I'm sitting here this morning with the Bible open to 1 Samuel. I'm wrestling with some passages that have intrigued me because they are much more graphic than I remember. There are some stories in this book (and whole bunch of the other books of the Bible) that are so raw and violent and sexual and shocking that it's hard sometimes to know how to respond.
Growing up, no body told me that Eli's sons were using their position of power to seduce women. I don't recall being taught that David cut off Goliath's head and carried it with him for miles and miles. And I certainly didn't know anything about David killing 200 Philistines and cutting off their foreskins as a dowry for marriage to King Saul's daughter. I'm sitting here this morning just trying to absorb these raw grotesque portions of Scripture.
In 1 Samuel 18, King Saul is jealous and trying to get David killed… he had already tried to ram his spear through the kid a couple times. As a trick, he offers his daughter, Michal, in marriage to the up-and-coming son of Jesse. David, at first, refuses out of humility and an excuse of poverty. Who is he to become a son-in-law of the king… and, by the way, he could never come up with enough riches to provide compensate Saul for the "loss" of his daughter in marriage. But Saul suggests that "all" David needs to do is to bring back 100 foreskins of Philistines (the enemy at the time— imagine the President of Iran and his desire to annialate Israel because it is a spiritual battle just as much as a physical one— their gods verses Yahweh. And remember, the Israelite males were dedicated at 8 days old to the Lord through the physical sign of circumcision while the Philistines would think that was odd… if not a bit funny. When David insults Goliath- he calls him an "uncircumcised Philistine" – meaning that this dude had not dedicated his life to Yahweh and that he was serving other gods like Dagon, Baal and Ashtoreh. Circumcision back in that day was the way a man proved he was a follower of the One True God… or not. So the request for Philistine foreskins is not that odd actually.)
Of course, Saul hopes that David will be killed in his attempt to secure 100 foreskins. What guy is going to sit back and allow an enemy to just snip off the tip of his nether region?! There was going to be a struggle! These Philistines were not going to acquiesce to David, the newly prolific moyel.
But David thinks this is a great opportunity. He grabs some of his men and they prepare for the surgeries…
… In fact, just to prove his appreciation to Saul for the offer of Michal in marriage, David succeeds in securing 200 Philistine foreskins. David always did more than expected… and Israel grew to love him for it. He then "presented" these 200 foreskins to the shocked Saul (imagine that scene… disgusting). Saul did follow-through and give Michal (who really loved David) to the young warrior… but Saul also grew incredibly afraid and envious and bitter towards the shepherd turned military-man David.
Every day in the Bible is a new discovery and adventure… but it often isn't flowery. It's not like you open the Bible and suddenly feel warm fuzzies and a complete sense of clarity of life. It's not like you read through the words of Scripture and are met by hare krishnas in the airport. The Bible is raw life… sometimes even more raw than our own experiences. The fact that David killed… and killed and killed… the fact that he carried the head of a giant around while it was still dripping with blood and guts… the fact that he cut off foreskins and presented them as a worthy gift for a wife… the fact that Saul grew to hate David and tried repeatedly to kill him… the fact that Saul dabbled in the occult and tried to kill his son… the fact that the Israelites turned on and sometimes slaughtered one another… the fact that sometimes the Philistines crushed the Israelites and tried to annialate them multiple times… the fact that Saul eventually committed suicide on the battle field and his body was seized by the Philistines and paraded for all to see… makes me sick to my stomach. The Bible is a curiously violent book.
But so is this world. If the Bible were nothing but perfume, it wouldn't be worth reading. The fact is that the Bible matches the raw experience of this violent earth. In the U.S. Civil war in the 1860s hundreds of thousands of Americans killed each other. In WWI and WWII, MILLIONS and MILLIONS of people were slaughtered. Every day there are wicked men who use their position to obtain sexual favors to satisfy their perverted desires. Every month there are annialiation threats from the Iranian president towards Israel. Every day there is violence in every city on the earth. The Bible is simply a real book.
So what are we to make of faith as we read passages about foreskins getting lopped off?
To be honest, I'm not quite sure actually. But I'm working on it. I trust God wholeheartedly… and in David's early years I see a boy/man who is following the Lord wholeheartedly and tried to keep a pure spirit in the midst of a violent, perverse world. Do I get it all? Nope. If I don't get it does that mean that it's not worth entrusting the entirety of my life and faith?
So when it comes to teaching passages like this… I'm starting to not water it down at all. I'm starting to just let the Bible speak what it has to say. At hub last night I read through this foreskin passage… and didn't try to wrap it up in a neat package with three bulleted power points. It simply is a raw, real account about jealousy and war and dowry's and humility and military skill and God's hand somehow working in the middle of all of it.