the pulled punch (part 1)

Anything worth fighting for should be given, not taken. I’ve been basting this line in my mind after a few weeks with David and Saul, turning it, coming back to it, layering it. There’s a lot of irony here and even questions: a fight of mostly standing still. As one scholar pointed out, “David… is bound on the one side by his own anointing by Samuel and on the other by Saul’s prior anointing. Both come from God…” (Francesca Murphy, I Samuel). David knows God’s will for his life, specifically and directly, but he waits for it rather than takes it.

David is an interesting character in so many ways, one of which is his sheer renaissance-reminiscent plethora of abilities. This guy wins battles, writes poems, plays music, woos women and is, you know, “after God’s own heart.” You almost feel bad for Saul. And Saul, in fact, was in many ways a very successful king—he protected Israel valiantly from her enemies (which is why they wanted a king in the first place). The problem with Saul is that he thought it was his responsibility to do so. You get the feeling that he was trying to bring God into the picture, but the conversation just could never get going. Saul builds altars for incriminating sacrifices, makes rash vows he can’t keep, sends for the priests and then shoos them away, wants the ark, doesn’t want the ark, etc. When Samuel comes to him at Gilgal he reminds him “Jehovah anointed you king over Israel and Jehovah sent you on a mission…” And his question, which is probably best translated as “Are you so little in your eyes?… Jehovah anointed you king…” hits the bullseye of Saul’s simultaneous inferiority/superiority complex. We’re well indoctrinated on the sad missteps of the self-esteem movement (mainly its failure to account for the fact that we actually are pretty crappy on our own), so it sounds a bit backwards to us for Samuel to be challenging Saul that he thought too little of himself. But in the context of the previous and following statements, his point is not that Saul attached far too little value to himself, but to what God wanted for him. By treating the fine print of God’s commands so flippantly, Saul revealed that he gave no weight to the role God had given him and his responsibility. He apparently thought it was his to rearrange and adjust—as though he could bargain with God, assuaging him with offerings while still furthering his own ambitions. He had forgotten who made him king and whose mission he was on.

Then there’s David, anointed and successful, encouraged on all sides to simply take what everyone knew was rightfully his, but who refuses to tamper with any of the fine print especially the anointing of the man hunting him down. As he would later declare, I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly turned from my God. For all his rules were before me and his statutes I did not put away from me. Although it would be an error to oversimplify the spiritual processes going on in David’s life, there is one theme that keeps popping up that seems key to this steadfast yet unambitious resolution.

David knew, more than anything, that God was with him. This simple statement summarizes the way God viewed David, David viewed God and what everyone around him saw. This became the core of his identity and David knew that to jeapordize that relationship (by sinning) meant to jeapordize everything he had, even his very life. Although a very talented and charismatic person, Scripture wants us to realize that David was king not because of his abilities but because of God’s choice. It was his story after all in which God can make the point that He “looks not on outward appearance as man does, but on the heart.” Because when we meet David he’s so far down the totem pole that God practically has to kick Samuel in the head to even consider him as future king. But from that point on, he’s God’s man and everywhere he goes people say that the Lord is with him. The narrator repeatedly points out to us that David was successful in everything he did, in everything Saul asked him to do, that everyone loved him, that Saul’s entire family abdicated to David in one fell swoop, that even former enemies did not harm him, that God continually provides for and protects David, that although Saul sought him every day, God did not give him into his hand. David knew that the source of his every success was God—and he believed it even more when “success” was defined as mere survival.

As David’s story begins we see him with two main enemies: Goliath and Saul. Goliath looms large in every way—he makes David famous. Saul is a much more complex enemy, lurking everywhere in the shadows, but he makes David’s fame just. One of my professors taught that David deserved his brother’s taunting remarks at the battle, that David was a cocky, know-it-all brat. I’m still not convinced of that reading, but David certainly does begin his warrior career with flourish. He is so sure of God’s pursuit of His glory he literally runs to take on a fight saying “the Lord will rescue me.” He brazenly warns this giant that he has “defied the name” of God and unbelievably goes against everyone’s better judgment stating that “it is not by sword or spear the Lord saves; the battle is the Lord’s!” Underneath this impossible courage, though, lie a few significant things. First, although I’d never seen this before, David really knows what he’s doing. As I read about this passage I learned that slings were legitimate weapons, not children’s toys and that David counted on the element of surprise and used it quite advantageously. Everything he does is calculated to make Goliath assume they will engage in hand-to-hand combat (the carrying of his staff and his last-minute run towards the giant) essentially throwing him off his real strategy. And his shot, finding a tiny opening with maximum impact, was certainly no accident. And as he told Saul, although probably only 15 or 16, he was no stranger to a fight. “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” David had skill, but he knew where that skill came from and this is the fine line between confidence and arrogance. Saul was always looking for the magic bullet: the best warrior, a great sacrifice, an oath, and yet he was never confident. David had skills and mighty men and a priesthood (that came running after Saul killed most of them off), but he knew that these were not the source of his success, only the tools. When David says, over and over again, that God is his rock, his stronghold, it was because he knew that every cave he ever hid in and every outcropping he was shielded by was from God’s hand. David was confident, bold, courageous, and wonderfully afraid of nothing but his God.

In his battle with Goliath we see that David is afraid of nothing, but in his hiding from Saul we see that he feared God. Service for God is not something achieved but something given. The only way for David to live without sinning (in other words, really live), was God’s deliverance—and he waited for it till it seemed utterly impossible. He would rather be endangered, humiliated, questioned, and in hiding than in sin. It doesn’t seem like anyone else was on the same page with David regarding the whole not-killing-Saul-thing and yet he never succumbed to the excuses and justifications. David waits perhaps a decade for a kingship already promised to him but still in the hands of a raving lunatic. He is enabled to do this by the same faith that ran headlong towards a giant with a cowardly, taunting army behind him; any success he had would come from God. This kind of faith can make you look like a crazed daredevil on one day and a pitiful wimp on the next. If God is the giver of all true good, we should display both boldness (because He is able) and patience (because we are not). As David told the king of Moab, he was waiting to “know what God will do for me.”

I said that no one was with David on the subject of preserving Saul, but I’m going to take that back. There was one who stood up to David and allowed him no excuses at a time when he was tempted to take them. Abigail comes at David with more true courage than all his mighty men.

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1 Comment

Filed under Biblical Characters, Scripture

One response to “the pulled punch (part 1)

  1. Great perspective.
    You left us hangin’ on purpose, right? Bring on Abigail!

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