God Speaks: Direct Divine Speech in 2 Samuel — Part Two

{This is part two in a series. For the introductory post see here}

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The Ephod:

Of the five direct speeches of God, order the first three occur when David inquires of the Lord, view and it is most likely that David does so using the priestly ephod. David came into possession of the artifact while being pursued by Saul. Abiathar brought David the ephod, doctor and David used the ephod to discover whether or not the Keilahlites would turn him over to Saul (1 Samuel 23:6-12). In total, David uses the ephod to inquire of God eight times in the Samuel narrative, four of which occur in 2 Samuel.(1)

It is not exactly clear how the use of the ephod elicited an answer from God, though it is most likely some kind of system of lots.(2) The ephod, as described in Exodus 28, is a vestment worn by the High Priest (originally Aaron). On the breastplate worn by the priest were two gems, Urim and Tummim.

The ephod was most likely worn with the breastplate and it has been suggested that when someone inquired of the Lord, the ephod would either fall so that one of the two stones would show, or the gems behind the ephod would flash.(3) The ephod may have had pockets or openings for the two stones, and the priest may have drawn out a stone to determine the answer to the question.(4) The stones most likely each had markings on them that were interpreted to represent either a yes or a no answer.(5) Of course, someone had to interpret whether the stone gave one answer or the other, and this was the role of the priest who wore it.

In the case of David inquiring of the Lord, it is unclear if he was going to a priest, who would interpret the lots,(6) or if David was himself doing the interpreting. Yes, Abiathar brought David the ephod in 1 Samuel 23, but further passages make no reference to a priest being present or speaking the answer to David.

The first instance of God speaking through the ephod occurs just after David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan. David inquires of the Lord as to where to go now that Saul is no longer pursuing him. David asks two questions, “Shall I go up to Judah?” and “Where shall I go?” (2:1). The first question is not a problem, because it elicits a yes or no answer. The second question does not. “Where shall I go?” requires a more specific answer.

The second instance of God speaking through the ephod occurs after David has been proclaimed King over all the tribes of Israel. The Philistines, having heard the news, seek out David. David asks God two yes or no questions. “Shall I go up against the Philistines?” and “Will you give them into my hand?” (5:19). Despite the clarity of the questions, the answer from God is longer than a simple yes. It is a seven-word yes.

How is it that the ephod, assuming it uses a lots system, is able to provide answers beyond yes and no? Murray suggests that David is actually asking a series of questions and the narrator simplifies the answers from God into one long response.(7) Thus, in 2:1 when David asks, “Where shall I go?” he may have asked a series of questions, such as “Shall I go to Bethlehem?” “Shall I go to Shiloh?” “Shall I go to Hebron?” etc, and eventually the lot was cast yes, confirming he was to indeed go up to Hebron.

More on the Ephod in tomorrow’s post.

Notes:
(1) Whybray, 68. (If you include 21:1 it is five times, but Whybray, like other scholars look at chapters 21-24 as a separate entity from the Samuel narrative).
(2) Donald Murray, Divine Prerogative and Royal Pretension: Pragmatics, Poetics and Polemics in a Narrative Sequence about David. (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 92.
(3) Edward Robertson, “Urim and Tummim: What were They?” Vetus Testamentum 14 (1964), 73.
(4) Johannes Lindblom, “Lot-Casting in the Old Testament” Vetus Testamentum 12 (1962), 166.
(5) Robertson, 71.
(6) A.A. Anderson, 2nd Samuel. (Waco: Word Books, 1989), 22.
(7) Murray, 94-100.