Saturday, May 17, 2014

A time to mourn

They expected him to be glad, because they hadn’t understood. Wasn’t it in the nature of things for a man to rejoice when his enemy was cast down? Didn’t a man lift up his heart at the destruction of one who had harassed him for years, and pursued him with a personal malice that went far beyond the limits of sanity, a malice that harried him into the desert wastelands, threw spears at him, took away his wife, and did everything that the king of a small country could possibly do to get rid of him? Everyone knew that it was only by some miracle of divine preservation that David was still alive. Saul had used every last, stretched atom of his bitter, twisted powers to destroy him, surely it was only normal that David would be glad to hear that he was gone?

The man who brought the news certainly thought so. Worn with the effort of trying to be the first with the news, fully expecting to be rewarded, he arrived torn and dishevelled, and prostrated himself at David’s feet, eager to honour the apparent new king. At David’s urging he repeated his story in full, telling how Jonathan and his brothers had been killed by the Philistines, and how, in the face of total defeat, Saul had despaired of his own life and looked for death. Then, eager to ingratiate himself with the new king, he embroidered the story of Saul’s final moments, claiming that he, himself, at Saul’s urging, had struck the fatal blow!

It was a fatal mistake. David was outraged at his temerity, that he, an Amalekite, an outsider, a member of an accursed race, had dared to strike down the king Israel, the anointed of God! Saul, in his torment and confusion had been a bitter enemy, but that was not how David perceived him. To David, Saul was the chosen of God, the first King of Israel, anointed and uniquely set apart. If his end had been ignominious, his beginning had been glorious: he had led Israel to victory and had sought to follow the Lord, even when he had totally misunderstood what God required. He had never renounced the Lord, or fallen into the desperate idolatry that was the besetting sin of his countrymen. And he had been the father of David’s dearest friend. There was no way he could allow the self-confessed murderer of Saul to survive.

Instead, mourning deeply, David wrote a lament for the fallen king. “Your glory, Oh Israel, lies slain on the heights. How the mighty have fallen!” He could not despise his enemy or rejoice over his defeat. Although Saul had made his life so difficult, he did not see this as a reason to despise or fear him; why should he when he had already had the Lord’s sure promise that one day he would be king in Saul’s place? The kingship was a gift and honour given by God, a sacred thing which no one should lay rough hands upon. Had they not seen, had they not known, that even when Saul was in his power, David would not raise his hand against him? The death of Saul was not a time of rejoicing, but a time to mourn.

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