Friday, October 8, 2010

Lessons In the Life of King Saul: The Price of Defiance

Before going on and studying the following cases, it is important to keep in mind that all these events were rooted in Saul’s deliberate defiance to Divine instructions and not some simple knee-jerk reaction of one inexperienced neophyte who knew nothing about contingencies. Before the following incidents took place, the Scriptures has clearly outlined Saul being changed by the Spirit of God “into a different person” (1 Samuel 10:6, 9); being charged to “do whatever [his] hand finds to do” because God was already with him (verse 7); and gaining his first glorious victory against the Ammonites in 11:1–11. These challenges were supposed to have prepared him for the succeeding tasks of “establishing [his] kingdom over Israel for all time” (13:13) and carrying out God’s judgment against the Amalekites and wipe them off the face of the planet (15:19).

The wardrobe ain't exactly accurate, but Israeli actor Oded Fehr really fits a great King Saul if ever a film were made on the first Israelite king. (Photo credit: 2001 Universal Pictures, from the blockbuster The Mummy Returns).

Saul's Unlawful Sacrifice in Gilgal (1 Samuel 13:1-15):

In Chapter 13, Saul lost heart after seeing the massive Philistine army preparing to battle his forces, and felt “compelled” to perform a duty that was supposed to be done by Samuel. From a force of “three thousand” (verse 2), it dwindled to “about six hundred” (verse 15) when, in Micmash, they stood before a Philistine force of “three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand of the seashore” (verse 5). For some reason, the Prophet Samuel was delayed for seven days in joining the Israelite force in the battlefield. Because of this, the Israelite army quaked in fear (verse 7) and “began to scatter” (verse 8). But instead of inspiring his men to stand fast because the Lord was with them, he takes matters into his own hands and seeks the favor of the Lord by offering the animals meant for burnt sacrifice because he saw his life flash before his eyes—just as his men reacted—in the sight of the great Philistine army. Very simply put, he started to make peace with God because he was sure to face certain death in the hands of the Philistines.

Saul had forgotten, quickly, how some time ago he saved the city of Jabesh Gilead from the threat of Nahash and his Ammonite army (1 Samuel 11). In this story, the Lord’s Spirit came upon him and the soldiers of Israel came out “as one man” (verse 7) numbering “three hundred thousand,” plus “thirty thousand” more from the immense tribe of Judah (verse 8). The victory was great, as great as the slaughter of the enemy and the retreat of those who survived. This was Saul’s first victory: a victory won with a mighty force. It could have been impressed in Saul’s mind that in addition to the Spirit of God, every battle is won by a large army. In Saul’s carnal understanding, he must have made an imperative connection between God and a mighty army, that He will inspire a statistically superior number of hearts that will overwhelm that of the enemy.

In the standoff a Micmash, an enemy force stood before the Israelite king that at least had the appearance of the same enormity as the one he led in Jabesh Gilead. And then the numerical strength of his army started thinning. Saul feared, his heart buffeted by the currents of terror running through the souls of his men as they took cover from the very sight of the Philistine army. Yet to fear or not to fear and believe the deliverance of God as what was experienced in Jabesh Gilead continued to be main issue here. In Saul’s choice to fear, fall from his faith in the power of God’s deliverance, and forget his victory in Jabesh Gilead, he had lost his God-given authority and privilege to be king. The Prophet Samuel arriving seven days later simply confirmed this (1 Samuel 13:14).

Saul and God’s Judgment on the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15):

Saul’s disobedience to God’s command was legendary. The events in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Samuel ominously foreboded for the king a life of doom and isolation from the presence of God. In verse 11 God openly expressed to the Prophet Samuel that He was grieved to have made Saul king. Saul, despite the fiasco at Micmash and its subsequent incidents, was given the opportunity to make a name for himself by carrying out God’s judgment of wiping out an unrelenting adversary. Saul was commanded to march out against the Amalekites “and totally destroy everything that belongs to them…men, women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (verse 3). It was a judgment borne by love for His people. God’s heart was crushed when the Amalekites “waylaid them as they went up out of Egypt” (verse 2).

Now why did a loving God give such a brutal command? We can trace the story back to Exodus 17:8–15, where the Amalekites became the first people to ever engage the Israelites in open battle. The skirmish bore with it all the elements of a major battle as if the Israelites, in all their inexperience in war, ever decided to face the Egyptian army that pursued them to the coast of the Red Sea. The triumph was not easy: “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (verse 11). The war also proved to be so protracted that Moses found it necessary to fit his arms above two rocks to keep them propped up (verses 11 to 12). It was a war that lasted almost a day. In the end, God gave the Israelites two things: victory (verse 13) and a promise to “completely erase the memory of the Amalekites from under heaven” (verse 14). Down to the last verse of the passage, it seemed that God took a particular hatred of the Amalekites: “The Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation” (verse 16).

