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My daily reading reached the moment when Samuel anointed David, which is followed immediately by the first meeting of Saul and David:

Now the spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord began to terrify him. Saul’s courtiers said to him, “An evil spirit of God is terrifying you. Let our lord give the order [and] the courtiers in attendance on you will look for someone who is skilled at playing the lyre; whenever the evil spirit of God comes over you, he will play it and you will feel better.” So Saul said to his courtiers, “Find me someone who can play well and bring him to me.” One of the attendants spoke up, “I have observed a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is skilled in music; he is a stalwart fellow and a warrior, sensible in speech, and handsome in appearance, and the Lord is with him.” Whereupon Saul sent messengers to Jesse to say, “Send me your son David, who is with the flock.” Jesse took an ass [laden with] bread, a skin of wine, and a kid, and sent them to Saul by his son David. So David came to Saul and entered his service; [Saul] took a strong liking to him and made him one of his arms-bearers. Saul sent word to Jesse, “Let David remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.” Whenever the [evil] spirit of God came upon Saul, David would take the lyre and play it; Saul would find relief and feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.—1st Samuel 16:14-23 (NJPS)

But the next chapter, after Saul equips David to fight Goliath, we read:

When Saul saw David going out to assault the Philistine, he asked his army commander Abner, “Whose son is that boy, Abner?” And Abner replied, “By your life, Your Majesty, I do not know.” “Then find out whose son that young fellow is,” the king ordered. So when David returned after killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him to Saul, with the head of the Philistine still in his hand. Saul said to him, “Whose son are you, my boy?” And David answered, “The son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”—1st Samuel 17:55-58 (NJPS)

Now, this can't be a contradiction introduced by the editor of the stories, but must be potentially conflicting stories told of Saul and David's first meeting. Is there some way to harmonize these stories or must we be satisfied with a muddled and unclear history?

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Saul didn't necessarily forget who David was but who David's father was. This seems plausible since I often forget coworkers children's ages and names. This was important information to Saul because Saul was going to release David's father from paying taxes. (v. 25) –  user3907 Apr 13 '14 at 22:03

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

It is important to remember that the "historical books" of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings are better called "the earlier prophets." They teach from the prophetic point of view, not simply chronological events. From Hard Sayings of the Bible. It is more important to group things by importance than it is to lay it out chronologically.

17:55–58 Why Did Saul Ask David’s Identity?

Saul’s questions about the identity of David in 1 Samuel 17 create a rather difficult problem in light of 1 Samuel 16, especially 1 Samuel 16:14–23. It would appear from chapter 16 that by the time of David’s slaying of Goliath Saul had already been introduced to David and knew him quite well.

The traditional way of resolving this dilemma in nonevangelical circles is to suppose that these two accounts stem from independent traditions. Thus the confusion over whether David’s debut at court preceded his conquest of the Philistine is unnecessary, since the stories come from different sources and do not intend to reflect what really happened so much as teach a truth. However, this resolution of the matter is not attractive to most who take the claims of the Bible more straightforwardly. The difficulty continues: how could Saul—and Abner too—be ignorant about this lad who had been Saul’s armor-bearer and musician?

Some have blamed Saul’s diseased and failing mental state. On this view, the evil spirit from God had brought on a type of mental malady that affected his memory. Persons suffering from certain types of mania or insanity often forget the closest of their friends.

Others have argued that the hustle and bustle of court life, with its multiplicity of servants and attendants, meant that Saul could have easily forgotten David, especially if the time was long between David’s service through music and his slaying of Goliath. Yet a long period of time does not appear to have separated these events. Furthermore, David was a regular member of Saul’s retinue (1 Sam 16:21).

A third option is to suggest that Saul was not asking for David’s identity, which he knew well enough. Instead he was attempting to learn what his father’s social position and worth were, for he was concerned what type of stock his future son-in-law might come from. (Remember, whoever was successful in killing Goliath would win the hand of Saul’s daughter, according to the terms of Saul’s challenge.) While this might explain Saul’s motives, does it explain Abner’s lack of knowledge? Or must we posit that he also knew who David was but had no idea what his social status and lineage were? Possibly!

The most plausible explanation, and the one favored by most older commentators, is that the four events in the history of Saul and David in 1 Samuel 16–18 are not given in chronological order. Instead, they are transposed by a figure of speech known as hysterologia, in which something is put last that according to the usual order should be put first. For example, the Genesis 10 account of the dispersion of the nations comes before the cause of it—the confusion of languages at the tower of Babel in Genesis 11. The fact that the order has been rearranged for special purposes in 1 Samuel 16–18 can be seen from the fact that the Vaticanus manuscript of the Septuagint deletes twenty-nine verses in all (1 Sam 17:12–31 and 17:55–18:5).

E. W. Bullinger suggested that the text was rearranged in order to bring together certain facts, especially those about the Spirit of God.6 Thus in 1 Samuel 16:1–13 David is anointed and the Spirit of God comes upon him. Then, in order to contrast this impartation of the Spirit of God with the removal of the Spirit from Saul, 1 Samuel 16:14–23 is brought forward from later history. In the straightforward order of events, Bullinger suggests, it should follow 18:9.

First Samuel 17:1–18:9 records an event earlier in the life of David, which is introduced here in a parenthetical way as an illustration of 1 Samuel 14:52. This section is just an instance of what 14:52 claims.

The whole section, therefore, has this construction:

A 16:1–13 David annointed. The Spirt comes on him.

B 16:14–23 Saul rejected. The Spirit departs from him. An evil spirit torments him.

A 17:1–18:9 David. An earlier incident in his life.

B 18:10–30 Saul. The Spirit departs and an evil spirit troubles him.

Thus the narration alternates between David and Saul, creating a didactic contrast between the Spirit of God and the evil spirit that tormented Saul. The focus is on the spiritual state of the two men, not the historical order of events.

Kaiser, W. C. 1997, c1996. Hard sayings of the Bible . InterVarsity: Downers Grove, Il

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My opinion of this matter is that the chapter is written in correct chronological order. What has taken place to me is a matter of royalty vs peasant. No one paid attention to know David when he came in the palace as a servant to serve Saul by playing for him. Once he did something great like killing Goliath, everyone wanted to know who he was and where he came from.

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Hello and welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics. That's an interesting theory. Your answer could be improved by discussing the passages in more detail. In particular, how is it that Saul does not recognize David as the musician who soothed him or as the boy who was anointed by Samuel? It seems to me that either one of those would have made David a memorable figure. –  Jon Ericson Mar 15 at 1:46

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