Questions From Readers
The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, along with other translations of the Bible such as the King James Version, tells us in the sixteenth chapter of First Samuel that David came to Saul’s attention and Saul made him his harpist and armor-bearer. Then 1 Samuel 17:15 indicates that David went back to sheepherding for his father and later returned to Saul at the time he fought Goliath. It was at the time of his return that Saul seemed to know nothing about David, as indicated at 1 Samuel 17:55-58. Now, the question is, how is this possible?
This account, as contained in the New World Translation and the King James Version, is taken from the Masoretic Hebrew text, because both of these translations are based on that text. But we must remember that the Masoretic text is a fairly recent text as compared with such versions as the Greek Septuagint, which is a translation of much older Hebrew texts into the Greek. And the Septuagint, which is contained in the fourth-century Greek manuscripts Vatican 1209 and the Sinaitic, gives us a slightly different picture of these events because certain key verses that cause the difficulty are omitted. In other words, when we read the account in the Septuagint, there is no problem because it does not say David went back to sheepherding. So, when Goliath first voiced his boastful challenge, David was present and could volunteer to fight the giant. Saul knew the youthful David, but not as a fighter; so David acquainted the king with his exploits when as a shepherd lad he had slain the lion and the bear in the strength of Jehovah. Then, as David went forth to battle the giant, Saul did not need to inquire as to David’s identity; and such inquiries do not appear in the Septuagint version.
These circumstances seem to indicate that something has been done to the Masoretic text and it is possible that it is for this reason these apparent difficulties have been created for us. You will observe that the footnotes in the first edition of the New World Translation draw attention to these differences in the manuscripts.
● What might have been the kingdom that God would have firmly established through Saul, since Jacob’s prophecy indicated that the rulership would be given to the tribe of Judah? Why was not the foretold rulership (Gen. 49:10) given initially to Judah?—G. S., U.S.A.
The account at 1 Samuel 13:13 says: “At this Samuel said to Saul: ‘You have acted foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of Jehovah your God that he commanded you, because, if you had, Jehovah would have made your kingdom firm over Israel to time indefinite.’” That means that the kingdom would have lasted to the indefinite future. It does not mean to all eternity, to time without end, because we know that the day was bound to come within the schedule of God’s due time for the earthly visible kingdom to give way to the spiritual kingdom of God’s dear Son. God did not indicate to Saul through Samuel when the limit would have come, if he had been faithful.
It is not unthinkable that a kingdom should have gone on with Saul’s offspring and at the same time for the “scepter” to remain with the tribe of Judah. For example, later on, after the death of Solomon, God split the kingdom of the Israelites and gave only two tribes to the house of David, Judah and Benjamin; whereas God gave to Jeroboam, whom God appointed as king, ten tribes of Israel. He told Jeroboam that if he continued to serve Jehovah God, then his kingdom would continue: “You are the one that I shall take, and you will indeed reign over all that your soul craves, and you will certainly become king over Israel. And it must occur that, if you obey all that I shall command you, and you do walk in my ways and actually do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and my commandments, just as David my servant did, I will also prove to be with you, and I will build you a lasting house, just as I have built for David, and I will give you Israel.” (1 Ki. 11:37, 38) So if Jeroboam and his offspring had continued faithful, that separate kingdom of Israel would have continued right alongside the kingdom of Judah until the one “who has the legal right” would come; that is, Jesus Christ. (Ezek. 21:27) Then all the people of God would be united under him.
So, too, God said to King Saul through his prophet Samuel that if he had continued faithful his kingdom would have continued to the indefinite future. But God did not indicate by that statement that he would have made the same arrangement with King Saul’s family that he later did with David; namely, that if Saul’s family would deflect from God’s service, God, nevertheless, would not remove his kingdom from them but would merely chastise the disobedient monarchs of Saul’s line. As it was, Saul deflected and his son Ish-bosheth succeeded him to the throne for only two years, and the kingdom rulership of all Israel was later turned over to the tribe of Judah in the person of the shepherd of Bethlehem, David.
Exercise of rulership was not given initially to the tribe of Judah because of the words spoken by the same prophet who foretold Judah’s eventual rulership over Israel, namely, Jacob. This prophecy, recorded at Genesis 49:27, 9, indicated that Benjamin would have the first opportunity as king in the morning of Israel’s experience as a royal nation, leading Israel against its enemies, particularly the Philistines, during which time Judah would be like “a lion cub.” Thus Judah initially was not to be like a full-grown lion, the king of beasts, but would be like “a lion cub,” indicating it would have a secondary position while undergoing training and until it grew up. Interestingly, when the people demanded that there be a king over Israel, David had not yet been born. David was born eight years after King Saul had turned unfaithful, so that Jehovah God waited himself to pick the man agreeable to his own heart. But this waiting period was a fine time of training for the tribe of Judah; and after David was anointed by the prophet Samuel he underwent persecution that tested his godly qualities. Thus in God’s due time the tribe of Judah did receive the kingdom, just as the prophet Jacob foretold.