner can be driven from the presence of God (Gen. 4:14), or God can remove his presence from a sinful nation (Ezek. 11:22-23). The gods of the ANE would be considered foolish for removing humanity from their presence–they needed them! Humans were created to do the work and to offer the sacrifices that fed the gods. To remove humanity would be devastating! In the Atrahasis epic the gods actually find this out when they attempt to destroy humanity with a flood. They soon realize their mistake as there is no one left to offer them sacrifices to feed them or to do their work. Fortunately, one of the gods, Enki, has saved Atrahasis in a boat (sound familiar?). When Atrahasis leaves the boat, he offers sacrifices to the gods. The story humorously states that the gods gathered around the sacrifice like flies! Although one can see a few similarities with the Genesis story of the Flood, the qualitative differences in the biblical story are undeniable.

    God makes a covenant with Abram
    The God of the OT (and NT) is a covenant-making God.
  9. A God who makes covenants with people–We have already noted that one of the distinctive features of the Bible is that God is a God of relationship, while the gods of the ANE are not much interested in partnering with people. One of the ways this is expressed in Scripture is the making of covenants between God and people. Once again we have a unique feature that is not found in the ANE. Walton states, “In the ancient Near East, the idea of a god who made a covenant with a group of people was unique to Israel—a circumstance for which we have little precedent. Gods did, however, make covenants with kings… (OT Theology, p. 105). We noted above that the image of God can apply to kings in the ANE, but not with the general public. The same is true of making covenants. But we have no record of gods making a covenant with a group of people. In the OT we read of God making a covenant with Noah and the whole earth, promising not to flood it again (Gen. 9:8-17). Beginning with Abram, God makes a covenant with an individual who will grow into a family, which will, in turn, grow into a nation. Along these lines Walton writes, “The transition from an agreement with a family to an agreement with an ethnic group/nation is paralleled by the transition of Yahweh from a family God (“personal god”) to a national God. No other examples exist in the ancient world of such a relational transition by a god” (OT Theology, p. 120). In other words, once a family god, always a family god. Once a national deity, always a national deity, etc. In the ANE, there was no need for one god to fill many roles, after all, there were plenty of gods to go around. Not so in biblical teaching. Only one God was supreme (see #1 above), and he fulfilled all necessary roles.

Conclusions Regarding Revolutionary Revelation

Very few people go against the values and beliefs that are prevalent in their culture. To do so leads to ridicule, rejection, and in severe cases, persecution and death. In fact, most of us assimilate our cultural values and beliefs without giving it much thought. Throughout this post we have noticed that Ancient Israel, while having many similarities with its neighbors, differed in significant ways. These beliefs and practices were enough to make them “stand out in the crowd.” According to Scripture, this was the purpose. Israel was to be a nation of priests to draw others to the true God (Gen. 12:3; Exod. 19:5-6; 1 Kgs. 8:43, 60). These differences, however, did come with a price (e.g., Daniel 3:8-18).

revolutionary revelation--3 men in the fiery furnace
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refused to bend to the cultural practices and beliefs of Babylon.

The OT testifies to the fact that not all Israelites were willing to swim against the current of ANE culture. We read of much compromise in its pages. This leads to the question of why a group within Israel proclaimed and clung to these radically different beliefs and practices–a question I have noted a few times above. Again, we must ask, “Where did these beliefs and practices come from?” Why Israel and no other nation? How is it that every other nation of the ANE had similar beliefs and practices, but Israel was unique? Not only that, but Israel also produced a unique literature we call the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. This characteristic is not only true of Israel in the Old Testament era, the same can be said for a group of Jewish believers in the New Testament era. Many of the beliefs and practices of early Christianity were also counter-cultural. I have noted some of these counter-cultural beliefs in an article entitled, “Evidences for the Cross and Resurrection.” Did Israelites just have a thing about being counter-cultural? Did they enjoy the ridicule and persecution of others? Why not another nation or group of people? Why always Israel? I believe Walton’s explanation is the best and most logical. Israel was gifted by God with a revolutionary revelation.

