Sunday, July 17, 2011

Saul and Sorcery: The Omen of the Ground

The earth was a recurring image in Saul’s life that bore the portent of failure. It was as if an inanimate feature of the material sphere was prophesying or maliciously mischieving against him. But then again, even Jesus hinted on the earth’s power to “cry out” (Luke 19:40) in praise and glory. It was a lesson God was willing to provide should His people choose to disobey. And disobey Saul did!

Photo: Steve Kaufman/CORBIS
In 1 Samuel 24, Saul was by then deep in the depravity of his apostasy when his kingly duties were being preoccupied with his lust for David’s head. In the second verse, he and his royal contingent decide to stop a place called the Crags of the Wild Goats for the king to fulfill his faithful duty to contribute to the ground’s productivity. In the third verse, Saul chooses a cave to defecate in. It was a cave where David and his men were hiding deeper in its recess. Anybody with him, and later even Saul, could see that it was David’s golden moment to strike down his tormentor. It was the perfect time and the perfect place provided by the presence of the hollowness of that single piece of gigantic earth. David refused in that he saw his tormentor as “the anointed of the Lord” (verse 6).

But David did more than just spare the life of Saul. Spiritually, it seemed that David acted as a monkey wrench to jam the trend of destruction that the omen of the earth had been indicating. And he not only did it once, but twice. On the second occasion, David was presented with the opportunity to slay the persistently pursuing king as he snuck into Saul’s camp and found him “lying asleep…with his spear stuck in the ground near his head” (1 Samuel 26:7). If during the first time David clipped off a corner of the king’s cloak (24:4), this time he carries away the spear and the water jug that were near Saul’s head (26:11). Then by the time the camp rose to begin another day of murderous hunt, David, from a safe distance, cried out to Saul and pleaded to him to give up the chase by bringing to his attention the missing spear and water jug. Then in the words of David the portent of the earth comes into play:

 “Now do not let my blood fall to the ground far from the presence of the Lord. The king of Israel has come out to look for a flea—as one hunts a partridge in the mountains” (1 Samuel 26:20).

Photo: Dean Conger/CORBIS
It is very noteworthy that David captured the imagery of blood falling to the ground, something that should have happened way back when the king’s men devoured Philistine cattle meat in 1 Samuel 14:32.  But above all, the prophetic imagery provided by David portrayed the conclusion God intended on everything Saul had set out to accomplish. Before he unilaterally decided to offer the Prophet Samuel’s burnt and peace sacrifices at Gilgal (1 Samuel 14:9), the earth was a silent and unnoticed omen in the background, only discernable to a seer. But after Saul had consummated his choice to act on his own and succumb to the deception of terror, the failure of all his tasks signified by the earth became a recurring tingle in his ear as well as a glaring figure everywhere he went. The most ominous picture the Lord subtly displayed to Saul, however, was not merely the undoing of specific plans but the ruin and humiliation of him being king, the collapse of his house, and his ignominious death in the hands of his enemies. The idiomatic phrase “fall to the earth” or “fall to the ground” that appear seven times in the King James Version of the Bible meant more than failure of effort; it spoke of death and destruction. Here are some of them:

 In referring to the words spoken by the Prophet Samuel: “The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground (1 Samuel 2:19).

Mentioned earlier, when Saul threatened to execute Jonathan for being the culprit that spoiled his rash vow and his pursuit of the retreating Philistines altogether:  “But the men said to Saul, ‘Should Jonathan die—he who has brought this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the Lord lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help’" (1 Samuel 14:45).

When the newly installed King Solomon deliberated whether or not to take down his brother Adonijah: “If he shows himself to be a worthy man, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground; but if evil is found in him, he will die” (2 Samuel 1:52).

Photo: Sean Sexton Collection/CORBIS
On another note out of 1 Samuel 26, present is the irony of the water jug as it fits the apparatus that may have been used by the witch of Endor to divine the spirit of the Prophet Samuel. Saul was hungry for any message from God and he received the last one that night concerning his death. Any hope of escaping this fate fled and “immediately Saul fell full length to the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words” (1 Samuel 28:20).

An example of a water jug as shown balanced above the head of an Egyptian woman.

The Prophet through his categorical declaration of Saul’s mortal defeat brought the king back to the Amalekite incident where the willful betrayal of God was accomplished. In the narrative, there was no mention anywhere of the ground or of the earth, aside from the ravine where Saul and his men set up their ambush (1 Samuel 15:5). What provided the greatest significance instead was the occurrence of “idolatry” (verse 23) in Samuel’s prophetic rebuke: “…and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.”

