When I look at the massive attention to external detail surrounding God preparing Saul for the throne, I certainly wish I could have watched the design process in heaven as his redemptive gift was being discussed, refined and pre-loaded with remarkable software. I would have enjoyed watching God’s pleasure as He put together a marvelously strategic package.
So what was Saul’s redemptive gift? I thought you would never ask. Let’s look at the data.
Here are some of the things I pulled out of the story that might be clues.
He had a tight bond to his father, remained part of the family business even when he grew up, was quick to carry the heavy end of the log, was non-religious, was reverent, not an idolater, seems to have had only one wife, didn’t have a good marriage, loved his kids, did not take very good care of himself, was willing to learn from his servant, defaulted to keeping secrets and not sharing his life publicly, was in fact shy of the spot light, was a very quick learner who prophesied involuntarily then immediately headed for the high place to learn more about it, initially struggled with defining a role for himself in leadership, was quick to take up an offense for others, got very angry when the Ammonites wanted to shame an Israelite community, could fight well, had some fear of man, alternated between collaborative leadership and being over reactive in his zeal for God, could not discipline well, was a poor politician and responded to truth encounters very well.
At first glance, that grab bag could be all 14 of the seven redemptive gifts. So let’s take our normal diagnostic tool which is subtraction and see if we can whittle it down.
I am going to lop off Teacher first. One of the highly consistent marks of a Teacher is to see all current situations as relative to an outside metric. They default to older, established things and to highly certified people as their reference point.
I don’t see that in Saul’s conversations. He lived in the moment, not the past, and explained his decisions based on what was going on right then. Even though he and Samuel had a very legitimizing relationship going, I don’t see Saul invoking legitimacy through Samuel’s statements to him.
So Teacher seems to be the furthest reach.
The second to go would be the Ruler gift. The Ruler thrives in a context of huge frontiers, no limitations from the social structure and a hand full of resources. When Samuel commissioned Saul the first time, he said that as soon at the prophetic words were fulfilled, he was to do whatever he wanted to do, in order to go forward. Talk about the sweet spot for a Ruler!
And after the first coronation, there were a bunch of men whose hearts God had touched to be loyal to Saul and to serve him. Instead, Saul went home and went back to plowing.
That is so not Ruler thinking. Give a Ruler sweeping legitimacy to do anything his heart desires and grace him with a handful of highly loyal men given to him by the hand of God and you can absolutely count on him to do SOMETHING. Something more original than plowing the same field again!
Ruler is out.
So we are two down, five to go.
I would dump Exhorter next. This guy was made to order to be the flamboyant Exhorter: tall, good looking and appointed king! He should have been a show stopper. Plus God gave him a team of men who believed in him!
I simply don’t see the “Brave new world” speech that is normative for an Exhorter, and his avoidance of the limelight is certainly a mark against this being his gift. Also, his seeming to live in a very small world, not knowing much about the prophet Samuel would be a vote against this gift. Exhorters tend to be super knowledgeable about anyone who is anyone in their world.
OK. Those three came off the list easily. Now it gets harder.
What about Mercy? Well, Saul’s close relationship to his father and his son would fit the Mercy gift. His initial lack of initiative as a king could be framed as a paralysis caused by not knowing how to start which is more common in the Mercy gift than some others, although certainly NOT exclusive to them. The fact that the first batch of guys wanted to follow him could also suggest a very likable leader.
The collaborative leadership in the palace as they tried to figure out what to do about David’s fame as a warrior also could fit under Mercy. Using an indirect way to create pressure (or maybe death) for David instead of confronting him directly is Mercyish, but that whole picture falls apart with Saul rather overtly hunting David later. It is hard to fit that into any Mercy template. So for now, I will leave Mercy on the table, but push it to the back.
So flip it to the other extreme. What about Prophet? A lot hinges on how you interpret the vendetta against David. Was that bitterness? In many ways it reminds me of Andrew Jackson who was profiled as the angry, wounded Prophet in the book “Alive with Passion and Purpose.”
The violent extreme of his victory at Jabesh Gilead where no two enemy soldiers were left together could also be seen as the Prophet’s typical overkill in a right-or-wrong situation, or it could possibly be God’s dramatic intervention to validate his kingship. Yet his passivity in the face of Goliath’s taunting seems contrary to a Prophet’s propensity.
Again, possible, but not compelling. Leave it on the table, at the back.