A near eastern army gearing up for battle. (Photo credit: Werner Forman/CORBIS)

And now that Israel had already gained the unified power of all the strength of Israel, it was payback time. God swore by Himself that He would ice these suckers in the past, and even had Moses document this promise “as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it” (verse 14). Knowing God, He keeps His promises, especially those He makes to Himself (2 Thessalonians 5:24, 2 Timothy 2:13). Yet as in all of God’s judgments, He provides ample time for a people, and a person, to come to repentance until He can no longer endure the cry of the oppressed. Joel 3:13 pictures God’s judgment as that of the time of harvest, when it is “ripe,” when “the press is full, the fats overflow” and “their wickedness is great” (King James Version). This was the very same standard used before judgment fell upon Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:20. The Amalekites never came to Him in repentance, unlike the people of Nineveh in third chapter of Jonah.

In addition, whenever God sent someone out to war, that one never went alone: he had God with him. In Exodus 14:19 to 20, He was known as “the angel of God” who came “between the armies of Egypt and Israel”; He was “the angel of the Lord” in 3:2 who appeared in the burning bush, and stated “I am the God of you father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (verse 6), and charged Moses to go to the pharaoh of Egypt and deliver His people. And with this mission He makes a promise: “I will be with you” (verse 12). Hundreds of years later, the young shepherd boy David beautifully and firmly encapsulates the principle: “the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:47). With this in mind, it was God, therefore, going out to war against the Amalekites in what could have been the very last time, and He was as if merely commanding His temporal representative, the king, to go out with Him. 

But something unexpected happened. In 1 Samuel 15:7 to 9, Saul suddenly changes his mind. He deliberately seizes the Amalekite king alive along with “everything that was good” (verse 9). In verse 21, Saul even provided an alibi stubbornly justifying his disobedience: “to sacrifice them to the Lord your God.” Then, in the same verse he tries to pass the buck, blaming the soldiers to have taken “sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God.” Boy, talk about “letting them have it”; he really “let them have it!” In the last part of verse 25, he finally confesses to the Prophet Samuel: “I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them.”

 "Hey, unhand mine mantle, dude!" A scene after the Prophet Samuel discovered that Saul, "the servant of God," had kept for himself the fat of the Amalekite plunder and preserved the life of the Amalekite king. The prophet warned Saul that God had dethroned him as king. (Photo credit: Bettmann/CORBIS)

God’s hammer and chisel ready to carve a monument for His king should he had carried the most important part of the mission, to “wipe…out” (1 Samuel 15:19) the Amalekites. In verse 12, Saul went to Carmel and “set up a monument in his own honor.” Did Saul think that his strength won him the victory? And as if things could not get more outrageous than it was, he declares and justifies to the Prophet’s Samuel’s face that he “did obey the Lord” (verse 20). The moment Saul became unwilling to slay the Amalekite king and the best of the beasts, He was grieved. The King James Version uses the word “repenteth.” “Repent” is much more than the feeling of guilt and remorse we normally associate it with; it is a word that always entails action. It is the same word used when a sinner makes an ultimate decision to turn away from sin. In the case of the eleventh verse, God made a decision to irrevocably take the kingship away from Saul. It was a decision that Samuel took severely: before he went to meet with Saul, he was troubled and wept all night; after confronting the king, verse 35 said that “he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him.”

Saul succeeded where the Devil had failed, and it took Samuel—the last of the judges—to completely carry out God’s judgment against the Amalekites by slaying Agag the king in verse 33.

Saul was no leader. During his previous encounter with the Philistines, he was reduced to a sniveling coward, and he panicked along with his men. In his campaign against the Amalekites, he too acted as one of the men in willful disobedience to the Lord. He should never have been king.

 Saul’s Rash Vow and the Complications Surrounding It:

After quaking in fear at the sight of the massive Philistine army in Micmash, the chance to route them brought Saul into the opposite extreme of bloodlust. Out of his blind rage, he compels his men to agree in oath that no one eats any food until evening before the enemy has been entirely slaughtered. It was a decree that plunged his soldiers “in distress” (1 Samuel 14:24), all the more when they made their way through a forest where honey was all over the floor and oozing out of the trees.

Taking oath was a serious matter in the Israelite culture, unlike today when trust only goes as far as the power of “black-and-white.” In those days, oaths were an important part of human-to-human relationships even permeating business transactions. The legal procedure of property protection holds an important place for the oath (Exodus 22:10–11). God made oaths and kept them: this therefore became the best example for all people to emulate. Today, the swearing-in of witnesses in court is taken lightly. Back in the Israelite days, however, breaking an oath meant certain death, for the realm was ruled in a Theocracy of a living God, not in a democracy of men. When David shouted at Goliath in the battlefield, “there is a God in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:46), he referred to the reality of Divine rulership of his nation in spite of the presence of a human king. And this Divine Ruler oversaw the oaths of every human lips. Therefore: “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said” (Numbers 30:2); “if a person thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil—in any matter one might carelessly swear about—even though he is unaware of it, in any case when he learns of it he will be guilty” (Leviticus 5:4).

