Louis H. Feldman, “Use, Authority and Exegesis of Mikra in the Writings of Josephus,” Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 485, 491, 501.
These three pages discuss Josephus’ treatment of Saul in Antiquities 6. In vv 343-350, Josephus praises Saul as courageous because Saul went out to fight the Philistines even after Samuel had told him that he’d die in battle. Josephus also seems to endorse Saul’s suicide, since Saul wasn’t going to give the Philistines the satisfaction of dishonoring him and his sons in battle! Josephus’ view of Saul probably corresponds with his general ideas on valor. For example, Josephus presents the Jews at Masada as heroes, for they committed suicide rather than surrendering to the Romans and serving as their slaves (see here).
At the same time, Josephus cannot escape the biblical narrative’s negative depiction of Saul, since Saul did slaughter the priests at Nob (I Samuel 21-22). In Antiquities 6:264ff., Josephus says that even a just man can do bad things once he’s accumulated a lot of power, for power corrupts.
These parts of Feldman’s article stood out to me because of my weekly quiet time this week, which is now in the book of II Samuel. Saul has died, and, in II Samuel 1:18-27, David sings a song in honor of Saul and Jonathan. It is called the Song of the Bow. E.W. Bullinger speculates that the song has that title because Saul and Jonathan were Benjamites, who were renowned for their skill with the bow (I Chronicles 8:40; 12:2; II Chronicles 14:8; 17:17).
David praises Saul because he was mighty in battle, even when he died. David also mentions that Saul brought prosperity to the daughters of Israel, so they should express their gratitude. Saul cared so much for his people that he didn’t go down without a fight.
II Samuel 1 made me think about the question, “Why should I love my enemies?” In my post, Love for Enemies, I argued that there were places in I Samuel in which David didn’t really love his enemy Saul, who was trying to kill him. David hoped that God would somehow take Saul’s life!
In II Samuel 1, however, David loves Saul much more than he did, for he is sad that Saul has died. His reason for his sadness is not “Well, I have to be pious, so I might as well act as if I love my enemy!” And I disagree with Baruch Halpern’s thesis in David’s Secret Demons (if I understand it correctly) that the song in II Samuel 1 is trying to masquerade David’s long-time plot to kill Saul. I think that David sincerely was sad about Saul’s passing because Saul had done some good things in life, and David wanted to honor him for those.
I’ve heard Christians offer a variety of reasons for why we should love our enemies. Some say that we should do so because we are no better than they are, since we are all sinners. Maybe that’s a valid reason. Josephus seems to claim that anyone could become like Saul if he accumulates a lot of power. Similarly, perhaps I’d be like the jerks I dislike if I had their experiences! At the same time, this approach doesn’t entirely give me an affectionate attitude towards those I dislike. When I’m trying to be positive in my outlook, the last thing I want to do is reflect on the inherent depravity of all humanity. How warm and fuzzy!
Other Christians contend that we should always believe the best about others and assume that they’re acting from the right motivation. Joel Osteen has said this at times, and Garner Ted Armstrong used to interpret I Corinthians 13:7 (love “believes all things”) in this manner. Granted, I don’t think that I should be quick to condemn people, but I also don’t hold that the Bible wants me to be gullible! Jesus told his disciples to be wise as serpents and helpless as doves (Matthew 10:16). In I Samuel, David did not hang around Saul even after Saul had apologized, for David realized that Saul could easily change his mind and resume his attempts to kill him. There is good, and there is evil, and we’re well within our rights to keep ourselves safe from evil. We shouldn’t be manipulated under “believes all things” to submit to those who desire to exploit or harm us.
In my opinion, one way for me to love my enemies is to remember that even they have some good within them. David felt obligated to honor Saul for the good things he had done, notwithstanding the fact that Saul had also done a lot of evil!
I like this line from the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, page 217:
Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation…A.A. and acceptance have taught me that there is a bit of good in the best of us and a bit of bad in the best of us; that we are all children of God and we each have a right to be here. When I complain about me or about you, I am complaining about God’s handiwork. I am saying that I know better than God.
I don’t agree with the part about never complaining, but much of this quote is spot-on, in my opinion. I don’t have to assume that everyone (including myself) is thoroughly evil, nor do I need to delude myself that all people are good. Rather, we all are mixtures of good and bad, and God loves each of us.
Thanks and God Bless