An incredible amount of the Bible is about Saul and David, the first two Kings of Israel. From the viewpoint of the historical record – understanding the beginnings of the kingdom of Israel – it makes a lot of sense, much as we Americans write so much about George Washington or make movies/miniseries about John Adams.
But the Bible is primarily a view of life and history from a spiritual perspective. How does the massive amount of writing about Saul and David help us understand spirituality and our own spiritual life? Let’s compare and contrast the two to see what they have in common and how they differ, and then see what kinds of conclusions we can draw.
Looking at their biographies, they are very similar.
- Both have similar origins: their families were herders: Saul’s family had herds, while David’s family had sheep.
- Both were anointed by Samuel to be king, and both were out with the herds when Samuel came by to anoint them.
- Both became king about about 30 years of age.
- Both were king until about the age of 70.
- Both plotted murder: Saul tried to kill David; David had Uriah killed in battle.
- Both were moody: Saul had dark moods come over him which was helped only by David’s music; David would get depressed while hiding from Saul, during which he wrote some of his Psalms.
- Both did things the Lord specifically told them not to do: Saul did not destroy Amalek completely, keeping some of the best as an offering to the Lord (weasel excuse); David took a census of Israel.
- Both, at the end of their lives, were on the run from some sort of attack: Saul fell on his own sword to avoid capture in battle with the Philistines; David was running from his son Absalom.
While this isn’t a thorough psychological profile, I think that there is enough here to see that these two had similar backgrounds, had similar experiences, and faced similar types of decisions. There is certainly enough here to allow us to safely compare the two.
So how do we look at their differences? How do we evaluate their responses to the Prophet Samuel? How do we decide what this means spiritually? And finally, how can we apply what we find to our own life?
The prime example, something virtually everyone knows about whether they are a seriously religious person or not, is probably David and Goliath. But to recap anyway: Goliath, a man about 9 feet tall, had been haranguing the Israelites for about a month, challenging them to send a champion out to fight him in single combat, winner take all. Saul, who stood head and shoulders above everyone else in the kingdom, sat for a month in his tent worrying, while morale in the Israelite camp deteriorated. David shows up, a kid not old enough to join the army, bringing a CARE package from home. Goliath does his song-and-dance, and David is upset that he is mocking Israel and Israel’s God. The scuttlebutt gets back to Saul, who invites David in, and outfits David in his own armor. (How big is David? He is only a kid!) But he doesn’t feel comfortable in it so heads down to the battlefield with just his regular clothes and his sling. While he stops and picks up 5 stones that catch his attention, Goliath, a veritable tank, with another man carrying his shield, starts mocking David. David tells him that since he has mocked God, he, David, is going to feed him to the vultures. And he does, and the Israelites chase the Philistines for miles. And the winner did take all.
OK, so much for the story. What’s the spiritual side here? I think there are several lessons, or at least pieces of lessons, for us to think about.
- Saul, the leader of the army and King of Israel, didn’t have the courage or faith needed to stand up to Goliath. David, who had fought lions and bears while watching the family sheep, had faith that God would protect him as he stood up to defend God’s honor.
- Saul, it seems, didn’t have any basis for depending on God, no personal experience. David, from his time shepherding, did have a solid basis for depending on God.
- Saul, a big man and a warrior, judged others on their size, abilities and experience. David, having dealt with bigger, more able beasts, knew that size wasn’t the only issue
So we have a couple items that seem to have possibilities. Do they continue to pan out over the rest of the two Kings’ lives? Let’s look at a couple more examples, but by no means an exhaustive review.
As mentioned above, both Saul and David were given explicit directions by God through the prophets not to do something.
- Saul was told to save nothing when he and the army went to the town of Amalek; David was told not to take a census of Israel.
- They both disobeyed.
- When Samuel asked Saul why the king of Amalek and cattle had been spared, Saul blamed it on the soldiers, saying that they had kept the best and were bring them to Samuel to be offered as sacrifices. (Yeah, the parent in me believes that one!) David, after taking a census of Israel’s fighting men, is stricken with a guilty conscience and prays for forgiveness.
- Samuel tells Saul that God does not want sacrifices, He wants obedience; he also says that Saul’s kingdom will be taken away and given to someone more worthy. Gad, the prophet at that time in Israel’s history, tells David that God is going to punish him, but is allowing David to select which of three punishments he is to receive.
- Saul’s response is to ask that Samuel sacrifice with them so that he maintains honor in the sight of the people. David’s response is to tell Gad that God knows what is best for Israel, and he will trust God in this decision.
So once again we have Saul trying to do things on his own, while David trusts God.
Throughout the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel the experiences of Saul match up with experiences of David. In case after case Saul continues trying to do things his own way; short circuiting the way God through the prophets had told him to go; refusing to take that last step and trusting God completely. David, on the other hand, would always turn to God, regardless of the circumstances, and trust that God would protect, guide, or otherwise do what was best for David and the Israelites.
In our own lives, are we trusting in God, or trying to turn things to the way we want them to be?
For further reading, the life of Saul can be found in 1 Samuel chapters 8 through 31; the life of David can be found starting with 1 Samuel 16 through to the end of 2 Samuel.