May 20, 2009
Been reading about Saul, the first king of Israel. I’ve been trying to pin him down- his strengths, his flaws, his “tragic flaw”. A leader with so much potential- head and shoulders above others is how he’s described, likely more than just a physical description. But soon after being anointed king, we find (or don’t find) him hiding among the baggage at his own coronation. Just shy? No, seems more than that. Saul seemed to be held captive by the opinions and perceptions of others. “What will they think of me?” seemed to be a personal, though unspoken, mantra.
Saul’s first big failure was disobeying God’s command to completely wipe out the Amalekites. Setting aside our own difficulties with God’s harsh judgment, remember that Saul accepted the assignment and agreed to obey completely. Except that he didn’t- he let the king live, allowed the army to keep the valuable plunder. The troops’ desires led the way, rather than Saul. When Samuel (God’s prophet) confronts Saul, he lies, backpedals, and makes excuses. (Sounds like any public figure in our day that gets caught!) Rather than a full confession and brokenness, Saul tries to deflect and defuse, as if God can be “spun” or managed.
Saul’s tragic story brims with this theme- a deep and restless insecurity, a need for his ego to be regularly massaged by devotees. Saul’s successor, David, had some huge flaws himself, but here we find a telling contrast. David was regularly dismissed and trivialized- even in his own family. His brothers mistreated him, his king tried to murder him, even his own band of rag-tag misfits turned on him at one point. But we get to see the inner workings of his mind and heart in that moment. When his small army (around 400 strong) lost everything- wives, children, possessions- while they were in battle with David, the murmuring slid toward mutiny- discussion of killing David. You might say that David’s approval ratings were at an all-time low. And right in the midst of this, we find a pivotal sentence, one that’s captivated me for a while. “But David strengthened himself in God.” That’s all that we’re told- no formula, no three step process. Just a snapshot of a man in crisis who knows where to go, where to find hope, where to find life.
Sadly, this impulse eluded Saul. He runs to God when he wants an answer- “Go get the ephod!” (a source of God’s direction at that time)- but sometimes he forgets, sometimes he disregards. Saul begs Samuel to help him save face when he’s blown it; later he turns on advisers and others when he’s not being propped up enough. He’s fickle and erratic, often paranoid. But underneath the symptoms lies the real issue. Saul didn’t know where to find his identity. His journey from Nobody to Somebody (king!) didn’t change the fact that he was still deeply insecure and terrified to lose his status. This had become his life, his meaning. And he apparently never learned to find his true worth, his real name even, in something unshakeable. In God.
I read Saul and I feel sad. But I also see myself- my own “stuff” that comes up when my identity feels insecure or threatened. My worth based on other’s perceptions. And I’m reminded that I, like David, need to keep going back to the Source- keep “strengthening myself in God.” When I know- really know- that I am His Beloved, then I am anchored to the Unshakeable. And you are, too.
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