In I Samuel, buried way down in Chapter 14, there is a verse I think we should take a look at. The nineteenth verse has the wording that so much controversy hangs upon, that I feel we should have it out for a frank discussion here at gather.com; without some agreement about this specific passage, much of the pertinence of Old Testament stories for today's devout vanishes like a vapor.
VERSE 19:And it came to pass, while Saul talked unto the priest, that the noise that was in the host of the Philistines went on and increased: and Saul said unto the priest, Withdraw thine hand.
I'm in the habit of using The Interpreter's Bible, when I need some scholarly input to lend authority to what is clearly an opinion of mine, but it seems there is scarce agreement among them on this controversy. It appears that before these articles could be written at all, that a decision was in fact made, and therefore the various commentators seem to at least be settled on what they shall say, and how to say it. The trouble is, that they say that there is not enough clear evidence for any such decision to be reached, and then defended. Perhaps the scholars have simply drawn lots before doing battle with the exegetical and hermeneutical issues they faced.
In verse 18, Saul has sent for the Ark of God, which is also translated as ephod, depending on whether you use the Greek Septuagint, or consult the Masoretic text; most of us will do neither, and would greatly appreciate some agreement among the experts who have this option. So there's Saul, speaking with his high priest, within earshot of an army of boisterous Philistines, cuing the holy man to get on with it. In verse 20, it seems that Israel will stand firm, and meet the Philistines with drawn sword.
Based on desert tribes well to the East at this period in history, and their practice of carrying a 'box' used for divination into battle with them, the harried scholars tell us that the Ark of God in question, contained the Urim and Thummim, or two 'lots,' one of which, when drawn from within the box[ark], will provide a definitive answer to the question Saul has asked; a 'YES' or 'NO' answer; go or don't; fight or flee! Since ephod clearly is a priestly garment, and verse 19 has never been translated, "Don't just stand there with your hand in your pocket!"; well this seems a likely interpretation of this key passage.
One night, while in the Waffle House[where I am wont to do some of my best writing], I found this gem of information while interviewing a drunk Indian; he indicated that the difficulty that I had experienced with the Shawnee Elders was to be expected; that they were naturally reluctant to reveal anything about their religion, because they were a warrior society and had no incentive to share information with potential enemies. I believe that this explanation holds for the probable source of the confusion in the texts examined; that there was some deliberate obfuscation regarding the means used to obtain Divine guidance and the method of its use during decisive battles; that the members of this warrior society had keys to understand clearly these recorded instances of divination which were not shared with the scholars pouring over the texts using tools that were not KEYS.
Of considerably more importance here, is the alignment of the story thus interpreted with the idea that these stories are primarily important because they are about KNOWING. When Saul could not know what was the right decision for a great general of Israel, he had in place a procedure that prevented potentially disastrous delay while in the heat of battle. Win or lose, Saul's many soldiers each fought with perfect resolve; that G_d had directed their leaders, both military and religious, to have them engage the Philistines here and now, made them ferocious adversaries, and frequently victorious as well!