So Giver. His justifying bending the rules and offering the sacrifice himself and backing down from the absolute judgment due on Jonathan for the honey incident would suggest Giver. Also his widespread use of pork barrel politics to buy the loyalty of the Benjamites when David was a threat could be seen as the low side of the Giver, although the Exhorter and Ruler have been pretty blatant about those same things too.
The fact that he does not easily snap into any of the templates is, of course, a suggestive marker for the Giver gift. But at the end of the day, there are only a couple of negative markers associated with a carnal Giver, and no positive ones. Also, the vendetta against David just does not fit well in the Giver slot.
So by process of elimination that brings us to Servant. How does that fit?
Well, the publicity shy, family man, and failure to define his own agenda in the first few years, all fit easily into the Servant template. So does being non-religious, yet non-idolatrous, reverent, while being ignorant of who the power brokers were.
What about the Jabesh Gilead incident? That could fit. Servants usually only blow their top once every couple of years, but when they do, it is a good one. Add to that the fact that he was taking up an offense for God and the people, not for himself, and it seems as though that battle could fit into the Servant profile.
There was some fear of man evident with the bad sacrifice, with the illicit booty, and with the honey incident regarding Jonathan. Another possible check mark for Servant.
Giving his armor to David in the Goliath incident. Check. Fits well.
But how do you fit a Servant into the picture of insane jealousy against David leading to Saul’s repeated attempts to kill him?
Well, I have a theory. Notice I Samuel 20:31 NIV where Saul is speaking to Jonathan. “As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he must die!”
Now I know that Scripture clearly says that Saul was jealous of David on a personal basis. And we have the demonic attacks that prompted some of the nuttiness. Both of those issues go beyond any redemptive gift grid and can be experienced across the board.
But what if one of the core drives behind his desire to eliminate David was loyalty to his own son, wanting Jonathan to have a dynasty? Notice that Saul did not mention his own throne in this passage at all, only Jonathan’s succession being at risk.
If we take that perspective on Saul’s pursuit of David, it removes the only major barrier to considering Saul to be a Servant. A Servant who was loyal to his family and was bending the rules to protect his son is a possible frame for this part of the story, in addition to the demonization and the jealousy which transcend any gift.
I think Servant fits the best of all the gifts. He did not build cities like a Ruler. He did not build huge followings like an Exhorter. He did not accrue wealth like a Giver. We don’t see him bringing beauty or refinement to his palace like a Mercy would. A whole lot of things fit into a Servant model quite easily.
Now let’s test it by stepping around to the other side of the table to see how having a Servant king define the throne of Israel makes sense from God’s point of view. Clearly, if God selected the Servant gift above all others to define the government of Israel for the long term, there had to be some compelling reasons because it will be a Servant throne for the rest of time if I am right.
Think about the dynamics of the American government. Our nation as a whole is Prophet, but we have a huge amount of Giver land within the Prophet nation. The Republican Party is Prophet and the Democratic Party is Giver. So on the surface, and in the news, there is the constant ruckus between the Prophet and the Giver bringing out the worst of each gift.
But in many ways, Congress and the White House are fairly irrelevant because the majority of the drive in the U.S. government is provided by the Ruler gift of the government as a whole, which was the legacy of George Washington. Presidents come and go. Congressional majorities ebb and flow. All of this while the Ruler gift of the federal government dwarfs all of the electoral vagaries of the nation’s history.
So would it make sense for God to place a Servant government in charge of a Giver nation? They would eventually split so that the throne Saul defined would eventually be over the Ruler tribe of Judah. Would that make sense? Why not a Giver government over a Giver nation?
Well, when you have a stacking of the same gift, it multiplies the strengths AND the weaknesses of the gift. So Los Angeles is an Exhorter city, in an Exhorter county in an Exhorter state. It has triple the strengths of the Exhorter, but for sure, triple the weaknesses as well.
A cursory glance at William the Conqueror suggests that he was a Ruler, setting up a Ruler government over the Ruler nation of England. And English history has been our poster child for the very best and some of the not so savory manifestations of the Ruler gift because of the double dose of the gift.
So I can see why God would choose not to have a Giver throne for the Giver nation. In fact, the Servant is generally His first choice of the complementary gift to the Giver when it comes to land allocation.
The Giver state of New York has the Servant state of Delaware next to it. The Giver state of Florida has the Servant state of Georgia next to it. The Giver state of Utah is coupled with Nevada’s Servant gift. The Giver state of Alaska is contiguous to the Servant province of Yukon in Canada. The Giver nation of Switzerland is next to the Servant principality of Lichtenstein. And the Giver nation of Israel has the immense gift of the Servant nation of Jordan next to it.
