Innocence in God’s World
The movie “Life is Beautiful” is a gem. It’s the story of a Italian Jew who tries to save his son from death in a Nazi camp. He re-translates the horrors of the work camp into a game of hide and go seek where the small boy hopes to follow “the rules” in order to win a tank. Here is one of the best scenes of the movie where the father “translates” the rules of the German guard to set his boy up to survive the horror.
The book of Samuel works on many levels to play its part in relating to us the story of God reconciling the world to himself. While the book of Judges explores our religious rebellion the book of Samuel explores our political and personal corruption. David has just been introduced to us as God’s instrument to rescue his project once again, but God is also not quite done using Saul.
We see a picture of young, innocent, believing, juvenile David in chapters 16-19. He’s gifted and blessed but the lines in his developmental mind between good and evil are still bright and clear. He’s about to get a lesson in evil, and how to and not to respond to it that will be vitally important for him to become the king God needs him to be. We are beginning to get a sense of God’s plan for Saul, even if it’s a negative plan.
The Lord’s Affliction of Saul
Contemporary Bible translations try to make the Bible intelligible to its readers, but they also often try to make it theologically safe. I sometimes recommend to people to pick up older translations like the KJV and the AV to read these passages. There are a variety of technical issues that the new editions correct but I like some of the problems that the old versions raise for people, mostly because these are found in the texts themselves.
Part of what troubles us repeatedly about the Saul story is the character of God. We want our God to be more like the God of Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism whose prime directive is to make sure that your stay on earth is happy, comfortable and filled with poignant but not too painful meaning. Yhwh seems to not be down with this program.
Lots of questions arise from the story.
- When Samuel objected to the Israel’s monarchy God went along.
- God picked Saul and dunked him in his Spirit and he was counted among the prophets. When God’s spirit comes upon Saul (and Samuel and David) things approved by the story tellers happen. (1 Sam 10:10, 1 Sam 11:6, 1 Sam 16:13)
- God then rejected Saul (1 Sam 16:14) and an evil spirit FROM GOD starts coming upon him (1 Sam 16:15, 16, 23, 1 Sam 18:10, 1 Sam 19:9). The text says that when this evil spirit from God comes upon Saul he “prophesies” 1 Sam 18:10 and that prophesy will be contrasted between the hand of David on the lyre and Saul’s on the spear.
The newer translations smooth this over but the text wants to jar us. God’s hand is somehow in the destruction of Saul and this bothers us deeply. Shouldn’t God be on Saul’s side? A better question is “shouldn’t Saul be on God’s side.”
Silent, Opaque David in Chapters 18 and 19
The story of David’s defeat over Goliath culminates in a strange episode where Jonathan falls all over David, enough for him to give him his clothing and his most valuable possessions. Contemporary readers sometimes see a homo-erotic subtext in this but if you read ancient literature these kinds of very close male friendships were common. What will follow through the next two chapters is that everyone’s love for David grows as God blesses him while Saul’s anger, fear, and murderous hatred grows at the same time. In the second two introductory stories David has Saul’s favor as his musical exorcist and military stand-in, but as it becomes increasingly apparent that God is with David and not with Saul envy combines with insecurity to compound Saul’s insanity.
What scholars have notices in these two chapters is that the narrative shines a light onto Saul’s interior world, and the love that Jonathan, “the women”, “the people” and Michel all have for David but David himself is opaque. Just like in chapter 16 there were no words out of David’s mouth, David’s psyche here is unknown.
The story goes through a succession of trials for David
- Saul tries to pin him to the wall with his spear and David evades
- Saul sends David out with the army in hopes the enemy will kill David (foreshadowing of Uriah here) but God uses this to make David all the more popular with everyone
- Saul tries to snare him with his oldest daughter Merab, who is also opaque here. In chapter 17 Merab should have been given to him as a reward for killing Goliath but Saul reneged. You’d think after the spear incident David would be “wise” to Saul but again he comes off as an innocent who imagines himself unworthy to be this king’s son-in-law. This is supported by the fact that soon he’ll feel himself necessary to earn the privilege with Michel.
- So David innocently accepts the “bride price” for Michel and David pays double. All the servants are accomplices in the plot and David innocently follows along. Again, David is opaque through all of this. Saul’s own plots continue to turn against him.
- Everything he does to advantage himself becomes a disadvantage. This is a classic Biblical story telling way of seeing the shadow of God’s favor which David clearly has
- Saul tries to enlist Jonathan and all his servants in his plan to kill David but they resist and they take David’s side. Saul has lost not only the favor of God but the favor of his family and the favor of his court. Saul, still the king, is powerless while innocent, opaque David is the golden child that can do no wrong, and no wrong can be done against him.
- Again Saul tries to kill him with a spear. The text is now subtle in revealing that this evil of God’s anointed Saul is beginning to dawn on David. David not only alludes but now flees at night. The narrator is subtly communicating with us how David is being taught that evil comes not only in the form of a pagan Philistine warrior but within the court and by the hand of pious Saul who is unbuffered when it comes to the invasion of spirits from God.
