Servants, servants everywhere?
(I Samuel 25)

David’s band of men had not harmed wealthy livestock owner Nabal’s shepherds nor stolen anything from them, including the sheep.  They were a protective belt around Nabal’s flocks.   And now David sent ten men to Nabal to humbly ask for some food, at the end of sheep shearing when Nabal was about to celebrate a successful year of wool and meat production.  1Samuel 25:14 tells us that Nabal “hurled insults at them”.  How did Nabal insult David so much that he immediately ordered 400 of his men to buckle on their swords, to wipe out all the men in Nabal’s employ?  The common English translations do not make this clear.  So, many Bible readers believe it was because Nabal refused to give them any food.  Was this the reason?  

David had sent ten young men. The Hebrew word translated as “young men” is ne’arim which commonly means "lad", "attendant" or "servant". We should note well this inoffensive word.  

 David’s young followers explained how they had not “insulted” (NASB) or “mistreated” (NIV) Nabal’s shepherds, nor had they stolen anything.  “Ask your ne’arim and they will tell you,” David’s ne’arim urged Nabal.  “Please give whatever you find at hand to your servants and to your son David,” they asked humbly.  In making this request, they referred to themselves as ‘abadim. The BDB tells us the word means “slave”, or “servant” in the sense of the humblest servant. David’s men were humbling themselves, but called David Nabal’s son.

In reply, Nabal arrogantly asked, “Who is this David?”  Was he really ignorant about who David was?  It couldn’t be, for his wife Abigail knew well that God was with David and would make him king of Israel: “The Lord will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my master [i.e. David] because he fights the Lord’s battles” (1Sam 25:28).  Abigail also knew that King Saul was pursuing David.  “Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master is bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God” (v.29).  “When the Lord has done for my master every good thing He promised concerning him and has appointed him leader over Israel,” she continued, reiterating that she knew he would become King of Israel some day.  Now, if Abigail knew all this, how likely is it that her husband, presumably the main source of her information, did not know all this too?  Was there any man in Israel at that time who had not heard of the David who slew the giant Goliath, or heard of his great military exploits? So when Nabal exclaimed “Who is this David?” it was clearly an intentional insult to David.  In today’s English, it would be like saying, “Who the hell is David?  He’s a nobody!”  Nabal was not only insulting David, he was also insulting God!  

David, a servant?

And as for David calling himself Nabal’s son, humbly putting himself one level below Nabal, Nabal would have none of that.  “Who is this son of Jesse?” he asked, proving that he knew exactly who David was.  Nabal was saying in effect, “David is the son of Jesse, not of Nabal!” 

Nabal was not just downgrading David by one or two levels; Nabal called David a slave!  He said, “There are many servants (abadim) today who are each breaking away from his master” (1Sam 25:10).  Coming immediately after his tirade against David, there can be no doubt that Nabal’s last remark about slaves was directed at David.  Nabal was calling David a slave, or at best the lowliest of servants.  Is there any wonder that David was incensed?

In fact, David had sent his men to approach Nabal in peace.  They greeted Nabal with: “Have a long life, peace be to you, and peace to your house, and peace be to all that you have!” (NASB).  In rejecting them, Nabal was also rejecting their words of peace.  If you reject peace, what then is it that you want?  War?  So David ordered 400 of his warriors to buckle on their swords.  If it was war Nabal wanted, then David was going to give it to him.

Abigail, a servant?

There is another interesting word in 1Sam 25 that is translated as “servant”.  This word is ‘amah, which was used three times by Nabal’s wife Abigail to refer to herself when she spoke to David as he came down with his men to kill Nabal and his men.  This seldom-used word occurs only 56 times in the Old Testament.  The NIV translated it as “maidservant/maidservants” [25 times]; “servant” [16 times]; “slave girls/slave woman/slaves” [10 times]; and as “female”, “her”, and “me” the remaining 5 times. I humbly suggest that the word was perhaps wrongly understood by the NIV as well as KJV, Amplified Bible, and NASB translators.

Let’s look at Genesis 16:1.  Sarai had an Egyptian handmaiden (shipha in the Hebrew text), named Hagar, whom she allowed her husband Abraham to sleep with to produce offspring.  But after Abraham took her as a minor wife or concubine, Sarai called her by a different designation:  amah (Gen 21:10).  So ‘amah describes someone of lowly status, like a slave, who becomes a wife or concubine of the master.  God used the same word when speaking about Hagar in Gen 21:13, after she had given birth to a son. 