Jonathan, however, rejoining the pursuit after going commando earlier, had not known about the oath and took the liberty of partake of the sweet snack offered by the forest. According to Divine Israelite law, ignorance of an oath excuses no one (Leviticus 5:4), and Jonathan shatters the army’s collective oath to fast. This led to the silence of God when Saul went to inquire of Him whether to pursue the Philistines any further.

Saul’s imprudence in forcing his men to strike an oath at a very inauspicious time takes top responsibility of this situation. There was always an opportunity to methodically set the circumstances in a more favorable order for the oath to have been taken. But because his men were enfeebled and hungry, and seeing the example set by Jonathan—who even counter-supports his guilt with an alibi (verses 29–31)—the resulting violation of the oath was compounded with another infraction. In verse 32, the entire army went into a feeding frenzy over their plunder of sheep and cattle and gorged on them with the blood still in the meat.

When Saul was told of the development, he goes on to greater indiscretion. In verse 39, he promises death to anyone proven to have rooted the guilt of sin in his ranks, even if it lay with his son Jonathan. In the Bible, when one used the phrase “As surely as the Lord lives…” the condition that followed was a unambiguous vow.  In verse 42, his confidence of innocence was confounded when he finds out, by drawing lots, that the guilt fell on Jonathan. So then. Was Jonathan executed as promised?

In the Bible, when someone used the introductory “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely,” the next phrase about a course of action was another vow more certain to be carried out. And with Saul in all the fury of hell declared death to his son before him (verse 44). Should have Saul slain Jonathan that day, the guilt would have been lifted; God would have responded to Saul’s inquiry whether to attack the Philistines “by night and plunder them till dawn, and…not leave one of them alive” (verse 36). Saul’s kingdom would have been established deeper than it ever was.

But in the way he buckled under pressure in the presence of his men in Micmash, so he does in their heated protest when they stood in defense of Jonathan (verse 45). This ended Saul’s march against the Philistines that day. It also marked the limit of the power of his kingdom as seen by the Prophet Samuel after he lamented of Saul’s cowardice in Micmash: “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” (13:13–14). Noted in 14:52 is the constant struggle Saul had with the Philistines, unlike in the time of David when they were greatly dispossessed of cities and towns (1 Chronicles 18:1), and further during Solomon’s reign (2 Chronicles 9:26).

Next: Saul goes over the edge with the witch of Endor.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

To Florence, Unbreakable Nightingale

We'll be taking a break from our King Saul series and give way to an issue that has touched my heart this past week. It's about a 21-year-old nurse who, on the night of September 25 this year, was gang-raped by around 10 men then left for dead on a vacant lot near the hospital she works in.

Her identity is presently protected behind the pseudonym Florence. It has been reported that afer the men took turns raping her, a huge wooden plank was smashed against her face and a large rock dropped on her head (1). She was left for dead, found naked and unconscious the next day in a grassy area at the back of the hospital where she worked (2).

The reports on this case continue to update. Yesterday, a "suspect" surfaced claiming that there merely had been two attackers and not ten as previously reported. The new suspect, an ex-militiaman states a story of how he tried to flee to Surigao but returns to face his responsibility after being conscience-stricken. By the prospects indicated by the news, the Philippine National Police seems ready to accept this story, calling him a "vital suspect" (3). Its Chief Director General Raul Bacalzo claimed that case "100 percent solved" (3).

Now, I know it's a very sensational case: emotions are running high; everybody wants someone to blame; religious human-rights organizations wanting justice and wanting it now; and the police is just hard-pressed to come up with a result to appease the bloodthirsty public. But let's all calm down. If we all love Florence, if we claim that we care about this fragile little girl named Florence, let's control ourselves.

We all know how sentimental we are when it comes to the ideal of justice. We want justice for this, justice for that. Corrupt people, whether in the police or in the line of the suspects, have been known to throw the emotional crowd off its course through a number of ways. One of this is to bring to the surface a fall guy. Just to let the "din of justice" die down, some guy just appears out of nowhere and claims "Yep, I did it." And knowing the bloodthirsty crowd rallying behind the cause of justice, it is just too emotional to feed on anything with the tag "suspect" on its chest. Please, let's just all calm down and be vigilant!

Let us remember that the roster of suspects include people with government connections. An October 2 news revealed one suspect as the son of a retired employee of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Maguindanao (2). But perhaps the most controversial of the suspects is the son of the mayor of the very town Florence was raped in(4). In the news item the mayor, Mayor Abdula Campong of South Upi, Maguindanao, had expressed assurance to fully cooperate in the investigation of the incident.(4)

We who are waiting and praying for justice and the swift and glorious recovery of Florence should be focused on another matter, a matter more important than hanging someone for this heinous crime. We should be focused on Florence. It is important that we not only think about Florence as a victim--for she is no longer a victim--but celebrate her survival. She lives, which means she is strong. I find it a tremendous wonder that one 21 years of age, a female, faced with all the powers of hell, dragged and raped repeatedly and terrified and mauled to near-death could ever survive. The onslaught of at least two strong sex-crazed psychos would have been too much of a child of fragile frame. But she survives. It is and shall remain a wonder for me to look at this news item and find a 21-year-old female nurse dragged to hell, made to make her way out of the tunnel of terror, and come out of death miraculously alive! That is strength. That is power.