- Saul sends guards to kill David in his home but now Michal (Jonathan plead his case at the beginning of chapter 19) orchestrates an escape that is reminiscent of Jacob escaping his father-in-law Laban by using the household idols.
- David now runs to Samuel which sets up an interesting story to emphasize that no power on earth can overcome the power of this God who sends spirits. Three squads of soldiers are disabled by God’s spirit. Finally Saul himself comes and is stripped naked and prophesies once more, but not the raging kind. Remember Jonathan giving his clothes? Remember Samuel ripping the garment of Saul? All day and night Saul lies naked before David, Samuel and the Lord while David’s mind remains hidden.
David now knows the kind of Evil that will stalk him
Chapter 20 is about the loss of innocence for both David and Jonathan. Jonathan imagines that somehow the evil that Saul has become can be controlled and managed but having twice escaped the spear and the soldiers coming to collect him in the night David is doubtful. Saul will have in Jonathan’s eyes one last chance to repent of his evil and David will, for the sake of Jonathan, afford him this chance.
Before Jonathan leaves on his mission to plumb the depths of his father’s evil he and David renew their covenant. They vow, now in their youth, to not sink into the abyss of Saul. They promise that whatever comes THEY will not repeat the murder that Saul is planning to breach their friendship. Young David here is again shown to be idealistic, youthful and naive. He has no idea how in his own kingship violence will characterize his family life and what this vow may cost him in the future. Jonathan and David are youths about to enter the world of the dark hearts of men.
Where Evil Goes
What is revealed in this is the depths of evil to David and Jonathan, an evil that will destroy even the family Saul imagines he is protecting. What is exposed, now naked for even Jonathan to see is that everything in Saul’s world, God, David, and now Jonathan and Michal too have become tools in Saul’s world for his own self. Evil has given Saul so much gravity that all will be sucked into his black hole and all will be destroyed.
First Jonathan tries to debate Saul and we are reminded of the other debates in this book. Eli debated his sons. Samuel debated God. Samuel debated Saul. David debated Goliath and now Jonathan will debate the giant of Israel.
Jonathan’s debate will go no where. Saul will try to disguise his evil as familial loyalty but that is exposed naked by his attempt to kill Jonathan.
Now it is Jonathan’s turn to be angry. In direct attempts at David’s life in the court he flees but we are never told that opaque David becomes angry. Jonathan in this moment mirrors his father and now he fasts in anger.
Jonathan and David will part, and for the first time in the length of the embrace we are given a peek at David’s heart. David shows faith, courage, innocence and now love, and in that sorrow he must flea.
Misery: How God Used Saul to make David
Last week we saw how David was a part of the trans-generational story of God’s work. Now we see that God is also a part, even through the evil of Saul, of the creation of David to be his instrument. David must not only know the facile evil of Goliath but also the intimate evil of his father-in-law who wishes to murder him. He must drink the full measure of our sinfulness by knowing exactly what comes from the request for monarchy from the elders.
Saul has taught Israel what the request of the elders means. Israel, in the trembling of Samuel and the elders now knows a new kind of evil, a kingly evil. David too now knows this first hand, close up. This kind of evil isn’t beyond a national border but is within one’s own bedroom.
We would love to imagine that knowing this evil ill inoculate David from it. Nothing will be further from the truth. Within David’s own house will be rape, incest, fratricide, and attempted patricide. The sin we first learned from Cain and Abel will pierce David’s house and we will see how he deals with it. David himself will use enemy armies to kill an innocent man but David, unlike Saul, will succeed. David will not only be challenged to master this evil but it will master him and he will suffer from it.
We begin as children imagining that sin can be avoided once it is named or identified.
We imagine that enemies come with labels and tags and that evil can be dealt with simply by killing them.
Opaque David’s tutor for sin and evil is Saul and Saul like sin will be a brutal teacher.
The book of Samuel is given to us to teach us lessons we’d rather not learn. We place our hopes on many things that we imagine will contain evil, keep it at a distance, keep it over whatever line we decide will keep us safe.
Sin invades us, has its way with us, destroys our goals, our dreams, our families, our selves.
Jesus comes into this world and destroys facile ideas of sin.
We might imagine that our innocence can protect us. Jesus was innocent. He was its victim.
We might imagine if we do everything “right” then we will not be sin’s victim. Sin is contagious and viral and comes to us whatever “right” we imagine will protect us.
The Son of God comes to this world, is condemned by his own people and given over into the hands of imperial soldiers to torture and kill. We imagine we will manage sin? We are naive.
2 Corinthians 5:20–21 (NIV)
20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Your innocence won’t save you. The innocent become sin’s victims every day.
Your righteousness won’t save you. Saul in his spirit filled prophesying tried to murder David and was exposed naked as the man he was.
The invitation is to become the righteousness of God by virtue of he who became sin for us.
We lose our innocence, but find the need of our Savior.