  It is true that in some contexts ‘amah can indeed be translated as maidservant or slave, but when a woman uses it to refer to herself when speaking to a man, the word takes on a special significance.  She uses this word when speaking to her husband or prospective husband.  This is like a Malay woman calling a man “abang”; if he is not her elder brother, then the implication is that he is her husband.  So when Ruth spoke to Boaz after uncovering his feet, she said, “I am your ‘amah Ruth” (Ruth 3:9), Boaz immediately got the double message – from her uncovering his feet, and from her calling herself his ‘amah.  The very next morning, Boaz took steps to take her as his wife.

To clinch the matter, we should examine the Hebrew text of 1Kings 1:17, where David’s wife Bathsheba spoke to him.  She said, “My lord, you swore to your maidservant (‘amah) by the Lord your God saying: ‘Surely your son Solomon will be king after me’” Her use of the term ‘amah next to “your son Solomon” was a shrewd reminder to David of their intimate, in fact torrid, relationship which produced Solomon.  After that pointed reminder, Bathsheba switched to the word ‘ebed (the common term for “servant”) in referring to herself (1Kings 1:19, 26, 27).

Thus, when Abigail referred to herself as David’s ‘amah she was in effect offering herself as a prospective wife.  And that explains why, when Nabal died soon afterwards, David sent word to Abigail proposing marriage, and she accepted immediately (1Sam 25:39, 40).

So three different Hebrew words in 1Kings 25 have been translated into the English words: “servant”, or “maidservant”.  This is unfortunate, as the crucial nuances have not been captured in the translations.  For as we saw above, the three words had widely different meanings which sent people raging mad, or into actions of love, or had no effect in either direction. Clearly, there are servants, and there are servants.

INTRODUCING OUR RECENT GRADUATES

This is the final presentation of our recent graduates. Praise God with us for Eileen Su and Peter Tang.

Eileen Su Wei Ting, Grad Dip CS

Eileen worked for five years in the advertising industry before becoming a Youth Worker at Agape Christian Church, where she has served for over two years. Eileen’s passion is for the mission field, and she hopes to become a full-time missionary. Her life verse is Luke 9:23: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’

We congratulate Eileen on her award:

  • Missions & Evangelism Book Prize - in memory of the late Rev and Mrs Quek Keng Hoon and the late Mr Yeo Yeow Teck

Peter Tang Mun Keong, Grad Dip CS

Peter spent ten years working in the SAF after graduating from the Singapore Polytechnic and another twenty years in the broadcast and telecommunication industry. He served as a volunteer with Singapore Youth for Christ from 1968 to 1982. He is currently serving as a deacon of Calvary Baptist Church. His life verse is 1 Peter 4:10: ‘Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.’

CHAPEL NOTES 

Chapel on 8 February 2006
by Mrs Pauline Koe

Reflecting on the subject of seeking the truth about God necessarily required a confession of sorts: how the search began, how it wound its way around significant spiritual experiences and how it finally arrived at some point of stability. This was what Mrs Pauline Koe shared at chapel in speaking of her own experience of seeking the truth.  

The question she then raised had to do with how she perceived the nature of the truth we have about God. Since truth for us is Jesus Christ himself it is a person, not an object. So truth for us is always personal and relational. It emerges when we relate to each other as persons made in God’s image with a capacity to love and respond. Our understanding of truth is, therefore, possible only if we are prepared to open ourselves to challenge, to involvement and to authentication within the community we find ourselves in. When we take each other seriously as persons and not as objects we allow the truth of God to emerge out of our relationships. She is hopeful that at BGST we might help one another find the truth of God in both our personal and communal life.

Chapel speaker on 22 February will be Rev Ng Seng Chuan. Our Dean, Dr Quek Swee Hwa, will be the speaker on 1 March.

NEWS BITS

Change of email account. Dr Quek will be terminating his email account bgstdean@starhub.net.sg with effect from 1 March 2006. Please direct mails to him at queksh@bgst.edu.sg with immediate
effect.

 

 BLESSED BIRTHDAY TO....

Mr Kessler Soh  20/2

Ms Stella Sim  20/2

Ms Christine Tey  21/2

Mr Leow Theng Huat  21/2

Mr Lim Ching Hock  22/2

Ms Rosy Tan  22/2

Mr Simon Wong  22/2

Mr Edwin Chak  24/2

Ms Lee Yoke Kwang  26/2

Mrs Jessie Tan  27/2

Mr Henry Yeong  28/2

Ms Christine Ng  28/2

Mr Ravi Shankar  28/2

Mrs Sharon Quek  1/3

Mr Lim Kheng Hai  2/3

Mr Samuel Tan  2/3

Ms Faith Sun  2/3

Dr Ng Hwee Hin  3/3

Mr Thomas Lee  3/3

Rev Dr Danny Goh  4/3

Ms Grace Gay  4/3

Mr Michael Goh  4/3

Dr Tang Hui Kheng  4/3

Ms He Liyi  4/3

 

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