Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

When, as a teenager, I read the first 9 books of the Bible, (in my first attempt to read the whole thing) 1 Samuel was the book that I really enjoyed.

Because, every night, I felt like I was watching an increasingly farcical TV soap opera.

It all starts off very seriously. A barren woman makes a promise to God in prayer, that if he blesses her with a child, she’ll dedicate him to God. Well, they both keep their promise.

When the boy Samuel grows up, living in the temple, he’s visited by God. Samuel becomes a great speaker for God.

Unfortunately, the people of Israel want a king to lead them. God doesn’t like that idea, because he’s supposed to be their king. He also believes that any human king will just get corrupted with power. Still, God digresses and seeks out a really good guy to be king for them. No, not Samuel, he’s the one who gets to tell the lucky winner – Saul.

Honest Saul’s kingship starts out pretty well. Gradually he makes mistakes though, assuming that he knows God’s actual will in spite of what Samuel has communicated to him. Ultimately God tells Samuel to go and anoint a new humble guy to become king instead – David.

Well, Saul doesn’t like that. So he hangs onto the kingship. Up until now, he’s been quite a believable character.

Once God’s blessings leave Saul and are heaped on David though, Saul sinks further and further into denial, becoming a desperate comedy oaf, to David’s foil.

Stressed about everything, Saul hires a harpist to calm his nerves – unwittingly hiring David.

So he keeps sending David off to war to try and get him killed, but David keeps on winning, which ironically keeps making him even more popular with the masses. Saul repeatedly throws spears at David... in the house.

One night Saul tries to kill David in his bed, but the cunning MacGuyver has left an idol under the sheets with some goats’ hair poking out the top.

So David left, fleeing from Saul, and went to King Achish of Gath. The King's officials said to Achish, "Isn't this David, the king of his country? This is the man about whom the women sang, as they danced, 'Saul has killed thousands, but David has killed tens of thousands.'"

Their words made a deep impression on David, and he became very much afraid of King Achish. So whenever they were around, David pretended to be insane and acted like a madman when they tried to restrain him; he would scribble on the city gates and dribble down his beard. So Achish said to his officials, "Look! The man is mad! Why did you bring him to me? Haven't I got enough madmen already? Why bring another one to annoy me with his daft actions right here in my own house?"

- 1 Samuel 21:10-15 (Good News)

In a later scene, while David is on the run from him, Saul’s men and David’s men are hidden from each other on opposite sides of the same hill. In another sitcommy coincidence, Saul takes a leak in the very cave where David is hiding, watched in silence by David’s petrified followers.

When I read this as a teenager, I reasoned that if this was fiction, then the writing team had clearly changed since the opening chapter about the dramatic tragedy of that poor childless woman.

By the end of the book, in a section which my NIV Bible entitles Saul and the Witch of Endor, Samuel has died, so an increasingly desperate Saul decides to contact his ghost for advice. Unfortunately Saul has also outlawed all mediums in his land, so he just has to go to an illegal medium disguised as one of his own subjects. (I like to think he dressed up as a woman, complete with boobs, lipstick and accidental double-entendres, because, y'know, the whole farce just seems to be going that way)

Even better value is the Darby Translation, which actually translates ‘medium’ as ‘a woman who has a spirit of Python.’ Now they both read like men dressed up as women... with very high-pitched voices...

(one of whom might explode at any moment)

And, despite the gravity of what transpires, the ensuing argument Saul has with Samuel’s ghost is such a melodramatic situation that it’s hard to take very seriously. Far from telling Saul how to save his life, Samuel instead tells him that he’s going to die. With his family. Tomorrow. D’oh!

Though I type the above with a bit of a snigger, I have tremendous respect for Saul. He was a real person, like me. He made mistakes, like me. And he lost everything. As we all ultimately do, except, he died knowing his children were dying that day too. I hope that’s not like me.

He quite literally didn’t even have a prayer.

Or did he? The most galling thing about Saul’s end is that he doesn’t come across as an unusually bad man for the Old Testament. My modern Christian perspective says that God would forgive him, heal him, teach him and save him. I think God ultimately saves everyone. Even those who continually turn away from God can hardly hold out against him forever, and God has rather alot of time, patience and love.

If that’s true, I might meet Saul one day and have to explain why I wrote a blog entry poking fun at his downfall and death.

But I think that, in Heaven, it just won't matter that much to him.


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