MY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron
Last week’s article outlined some of the character traits, learned as a shepherd, that made David a godly servant king. It seems important now to back up to the years before David, to see how the monarchy was first established in Israel.
The prophet Samuel had provided leadership for many years. “Now it came about, when Samuel was old, that he appointed his sons as judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judging in Beersheba. His sons, however, did not walk in his ways but turned aside after dishonest gain, and they took bribes and perverted justice” (1 Samuel 8:1-3).
The people came to Samuel asking for a king. Though he was reluctant, and tried to dissuade them, he received a message from God. “‘Listen to the voice of the people regarding all that they say to you, because they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being King over them’” (1 Samuel 8:7). “Saul was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for forty-two years over Israel” (1 Samuel 13:1).
While Israel had wanted to be “like the other nations” (1 Sam. 8:5), Terence Fretheim wrote that God’s primary concern was for the future of Israel. God placed expectations on Israel’s leader and its people, to assure that Israel differed from other nations, and to reinforce that Yahweh was the true king. For a time with Samuel as his mentor, Saul ruled well. However, in at least two instances, the new king failed to fulfill his obligations.
The first was when Samuel told him, “‘You shall go down ahead of me to Gilgal; and behold, I will be coming down to you to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings. You shall wait seven days until I come to you and inform you of what you should do’” (1 Samuel 10:8). Because Samuel was delayed, Saul offered the sacrifices himself, an act which indicated a developing pattern of disobedience.
A second act occurred when Saul was commanded, “Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they
have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” (1 Samuel 15:3). The practice of herem, total destruction, was common in the ancient Near East. Again, Saul failed to obey when he allowed King Agag to live. Further, he kept the best of the flocks and rationalized that they were to be sacrificed at Gilgal. When Samuel heard of this, he “cried unto the Lord all night” (1 Samuel 15:11), and again had to confront the king he’d anointed. “‘Behold,’” he proclaimed to Saul, “‘to obey is better than sacrifice’” (1 Samuel 15:22).
During the time of Saul’s’ failures to rule faithfully, a young shepherd boy was sitting on the same hillsides, viewing the same stars, that his grandfather and ancestors had viewed, and learning the heart of God.
“Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed [David] in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him. So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him” (1 Samuel 16:13-14, 23).
Many have addressed this spirit that tormented King Saul; the verse is troubling if we think God was responsible. It seems what happened was similar to the heart of Pharaoh, which became hardened in the light of God’s presence. When God reveals himself, many people’s hearts become soft and tender, and the result is repentance with tears. For others who cross a line in disobedience, they feel distress which they interpret as a troubling spirit sent from God.
David first entered the story of Saul when those in the court were looking for someone who could soothe the beast within the king. David’s musical abilities helped for a time, but later even they failed, and Saul sought to kill the one who represented peace and God’s Spirit (1 Samuel chapter 19).
The list of Saul’s sins continued from there. “Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the Lord, because of the word of the Lord which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it, and did not inquire of the Lord” which references an incident in 1 Samuel 28:4-24.
We might ask, why would God choose someone as Saul was chosen, and then reject him? There was a sacred intent for the nation of Israel, and its king was to lead in fulfilling that purpose. Failure to follow and glorify God resulted in the end of his kingship. Sadly, Saul may never have known how much Samuel wept, or how he’d grieved the Lord. If we want God’s blessing, we must be willing to serve his purpose, and learn to obey his Word and his Spirit.