Reflections on I Samuel 17-31 —
The dramatic and tragic tale of King Saul and young David in the book of I Samuel has all the makings of a great story – there’s betrayal, deception, valor, and glory; also a giant, a witch, a ghost, beautiful damsels in distress and valiant heroes. When I read the closing chapters I am deeply moved — I feel the depths of despair in the tragic loss of life and the heights of joy in deliverance and victorious rescue. It’s a great read.
But like all of the Bible, there is always more than just a good story. The words are living and active, the principles, timeless. There is meaning; there is relevance; there is “teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16). As Paul says, “these things were written for our instruction” (I Corinthians 10:6). With the characters of Saul and David, God has given us a powerful insight; an important lesson in the art of rightly relating to people.
It happened like this — King Saul and the armies of Israel were constantly under threat of war from their neighbors, the Spartan-like Phillistines. David, in service of King Saul, fought bravely and won victory after victory, drawing greater praise from the crowds than Saul himself. Despite David’s faithful service to him, Saul became intensely jealous of David, and his jealousy led to all sorts of evil – from rage, to demonic possession, to borderline insanity. Saul attempted to kill David multiple times. In chapters 18-27, we often see Saul and his armies pursuing David in the wilderness, and David narrowly avoiding capture.
On two separate occasions while fleeing, David and his fully-armed band of followers found Saul unprotected, at ease, completely unsuspecting. It is in these two moments we see the true character of “the man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). The men urged David to slay Saul. Deliverance was right there in front of him. Yet David held back. The reason — to David, Saul was the “Lord’s Anointed”. David knew God had personally selected Saul as King of Israel, a fact that was confirmed by the prophet, Samuel, who literally anointed Saul.
David had a phenomenal faith. He understood God’s preeminence like no one else in his time…maybe in all of history. In David’s mind. God was so big–so in control of everything–that nothing else mattered besides believing in and following God. Saul was a raging, angry demon-possessed lunatic who wanted to kill David. But even as he ran for his life, David honored Saul. He knew Saul was God’s man…at least for a time. David remained loyal to Saul until Saul’s death in chapter 31.
David’s honoring of Saul is an example for us. God’s sovereign hand holds sway over everything, even the people around us. David says in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains; the world, and those who dwell in it.” So all of us belong to Him. He can do with us as He pleases, even make people say things to us that are unsettling. As Solomon says in Proverbs 16:1, “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer from the tongue is from the Lord.” He even uses people at their absolute worst to teach us things. To Nebuchadnezzar, before his onslaught of Israel, God said, “I have made you an assayer and a tester among My people, that you may know and assay their way” (Jeremiah 6:27). The unsettling truth is that God is more in control than we like to think, and He uses people to accomplish His plans.
If you can accept this, then consider how important it is to honor those people, even when we get nothing in return…even when they don’t reciprocate…even when they don’t treat us the way we think they should.
Often the ones closest to us are the hardest to honor, because they know us inside and out. Husband–your wife is “anointed” by God. She was chosen and designed especially for you. But she is not there to fulfill your every expectation, so at times it will be difficult to honor her. When she overdraws the checking account, or lets a nagging word slip out (and by the way, she regrets these), or even is downright nasty (she regrets this too), …give her the honor she deserves. Not because she’s fulfilling the role or doing the right things, but just because she’s the Lord’s anointed.
By the way, your boss is also anointed by God. And so are your kids. So are your neighbors, elders, and extended family.
Now David didn’t honor all the people close to him. For instance, you might say he was a miserable husband and father. But this is not a story of one man’s perfect record, of how successful David was at being faithful, of the great sacrifices he made. This is more a story about God than it is about David. It is about God’s sovereignty, how He places people in our lives for a reason, how we must learn to be content with what He is doing, and how we must honor His choice for the people in our lives. We do well to perceive God’s hand in this, and honor those people.