Chronology of Shemuel I 16 – 17


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A Case of Memory Loss?

Shemuel I 16 describes the "רוּחַ רָעָה" (evil spirit) which befalls Shaul, his subsequent appointment of David as musician, and finally his promoting of David to the position of arms-bearer.  Chapter 17 then switches focus to speak of the Philistine war and David's defeat of the giant, Golyat.  The chapter ends with a strange conversation between Shaul and his chief military officer:


וְכִרְאוֹת שָׁאוּל אֶת דָּוִד יֹצֵא לִקְרַאת הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי אָמַר אֶל אַבְנֵר שַׂר הַצָּבָא בֶּן מִי זֶה הַנַּעַר אַבְנֵר וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְנֵר חֵי נַפְשְׁךָ הַמֶּלֶךְ אִם יָדָעְתִּי.

And when Saul saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said unto Abner, the captain of the host: 'Abner, whose son is this youth?' And Abner said: 'As thy soul liveth, O king, I cannot tell.'

Shaul asks Avner for the name of the young lad who went to fight Golyat, as if he had never met him before.  How, though, can Shaul not recognize David who has not only been his personal musician, but also his arms-bearer?  Why does it sound as if he is talking about a complete stranger?

Contradictions and Doublings

Shaul's lack of recognition of David is but one of many inconsistencies between Chapters 16 and 17:

  • David's location – According to 16:19-23, after David finds favor in Shaul's eyes, he is taken to live at the palace where he can serve the king. Yet, in Chapter 17 he appears to live at home, still shepherding his father's sheep.
  • Youth or Warrior – Though David is appointed arms bearer in 16:21, in Chapter 17 David is not even among those conscripted to battle.  Similarly, in 17:33 Shaul refers to David as a "נַעַר" who is unlearned in war, yet in Chapter 16, the king's servants describe him as a "גִבּוֹר חַיִל וְאִישׁ מִלְחָמָה".
  • Eliav's attitude – In Chapter 17 Eliav rebukes his younger brother, questioning his motives in coming to war.  How can he speak so disrespectfully to someone who is favored by the king and in his employ?
  • Information about David's family– David's family is introduced in 17:12 as if the reader has never heard of them, yet this information was already given in the first half of Chapter 16.  What purpose does the doubling serve?

As one reads Chapter 17, it  almost feels as if the author was unaware of the events of Chapter 16!  How are we to understand the various contradictions and unnecessary repetitions?