Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Saul and Symbols: The Spear of Destiny

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The ground symbolized Saul's corruption. Another thing that came to be identified with Saul was his spear.

Though not as significant as the sword, the Bible also provides a unique symbolic worth to the spear, particularly in relation to judgment. The name Methuselah literally holds the meaning “he holds a spear.” Methuselah is the man in the Bible who held the oldest length of years alive, at 969, outliving his son Lamech by 374 years. He lived in the time of his grandson Noah, who coincidentally was born in the year Adam died.  Some Bible scholars attest that while Methuselah lived, he guided Noah in the ways of the Lord, the way Adam did with Noah’s fathers.

While Noah’s name meant “comfort,” Methuselah’s implicated judgment. His name was launched from the hand of God like a spear through the ages, keeping the integrity of Godly worship alive in a world that sank deep into corruption through the influence of the House of Cain. In the year of his death, the Noahic Flood fell. The Methuselah spear had hit its mark.

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While the sword and the spear were common in the ancient world, a private citizen would favor the first one over the latter to have in his hand and home. A spear was long with a length that can only be useful in the wideness of the battlefield, not in the constricted confines of a home or the crowded streets and tight backstreets of a city. A common civilian wielding a spear in a fight would be in more trouble than when unarmed. In the grip of a trained soldier, however, the spear was a thing of terror.

In prophesying about the destruction of Jerusalem, the Prophet Jeremiah foretold of an army coming from the north, “armed with bow and spear” (Jeremiah 6:23), cruel and merciless, a suddenly descending destroyer (verse 26). And as surely as the sword causes terrible destruction, the spear in the hands of an invading force sent as judgment brought appalling brutality:

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“Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears! Many casualties, piles of dead, bodies without number, people stumbling over corpses—“ (Nahum 3:3).

Death through the goring spear is a humiliating way to die. King Saul, in his murderous fantasy, dreamt the last years of his life on the throne impaling David with his trusty stick.

“Saul had a spear in his hand and he hurled it, saying to himself, ‘I’ll pin David to the wall’” (1 Samuel 18:10-11).

On three occasions, Saul transformed his home into a dart gallery; on the first two setsDavid was the bulls’ eye; on the last, the King’s Prince Jonathan. On those three occasions, the spear missed its intended mark. Apparently, the weapon was not intended on David or Jonathan, but on someone else. Yet from then on, it almost seemed like Saul and that spear became inseparable, be it on a hill outside his home in Gibeah (1 Samuel 22:6) or on a countrywide tour in vicious pursuit of David. One was safe to suspect that Saul may have even christened that oversized toothpick with a name such as The Impaler (or Vlad). The farthest distance his spear had gone from his hand was a few inches from his head while he lay asleep on the hill of Hakilah (1 Samuel 26:7). On that night, David and one of his men snuck into the middle of the camp, came within a whisker’s distance to the King and kidnapped Mr. Spear.

Saul’s devotion to the spear was symbolic of his obsession to several things, his disobedience to God being foremost. His lust for the throne was another. Even when it meant certain death, Saul proved that there was nothing that would make him relinquish his grip on the power of being the firstborn over all Israel. His heart was so hardened that not even a slap on the face with a demonic spirit during worship (1 Samuel 18:10) would give him a clue that God had abandoned him.

On the night before he died, Saul risked his life and the lives of his two men by plunging into Philistine territory incognito to find a witch who would conjure up the ghost of the Prophet Samuel. The passage in 1 Samuel 28:5-7 recounts the desperation of Saul:

“When Saul saw the Philistine army [gathered at Shunem, adjacent his camp at Gilboa], he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. Saul then said to his attendants, ‘Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.’”

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Just as he was inclined on several occasions to hurl the spear at David, the Lord’s anointed, Saul’s rebellion had gone full circle when he launched out, like a spear in the night, to Endor. On the next day, as Israelite losses mounted all the way to their camp on Gilboa, an eyewitness gave an account of Saul “leaning on his spear, with the chariots and riders almost upon him” (2 Samuel 1:6). Even in death, that spear remained in his hand.

