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Saul Loses the Girl and Gains a Doomed Throne

King and Queen chess pieces sxc hu smallIn recent posts, I’ve been considering biblical variations on the type-scene, “Foreigner at the Well.”[1] Perhaps you are tired of reading about it… you have been reading about it haven’t you?  I’m sorry; is my insecurity showing? Let’s try this again with a little more confidence. Thou shalt read about “Foreigner at the Well” in recent blog posts on this site, for it is leading toward a powerful conclusion in the next post about the life of Jesus.  Maybe I’ll try the Facebook method. I bet you don’t love Jesus enough to read all the posts about “Foreigner at the Well.” And only those who are really sold out for Christ will share this site.

“Foreigner at the Well,” is a general three part story drawn from the daily experiences of biblical era communities and adapted in Scripture to depict the sovereign hand of YHWH at work in the lives of two individuals meant to be together who meet at a well against great odds.

An important aspect of a community’s enjoyment of type-scenes like “Foreigner at the Well,” is the subtle variations given to them at an artist’s discretion, such as Genesis 24’s focus on the use of a proxy, super-religious overtones, and a meaningful depiction of Rebekah’s worth as a hostess. Hospitality was an important virtue in their society.

We also suggested that these scenes could have anti-typical results. Not just a variation but a complete botch on how the scene is supposed to play out. Gary Rendsburg  from Rutgers University has suggested that the anti-climactic use of the “Foreigner at the Well,” scene in I Samuel 9:1ff would strike an ominous tone with the ancient reader. You will have to see if you agree with his take on it, when I’ve done with the telling.

We start the scene with a typical hero’s praise. Saul is the son of a wealthy Benjamite, who is tall dark and handsome… I didn’t even have to use my imagination on this part. I Samuel 9:1-2 says it outright.

Well, this tall dark and handsome youth goes out on a hunting expedition to find his father’s lost donkeys. He goes to and fro about foreign parts, heading north into Ephraim territory and fails to find them. Saul turns, upon the advice of his servant, to the city of Samuel in hopes of paying the Seer to tell him where the Donkeys are. (I Samuel 9:3-10) We may speculate on his pagan notions about Samuel given his hope of buying a prophetic word.

On the way there, Saul encounters a gaggle of young women coming to draw water. Again, as with the Ruth story, the well is not specifically mentioned, but the event is deliberately included, and takes the time to depict the girls as well-bound, a natural place for visitors to seek out. The encounter is not unimportant to the tale, for these girls are given a speech that in Hebrew truly renders this a gaggle of girls. They are obviously excited and prattle at Saul in a torrent of short burst comments that train off into tangents. (I Samuel 9:11-13)

Whatever hopes the original readers have for such well scenes, this story plays out differently. Saul does not find a wife for himself through which he will spawn a YHWH blessed child who transforms the reality of the readers for the good. The “chance” encounter comes afterward as Saul leaves these women behind and crosses paths with Samuel on his way to bless a community sacrificial meal. He loses the girl and wins a doomed kingdom.

Some have questioned the situation with Saul, whether he was “saved” and lost his “salvation,” or whether, as with Judas, YHWH appointed a defunct figure from the start… perhaps as some sort of punishment for the nation’s request for a king. (I Samuel 8:1ff) As a biblical theologian I don’t like attempts to use Christian theological terms crafted over millennia to describe Old Testament scenarios, but do feel that this episode, interpreted through a lens of “Foreigner at the Well” adds to the litany of failed events in the Saul narratives.

The failure of his kingdom does not begin with his violation of “HEREM” in I Samuel 15:1ff, nor with his foolish oath in I Samuel 14:1ff, nor with his odious offering in I Samuel 13:1ff, and not even with the legal lawsuit prophecy laid against the people for demanding this king in I Samuel 12:1ff, or its shorter twin at the inauguration of Saul in I Samuel 10:17ff, where he hides among the baggage from the call of YHWH. No. The doom of Saul’s kingship begins for him personally in the ominous tones of a failed “Foreigner at the Well” scene in I Samuel 9:1ff when first he makes his appearance with fat pockets, handsome face, and manly stature.

What do you think?

[1] “Wells: The Singles’ Bars of the Ancient Near East,” “I’ll Have One “Foreigner at the Well” with a Twist,” “What’s Good for the Gander is Good for the Goose: “The Foreigner at the Well” in Ruth.”

[2] Media Pic is from sxc.hu

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