Let’s build a totally different straw man now.
Compare these two story lines. First we have the prophet confronting Saul.
“What have you done?” asked Samuel.
Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”
“You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; 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.”
Then Samuel left Gilgal and went up to Gibeah in Benjamin, and Saul counted the men who were with him. They numbered about six hundred. I Samuel 13:11-15 NIV
Now compare that with a different prophet confronting David.
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’
“This is what the LORD says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”
Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.”
After Nathan had gone home, the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill. David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground. II Samuel 12:7-16 NIV
The difference between the two kings is stark.
When confronted, Saul spun excuses, accepted the sentence and went on with life.
David admitted guilt, stopped everything and begged for mercy.
What you see in Saul is a man who had no reconciliation model. When someone has a good heart but no functional reconciliation model he cannot admit wrong doing.
Think of the people you know. There are some who are just plain bad, and their denial of wrong doing is part of a pathologically unholy life. On the other hand, there are some good-hearted people who make themselves look really ridiculous by denying culpability when everyone knows they messed up.
They can’t afford to risk admitting failure because they don’t want to lose the relationship. Since they don’t have a way back from broken relationships, they have to avoid the appearance of having damaged the relationship.
David knew a lot about reconciliation. If you compare the two kings, David absolutely messed up more and in larger ways than Saul. But David knew how to get back on the same page with God and Saul did not seem to.
Now hear me well. Saul was not anti-God. His attempt to rid the nation of witches and mediums was intended to make God happy. His genocide with the Gibeonites was also, ostensibly, to bring honor to God. In the end, when he was desperate enough to consult a medium, he did not seek after any idol. He wanted to talk to Samuel.
But even though he did these significant “pro-God” actions, he did not seem to have the ability to restore his personal relationship with God.
I wonder why?
There are two common causes and either one might fit with Saul.
The first cause of a functional adult not having a reconciliation model is that he or she was raised in a context where survival was the only consideration, and community was utterly unattainable.
Imagine you are in one of our southern border towns, on the Mexican side of the river. Your town is in the cross fire between two rival, ruthless drug cartels. The chief of police, a third of the police force, and some of the city council have been killed already. There is no safety anywhere.
In that context, your primary focus in life is simply to survive. There is no framework for trying to reconcile with either one of the cartels who have killed other members of your family. The violence is so extreme and pervasive that survival completely blots out any sense of community or reconciliation.
This might be Saul. Were the Philistines pretty savage when he was growing up? Were there random acts of violence on a regular basis that you just learned to endure and keep on living because the Philistines had no couth?
It does not have to be a quasi-war scenario. The child of a rageaholic has no hope of a real, sustained relationship with the angry, drunken parent. The molested child learns to make the best of a bad situation but has no hope of ever having a real relationship with the boundaryless father or the mother who is looking the other way.
Was Saul’s situation the result of a cultural wound in the whole tribe of Benjamin? Did the devastating debacle over homosexuality and the civil war that ensued leave them with the collective mindset of their being no point in negotiations, no point in trying to resolve a problem to the point of reconciliation?
Or does this go all the way back to the hopeless situation Benjamin found himself in with his father and Joseph and all that irrationality?
I don’t know, but any one of these three could be the cause of his standing there silent after Samuel blasted him, never expressing shock at the sentence, nor even uttering the smallest cry for mercy from God. It is clear that he reconciled to Samuel over the years, but does not seem to have restored the connection with God.
The flip side is being part of a family that is too loving. We see the lack of reconciliation model in an adult who was an only child in a very loving situation. If they were also talented at school, it is quite likely that they will not have a working reconciliation model since they were almost always humored by those around them.
This too could have been Saul. We know his father was quite close to him, and that is all we know. There is passing mention of an uncle but no comment about any siblings who might have roughed him up or dumped the gross chores off on him.
So a person can end up with no reconciliation model through having too ugly a childhood or one that was way too nice. The end result is just about the same and just as ugly.
What would have happened if Saul had leaned into God in the face of his sin instead of doing the stoic thing? It sure seems to me that he yearned for God and never turned away from Him, but had no clue how to recover from a bad mistake.
I think that when we are alienated from God on some level, we might tend to be more careful about not alienating the people around us. Was that what happened at the end of the battle when he reneged on his promise to God and the people to kill whoever it was who offended God?
If he had repented before Samuel and been assured of his forgiveness, would he have responded differently to the whole battle? Was his making the battle a personal issue between him and “his” enemies, the result of needing some status since he was feeling bereft of God’s favor?
I also think that when we are vaguely alienated from God, we tend to put a lot of effort into doing good things for Him while totally missing the right things He wants us to do.
Did God send Saul on the mission to wipe out the Amalekites because God wanted to give him another chance to make things right and go forward with God’s Kingdom agenda?
I don’t know. But for sure, David was not anointed king until after that debacle, and none of the craziness in Saul’s life manifested until after the second failure.
It sure seems to me as though Saul’s reign might have played out very differently, with no loss of the kingdom and no David in the background, if Saul had been able to recover well from the first sin.
So this straw man seems to have some substance to it. Let’s park him next to the first one and go build one more.
Copyright August 2011 by Arthur Burk