Saul and David

17 05 2008

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.


Peter & Judas

29 04 2008

Peter & Judas make for an interesting comparison. While we have quite a bit of information about Peter, we have only a few incidents involving Judas. But from those bits of information we can gather that Judas was opinionated (the perfume at Simon’s feast; doing what he could to make Jesus King of the Jews – both coincidentally in Matthew 26), and a leader (placed in charge of the groups finances).

And we are all familiar with Peter’s opinionated personality and group leadership.

However, the really interesting comparison of the two comes during the events during and after the Last Supper. Throughout the major story of the Last Supper, Jesus’ trial and crucifixion is interwoven a sub-story involving Judas and Peter, and their final response to their actions. I’ll follow through Matthew 26

Jesus tells Judas that he will betray Him. (v. 20-25)

Jesus tells Peter that he will deny Him. (v. 34)

Judas betrays Jesus. (v. 47-49)

Peter denies Jesus. (v. 69-74)

Peter realizes what he has done. (v. 75)

Peter’s reaction. (v. 75)

Judas realizes what he has done. (Matt. 27: 1)

Judas’ reaction. (Matt. 27:5)

So back and forth we have this comparison of Judas’ and Peter’s disavowal of Jesus, both going down essentially the same path. (I won’t here get into degrees of guilt: actively betraying Jesus vs denying association with Jesus; I think both actions have the same root.) In Peter’s case the result is repentance and reconciliation; in Judas’ case the result is despair and death.

My question is, could the results have been switched? Might Peter’s guilt been so overwhelming that he could not see any possibility of forgiveness; and the resulting despair culminating in his suicide? Could Judas have seen past his actions to Jesus’ forgiveness, and the resulting reconciliation?

I think the answer is both yes and no. Yes, Jesus would have been happy to forgive Judas; probably He was anxious to be able to save Judas. Yes, Peter could have been buried under such a load of despair that the only solution he could see was suicide.

But ultimately the answer, I think, is no. And the reason, in both cases, is because of the character development, the knowledge and understanding of Jesus and Who He was, the relationship they had each developed (or not developed) with Him, over the course of their three years with Jesus.

Judas was looking for an earthly king, one who would throw off Roman oppression, Roman occupation. Over the three years he never developed an understanding beyond that, and viewed Jesus as the leader of the revolt, making Judas a power behind the throne. And when reality struck, when he realized that he had betrayed the Son of God, there was nothing there to sustain him through his emotional and spiritual collapse.

Peter knew that Jesus was the Son of God, the Savior to Whom the sacrifices pointed. He developed a relationship with the spiritual Savior, and knew Him as a Friend. Then, when Peter realized what he had done, that relationship was solid and tested, and he knew that despite what he had done Jesus was still his Friend, and he was able to get through that trial

The lesson for us is that we may do, may have done, terrible things. (Is there anything worse than spending three years with God, knowing Him in day-in and day-out situations, knowing that He really is God, and then denying it?) But despite that, our situation is not so hopeless, so horrible, that Jesus cannot forgive us and include us in His circle of close and trusted friends.

Job and the question of life, the universe and everything

25 04 2008

I was reading Job the other day, and something in the intro really struck me. Satan pops up to a heavenly council, and God just has to ask whether he has noticed Job, and how there is no one like him on the earth, blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. (Job 1)

Satan says sure, he’s got everything – large family, wealth, great job, prestige – because You protect him. Naturally he can live a righteous life; but mess with him and he’ll curse You.

So God says to go ahead, mess with whatever you want, just don’t touch him.

So Satan does – wipes him out completely: killed the kids, raided the herds, took over his pasture, stole the servants. But Job doesn’t blame God, blessing him instead.

Satan shows up at the council again, and God says, “Well?” (Job 2)

And Satan says, “Yeah, didn’t do so well; but touch him and he’ll change his tune!”

God says to go ahead, just don’t kill him.

So Satan inflicts him with horrible sores, he looses weight, his breathe stinks, and that’s just the beginning. But through it all Job does not curse God.

And it seems to me that that is the crux of the question about our life on earth: whether we, regardless of circumstances, continue to trust and bless God. Satan says it can’t be done; God says that, with His strength, it can; Earth is the laboratory where the question is tested.