According to the news, she has survived though the right side of her body has been paralyzed due to the vicious blows she received to the head. Wanting justice and wanting these guys in death row or in torture or in any hellish punishment worse than death is a given. We all want them to suffer the same fate and the same terror that Florence felt during the moment of her greatest ordeal, the helplessness, the hopelessness that no one was there for her--her father was nowhere; no brother or boyfriend could be found. If I may be so bold to express my animalistic judgment--if there was such a thing--I'd opt for at least the most beloved and adored female linked to every convict in this case repeatedly raped and tortured and slammed with wood, slab of rock, or the side of a mountain, or whatever have you! I want them to experience the helplessness and the hopelessness grip their hearts as the shadow of terror falls upon them in the very same way Florence was enshrouded during the period of her greatest ordeal. So there is no death penalty for these wannabe sexpsychos, good! We'll give them a taste of some things that will make them run to the embrace of death and find that the law of the land prohibits the death penalty.

I am angry. I am furious. I am incensed at the way the police are handling this case! Just because some jerk confesses to the crime, it's "100 percent solved"? What kind of police idiot is this? I thought there is an investigation going on? When Florence pointed the suspects, the invesitgation began. And now some bozo suddenly admits--and the first bozo, I must say--it's "solved"? What happened to the investigation? What happened to the other side of due process where there is supposed to be a prosecution and an defense in deliberation to prove whether or not this moron is the real thing or a fall guy--as he now looks very well to be? Due process is supposed to work for the accused or the accuser!

To Florence, we love you. You remind me of that movie Unbreakable many years ago which starred Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. Bruce Willis played a man in the story who was never sick all his life, while Jackson one who had been weak and sick since youth. When fated to meet, Jackson asked Willis why the latter ever chose to be a security guard. Out of all the jobs that Willis could work in, why did he ever choose one that entailed protecting human life? If you've seen the movie, you know it's all about heroes. Heroes just like you.

To you, let me be a Jackson here: out of all the vocations you can ever take, why have you chosen to be a nurse, one that entails saving human lives? I would basically understand if you would answer something along the line of lifting you family out of poverty. But I believe it's something more than that. With you surviving the onslaught of wicked people, you have something important to fulfill in this life. And probably a part of this purpose is to give inspiration to all who have fallen under wickedness.

You are unique in your strength, Florence. You are unique as a beacon of hope for all who have fallen who can be like you and rise back to life. You are the fallen's symbol of power, the symbol that they need not be called victims forever. You have risen, which makes you a victor!

Florence, you are truly one of amazing wonder. You are a small fragile boat sent out into open sea to face the dangers of storms. You drifted into the very heart of where the storms are made, where the force of many storms will shatter the mightiest, most seaworthy sea vessel. You sailed right through the heart of it. But instead of being tossed and turned, you splintered it. You passed through an ordeal that could make the Titanic break, that could rip apart a ship crafted by the genius of modern technology, and you made it back into port. All who see you are astonished that your light fragile frame had braved all the power of the open sea and yet you survive. A girl of but 21 had received in her body the brunt of death and yet she is miraculously alive!

You have been through a lot, too much for a child your age to have experienced. And we, the common people, think that by searching for the perpetrators and bringing them to justice is the best gift we can ever give you to console your broken spirit. As it turns out, justice is a given. Justice is a promise. The Bible and every other faith I know promises justice to the innocent who have fallen trap to the snares of the wicked. Florence, for surviving, for rising miraculously to life, you deserve all our respect, admiration, excitement, and love. You are everything a hero is made of. You are made of steel. You have looked death straight at the face and yet live. You are a wonder of power and grace. The moment you fought back with all your strength, you have stopped being a victim. You are no longer a victim. You are hero. You are our baby Florence. You are hero. And we love you.

Jan Mythos



(1) JV.GMANews TV, Suspect says 'only 2 men' raped nurse in Maguindana" News Update,

(2) "Suspects in gang rape of nurse in Maguindanao nabbed," Nursing Review,,com_kunena/Itemid,0/catid,14/func,view/id,225/

(3) "Gang-rape sa volunteer nurse sa Maguindanao, lutas na ? PNP chief" GMA NEWS.TV,

(4) Charlie Senase, "Mayor with son linked to gang rape vows to cooperate in probe" Inquirer Mindanao,, First Posted 13:27:00 10/02/2010, ttp://


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lesson from the Life of King Saul: Tracing His Early Life

Remember this 2001 movie with Brendan Frazer and Rachel Weisz? Yup, that's it: The Mummy Returns. The man standing beside them on the foreground is Israeli actor Oded Fehr. If any of us is wondering what King Saul may have looked like, Fehr may be a good replica for the King: a stand-up kind of guy, a head taller than any of his countrymen. The very thing that got him volunteered into the throne from the beginning.(Picture Credit: Copyright 2001 Universal Studios.)