So yes, it makes a lot of sense to have a Servant throne over a Giver nation. If for no other reason than the carnal Giver defaults to a spirit of premature death and the mature Servant has the highest authority over premature death. This would be an incredibly wise positioning.
Another reason I can see for having a Servant throne is because of what both Moses and Samuel said about a king. They warned that the kings would have a tendency to be highly acquisitive and therefore would eventually exploit the people. A Servant king and a Servant throne would be much less likely to exploit their nation than some other gifts.
Solomon certainly overruled that kinder, gentler facet of the throne with his drivenness, but at the end of the day, the exploitation was highly productive for the nation as a whole, although, productive or no, it was still exploitation. But across the board, Judah had far fewer blatantly exploitative kings than Ephraim did with their Exhorter throne in an Exhorter nation. Talk about doubling the weaknesses of a gift . . . !
A third great reason to have a Servant king at the outset of the formation of a nation, instead of just a loose federation of tribes, is the leadership style. A Servant is best able to be non-threatening to other established leaders and to bring consensus and progress.
Think of the amazingly brilliant appointment of Dwight D. Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. He was not from a dynamic family with strong roots in the leadership of the nation. He barely made it into the top half of his class at West Point. He had less experience than others in commanding large armies. And he certainly was no strategic genius.
So why put him in charge? Ah, because he was a skilled leader in a politically charged environment. Think of the challenges of getting anything done in WW II with the Allies’ leadership. He was responsible first of all to the Exhorter president, Franklin Roosevelt. Even a cursory reading of his biography reveals that FDR was badly D.I.D., and the switching among his four main parts created havoc for his staff in terms of implementation.
Then Eisenhower had to report to Winston Churchill, another Exhorter legendary for his indomitable will. And finally, to a lesser degree, he had to factor in Charles de Gaulle, yet another Exhorter who appeared to be utterly oblivious to the fact that his nation had been conquered. His reputation for being difficult to deal with transcended that of FDR and Churchill.
In addition to a nearly impossible troika of bosses, there were Field Marshall Montgomery on the English side and Generals Patton and Marshall on the US side who were obviously vastly more skilled in military strategy than Eisenhower was, and they were overtly resentful of his receiving the appointment.
Yet, this Servant General was the right choice to move a project forward while dealing with extreme political personalities and fierce military jealousy.
Saul demonstrated the same fine touch as he refused to take the kingship when it was first offered to him because some of the people rejected him. He went home, bided his time, and when he had earned the respect of the whole nation, he then, and only then, stepped into leadership.
This is the wisdom in leadership that a Servant shows. With a group of tribes that each already had a quasi-king over them and had centuries of independent leadership behind them, it took that kind of light touch, with wisdom, for the first king to draw the disparate tribes into some sort of focused national identity.
The Servant gift was brilliant for founding the nation’s throne.
But to me, one of the strongest arguments for why God choose a Servant throne is found in Samuel’s statement when Saul’s dynasty was truncated. “The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command. ” I Samuel 13:14 NIV
This was in the context of Saul doing wrong worship. He was trying to use the power of the sacrifice as a magic wand to secure victory over the Philistines. As it turns out, God had set up that single test as the criteria for a dynasty or not. If he had obeyed that one thing, that one time, he would have had an eternal dynasty.
Let’s put those side by side. David was a man after God’s own heart and he received an eternal dynasty. Saul would have had the one and only eternal dynasty if he had offered that one sacrifice correctly.
Note that God waited many years into David’s reign before offering him the eternal dynasty and it came right after David decided he wanted to build a temple for the Lord.
I think back to the fact that the Servant is widely known for their good hospitality. They know how to synchronize to their guests and adjust the environment to make the guests feel welcome and comfortable.
But the deepest desire of the mature, godly Servant, is to use all those skills in both the natural and the spiritual realms, to create a place where God desires to be in their midst. While others pray for revival so God can serve them, the Servant has a deep desire to simply craft a habitation that draws the King of Kings because He values the gift.
Solomon the Exhorter did it. David, the Mercy envisioned it. But I am proposing that what was at the core of God’s master plan for the nation’s throne was for the king to invest his best efforts into making Israel a place where God would delight to be present.
And Saul, the Servant, was to define the throne of Israel as a Servant throne for all time.
Yeah. It makes a whole lot of sense from God’s side of the table to put a Servant king over this Giver nation.
Copyright July 2011, by Arthur Burk
From the Quarterdeck, in Anaheim