Saul and David

So what do you make of this?

Saul lost the kingdom because he usurped Samuel’s role and sacrificed animals when he became impatient and the army was melting away. He then disobeyed God by not killing a rival king and preserving some of the “good” livestock for sacrifices. Presumably, still stinging for being scolded for doing sacrifice wrong, he wanted to bring Samuel some choice specimens.

Whatever his motivations, the kingdom was ripped away from him because he did not carry out a full extermination of every last Amalekite and animal.

David had a man murdered and took his wife into his harem. To punish these sins, God killed David’s son. David counted the Israelites against God’s wishes. God sent a plague to kill thousands of the people.

Set these two stories side-by-side. What do they tell you about God?

Many Christians shy away from or try to explain away the Yahweh of Joshua and Judges and stories like Saul and the extermination of the Amalekites. I’m persuaded that doing that often is the imposition of our own system of morality onto God, putting God in a box of our own devising. I don’t think we can explain away Joshua by blaming that story of God on nationalistic Jews who wanted to justify their land claims.

These stories suggest to me a few things, which I have not thought out in any kind of systematic way.

First, God gives and takes as God wills. Our lives really are not our own, but God’s. And he may take them as he will.

Second, Saul’s sins made him unfit to the lead the people. Both were about improper worship. He used the sacrifice to halt the desertion of his armies, then he held back victims from the slaughter to bring to the altar, even though God had not required him to do so. Disordered worship cost him the kingdom whereas David’s personal sins did not.

Third, I find myself sympathizing with Saul. At least when I read the stories today, I got the sense that Saul was just trying to do what seemed like the best idea in the moment. He was trying to lead the army in the first case and trying to do what he thought would honor God in the second case. He seems genuinely befuddled by Samuel’s hostile reaction.

Lots to chew on here. I am sure some of you have some reactions that I have not even considered.

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6 thoughts on “Saul and David

  1. I am with you on everything written here, John. One thing our Calvinist friends often mention that we Wesleyans are wise to also recall, is that God is sovereign. We too often make the story about us and bring God along for the ride. When I read Kings, Samuel, Job, and other books, though, I cannot help but be reminded that God is at the center. We enter into His story…His rules…His way of doing things.

    I suspect where people struggle is in reconciling the Jesus of mercy with a Father who seems harsh and unforgiving. I’m not unsympathetic to that view, and yet we’re reminded that Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. Perhaps our contemporary cultural sensitivities miss something of Jesus’ nature that is perfectly consistent with the hard teachings of the Old Testament, but we miss it because we’re not looking for it.

    in all, I lately can’t help but hear that Godly rebuke to Job; “Who is this darkening counsel with words lacking knowledge? Prepare yourself like a man; I will interrogate you, and you will respond to me.” God forbid that I should stand before God on the day of judgement and be accused of interrogating and accusing God.

    1. Thank you, Adam. We end up in much the same place. It can be scary to walk out to the place where you say the destruction of the Amalekites was just. It opens the door to the notion that such things could be justified today.

      And, yes, I share your awareness that it is challenging to integrate that with Jesus. I suppose that is what theology exists to help us do. Often, though, we seem to want a meat cleaver, like Marcion.

  2. One point in the story of Saul that we may miss is his lack of faith. He believed that his army and its numbers, not the Lord, would deliver Israel from the Philistines. While I sympathize because I often succumb to the temptation to “practical atheism'” it is a grave sin for a leader of God’s people. Those who follow watch us and, if we cannot trust God in the relatively small stuff (e.g. earthly success, stewardship, or ministry growth) how can they trust God in the big stuff — eternal life and salvation. We must beware of the temptation toward a practical atheism, where we rely on our efforts or the ministry technique du jure in our service of God. As the Lord pointed out to Gideon, this is an attempt to steal His glory.

    1. I actually thought it was interesting that Saul rushed to do his own sacrifices when the Israelite army started to melt away. I get the impression it was an attempt to head off the desertions before they got out of hand.

      1. John,
        I agree with you. However, don’t you think that the need to head of the desertions before they got out of hand was born of Saul’s certainty that he had to defeat the Philistines his way using his army and not God’s way? Sometimes God shrinks our armies so it will be clear to us and to all who gave the victory. I love the story of Gideon for that reason. Although Gideon’s faith was a bit shaky with the fleeces and all, he finally believed that God would give him the victory in the face of impossible numerical odds. Saul was not willing to be obedient and trust God. Instead he trusted in his army and when he saw it shrinking, he panicked and disobeyed. Sadly, not unlike me. I tend not to trust God when I can’t see how he will make happen the things that I think are his will.

        1. I think that is a good reading of the story, John. And a good connection to our lives. I’m certainly prone to grabbing a calf and slaughtering it when it looks like things are getting out of hand.

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