The sin of idolatry is most understood through the crafting of images; and out of all the materials that can be used in fashioning these, God, in His Ten Commandments, warned on using the earth when He decreed, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…” (Exodus 20:4, King James Version). What significance did God see in the earth that He made it more closely associated to idolatry than the elements of metal and wood? In one of our past study, we have seen how idolatry has been identified with the occult, that those who worship idols actually worship demons, according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:19 to 21. In the Old Testament, the psalmist sings:

“All who worship images are put to shame, those who boast in idols—worship him, all you gods!”

The word “gods” used in this passage—this we have mentioned earlier—was the Hebrew elohim or “spirits.” It has been established in 2 Kings 23:24 that idols such as household gods were an integral component in ancient pagan divination and spiritism. As a young boy who frequented the rustic regions of the Philippines, I have often heard stories of familiar spirits roaming the dark corners and the lonely landscapes after dark. When I matured and had given up all fear and belief of these campfire, gaslight, and bedtime fiction, I realized that even Bible characters—grownups, at that—never dismissed the reality of such supernatural phenomena like we do today for the sake of “reason” and “sensibility.” The disciples, for example, panicked when mistook Jesus for “a ghost” when they saw Him treading above the turbulent surface of the lake water in Matthew 14:26. Here is how the gospel writer rendered the scene:

Photo: Lebrecht Music & Arts/Corbis
“When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear.”

Jesus lived during the Roman occupation of Israel. The land had just welcomed the Greek culture. Greek philosophy and idolatrous tales of its mythology became popular and even seeped into some aspects of Jewish thought. Before the Greeks, they have emerged from another idolatrous civilization whose founder, Cyrus, was even prophesied beforehand by Isaiah (Isaiah 44:28, 45:1) and Jeremiah (2 Chronicles 36:22 and 23) to liberate the Jews and to rebuild Jerusalem. It was a time of great spiritual corruption as evidenced by the demon possession that was rampant in the land. Though minimally indicated in the New Testament, Jesus’ disciples understood the sight or sound of an unclean spirit skulking somewhere out the window behind the trees or crunching on the rocky path at night. Jesus even alluded to unclean spirits roaming through “arid places seeking rest” (Matthew 12:44). Before Jesus, ghostly sightings were the only supernatural moments known to the disciples, the Jews, and, of course, the pagan world.

Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 12:43 to 45 touched on demonic possession, a phenomenon we understand when an unclean spirit torments a human individual by inhabiting his body. What is it about the human body that attracts demonic fancy? The Bible explains that demons are angelic spirits living apart from the Presence of the Lord. Because of this, they eternally lack the peace of God’s Presence experienced by their faithful counterparts. Man, on the other hand, though existing apart from heaven, maintains a spiritual peace through his physical body. The Apostle Paul taught about this as being “clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:2). He referred to the human body as a “tent” (verse 4). In the third verse, he spoke about the spirit without a body is “naked,” which he later consolidates into the principle in verses 6 and 8:

“Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

Photo: Sandro Vannini/CORBIS
There are therefore two ways to feel and actually be “at home”: either by being “with the Lord” or “in the body,” a body the Apostle earlier referred to as “jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7). A body fashioned out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). For this reason, the earth holds a special appeal to a spiritual being. Remember that it was on the earth where the “third of the stars of the sky” were flung (Revelation 12:4), and not just on earth but deep “down to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (Isaiah 14:15). The ground became their home, inadequate to embrace them in the peace they needed, but home nonetheless. In the story of the Gadarene demoniac in Matthew 8:30 to 32, the multitude of possessing demons pleaded to Jesus to be sent into a herd of pigs which they immediately sent to their death down a steep bank that slid into the lake. The depth of the lake was a gate called the depth (Job 28:14, 38:16, Matthew 18:6) that opened to the spirits’ home named in Hebrew tongue as Sheol.

But though it has not been explicitly stated in the Scriptures, unclean spirits may also inhabit other products of the earth, like animals; images for worship fashioned out of the earth may likewise qualify for possession, which could be a reason why idols are a fixture in the occult.

Saul embraced the earth (1 Samuel 28:20) after hearing what the spirit of Samuel had to say about his irreversible destiny when he stands to face the Philistine army by daybreak. Greatly shaken, the witch along with his men urged him to eat for he had fed on nothing in the hours before that night (verse 20). From the ground, he sat on a couch and fed on the butchered calf served to them by the witch (verses 23 and 24).

[AND...there's more! Ain't this exciting?!]

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