Why ‘200 Philistine Foreskins’ Matter

By Adam Brown –

I have been preaching through the Rise of David in 1 Samuel. In last Sunday’s preaching text (1 Samuel 18:12-30), David very shrewdly wormed his way into the royal house by collecting on his reward for killing Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17:25). For more about this, you can listen to the sermon, David the Supplanter, on the Southshore website.

In this article, I want to focus in on a detail that does not often receive enough attention. It certainly did not get an appropriate treatment in Sunday’s sermon, except to explain the historical and literary allusions it presented, along with the political implications it created.

200 Philistine Foreskins

The detail I am referring to is David’s delivery of 200 Philistine foreskins to his future father-in-law as the dowry for Princess Michal. Now, hold on a minute, Are we really going to talk about 200 Philistine foreskins? Yes, yes we are. Why? Well, you’ll see, but first the text:

1 Samuel 18:25–27 (ESV)

25Then Saul said, “Thus shall you say to David, ‘The king desires no bride-price except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged of the king’s enemies.’ ” Now Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.

26And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son-in-law. Before the time had expired,

27David arose and went, along with his men, and killed two hundred of the Philistines. And David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. And Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife.

Notice a number of things in this text:

  1. Philistine foreskins as a bride-price is King Saul’s idea. Let us remember that, at this point in his life, King Saul is demon possessed. Therefore, this is a demonic idea.
  2. Saul’s motive is made clear. He is banking on the fact that it is not easy to collect one Philistine foreskin, let alone one hundred! Philistines, and men in general, tend to be fairly protective of that which is rightly theirs to protect.
  3. David agrees to the demonic, and down-right-gross, dowry and he delivers double.

Why does David agree?

Put simply, David agrees because this is the price of his rise within the royal house. If he can deliver the foreskins, he will get his princess. If he gets his princess, he can make a legitimate claim on the throne. And, with a claim on the throne, he is only a few shrewd moves away from checkmate.

Since we all love David, we collectively shudder at Saul’s ill conceived plot, but give David a pass, suggesting he had been backed into a corner. 

In truth, however, this is far from the truth. David need not rise to the throne of Israel This Way. There is nothing in the text that hints that this is the only way David could have achieved his endgame. 

Moreover, there is nothing in the text to hint that God thought this was a good idea. Indeed, and this is important, there is no divine sanction given. In fact, all textual evidence seems to suggest the contrary, that this foreskin-collection is a demonic idea and, therefore, rightfully deemed Satanic. It is hatched, after all, in the raving mind of a demon possessed madman.

Nevertheless, David plays along and, like Jacob’s double dowry of 14 years instead of 7, David collects, and counts-out, 200.

How did David get those 200 foreskins?

He killed for them. Presumably, each in hand-to-hand cold-blooded murder. Old men in their beds. Young men on their way to the supermarket. Maybe even a few boys coming to or from school. Husbands taken from their wives. Fathers never making it home for supper with their families. Sons never again able to honour their mothers. 200.

This is what 200 looks like:

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Why did David do it?

Well, because David wanted to be king and to be king he thought he needed a princess. It’s heartbreaking really. It makes me shudder and, even now, I can feel a lump bobbing in the back of my throat.

Each foreskin represents a life taken. Not by old age. Not by natural disaster. Not even by war. Or cancer. Or accident. No, each life was taken by David, on the jealous whim of Old King Saul.

Hope and Grace

And herein is the hope for us: If God can extend love and grace to a man like David – if God can establish the kingdom of Jesus Christ through the merciless murder of 200 Philistine men and boys – then the depth of His grace is boundless.

And the same grace that fell to David is available to us all, through the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to God.

2 Thoughts

  1. David had already been anointed by Samuel to be Israels next king. He didn’t need to do anything to make that happen. If you read the story you will find that David could have killed Saul twice, but refused to raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed.

    I think your ideas about David and his character are misconstrued.

    If Israel had done what they were supposed to originally supposed to do there wouldn’t have been a Philistine for anyone to kill.

    Like

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