Monday, July 18, 2011

Saul and Sorcery: The Ground

Photo: Chris Hellier/CORBIS
In the unraveling of Saul’s life, one can be reminded of the story of the earth. The day God created the earth, He “saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:10). He beheld the seamless completion of His design as He commanded the water under the sky to gather to one place to call up the dry ground which He called “land (verse 9). But on the day sin entered Creation, the ground was cursed with corruption and the womb that delivered the “living creatures, according to their kinds” (1:24) became mankind’s destiny (3:17-19). The earth of God changed from the day of Adam’s disobedience and all its goodness and perfection fled as the ownership of this side of Creation shifted to Satan (John 16:11) and his fallen angels (Ephesians 6:12); and as it aged, it drifted deeper into decay and perdition (Genesis 6:11). For this, God’s heart was “filled with pain” (verse 6), for there was no other recourse to quell the rising tide of putrefaction but to “wipe mankind…from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air” (verse 7). But the Flood that He sent for this destroyed, not the earth, but “all living creatures” (8:21). The Flood did change the earth, life continued to thrive and, a few more years after the great cataclysm, the stain of sin continued to be detected, unerased by the Flood.

Photo: Charles Krebs/CORBIS
Like the earth, Saul allowed corruption to fill his heart. When he should have abdicated the throne to the stewardship of the Prophet Samuel, he obstinately held on to popular opinion’s false power while he saw no future for him in abiding with God: It could be remembered how his disobedience when he illegally offered the Prophet’s burnt and peace offerings cost his posterity any future chance of succeeding him (1 Samuel 13:13 to 14). Because God had refused to establish his rulership over Israel “for all time,” he later found his opportunity to “set up a monument in his own honor” (15:12) and purposely turn away (verse 11), or betray, God. And just like beholding a rotting antediluvian earth, it “grieved” the Lord (verses 10 and 35).

Photo: Raymond Gehman/CORBIS
God hates corruption. God pronounced judgment over all corruption. He created all things “good” and perfect and He holds a strong aversion to perdition, which is in every way the opposite of His eternal nature. But because of the presence of corruption, He maintains a law requiring the destruction of the corrupt and the corrupted in order to restore the perfection of the latter. This principle is seen in the Scriptures. The corrupted antediluvian earth was drowned the Flood to restore it into the postdiluvian world we now know. By the same principle, because of the corruption of the postdiluvian earth, our world is “reserved for fire” (2 Peter 3:7), when “the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (verse 10), before it can be restored as the “new earth” along with the “new heaven” written about in Revelation 21:1.

The human body which welcomed sin had also welcomed and therefore been subject to death in Genesis 3:19. Then because of the wanton violence it embraced, its length of life had been curtailed to “a hundred and twenty years” (6:3), bringing death closer. And as the corruption of sin continued to fester in the postdiluvian culture, God had pronounced destruction on anyone who defiles his own body (1 Corinthians 3:17), which God considers “sacred” (verse 18). The Apostle Paul taught that the human body is “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (6:19), and anyone who “sins against his own body” (verse 18) brings the judgment of destruction upon himself. The Apostle Paul taught that such corruption will hand the offender over to “Satan, so that the sinful nature [that his body] may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (5:5). What grieves the Lord is that He gets to watch His creation go down to destruction first before He could raise it up in perfection again:

Photo: Darren Greenwood/Design Pics/CORBIS
“…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’” (15:50,53 to 54).

The Apostle Paul continues to teach that it was for this principle that God established “the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2) to bring corruption to its full circle, then sent His son Jesus to die on the cross and rise incorruptible from death to “give life…to mortal [or corrupted] bodies through his Spirit” (verse 11).

Now where do Saul and the earth fit in all this? The spirit of the Prophet Samuel uttered a very curious passage during Saul’s last night in Endor: “The Lord will hand over both Israel and you to the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me” (1 Samuel 28:19). Also consider the fact that the Prophet came up out of the ground (verse 13). For the last time in Saul’s life, God visually presented Saul his destiny for his betrayal. It was a destiny of judgment that relentlessly chased him down until he finally gets slain by, not the Philistines, but an Amalekite slave he kept alive in his camp (2 Samuel 1:10).

