Category Archive: Bible – OT – 1 Samuel

February 16, 2005

The Tearing of the Robe (1 Sam. 15)

Category: Bible - OT - 1 Samuel :: Link :: Print

I lead a Bible study at the Grande Prairie Regional College, and we’re going through Peter Leithart‘s A House for My Name. On Tuesday, we were talking about Saul’s fall.

The story of Saul begins with him meeting some young women at a well. In the Bible, when a man meets a woman at a well, we expect a wedding. There is no literal wedding between Saul and one of these young women, but the motif still points us in that direction. These young women represent Israel, and there is a sort of marriage relationship between the king and his people, between Saul and Israel.

As YHWH blew His Spirit into the nostrils of Adam, so the Spirit comes on Saul and he becomes “a different man” (1 Sam. 10:6). Saul is a new Adam who receives a bride, the people of Israel. But like Adam, he falls. And when he does, like Adam, he blames his bride, the people of Israel: “They kept the best of the animals instead of killing them.”

Samuel rebukes Saul and then turns to leave, and when he did, someone’s robe was torn (1 Sam. 15:27). But who tore the robe of whom?

In House, Leithart argues that it was Samuel who tore Saul’s robe, representing Yahweh tearing away the kingdom. In A Son To Me, Leithart’s more recent commentary on Samuel, however, he points to the parallel with 1 Kings 11, where the tearing of the prophet’s robe signifies the tearing away of the kingdom. That suggests that it was Saul who tore Samuel’s robe.

In this Bible study, we discussed the significance of the robe and its four “wings” (see Deut. 22:11-12). Spreading your wing over a woman was taking her in marriage (Ruth 3:9; Ezek. 16:8; cf. Ruth 2:12).

Does the tearing of the wing of the robe (whether Saul’s or Samuel’s) fit with this imagery? It seems as if it might. If putting the wing over someone is marriage, then tearing off the wing suggests divorce. The robe has been torn open. The bride is uncovered. Israel is being taken from Saul and given to someone else.

Later on, David will cut off the wing of Saul’s robe. In light of the symbolism of these wings and the holy tassels on them, cutting off that wing wasn’t just a practical joke or a harmless prank. It was a form of rebellion, a symbolic attempt to take the kingdom from Saul, an uncovering of Saul’s nakedness. That, I suspect, is why David took it so seriously and repented afterwards.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:21 pm | Discuss (0)