I. Saul's Early Life:

Little can be gleaned of Saul in the records of his pre-king days and it can be safe to say that the dispositions of anger, fear, and envy may have had roots in his past. Nevertheless, general Biblical records show that Saul started out good.

In 1 Samuel 9–10, we can gather that he was considerate of his father, obedient to the charge of finding the lost donkeys, and wanting not to be a source of anxiety if he lingered too long without any word to his father about how he fared. In verse 2, he was noted to be “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others.” This last statement was even re-echoed in 10:23. In this same verse, we find Saul hiding among the baggage which delayed his ordination as king. For us today, we find this impulse of timidity a little “cute.” It’s like, “Awww, isn’t that nice: just like Gideon hiding in his father’s threshing floor, or Moses trembling before the burning bush and volunteering his brother Aaron, instead of himself, to free the Israelites in Egypt.” And we can also recall how that suggestion by Moses infuriated God in Exodus 4:14.

Further into 1 Samuel 10:27 is a documentation of the presence of some “troublemakers” who “despised him” in the crowd that came to witness his appointment as king. No such mention of troublemakers was made during the anointing of David or, much less, Solomon. In relation to this is Saul’s mysterious silence. In the same way, the passage is silent as to why these troublemakers were ever mentioned at all. It can, however, give us a clue to a character of Saul as seen by those individuals that day: a character that brought him at odds with the Prophet Samuel and God.

II. Saul's Emotional Instability

Saul lived a life of emotional instability, in that he was not sensible enough to apply or remember the basic self-discipline expected of a respectable member of the Israelite society. Every Israelite raised in the Scriptures, which Moses had already furnished for the nation three hundred years further back, knew that the world’s first murder was committed by Cain due to his failure to “master” the sin that was crouching in his life (Genesis 4:7). Emotional self-control was nothing new to the people of Israel. The proverbs on the subject made by King Solomon simply reinforced what the Israelite society already practiced and upheld.

Throughout his tenure as king, Saul exhibited a variety of mood swings that panned between terror and wrath. He was a character of emotional instability. In spite of the transformation God performed on his character in 1 Samuel 10:9, it was this flaw that led to his downfall. It is what is known to us today as something that we need to specially focus on and give more effort and discipline in renewing even with prayer, fasting, and counseling. Saul, however, never bothered with this, probably because he was too proud, too busy, or too blind to the fact of it. Just like Cain in Genesis 4, Saul was too careless to master the sin crouching into his life.

If the story of King Saul, instead of David's, ever be made for the movies, I'd vote for this guy to play the King. (Picture Credit: Copyright 2001 Universal Studios.)

Saul was a man of anger. In many instances, Saul launched out almost unstoppable in the zeal of burning anger. For a while this worked. In 1 Samuel 11:6, he “burned with anger” when he learned about the dilemma of Jabesh Gilead. The Spirit of God used this anger to fuel his drive to inspire all of Israel to engage the besieging Ammonites into war. Soon, however, this fuel became so combustible that it led him into a murderous rampage to send David running, the slaughter of the priests and the inhabitants of Nob, and a breach of a vow made hundreds of years before involving the Gibeonites later bringing a three-year famine into Israel during the time of David. The passage in 2 Samuel 21:2 states that “Saul in his zeal…had tried to annihilate” the Gibeonites. The word “zeal” in this verse is the Hebrew qana, affirming a malicious zeal
borne out of jealousy or envy.

Even Saul’s tiniest tendency pointed toward a violent disposition. 1 Samuel 15:27 documents how Saul in desperation caught hold of the edge of Samuel’s robe and tore it when the Prophet turned his back to leave. Here, Saul had just willfully disobeyed a Divine mandate to completely annihilate the Amalekites and everything that belonged to them, when he caught sight of the best of the sheep and cattle.

Fear and timidity was no stranger in Saul’s life. In 1 Samuel 10:27 he was greatly intimidated by the derision of his detractors. In 1 Samuel 13:12, the sight of the great Philistine army in Micmash paralyzed him in seven days of fear, deciding to wait for the time of the Prophet Samuel’s arrival instead of launching out an offensive on the enemy. He “felt compelled” to offer the burnt offering Samuel was supposed to dedicate as he did in the end of the breaking of the siege of Jabesh Gilead. This infuriated the Prophet when he arrived at Saul’s camp at Gilgal to find the Israelite army caught up in an impasse caused by Saul’s tentativeness. In 1 Samuel 17:16, another stalemate maneuvered by the Philistines froze the Israelite king and his army into petrified indecision. A giant named Goliath walked out before the armies and issued a challenge “every morning and every evening” for “forty days.” The single good thing that came out of this deadlock was that it provided the avenue for David to rise and Goliath to fall.

(Next up: Saul's Legendary Disobedience.)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lessons In the Life of King Saul: A King Possessed?

THE DEVOLUTION OF SAUL SANK DEEPER until he was as terrible as a beast in bloodlust when he chased David all over Israel. Beast was a proper typology of this king whose inability to hold rein of his impulses drew him mad. Notice the sudden shift of royal murderous temper to that of relent and remorse in 1 Samuel 24:16 to 21, where he even wept. Aloud.