Walton’s Old Testament Theology is available at  Amazon USA / UK. A digital version is also available at Logos/Faithlife.

Revolutionary revelation


Sword and Spear Part 2: Motifs in Samuel

Sword and Spear Part 2: Motifs in Samuel

sword and spear
The motif of the spear is mostly negative, suggesting a trust in weapons and human strength.

In my previous post I introduced the sword and spear motif in Samuel (see here for Part 1). There I noted that this motif “…ranges from a proclamation of trust in God’s power to deliver, to a rejection of that trust.” In 2 places where the words “sword and spear” appear together, the motif is a neutral one, speaking of powerlessness (1 Sam. 13:19, 22). It is the stories that follow which define whether these verses are interpreted positively or negatively (see below). In two other occurrences the motif is positive suggesting trust in the Lord (1 Sam. 17:45, 47). In the fifth occurrence, the motif is negative, suggesting David’s lack of faith (1 Sam. 21:8). In Part 1 we noticed that when the word “sword” appears by itself, the motif has a mixture of positive and negative associations. As we examine the usages of the spear motif, we will see a similar mixture, but the negative aspects are more prevalent. Including the 5 passages that mention both sword and spear, the spear motif occurs a total of 29 times in the books of Samuel (20 in 1 Samuel and 9 in 2 Samuel). Perhaps the best, and most insightful way to examine the spear motif is to notice who it is associated with. The breakdown is as follows:

  1. Goliath (5 occurrences–1 Sam. 17:7 [2x], 45, 47; 2 Sam. 21:19)
  2. Saul (16 occurrences–1 Sam. 13:19, 22; 18:10, 11; 19:9, 10 [2x}; 20:33; 22:6; 26:7, 8, 11, 12, 16, 22; 2 Sam. 1:6)
  3. David (1 occurrence–1 Sam. 21:8–this passage was considered in Part 1 and so will not be covered here)
  4. Abner (2 occurrences, both in 2 Sam. 2:23)
  5. David’s mighty men (4 occurrences)
    • Abishai (2 Sam. 23:18)
    • Benaiah (2 Sam. 23:21 [3x])
  6. Unrighteous ruler(s) (1 occurrence–2 Sam. 23:7)

This breakdown demonstrates that the overwhelming number of occurrences of the spear motif (16 out of 29) are related to Saul. Below we will examine the significance of this, as well as its occurrence with other individuals.

Goliath’s Spear

sword and spear
Goliath’s trust is in his sword and spear. David’s is in the Lord.

One of the intimidating features of Goliath’s description in 1 Samuel 17:4-7 is his spear. The writer spends time describing its shaft (like a weaver’s beam), and the weight of its head (600 shekels = 15 lbs. or 6.8 kg.). As noted in the previous post, one of the points of the story is Goliath’s trust in his weaponry, while David’s trust is in the Lord. This point is driven home when Goliath’s spear is mentioned two more times in the account (1 Sam. 17:45, 47). Goliath’s spear is mentioned one final time in the perplexing passage which speaks of Elhanan killing him (2 Sam. 21:19). Its size, noted again in this passage, was clearly one of its distinguishing and well-remembered features. Yet it did Goliath no good, proving the truth of Hannah’s words in 1 Samuel 2:9 when she stated, “not by might shall a man prevail.”

Saul’s Spear

sword and spear
Saul’s spear is always at hand!

As noted above, the overwhelming number of occurrences of the spear motif in Samuel are associated with Saul. This association is sometimes seen as a symbol of his kingship (David Toshio Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel, NICOT, p. 479). If this means to communicate that Saul is a king like the nations (1 Sam. 8:5), then this observation is correct. The point is that Saul, like any worldly king, trusts in his spear more than he does in the Lord. This is emphasized in at least two ways. First, in the narrative immediately following the Goliath story, Saul hurls his spear twice at David (1 Sam. 18:10-11). Not only has the previous story declared that “the Lord does not save with sword and spear” (1 Sam. 17:47), but it is Saul’s jealousy concerning David’s victory over Goliath that prompts him to use it! Therefore, Saul shows himself to be cut out of the same cloth as Goliath. A second way in which this is demonstrated is that following the story of Goliath, Saul is never seen without his spear in hand or nearby. In fact, the next 5 verses that mention the spear involve Saul throwing it either at David (1 Sam. 18:10-11, 19:9-10) or his own son Jonathan (1 Sam. 20:33)!

sword and spear
David spares Saul’s life a second time.

