David insane?

by André Piet
April 18th, 2012

A few notes in connection with the study "has David gone mad?" (1Samuel 21:10-15).

One continuing narrative

The narrative of David entering the sanctuary (Matt.12:4) and him providing his men with the holy bread is linked to his stay in the Philistine city of Gath, by Scripture stating that on precisely "that day" he fled there (21:10). Gath

Gath was one of the five Philistine cities (6:17) in the area of what is now called the Gaza Strip. Then it was the territory of the Philistines, now of the Palestinians, but both terms are originally and completely identical. Achish or Abimelech?

In 1Samuel 21, the king of Gath is called Achish, while, elsewhere, he is called Abimelech (Ps.34:1). Abimelech means: my father is King. Presumably, it is a common name of the kings of the Philistine dynasties (Gen.20:2). trophy

After David had received, from the high priest, the sword of Goliath as trophy, he arrives, squarely, in Gath, Goliath's hometown (17:4).

Very afraid

In Gath, David is called "the king of Israel" and is believed to remind them of being the conqueror of Goliath. When David hears the servants of the king speaking words like that, he realizes that he is being recognized. He was in the den of the lions, and he is "exceedingly afraid" (21:12). Humanly speaking, his final hours have arrived. a maniac?

1 Samuel 21:13 in the KJV reads: "And he changed his behaviour before them…" This is not a translation but an interpretation. The basic meaning of the Hebrew word "ta`am" is "taste" and has been translated elsewhere, that way, five times in the KJV: Ex.16:31; Num.11:18 (2X); Job 6:6; Jer.48:11. When we translate 1Samuel 21:13 as literally as possible, then we have, "And he changed his taste in their eyes…" What was happening, here? The text of 1Samuel 21:13 is rather cryptic, but there are, at least, two Bible chapters that answer this question. David, on this occasion, sang two psalms: Psalm 34 and 56. Yes, he was very afraid, and "tasted", as it were, the enormous threat. And what did he do? He changed his taste and took God's praises in his mouth (Ps.34:1) under the motto: "TASTE and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man who trusteth in him" (Ps.34:8). The word "taste" in Psalm 34:8 is the same word as in 1Sam.21:13. The translators have made of David, completely unjustified, a madman. David changed his taste: initially, he tasted the threat, but by praising God, he tasted that the LORD is good! While David was "very afraid" he remembered God's promises about him (Ps.56:13). That changed everything for David.

A madman?

The second part of the sentence, on which it is based that David was insane, reads: "and feigned himself mad" (KJV). The word "mad" is the representation of the Hebrew "halal", which occurs 165 times in the Tanakh. It is almost always translated as praise and glory. The Hebrew word is internationally known as, "Hallelujah", which means, "praise YAHWEH". Literally translated, 1Samuel 21:13 reads: "and made himself a praiser (=praising God) in their hands…". David was not mad, but praised God, as we know from Psalm 34 and 56. scrabbled?

In the third part of the sentence, the translators, also, have incorrectly depicted David as being madly insane, with the rendering, "and scrabbled at the doors of the gate". The translation "scrabbled" is, again, very colored by the preconceived idea that David behaved himself as being insane. In Hebrew, the word here used actually means "drawing" (marking or carving). David did not scrabble on the gate, but drew or carved in it. What else than the words of the psalm he sang?

David drummed …

The Septuagint (LXX, a translation which goes back to an older Hebrew text) reads it yet a different way: David drummed on the doors of the gate. That is also interesting: David sang psalms and guided himself by drumming on the gates.

Saliva or nasal-discharge?

The fourth and last part of the sentence in which the translators presented Davis as being crazy, reads: "and let his spittle fall down upon his beard". What according to the translators, here, is called "saliva" (spittle), is in Lev. 15:3 rendered "run with his issue". In the context of Lev.15:3, it is not saliva. In modern Hebrew the word means "mucus". What are we to think of in 1Samuel 21:13? Again, the psalms help us which David sang on this occasion. In Psalm 56:10,11, we read: "You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book? 9 When I cry out to You, then my enemies will turn back; This I know, because God is for me." His predicament in Gath, deeply affected David, emotionally. His tears freely flowed and nasal-discharge rolled onto his beard.

Translation of 1 Samuel 21:13

Summarized, a much more literal translation of 1 Samuel 21:13 reads:

And he changed his taste before their eyes and made himself a ‘praiser' in their hands and carved (LXX: drummed) on the doors of the gate and let the nasal-discharge run into his beard.

According to the Philistines: mad

As king Achish sees and hears David, he concludes that he is a madman and dismisses him (21:14,15). Please note: Achish concludes having to do with someone who is mad. No point, David knew better and besides, this judgment also meant that he was let go. But is it not lamentable that the translators have taken-up this judgment of the Philistines and have put-down David as a madman, who scrabbled on the doors and drooled in his beard? With this, they not only violated the translation of this passage, but also completely ignored the Divine comment on this incident, in nota bene two Psalms.

David as a type of…

In Samuel 21, David is a beautiful type of the Son of David. At that time, David was the rejected king of Israel, who entered the sanctuary to provide his men with holy bread; a king who fulfills a priestly function during his rejection; and wars with the trophy of his victory over the great enemy; a rejected king among the nations, singing psalms, and consequently is taken to be altogether crazy. It speaks of the crucified Christ, Who, on the one hand, to the Jews is an offense (=a stumbling block) and on the other hand, to the Gentiles is foolishness (1Cor.1:23). Totally stupid. But for those who are called (1Cor.2:24) He is the power of God (> crucified in weakness but raised in the power of God (2Kor.13:4) and also the wisdom of God. Not crazy, but Divine genius!


Translation: Peter Feddema

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