But Saul pursues David a second time. Talk about mood swings! It is clear how his nature of rage and this tormenting spirit had permanently possessed him. David and a warrior creeps down into the king’s camp while they all had fallen into deep slumber and snatches evidences close to where the king lay to later show him and the entire camp how easy it was to slay him. Again: Saul’s heart changes color from red to yellow—"Is that your voice, David my son?" (1 Samuel 26:17) "I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have erred greatly” (verse 21). Had not his death occurred in a battle against the Philistines shortly after that, Saul might have pursued David a third time.

To us reading this account of Saul’s life, it will be plain for us to conclude that the mental torment of fear and rage had finally deteriorated into insanity. Remember, however, that this type of insanity is associated with, and with all the fingerprints of, demonic oppression. And the ultimate goal of oppression is possession. Almost every Christian who has handled demons in exorcism before know that demonic oppression is the final step that leads to possession. Saul’s type of demon-possession was similar to the symptoms of schizophrenia, in that the spirit visited him at intermittent times. This explains why the king was normal at one moment then homicidal all of a sudden. This would also explain 1 Samuel 18:12 why “Saul was afraid of David.” There was only one reason for Saul’s fear of David, and it was not because he knew the latter would eventually take his throne and be the next king, greater and more beloved. Simply, “because the Lord was with David.”

An evil spirit cannot withstand the Presence of God. In Psalm 68:1, David pointed out in poetic rejoicing: “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered: let them also that hate Him flee before Him” (King James Version). So great is a demon’s fear of His Presence that the very hint of His approach can send it scuttling away. This can be seen in Matthew 15:21–28 where a Canaanite mother was pleading for Jesus to deliver her possessed daughter. Jesus granted the deliverance, even though He found no need to physically come face to face with the victim. Notice in verse 22 how the mother addressed Jesus: “Son of David.”

The people of ancient Israel understood the association of demons (also known as unclean spirits) with certain types of insanity. In the New Testament, the opponents of Jesus accused Him of being “demon-possessed and raving mad” (John 10:20). In the same way, there were physical impairments that were of supernatural origin. In one instance, Jesus dealt with a demon-possessed man “who was blind and mute” (Matthew 12:22). The result of the instantaneous deliverance was also the restoration of the man’s sight and speech. For such a miracle alone, Jesus received a unique kind of amazement from all over Israel during His time because, before Him, there has almost been no known permanent deliverance for a demoniac.

The Old Testament method of exorcism was based on the atoning blood of sacrificial “goats and calves and ashes of a heifer sprinkled on them who are…unclean” to “ceremonially…sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean” (Hebrews 9:13, emphasis mine). With such rituals and methods did the priests and religious leaders in Jesus’ time treat a demoniac. The resulting ceremonial “outward cleanness” was the basis of Jesus’ remark when he described a newly delivered victim’s condition as being “swept clean and put in order” (Luke 11:25): something very inviting to a visiting demon. In Hebrews 10:4, these rituals were never meant to cleanse permanently, being merely “annual reminders of sins” (verse 3). When Jesus came casting demons out, the authority He wielded commanded permanence, drawing people’s amazement far and wide, very quickly (Luke 4:36). Jesus’ method was something simply new: to “give orders to evil spirits and they come out!” In Matthew 9:33 documents how the people remarked, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

Before Jesus, David held the record of having the most unique method of casting out demons: exorcism by harp music. The element of permanent delivery of the victim, however, was not there; and he was required to play once again “whenever the spirit…came upon Saul” (1 Samuel 16:23).

Demon possession in the Old Testament was deemed as a principal sign of the judgment of God in the life of a person. There was virtually no deliverance from it that it was a fact certain for the spirit to return and plague its victim repeatedly. Jesus in the New Testament cited this fact in the gospels, Luke 11:24 and 25—“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’” The very attacks of Satan himself are characteristic of this. In Luke 4:13, after an unsuccessful endeavor to tempt Jesus three times, he fled “until and opportune time.” It is an accepted fact, as further stated by Jesus, that the subsequent re-possession of the demoniac ill “worse than the first” (11:26). Because of this, the victim was cast far from the populously sanctified Israelite cities and towns into lonely regions, like the wilderness, where he could do the least damage and hopefully find death.

This popular view toward demon possession is somewhat suggested in the very syntax of the phrase “an [or, the] evil spirit from the Lord” in 1 Samuel 16:14, 17 and 23. The innate emphasis of this passage is quite the opposite of what it appears to suggest. God did not send the evil spirit; He was not the source of it. Instead, the invasion of this spirit came the instant God withdrew His Holy Spirit from Saul. Notice that verse 14 begins with the clause, “Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul.” This departure of the Spirit, thus, opened the opportunity for an evil spirit to attack Saul. Perhaps the best word to use here is “abandoned,” in that Saul was deserted for whatever influence that found its way to him. The phrase “from the Lord” simply hinting on the grammatical mood of speech , can therefore be interpreted: “as if from the Lord.”