Saul’s use of such weaponry also contrasts him with his son Jonathan. Recalling 1 Samuel 13:19, and 22 which introduces this motif, we are told there that only Jonathan and Saul had sword and spear. In our previous post, however, we have noted that Jonathan uses his sword in the context of trust in the Lord (1 Sam. 14:6-14). Furthermore, following the Goliath episode, Jonathan presents his sword to David as a gift (1 Sam. 18:4), whereas Saul presents his spear to David in a less supportive and friendly way (1 Sam. 18:10-11)! When Saul complains to his men that they are more loyal to David than to him, he does it with his spear in his hand (1 Sam. 22:6). This incident leads to the slaughter of Ahimelech and the priests of Nob. On one of the occasions when David has the opportunity to kill Saul, he chooses instead to take his water jug and spear (1 Sam. 26). With a sort of poetic justice, Abishai insists on using it to “pin” Saul to the ground (1 Sam. 26:8), the way Saul had attempted earlier to “pin” David to the wall (1 Sam. 18:11; 19:10). David refuses and insists only on taking it as evidence that they had been in the midst of the Saul’s camp. Saul’s spear is a major motif in this chapter, occurring six times (1 Sam. 26:7, 8, 11, 12, 16, 22). It reminds us that, given the chance, he would have used it against David, although David refuses to use it against him. It also demonstrates that, in spite of its presence by his head, it brings no protection for Saul, for the Lord is with David (1 Sam. 26:12). Once again we are reminded that “the Lord does not save with sword or spear.”

Given the prevalence of this motif in Saul’s story, one would almost expect Saul to die by the spear. If this were merely an imaginary story, this is surely what would have happened. But this is not what happened historically and so the inspired author records how he fell on his own sword (1 Sam. 31:4). This does not mean, however, that Saul’s spear is absent from the account of his death. In the retelling of Saul’s death by the Amalekite in 2 Samuel 1, he states that when he came upon Saul, Saul was “leaning on his spear” (2 Sam. 1:6). It can be demonstrated that the Amalekite’s account of Saul’s death is fabricated as it conflicts with the author’s version recorded in 1 Samuel 31:1-5. Nevertheless, the mention of both sword and spear in the accounts of Saul’s death are an ironic reminder to the reader that the man who trusted in his weapons, ultimately died by one of them. When we consider the negative connotations of Saul’s spear in the narrative, it is no wonder that in David’s eulogy of Saul and Jonathan, it is Saul’s sword which is mentioned in a favorable light (2 Sam. 1:22). After all, how could David praise the spear of Saul that had been lifted against him on so many occasions?!

The Motif’s Mixed Reviews in 2 Samuel

sword and spear
Abner kills Asahel

Having already commented on 2 Samuel 1:6 and 2 Samuel 21:19, we will consider the other 7 references to the spear in 2 Samuel. Two of these references occur in the story of Asahel’s pursuit of Abner. In fact, they are both found in the same verse (2 Sam. 2:23). During the battle between Judah and Israel, Asahel pursues Abner in an attempt to kill him (2 Sam. 2:18-23). Although the spear motif has been largely negative up to this point, and Abner himself is an unsavory character, the motif is more tragic than evil here. It is clear from the story that Abner does not wish to kill Asahel. He warns him several times. However, as the hot breath of Asahel breathes down Abner’s neck, he is forced to defend himself. But rather than use the tip of his spear, as would be customary, with a backward thrust, using the butt end of his spear, Abner brings Asahel’s pursuit to a deadly halt. Abner’s persistent warnings, and the use of the backend of his spear, protest his desire to use it against Asahel. Nonetheless, whether back end or front end, the spear proves just as deadly. Unfortunately for Abner, his reluctant use of the spear results in his death by the sword at the hands of Asahel’s brothers, Joab and Abishai (2 Sam. 3:27, 30). For more on this incident see my post, “Asahel Running Into Trouble” (see also my book Family Portraits for this story and an evaluation of Abner’s character–see link below).