Saul died a humiliating death, but it was not all for nothing. The Prophet Samuel promised that Saul and his sons would be with him, and while it largely meant going down to the grave, it may have also meant waking up in the afterlife delivered from the corruption he surrendered his life to. During the last part of his earthly life, Saul was noted seeking God through “Urim or prophets” (1 Samuel 28:6); before this, he developed the habit of “prophesying in his house” (18:10), even when it no longer mattered in his relationship with God. There indeed was a relationship; in the middle of this relationship, however, was a fix called death, and according to God’s mandate, Saul needed to pass through death in order to bury the corruption in his life and continue the relationship now in the place, no longer in the material sphere, but in the afterlife.

Photo: Lee White/CORBIS
The earth did not react well to the presence of sin. It was not created with any defense system to resist it and the death it brought. The embrace of sin covered the entire planet with death covering the skies and seeping down to the depths beneath the ground. No longer on its own initiative did the ground produce for man what he needed to survive without the “painful toil” (Genesis 3:17) he had to apply, to violently beat, carve, and disrespect the ground, for the morsels of life left hidden beneath its crust. The edible, delectable, and the pleasurable yields that Adam and Eve enjoyed of the ground turned into “thorns and thistles” (verse 18) that resisted their domination. The ground hated man, its relative formed by the hand of God. It saw man not as the Creator’s spiritual favorite but as the pile of lifeless dust of which he was before it felt the touch and the breath of God. Nevertheless, he shall “return to the ground” (Genesis 3:19), man’s cruel realization of his ultimate place in Creation, in sin. And so begins the humility of man who looks up to God. No longer does he see himself “a little lower than the heavenly beings” (Psalm 8:5), but in the words of Abraham in Genesis 18:27: “I am nothing but dust and ashes.”

Photo: Pascal Deloche/Godong/Corbis
It is therefore more than a coincidence that a “crown of thorns” (Matthew 27:29, Mark 15:17, John 19:2 and 5) found its way on Jesus’ head hours before He was killed on the cross.

It was the humility that Saul forgot in regards to him being chosen as Israel’s king in 1 Samuel 15:17:

“Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.”

The corruption of Saul began in his life when he was king, apparently after his lust for the prestige of it. Yet it could be said that had not Saul been chosen as king, he could have made at a certain measure a prophet, for it was in this unique manner how he responded to the touch of God’s Spirit. It was a special spiritual predisposition held by only a select few, as was stressed by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 in his teaching concerning church leadership:

“And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?” (verses 28 to 29)

Photo: The Gallery Collection/Corbis
In the respect of being a king with the inclination of prophecy, Saul was like David. But while David was a shepherd (1 Samuel 16:11), Saul was a farmer (11:5). This evaluation of their backgrounds lures us to the early pages of the Scriptures where a “tiller of the ground” (Genesis 4:2, King James Version) and a “keeper of sheep” (Ibid.) came before the Lord to seek His favor. Just like Saul, the tiller of the ground fell from grace. And in the same way as the ground refused the toil of the tiller (verse 12), Saul’s goals and ambitions fell to the ground in utter failure. The tiller incurred the curse of God and lost his right as firstborn; Saul lost his right as king, the honor of being Israel’s very first king, the firstborn among all the kings of God’s people. In the story of the tiller, his brother, the keeper of sheep who was also the next heir of God’s favor, gets invited for a walk in the fields and gets slain by the tiller. This murderous scene revolts God so much that when He saw the tendency repeated between Saul and David, He seems to avenge the blood of His favored shepherd by granting David the talent and opportunity to escape Saul’s clutches, and even two chances to turn the tables to death on the one who lusted after his death. Saul’s life pictured what it would have been like if the tiller failed to extinguish the life of the sheep keeper.

No comments:

Post a Comment