John Kitto Morning Bible Devotions: August 18

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John Kitto Morning Bible Devotions: August 18


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Teraphim

1Sa_19:1-17

David was now still more conspicuously brought before the view of the people, and his consequence in their eyes much enhanced by his alliance with the royal family. Aware of this—and perceiving that his underhand devices only tended to raise the son of Jesse to higher credit, and but gave him opportunities of achieving greater distinction, the king’s dislike ripened fast into mortal hatred. He also found that his daughter really loved her husband, and could not in any way be made instrumental in bringing his safety into danger. These things made him wild. He began among his intimates to throw aside the mask which had hitherto veiled, however thinly, the motive of his proceedings; and he hinted, that a removal of David by any means would be a service most acceptable to him. Providentially, he mentioned this to Jonathan among the rest. That faithful friend said nothing at the time, but went up and apprized David of his danger, and directed him to a place of concealment; and he promised to lead Saul the next day in that direction, so that his friend might overhear what passed when he interceded for him. He arranged this, probably, that in case his father broke forth into violence or proved inexorable, David might be aware of it, and escape without incurring the danger of further personal communications.

In this conversation with his father, Jonathan took a strong and decided tone. He plainly told him that he was about to commit a great sin, in thus seeking the destruction of a valuable public servant, who had rendered great services to the state, and all whose conduct towards him had been most true and loyal. “Wherefore then,” he said with vehemence, “wilt thou sin against innocent blood, by slaying David without a cause?” The king—a man of impulses, and in whom the impulse to right feeling was not yet extinct, was moved by this earnest appeal; and he pledged himself by an oath to Jonathan, that he would no longer seek the life of Jesse’s son.

David then left his concealment, and resumed his usual duties; and soon after he went again to the wars, and acquired still further renown, so that his praise was in the mouth of all the people. This was wormwood to Saul. His former malignity, suspicion, and hatred, all revived; and when David came back to court, his old paroxysms of madness returned with such violence, that the harp of David, who had now a place at the king’s table as his son-in-law, had no longer the power over him it once possessed. He could no longer heed the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely. One day his pent-up passion so over-mastered him, that he again threw his javelin at David. With such force was it thrown, that it stuck into the wall and remained there, for David had evaded the stroke, and immediately withdrew from the king’s presence. But now that he had committed himself by this act, Saul was determined to carry his purpose out, and he set a guard to watch David’s house all night to prevent his escape. We may guess that only the fear of alarming the town, and of rousing the populace to rescue their favorite hero, prevented him from directing them to break into the house, and slay David there. It was so providentially ordered; for he was thus, at the suggestion of his wife, enabled to escape through a back window, by which she let him down.

David having thus escaped, the remaining anxiety of Michal, then, was to protract the time as much as possible, that he might be far enough off before the pursuit commenced. She “took an image, and laid it in the bed, and put a pillow of goats’ hair for a bolster, and covered it with a cloth.” The object of this was to convey the impression, on a cursory view, that some one was lying in the bed. The “image” is, in the original, “teraphim.” There is much difficulty about these teraphim. They are first mentioned as things that had been secreted by Rachel when her husband fled from Padanaram, and about which Laban made so much uproar when he overtook them. That they were held in superstitious regard, partaking of idolatry, is manifest, but that they were not looked upon by those who used them as interfering with the worship of Jehovah, but of being auxiliary to it, seems to appear from their being found in families which professed to be true worshippers of the Lord. It seems to us that they were superstitious symbolical figures, which were regarded as bringing peculiar blessings and as securing peculiar protections—essentially the blessings and protections of Jehovah—to the houses in which they were found, like, in some degree, the tutelary and household gods, the Penates and Lares of the Roman; or, as we take it, still more like the pictures of St. Nicholas or of the Virgin, which one sees in every Russian shop, before which a lamp is kept continually burning, and which every one who enters the place reverently salutes.

Of their evil there can be no question, from their tendency to lead into more direct idolatry, and the deficient appreciation, which the use of them evinced, of the spiritual worship which God, who is a Spirit, required, and which is most acceptable in his sight. It was a form of worshipping God, but being an unscriptural and dangerous form, was evil in his eyes, and was commandatorily put down, along with other forms of idolatry, by Joshua; Note: 2Ki_23:24, where the word “images” is in the original “teraphim.” yet it is nowhere denounced and suppressed with the same rigor as the worship of Moloch or of Baal. It is observable that women were particularly addicted to the use of these teraphim. First, there was Rachel who had them without the knowledge of her husband, and now here is Michal, who has a teraph, doubtless without the privity of David. That may have been easy in the case of Rachel, seeing the images appear to have been small, from the facility with which they were concealed; but this of Michal seems to have been as large as a human body; and it may be asked, Was it possible that David should have been ignorant of its existence in his house? It is very possible under the arrangement of eastern habitations, which assigns a separate part of the house to the women; and particularly so in the case of David, who, as being now a high military commander, and especially as having married the king’s daughter, doubtless dwelt in a large house, and showed to her all the consideration in these matters which a lady of her rank was entitled to expect.

There has been some difference of opinion as to the form of the teraphim. The passage before us would seem to intimate that it had the human shape, being intended, when lying in the bed and covered with the bed-clothes, to be taken for David, ill in bed. This is not, however, conclusive, seeing that almost anything of sufficient bulk might be made to suggest that idea in a darkened room, and in the dim of the morning, so long as the head was not visible.

There is a very prevalent notion among the Jewish writers that the teraphim were figures of brass, constructed under certain horoscopic and astrological aspects; and that, a plate of gold being placed under the tongue, they were, on being invoked with ceremonies of divination, enabled to deliver oracles. To state this is to refute it.

The mention of a pillow of goats’ hair in the present passage, leads Josephus astray into the odd fancy, that Michal put in the bed the lungs of a goat recently killed, the palpitations of which would impart the motion caused by a man’s breathing in bed. Then how as to the form of a man in bed, which the teraph must have presented? and how long do the lungs of a slain goat continue thus to palpitate? The thing is absurd. Nevertheless, we are not very sure that we understand this matter of “the pillow of goats’ hair.” The hair of a Syrian goat might form a good stuffing for a pillow-case; but how were the persons to be deceived to know that the pillow was filled with goats’ hair? We incline to think the pillow was of goats’ skin, with the hair outside, and that such a pillow was then regarded as having a sanative property in some diseases; whence to see such a pillow in a bed would strengthen the illusion that a sick man lay there. Although this is a conjecture of our own, it seems to us more probable than the notion of some interpreters, that Michal made a kind of wig for the teraph, with the goat’s skin, to produce a passable resemblance to David’s head.