There are, however, evidences in the Scriptures that show God deliberately handing over the life of one mortal over to the enemy, such as what was done to Job. Here, Satan was not authorized to take Job’s life, unlike with Saul. In the New Testament, this principle continues to exist in 1 Corinthians 5:5, where the Apostle Paul charged the church members to “hand [the offender] over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.”

In the Old Testament, a demon-possessed individual was viewed as a walking deadman awaiting death. His life is viewed as that of the fallen angels’, destined for hell yet continue to walk the earth before the appointed time of their judgment. This kind of life can be seen in the documented case of the Gadarene demoniac in Mark 5:1?20 and Luke 8:26?38. In Luke’s account, the man “for a long time…had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs” (verse 27) in addition to other “solitary places” where the demon would drive him into (verse 29). Permanence, to settle down in a home and establish a livelihood, is a quality of the living; but not to a demon-possessed who cares nothing for his own existence, as a beast headed for destruction. In the same way, note how Saul was driven two times to scour the Palestinian countryside. In light of a possessing demon’s restless disposition, it may seem that Saul enjoyed the travel alone apart from his desire to see his target slain.

The study ain't done yet. More King Saul to come.

PHOTO CREDITS: Corbis images

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lessons in the Life of King Saul

I WISH I COULD TELL YOU THAT THIS KING lived a fairy tale life and it was happily ever after for him in the end. But it was not. He was groomed by God to be the Chosen Nation's first king. Today, however, many scholars try to blot out his name as the Nation's first and award it instead to his successor, David son of Jesse. From the heights of God's favor, King Saul slid into obscurity and a gruesome end. In reading of his last days, one could not help but and ask, "Why, God?" when Saul pleaded for the wisdom and His holy presence when he was faced by the massive Philistine army poised to attack his land. What went wrong?

I. The Torment of Fear

We have seen it in the movies, heard it in stories, read about it in books, but never have we thought it take place in the Bible: an actual ghost haunting. And it happened to the first king of ancient Israel, King Saul.

In 1 Samuel 16:14, it says that, “Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.” With a little word study, the Hebrew word ra was used for the word “evil.” The connotation of ra, according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, covers attributes of harm, affliction, hurt, misery, aggravation, and even mischief. From this alone, those of us familiar with King Saul through Bible bedtime stories and Sunday school have always pictured him sullen and enraged. And justifiably so since most of his last days were spent in murderous pursuit of David. But the next word in our study may slightly change how we have traditionally viewed the way this evil spirit affected him.

As often as we have pictured King Saul in furious rampage, dark circles under his eyes, wielding a spear, we have also seen him clench-fisted and curled on his throne glowering in a fit of rage.
This may not be what the word “tormented” suggests. The Bible used the word ba`ath, which means “afraid.” Although the Bible never mentioned the king wailing and screaming in fear in the night, it actually mentions that an evil spirit terrified him, so often so much that in fact the following verse shows how his palace staff members saw the terror he suffered from the ghost. The dread was go great that for his closest personnel to offer their unsolicited advices (more or less) on how to exorcize this demon meant that the haunting was taking precedence over the vital affairs of state, and probably even over the health of good ol’ King Saul.

Through young David son of Jesse, the exorcism was successful. Partially, that is, in that 1 Samuel 16:23 uses the word “Whenever” to begin its statement: “Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” In the New Living Translation, the word “whenever” is also used by the servants during the time they were making their proposition to the king: “Let us find a good musician to play the harp whenever the tormenting spirit troubles you” (verse 16, emphasis mine). “Whenever” means that the spirit never left him permanently. And this was clear as the story of the king’s life came to a violent close in the end of 1 Samuel. In chapter 28, he finally comes face to face with this spirit who takes the form of the Prophet Samuel through the conjuring of the witch of Endor, making its final threat that came to pass in the battle on Mount Gilboa.

II. The Torment of Rage:

Saul’s Jealousy and Envy. The spirit’s torment of fear gradually ended shortly after David assumed his role as the king’s personal harp player. And after the sixteenth chapter of 1 Samuel, it was not heard from again. But a frightening event took place after David got promoted from harp musician to warrior. In the midst of all the singing and rejoicing and victory, “an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul” (18:10). What happened? 1 Samuel 18:8 reveals one tiny attitude that served as an open gate for the spirit to seize: jealousy.

David’s “Tens of Thousands.” The passage before this is very noteworthy: “Saul was very angry, this refrain galled him” (verse 8). The “refrain” that displeased him was the women’s song to which they even danced to that went, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (verse 7). Upon hearing this, Saul developed “a jealous eye” (verse 9) on David on the suspicion of “what more can he get [next] but the kingdom.”

It can also be construed that Saul was caught blindsided by the attention women were giving to David than to him. Remember that from his pre-king days, Saul already enjoyed the attention of admiration from his countrymen, being one “impressive” and “without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others” (1 Samuel 9:2). The passage “a head taller than any of the others” was reiterated in 10:23. In 9:12 to 13, the girls he and his servant met were remarkably helpful when they asked for directions where the Prophet Samuel lived.

