Monday, March 28, 2011

New Year: 1 Sam 18-20 for Mar 25

This story of brotherly friendship (1 Samuel 18-20) also has clues in it about the nature of Saul's actions.

The phrase "an evil spirit from God" (18:10) is no less odious to the original readers as to us as readers. Some people think it is a description of what we call clinical madness of some kind. The phrase first came up in 16:14. In 16:23, whenever David played the harp for Saul, "the evil spirit would depart from him."

In other words, this was a cyclical occurrence. First of all, the text has been building a picture of the character of Saul from very early on. It has been a conflation of opposites, in a way. His strength was combined with impulse to do the extreme: we first see him going on a nationwide tour to find his father's lost donkeys, in chapter 9. God uses that. In chapter 10, Samuel gives him such step-by-step instructions that we wonder if he's trying to compensate for Saul's impulsiveness, at least until the point where he tells Saul "you will be changed into another man" (10:6).

But Saul has a bout with lack of confidence (or, at the least, lack of good timing during a public meeting!, 10:22), and though Saul did not inspire confidence in some who were evil (10:27), God saw to it that Saul attracted valiant men to himself (10:26).

Saul's first military triumph versus the Ammonites, and the crowning of him as king in chapter 11, was not only "before the Lord" (11:15) but it was that to Saul. Saul expresses the understanding of Israel and God's relationship here quite nicely (11:13). But by chapter 13, after Samuel tells Saul "you have not kept what the Lord commanded you" (13:14) the outcome of the kingship of Saul changed. What happened?

In Saul's own words, "I forced myself and offered the burnt offering." (13:12). In Samuel's words, which we should take as the correct moral evaluation of it, "you have acted foolishly" (13:13).

Is this Saul's psychology, "consequences," or punishment, or providence, or temporal setback? All of the above! Saul's kingship is an act of accommodation by God to the condition of Israel at the time. Part of the lesson of this is that this accommodation to Israel's evil, its wrong choice, brings consequences, punishment, temporal setbacks, all governed by providence. Israel's psychology is mirrored by Saul's psychology. As Israel forced itself to seek a king, so Saul says, "I forced myself." There is a parallel relationship, wherein Saul is modelling, in one person, the dissonance in Israel.

This same is true of Saul's life, that it is full of the governance of providence, consequences, punishments, and temporal setbacks. His personality is one of extremes, tending to madness. And this all after the explicit statement "God changed his heart" (10:9).

The is the same God whose Spirit "departed from Saul" in 16:14. Saul after that had an evil spirit which "terrorized" him. Even Saul's servants said that it was from God (16:15), and that's the estimate we are given to hold, as well.

What does it mean, both that an evil spirit from God terrorizes a person, and that it departs from him when David plays his harp (16:23)? That God both changed Saul's heart, and that the Spirit of the Lord departed from him later? Looking now at 20:13, and Jonathan's estimate of the situation, "May the Lord be with you as He has been with my father"! we believe that this is true: God has been with the dissonant person, and supplied music for this person, just as He has and will be with Israel the dissonant nation, and will bring about a king after His heart.

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