Following God’s Lead

We have been following the fortunes of the first two kings of Israel. Saul, the first king anointed by Samuel falls out of favour with God and a good many of his subjects. He does what is wrong in the sight of God and does not appear to be repentant. Samuel is then called to anoint a second king, one of God’s choosing. He is led to Bethlehem and the house of Jesse who has many sons all of which appear suitable, but God has in mind the youngest son who was absent from the party, David. Taking his horn of oil, he anoints David as king.

Things are not as simple as they usually are in the case of monarchy. It was not a case of ‘the king is dead, long live the king.’ Saul is still king even though he has terrible mood swings and often seems irrational and troubled. God had withdrawn his Spirit from him, and an evil spirit had taken up residence, something that Saul actively courts by visiting a medium commonly referred to as ‘the witch of Endor’.  David and Saul must find a way of coexisting as two kings in Israel. Samuel, who had been the de facto leader of Israel before Saul was anointed king remains on the scene too for a further sixteen years. As another royal might have put it: ‘there were three of us leading Israel…it was a bit crowded’.

Things were extremely messy to say the least. Each had their own followers and supporters. If the people of Israel thought that having a king would unite them, it was so far not proving to be the case. David became popular after he put Goliath down with a stone slung from his bag usually reserved for warding off wild animals. After another victory over the Philistines, dancing women with tambourines taunted Saul singing: ‘Saul has killed his thousands and David his tens of thousands’. (1 Samuel 18.7) Saul was so provoked that he tried to kill David but David out wits him on more than one occasion.

Of course, the great thing in David’s favour was his friendship with Jonathan, Saul’s son, and heir apparent. David and Jonathan made blood pact together in which Jonathan renounced his right to succeed his father giving him his robe and his armour. It is recorded that he loved David as his own soul a love that was reciprocated.

But there was only so much that Jonathan could do to protect David. Eventually, he has such fear that he will be killed at the hands of Saul that he and his men deflect to the Philistine armies and serve with King Achish at Gath fighting against the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. In the end he is rejected by the Philistines and returns to the fold of Israel to fight the Amalekites.

It is at another battle on Mount Gilboa that both Saul and Jonathan perish at the hands of the Philistines.

So, we reach the point of today’s reading. David is in Ziklag in southwestern Judea, not far from modern day Gaza. He receives news from a dubious young man of the death of both Saul and Jonathan. David is bereaved and distraught. He and his men tore their clothes in grief and wept and fasted until evening for both Saul and his son Jonathan. (2 Samuel 1.12)

You would think after all the threats and attempts on his life that David would be glad to see the end of Saul. This is not the case for very good reason. Saul was the ‘Lord’s anointed king.’ More than once, David had had the chance to kill Saul himself. Once, when he was in the wilderness of Engedi, Saul comes looking for David. He leaves his men and goes into cave to relieve himself. Unbeknown to him, David and his men were sheltering in the inner part of the cave. The opportunity for David to take Saul unguarded and compromised was there for the taking. But David only uses his sword to cut of the corner of Saul’s garment. He said to his men: ‘The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my Lord, the Lord’s anointed’. (1 Samuel 24.6)

On another occasion, Saul and his men are camped beside the road. David and Abishai go to spy on him and find him sleeping with his spear stuck in the ground at his head. Abishai said to David: ‘God has given your enemy into your hand today; now go and pin him to the ground with one stroke’. But David replied: ‘Do not destroy him; for who can raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?’ (1 Samuel 26.8-9)

Twice, it would have seemed to David that God had given Saul into his hands. He could have finished the life of this king which God had apparently rejected. But David knows that God will not go against what his word however much circumstances might be suggesting otherwise. Saul had been anointed king and anyone who took his life would be going against God.

The unfortunate young Amalekite who brings the news to David of the demise of Saul and Jonathan tells him (2 Samuel 1.2ff) that as Saul was as good as dead in battle, he had finished him off. He had killed the Lord’s anointed. David reiterates to him the consequences of taking the life of the King and has his men dispatch him.  We can only guess that this Amalekite wanted his people to have the honour of killing the king of Israel because the actual record says that Saul, mortally wounded, fell on his own sword.

David then intones a lament. It is called the song of the Bow or simply ‘The Bow’. David is so often associated with poetry and music and commands this song to be included in the Book of Jashar, also mentioned in the book of Joshua and possibly a book of the earliest writings from Israel which were used by the writers of the books of the Old Testament.

The lament reflects on the sad and sudden ending of his close relationship with Jonathan. The often-used refrain is repeated: ‘How the mighty have fallen’ Both Saul and Jonathan are referred to as ‘beloved and lovely’. ‘The shield of Saul anointed with oil is no more.’ The daughters of Israel are called to weep for Saul who clothed you with crimson in luxury.’

Saul has been killed in battle; Samuel gone to his place of rest. Now David can assume the throne of Israel, already the Lord’s anointed having been anointed by Samuel as a young boy looking after the sheep. Despite all the difficulties, he has honoured Saul as God’s chosen king to the end. He understands this kingship as coming from above.

That thought re-emerges many years later as Jesus stands before Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus: ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ According to the record of John, Jesus answers: ‘My kingdom is not from this world.’ (John 18.33 & 36) It is not for nothing that the gospel writers trace Jesus’ lineage back to David, that he is born in David’s city. It is in these two places of scripture that the thought of God’s kingly rule which must not be denied is most plain.

We need to be open to that same rule of God in our lives through Christ and in the power of the Spirit. Like David, we need to continue to seek and find that rule even when circumstances and the advice of others might want to lead us elsewhere. God’s rule is seen in the bible, his rule today does not contradict is word of the past. We need to pray for that just and gentle rule in our church and world as we look for the new Jerusalem, the holy city coming down out of heaven from God. (Revelation 21.2)

Trinity 4 27.06.2021

Rev Jonathan Smith

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