Saul valued public opinion; he was sensitive to the sentiments of the people around him, which is why he was easily swayed along with the single wave of popular emotion. In 1 Samuel 13:11–12, when his men panicked, so did he. In 18:5, he extracted pride from the approval of all the people and his officers when he opted to give David a high rank in his army for the incident with Goliath. For that same reason, however, the magnet of popularity now fell on David. And Saul could not take it.

Saul’s Recruitment of Mighty Men. In 1 Samuel 16:21 to 22, another element of Saul’s jealousy is revealed in how possessively he treated David. Leading up to this, 14:52 attests that Saul, throughout his reign, was in the habit of gathering for himself brave and mighty men whom he imperiously took into his service. It was the same with David, except that when the boy started service, it is said that Saul “liked him very much” (verse 21) and even made a request the boy’s father to “allow David to remain in [his royal] service” (verse 22). Then in the eighteenth chapter, “Saul kept David with him, and did not let him return to his father’s house” (verse 2). David proved to be an excellent harp player, then a successful warrior (verse 5), and a most worthy friend to his son Jonathan (verses 1, 3 and 4). So long as David remained under the service of the king and his son, treatments and relationship flowed in the terms of love and peace. But when David’s popularity rose to rival that of his and his house, as suggested by the women’s refrain in 18:7, Saul found his subordinate’s good fortune too sour for him to bear.

And so one seemingly uneventful yet fine day, while David was playing the harp, Saul suddenly found a spear, grabbed it, and decided to play pin-the-kid-on-the-wall (1 Samuel 18:11). This urge came while the king “was prophesying in his house” (verse 10). The spirit world was open for him—but to someone else, not to God. The uncanny unfolding of events did not stop. In verse 12, notice that “Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had left Saul.”

Saul and the Gibeonites. The story of Saul’s treachery of the Gibeonites stemmed from his “zeal for Israel and Judah” (2 Samuel 21:2). The three-year famine that resulted because of this proved no valid connection between his “zeal” and the murder of the Gibeonites. It is not precisely indicated whether this happened before or after the time of the Amalekite controversy, yet the lesson in this mistake is found in Saul’s attempt to deliver “Divine Judgment” upon whom he arbitrarily chose.

The Gibeonites were a race of Canaanites who, during Joshua’s invasion of the Promised Land, resorted into a ruse to elicit a treaty and keep them from the exterminating sword of the Israelites. The story is in the ninth chapter of Joshua. The big mistake here was that the Israelites “did not inquire of the Lord” (Joshua 9:14) to see through the deception. It can be understood that the Gibeonites orchestrated a successful tactic that maneuvered the Israelites into considering them as they were during their wandering days in the desert.

A Gibeonite delegation set out dressed in rags and dragging along donkeys loaded with worn-out sacks and wineskins cracked and mended. The Israelites, seeing themselves in the shoes of this weary and impoverished caravan and probably even remembering the command of God never to vex a stranger (Exodus 22:21), regarding how it was being strangers themselves (Exodus 23:9), thought it was alright to establish a peace treaty with these people. Yet the most compelling testimony of these strangers was when they claimed to be “from a very distant country” (Joshua 9:9). The Gibeonite deception was so elaborate that it had in its arsenal a great deal of documented events “of the fame of the Lord,” enough to puff up the heads of His people.

The peace treaty that was struck that day was based on an oath to God that must never be broken, no matter how infuriated the Israelites became three days later when they found out that the Gibeonites were actually “neighbors, living near them” (verse 16). In this context was the rage of Saul based, when “in his zeal…(he) tried to annihilate them” (2 Samuel 21:2). In mindless rage, with no regard of the consequences of breaking an everlasting oath made by his forefather Joshua, Saul sought to accomplish for “Israel and Judah” what had never been or must never be attempted. What Joshua and the Israelites then dreaded of falling on them for breaking an oath descended upon Israel during David’s reign, and it cost the lives of seven of Saul’s male descendants. David handed to the Gibeonites seven of Saul’s surviving grandsons to be slain and exposed in the very city Saul had named for himself (2 Samuel 21:7–9). The word “zeal” in this verse is the Hebrew qana, affirming a malicious zeal borne out of jealousy or envy.

It was a misplaced zeal that Saul launched himself against the Gibeonites. It was a zeal that was supposed to have surfaced in the offensive against the Amalekites.

So it was now fear and rage possessing the king. It seems that David’s harp was no longer effective to keep this demon away from toying with his beloved king. At that point, there was nothing more David could do. It was clear that Saul had allowed for to be controlled by this tormenting spirit that numerous times he had carried out feats of defiance against God: the murder of the priests of Nob and his pursuit of David even when he had already seen the blessing of God upon the young man’s life, even the certainty of becoming the next king of Israel. His compulsive temper quickly developed into a personality damage that ultimately destroyed his life, the life of his sons, and his household.

More study on King Saul to come.