Moving beyond a questionable practical theology that arose in connection with exposition of 1Samuel (detailed here on my other blog), I would like to speak to a couple of important findings in the text of 1Samuel. I myself am not very experienced in OT narrative, but I’m growing more experienced with ancient texts and with literary interpretation in general, so I will hazard a couple of guesses here. Consider this fairly advised speculation (read I’m not not as sure of myself as I was in this one on 1Cor 11 or this one on 1Corinthians 16) . . . or several on Mark or Philemon or Galatians, for that matter.
One: hints at irony
In 1Sam 14:49, an interesting name appears. I had not noticed it before. One of King Saul’s sons was Malchishua. Separated, that is Malchi-shua. Look familiar? If you know of Melchizedek, the “king of righteousness” who appears in Genesis and is referred to in Hebrews, you might see a phonetic resemblance. And you’d be onto something there. Malachi/Melchi/Malchi . . . surely they are all variants of the same “king” name. And what about the second half? Doesn’t “shua” look like the second part of “Yeshua” (a Hebrew form of Joshua)? I couldn’t find much support for my hunch here, but at least one site did corroborate my suspicion that Malchi-shua roughly means “the king helps” or “the king delivers.” Joshua and Yeshua (later, “Jesus”), of course, are names that roughly mean “God delivers” or “God rescues/saves.”
Now, the upshot: assuming for the moment that I’m on target, I would say there is some historical irony present in this account. Just as King Saul is on the decline, his son, named “The King Helps,” is by his very name pointing up that no human king has much power to help after all!
Two: syntactical emphases
In another 1Samuel spot, the word order caught my eye. Here’s the text of 1Sam 15:14-15 in the NET Bible version:
14 Samuel replied, “If that is the case, then what is this sound of sheep in my ears and the sound of cattle that I hear?” 15 Saul said, “They were brought from the Amalekites; the army spared the best of the flocks and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord our God. But everything else we slaughtered.”
The typically careful, relatively responsible teacher (referred to on my other blog) tried briefly to make a point based on the word order of v15. I’d say his point here was a generally valid one, namely, that Saul’s leading pronoun revealed a basic human issue— pointing the finger at others by saying “they” did it. The problem with this is that the word order in both the Hebrew and the Greek (Septuagint) has the Amalekites first, not the pronoun “They,” which refers to the Israelite people. Actually, in the original, Saul’s response goes like this:
15 And Saul said, “Out of Amalek they’ve brought the things. . . .”
I admit that word order might or might not be significant. It further interests me here that the only two English translations (of the dozen I looked at) that do that take this word order into account are at opposite ends of the translation spectrum: Young’s Literal and The Message. The ASV, the NRSV, the ESV, the NLT, the NASB, the HCSB, and a few others paid no attention to this textual feature. Not that word order is everything, but I found it interesting that YLT and MSG have the “Amalek” part up front, as it was in the original:
And Saul saith, `From Amalek they have brought them, because the people had pity on the best of the flock, and of the herd, in order to sacrifice to Jehovah thy God, and the remnant we have devoted.’ (YLT)
15 “Only some Amalekite loot,” said Saul. “The soldiers saved back a few of the choice cattle and sheep to offer up in sacrifice to God. But everything else we destroyed under the holy ban.” (MSG)
What difference could this make? Well, if Saul were emphasizing that he didn’t do it, but that the army men did it, it comes out the typical English-Bible way. (This was the public teacher’s general point.) On the other hand, if he were emphasizing to Samuel that “those nasty Amalekites whose stuff we took had it coming,” it would seem to be a more substantial excuse because, after all, the Amalekites were Israel’s mortal enemies. I think this latter reading is more likely.