Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Fall of Saul (I Samuel 27-31)

Though Saul has, for the moment, called off the hounds, David doesn’t exactly feel secure. He knows that it is only a matter of time before Saul’s jealousy gets the better of him. So he and his party cross over to Philistine territory and seek refuge from Achish, the king of Gath (Goliath’s hometown).

David slowly lures Achish into his trust, by pretending to raid Isrealite towns. In fact, he raids Amalekite towns, but never leaves anyone alive to tell the tale.

Meanwhile, a great war between Saul and the Philistines is underway. Terrified by the size of the enemy army, Saul tries to consult the Lord (though presumably not with the help of a priest, seeing as he killed them all at Nob). He is met with silence. Desperate, Saul turns to an illegal sorceress to conjure up the spirit of Samuel. The incident that follows is, well, rather spooky.
And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.

Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?...The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me.
Saul falls to the ground in absolute horror. His men and the medium try to get him to eat something. But Saul knows he’s done for. There is nothing to do but wait for the inevitable.

The next day Achish summons David to fight with him against Saul, but the other Philistine commanders see through the ruse. They realize that David intends to turn on them on the battlefield at a decisive moment. David and his men are sent away, and without him, Saul’s fate is sealed.

The battle is a crushing defeat for Israel. David’s friend Jonathan is killed, and Saul is wounded on the battlefield. Knowing the humiliation and torture that awaits him if captured, Saul commits suicide along with his shield bearer.

Despite the fact that Saul was never a very good king, or a very good man, for some reason I can’t help but feel sorry for him. He is tragic. His reign has been one of inadequacy, disappointment, and futility. Ever since the Lord’s rejection, he’s known the fall of his house is coming, and that all of his efforts could only delay the inevitable.

The Lord did reject him, and so perhaps I should feel guilty for my pity. But I don’t really think so. David himself composes a lament so anguished, so grand, and so beautiful, that one can’t help but overlook Saul’s faults:
Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!

You mountains of Gilboa,
let there be no dew or rain upon you,
nor fields of offerings!
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.

Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles;
they were stronger than lions.

How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle!
Then we remember the one truly glorious achievement of Saul. He saved the city of Jabesh-gilead from the Ammonites, who had planned to torture and humiliate them. Now, as his body hangs beheaded and shamed by his enemies, those whom he had helped the most know their duty:
But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. And they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted seven days.
Thus passes the first king of Israel. Though his reign appeared to be a dismal failure, we are reminded by the merciful and loyal heart of David that we dare not look down our nose at the Lord’s anointed – even though he be rejected and condemned by God and men. For it is here, mourned and loved by those whose hopes he had carried, his tortured body tenderly born away for burial, that the first king of Israel most resembles the last.

I agree (!!) that your pity is not misplaced. God is merciful, gracious, and compassionate. Slow to anger, abounding in love

As I progress through life I am more and more deeply impressed by the fact that there are not realy "good guys" and "bad guys." Perspective, history, context - they all play such important roles. In learning to forgive, you learn to see not only how the "bad guy" has wronged you, but why, what makes him who he is - which inevitably shows you places where he also is hurt.

This type of worldview leads to such an interesting, even rich (but don't misunderstandD)understanding of sin, I think; and the remember that God is the one who sees it all, who see the heart while we see only the outward. And then I am so grateful that he and only he is the Judge.

This may be a bit of a stretch, but it almost seems to me that in David's mourning of Saul, Saul's memory finds a bit of redemption. David honors Saul as the Lord's annointed and composes a beautiful lament for him, and thus, despite Saul's history of fallenness, he is a hero. David, as the king, is allowed to declare Saul honored despite the evidence. David is thus foreshadowing a famous son of his who will one day do the same for us.

Awesome, Em.

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