The spear of Saul was never heard of again after his death in Gilboa. It might have appeared that his spear had finally struck its mark: the mark God intended for the rebellious King Saul.

On several important junctures in the Scripture, it took a spear to pronounce the judgment

of God. In Numbers 25:7, the Hebrew priest Phinehas drove a spear through the bodies of a fornicating Israelite and his consort to turn the wrath of God against His idolatrous people. According to the story, this act of Phinehas stopped a God-sent plague that had by then killed 24,000 people (verses 8 and 9). A great reward was lavished on Phinehas that day: God promised “making a covenant of peace with him” (verse 12), that the man “and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the house of his God and made atonement for the Israelites” (verse 13). But at the opposite end of this tribute, God commanded Moses to “treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them” (verse 17) for luring all Israel into false worship to the false god of Peor and the matter regarding the Israelite and his Midianite paramour.

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In the eighth chapter of Joshua, God commands the Israelite general to attack the city of Ai. Through His Spirit, God provides Joshua with the scheme on how the invasion will be executed: by ambush (verse 2). Upon completing the first phase of the plan to lure the soldiers of Ai out of the city, God told Joshua to hold out toward Ai the spear that was in his hand (verse 18); Joshua did as commanded. Later in the account, it was said that “Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed all who lived in Ai” (verse 26). This was how the carnage went down:

“As soon as [Joshua] did this, the men in the ambush rose quickly from their position and rushed forward. They entered the city and captured it and quickly set it on fire. The men of Ai looked back and saw the smoke of the city rising against the sky, but they had no chance to escape in any direction, for the Israelites who had been fleeing toward the desert had turned back against their pursuers. The men of the ambush also came out of the city against them, so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives. When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai…all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai. So Joshua burned Ai and made it a permanent heap of ruins, a desolate place to this day. He hung the king of Ai on a tree and left him there until evening” (verses 19-20, 22, 24-25, 28-29).

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Another effective use of the spear is for blocking the path of an enemy. In Psalm 35:3, an impassioned King David called on God to “brandish the spear and javelin” against his pursuers. An invasion of spearmen, therefore, meant no escape. Hence, when God told Joshua to lift up his spear against Ai, Joshua understood that the judgment upon the city was irreversible. On the other hand, to those who put their trust in God, the spear “shatters" at his command (Psalm 46:9) and turns it back to “pierce [the] head” of the one who brings it (Habakkuk 3:14).

The final mention of the spear is in John 19:34. On the day Jesus died, a spear pierced His side “bringing a sudden flow of blood and water,” fulfilling two prophecies published hundreds of years before:

“These things happened so that the Scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’ and, another Scripture says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced’” (verses 36 and 37).

The prophetic passages are found in Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, and Psalm 34:20 for the first one; and Zechariah 12:10 for the second.

According to Isaiah 53:8, it was “by oppression and judgment” that Jesus was “taken away…cut off from the land of the living.” The unalterable role of the spear in judgment had stretched so far, all the way to the top of Golgotha to pierce the side of our Mighty Savior. It was the final act of punishment inflicted upon Him. The prophecies that predated His incarnation never missed Him being pierced, which was, according to the Prophet Isaiah, “for our transgressions” and our healing (Isaiah 53:5).

Throughout the ages of seeking the life of David who was never meant to die by it, the spear had hit its mark—on the side of his Descendant, the Firstborn from among the dead (Colossians 1:18).


  1. Very well-written, very thorough. Learned something new beside bible history.

  2. This was an intriguing and well represented presentation. It helped my understanding of the symbolism behind my first and last name.

  3. Outstanding, will be my supplemental commentary to the Sunday school lesson for Oct 16, 16, on Saul and David.

    Chaplain Jim Hoover