Saturday, October 4, 2014

Saul promotes, then hates David

5 ¶And David went out whithersoever Saul sent him, and behaved himself wisely: and Saul set him over the men of war, and he was accepted in the sight of all the people, and also in the sight of Saul’s servants.
6 And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick.
7 And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.
8 And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom?
9 And Saul eyed David from that day and forward.
(1 Samuel 18:5-9)

These verses tell how King Saul promoted David and then nearly as soon after began to hate him and throw javelins at him.

You’ve probably already talked about this story in Sunday school, but I want to bring up a few more points.

The impetus for this was the women of Israel singing that fateful line—“Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”  Saul is offended that more is ascribed to David than to him when David has only fought one battle and Saul had a whole career of fighting behind him. 

Strictly speaking, Saul does have a point.  He has done more over his life than David.  But then public acclaim is a fitful thing and doesn’t distribute itself fairly, so it can’t be depended upon, and it seems Saul had come to depend upon it. 

But then looking at it another way, often acclaim has to do with expectations and whether someone has exceeded expectations or not.  Saul, having been king for quite some time and having a spotty record of exhibiting bravery and courage, will have a hard time meeting expectations.  But David—a nobody at this stage—went FAR above expectations, so there is going to be a lot more excitement over his achievement.  (Question: Do people only deserve praise when they exceed expectations?)

Now, looking at it from yet another angle, we often assume that the women singing this line were singing out of simple joy for what David had done.  But what if the song was meant to wound Saul, like a political cartoon?  What if it was an indirect expression of discontent with Saul’s leadership record? 

Whatever it was, it hurt.  We have to understand what Saul felt in order to really grasp what kind of choices Saul had.  It would be like discovering someone had made a music video making fun of you and saying someone else is better than you and then video goes viral on the internet. It is one thing to feel one has been eclipsed by another, but it is another thing entirely to feel that everyone else might be thinking the same thing and thinking less of you because of it.  The question is, what do you do when something like that happens?    Who do you turn to?  

You have to turn to the Lord and rely on Him.  But Saul had rejected the Lord a long time ago, so he was bereft of any support. 

Saul also remembered the huge acclaim that came after his own first battle success and he saw this as the same sort of thing coming to David and he begins to think of David as a rival for the throne.  (To give him credit, he was right that David would replace him on the throne, but he was wrong about David being a direct threat to him.)  This must have been when Samuel’s words came back to him about how the Lord would rend the kingdom from him and give it to a neighbor who was better than him.  Saul had been collecting valiant men for his army for a while, but this is the first time he begins to connect that prophetic pronouncement with anyone he has gathered and promoted.

Saul says David has the praise of the people “and what can he have more but the kingdom?”  Somehow you get the idea that he thinks the kingdom is easily transferred or easily acquired.  Perhaps that’s because for him it was.  But it never seems as easily transferred between dynasties again.  You also get the sense that Saul things the praise and credit is the best and most important part of being king.  And I imagine it isn’t necessarily that way.

Another problem was that the praise to David was exaggerated.  Sure David had killed Goliath, but it isn’t known how many others he killed in the same battle.  Would it be smart for David to believe his own press (if we can call it that)? No.  Opinion can change quickly. 

This makes me think about basis on which I admire or praise people.  Is it because they follow good principles?  Is it because they are effective?  Do I only praise people when they exceed my expectations, or do they merit appreciation for meeting them?  Am I noticing the best things or am I caught up by less important factors?  It also makes me think about the praise I receive.  Is it merited or is it exaggerated?  Can I depend on it?  Not really.  I have to depend on the Lord.

Think what it was like for David, to be promoted so quickly and then suddenly have his own king throwing javelins at him.  I think David is a good example of acting consistently no matter what people thought of him.  He endured the hazards of both good and bad pubic opinion.  He endured through both public acclaim and being the subject of a national manhunt led by the king himself.

Also compare Saul’s reaction about the rise of David to the prophet Samuel’s reaction about the rise of Saul.  In a way, both Samuel and Saul were in similar positions.  They both were rejected, though Samuel was rejected by the people as judge in their desire for a king, and Saul was rejected by God.  Saul was jealous of David, but we do not detect any jealousy from Samuel.  Samuel’s only concern was that Saul keep the commandments of God. 

From here on, we begin to see that Samuel’s prophesy to Saul that the Lord would rend the kingdom from him was perfectly true (1 Sam 15:26-28).  If you recall, Samuel told Saul the Lord had rejected him from being king and as Samuel turned to leave, Saul grabbed Samuel’s robe and held on so hard it tore, which became the impetus for Samuel saying the Lord would rend the kingdom away from Saul.

Samuel perceived that if Saul was going to be so grasping and desperate over Samuel simply leaving, that would surely manifest itself again when it became clear the Lord was taking the kingdom away.  Saul would grasp at anything and try anything to keep the kingdom, and it would tear the kingdom apart just as Saul had torn Samuel’s robe.  (You have to marvel at the depth of Samuel’s discernment and how he was able to perceive the final fruits of relatively simple acts sown.)

So because Saul suddenly suspects David will take the kingdom away from him, he begins to hold the kingdom tighter and tighter, employing desperate measures to try to eliminate the imagined threat, even though David never actually challenges him for power.  Instead, Saul alienates more and more people and may have even been the means of bringing his own demise. 

How can Saul’s story help us today? 

Because of the internet and the longevity of things that are posted, any of us at one time or another might find ourselves in Saul’s position, faced with a recitation of our inadequacies in comparison to someone else’s excellence seemingly announced everywhere under heaven.    We have a choice.  We can become angry, suspicious, and jealous people, or we can turn to God for support and strength.

Further, Christ has said that wo is unto us when all men speak well of us, because they spoke similarly well of the false prophets, so we must expect to endure being bad-mouthed. 

We also learn about how exaggeration causes problems and how indulging in jealousy ruins our peace.

Do you get anything more from this story?