A bit of background:
Genesis – God makes people in his image to be with him for ever – Awesome!
(except for that bit about the apple and stuff, and the murder, and the lying, and the cheating and … OK, moving on)
Exodus – God’s people leave Egypt – led by Moses – Great!
(except for that bit when they got Aaron to make a golden calf god to worship)
Joshua – God’s people cross the Jordan to the Promised Land – led by Joshua – Brill!
(except for that bit with Achan and the stuff he nicked)
Judges – God’s people become a Holy Nation, a Light to the Gentile – led by godly(ish) judges – Fab!(sort of)
(except for that bit when … well, actually most of the book of Judges if I’m honest)
Alright, so God’s people turn out to be not so godly.
Samuel – So God’s people ask for a king, like all the other nations, instead of God’s choice of leader. Only a tiny bit insulting, that. Didn’t the Israelites realise that the problem wasn’t the leader, it was them?
So God gave them a king like all the other nations – Saul. He started off fine, but quickly built altars to foreign gods, and the Israelites ended up just like all the other nations. I guess they got what they asked for.
So God chose another king, but this time not like all the other nations had. This one was a shepherd-boy. From giant-slayer he went on as music-therapist to Saul, then BFF of the king’s son, Jonathan, then leader of Saul’s armies.
Fast-forward through Saul throwing spears at him, chasing him up and down the country with a price on his head, giving David’s wife to someone else, and you can imagine that Saul was not David’s Favourite Person Of All Time. And anyway, God had said that he, wonderful, sugar-coated David should be king, not rotten, ungodly Saul.
But then we come to this reading.
Saul and Jonathan have been killed in battle with the Philistines, and David hears of it. What would you expect his reaction to be? What would today’s politicians do when they heard of their opponent’s downfall? David’s mortal enemy is dead, the way is now clear for him to take the throne as God promised. Surly this is God’s doing, so should David not rejoice? David has won. Shouldn’t he cheer?
He writes a lament. David is truly sad about Jonathan – is this the first Biblical ‘Bromance’? About Saul? I think David is more sad for him – Saul, who had once been God’s chosen. It’s not just a lament for lost lives, but lost chances, lost visions, lost ways.
It can be easy for us to sort people into ’goodies’ and ‘baddies’, like on Scooby Doo. Then we can dislike the baddies because they’re, well, baddies. So it’s OK.
But real folks aren’t like that. We’re all bits of goodies and bits of baddies. You, me, and yes, even that person. I can think of someone that I’d like to consign to the ‘baddies’ pile so that I can safely dislike them. I expect you can too. But even Attila the Hun will have had some redeeming characteristics. (Perhaps he was very good at crocheting and was nice to his Nan.)
For David, Saul could have simply been a 2D baddie, but this lament shows a more 3D picture. “How the mighty have fallen”. There is no trace of triumph in that phrase, no crowing over a defeated enemy, but sadness at the good that once was and now is not.
Who is your ‘Saul’, and what lament could you compose?
Jesus told us to pray for our enemies, for the ‘Saul’ characters in our lives. It’s hard. It’s much easier to paint them as 2D ‘baddies’ with no redeeming features, but they too are created in God’s image and loved by him.
So join me. Take a deep breath, and pray for your enemy:
Pray God’s blessing on them.
Thank God for their good points (there are some, honest).
Ask God to help you forgive them as God in Christ forgives you.
Then breathe. And eat chocolate.
2 Samuel 1:17-27
And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar. He said:
“Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath,
publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.
“You mountains of Gilboa,
let there be no dew or rain upon you,
nor fields of offerings!
For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.
“From the blood of the slain,
from the fat of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan turned not back,
and the sword of Saul returned not empty.
“Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles;
they were stronger than lions.
“You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet,
who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
“How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle!
“Jonathan lies slain on your high places.
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
very pleasant have you been to me;
your love to me was extraordinary,
surpassing the love of women.
“How the mighty have fallen,
and the weapons of war perished!”
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.