Monday, 22 July 2019

Saul and succession

Last week there was a special Panorama programme on Brexit - I forget the title but essentially it told the story of three years of negotiations so perhaps it may have been “How did we get into this mess?” It is good sometimes to take a step back and review the whole picture away from the detail.

The lectionary we have been following from the first Book of Samuel is richly textured and tonight we reach the point where David and Jonathan realise that now a decision has to be made. How did they get there?

 Saul had been chosen as king by Samuel but when Saul does not obey God’s commands to kill the oxen, sheep men women and children of the defeated Amalekites Samuel explains that the kingship will pass to another. God commanded Samuel to go to Jesse of Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons king. This is unknown to Saul but we of course know that it is David who is anointed to be the future king of Israel. Saul meantime is suffering from intense changes of mood which are of concern to his servants and retainers. They suggest he could be soothed by a harpist. Incidentally only this week a team from the University of Pennsylvania published the results of an experiment to show that music can dinish anxiety and lower blood pressure just as well as drugs. “Find a man to play to me “ he commands and David is duly found and brought to court. Whenever the spirit from God troubled Saul David took the harp and played, then Saul grew calm and recovered and the evil spirit left him.

Bur Saul remains anxious, he is aware that he has been rejected by Yahweh and he has to watch as David grows in stature and prowess and popularity. David slays Goliath and wins many battles against the Philistines - in the victory parades the women sing:

“Saul has killed his thousands
And David his tens of thousands.”

Saul was very angry, for this saying displeased him - they have ascribed to David tens of thousands but to me they have ascribed (only) thousands. And Saul eyed david from that day on! Eventually Saul is in such a rage that he decided to arrange for David to be killed. Warned by his friend and Saul’s son Jonathan, David escapes to be with Samuel for a while. Jonathan would like David to return to court and this is the substance of the present conversation. It is almost the last the friends will have - they agree a signal which will tell David whether Saul’s anger has or has not abated - it has not and David will be forced to flee not the wilderness once more.

As we have discovered in recent weeks succession is difficult, love of power and jealousy have not been diminished by the passage of the millennia - the human condition is the thing we Christians work to change.


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