Sometimes I wonder what went through God’s mind when He breathed out the sacred text of Scripture. I know we get our emotional make-up from our Creator, in Whose image we are made, and God clearly has a terrific sense of humour. But did He ever chuckle to Himself when He gave us His Word?
For a writing project I’m working on, I’m studying the books of 1 Samuel through 2 Kings (all one book in the Hebrew Bible), and I continue to be gobsmacked by the genius, the complexity, the order, the subtlety, the irony and the spiritual impact of Old Testament narrative.
The narrator of 1 Samuel tells us in Chapter 13 about Saul’s ongoing conflict with the Philistines. Though we use the word, “Philistine”, to describe a lumbering dunderhead, this is not an accurate portrayal of an advanced culture. The Philistines were the first people to forge iron in that part of the world and, in doing so, gained a considerable advantage over their enemies. This technological advance made their towering hero, Goliath of Gath, even more intimidating.
1 Samuel 13.19-23 makes a point of explaining to the reader that the Philistines, who occupy–or at least control–Israel at the time of Saul’s ascent to the throne prohibit blacksmiths from plying their trade anywhere in Israel. This is so the Jews, an agricultural people at the time, cannot have their farming implements transformed into weapons of war–“Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.” A clever strategy, right?
But at the decisive battle at Michmash, the Philistine garrison goes out to engage the Israelites at a mountain pass. During the battle, Saul’s son Jonathan and his armour bearer raid the garrison and, between the two of them, kill twenty Philistines. (14.14) Panic breaks out in the Philistine ranks, and as the day wears on, their position continues to deteriorate. We read that when the Ark of God enters the Israelite camp, this is what happens:
“Now while Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the camp of the Philistines increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, ‘Withdraw your hand.’ Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle. And behold, every Philistine’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion…So the LORD saved Israel that day.” (1 Sam 14.19-20, 23 ESV)
The Philistines outlaw blacksmiths so the Hebrews can’t make swords, then proceed to slaughter each other with their own!
I just can’t help but think that the sovereign God who brought this thing to pass had a good chuckle over the irony of this text.
I know I did.