David's mighty men
David’s mighty men

There are other ambiguous uses of the spear in 2 Samuel. These concern David’s mighty men. In 2 Samuel 23:18, the aforementioned Abishai is praised for wielding his spear against three hundred men and killing them. Although the context is definitely positive, we should recall that this is the same Abishai who wanted to “pin” Saul to the ground with his own spear (1 Sam. 26:8). Furthermore, this is the same man who contributed to the death of Abner and was ready and willing to kill whenever he thought the occasion called for it (e.g., 2 Sam. 16:9). Therefore, although we have a positive reference to the spear, it is wielded by yet another unsavory character (see Abner above). Another one of David’s mighty men, Benaiah, fights an Egyptian with a spear (2 Sam. 23:21). In the Egyptian’s hand, the spear is clearly a negative motif, but Benaiah is able to wrest it from the Egyptian and kill him. This heroic deed turns a negative situation into a positive one.

We conclude our examination of this motif by looking at David’s last words recorded in 2 Samuel 23:1-7. This poem is a bit obscure and hard to translate in places. However, one thing that is clear is that David is contrasting the just ruler (himself), with an unjust ruler/rulers. In the concluding line (v. 7) he says of such a one that he “arms himself with iron and the shaft of a spear.” One can’t help but think that within the larger context of Samuel this contrast recalls Saul.

Concluding Summary

An examination of the spear motif leads to the conclusion that it is largely a negative commentary of the use and abuse of human power. This negative picture is largely associated with Goliath and Saul, who are the primary personages of this motif. While this negative picture is tempered somewhat in 2 Samuel, its association with unsavory characters still casts a shadow over it.

When we step back and sum up the overall motif of sword and spear in Samuel, we must conclude that the main function of the motif is to warn people about trusting in their own strength and the severe consequences that oftentimes follow. Trusting in weaponry and military might is a mistake made throughout the ages including down to the present time. There are many examples throughout history that show the undermanned and the under-equipped sometimes come out on top. This motif is not about the underdog coming out on top, however. It is a declaration that trust in God is superior to any human power or weapon. However, using sword and spear is the way that nations always have and always will conduct business. That is until the words of the prophet Isaiah are finally realized: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Isa. 4:2).

Until that day, the question for God’s people is to ask what this motif in Samuel teaches us. How should we respond to our enemies based on the teaching of Scripture? Jesus’s answer was to “turn the other cheek,” and to “do good to those who persecute you.” Sadly, the first reaction of some Christians today is to physically arm themselves against their foes. We forget that the weapons of our warfare are spiritual (Eph. 6:10-18; 2 Cor. 10:4). We don’t give God the chance to defeat whatever Goliaths may come our way because we are too busy arming ourselves with “sword and spear.” This is a tough message to hear and the conclusion is not always a popular one even with believers. Shouldn’t the innocent be protected? We should certainly do everything in our power, short of violence, to protect the innocent. The fact remains that the New Testament nowhere sanctions a believer taking up the sword and spear for personal protection, and certainly never for revenge. The government is the one who bears the sword (Rom. 13:4). A Christian serving in the military, or serving in a local police force is a different matter, since they are serving the government whose job it is to protect its citizens and administer justice.  As individual believers, it is easy to overlook this teaching in the books of Samuel, not to mention the clear teaching of Jesus and the apostles. Jesus may well have been referencing this motif in Samuel when he rebuked Peter in the garden and said, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). Christians do their best fighting on their knees, by returning good for evil, and by remembering that the real enemy is not flesh and blood.

For a more in depth study of the books of Samuel, purchase a copy of my book Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel. Available at the following sites: Amazon USA / UK, and WestBow Press as well as other internet outlets.

Family Portraits