3 Kings & a Wiseman, Part I: Saul
His name was Saul. He lived in a little “third world” country about 3,000 years and 8,000 miles from where I sit as I write. Just as importantly, he lived in a cultural setting that even the most studied modern anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, and theologians can only barely attempt to understand.
So, is there anything we can learn by revisiting the accounts of someone so far away from us, in every respect? Or is it possible that the main issue in every human life, then and now, is actually the same one? Is it possible that the main issue for each of us is how we will respond to a question God is putting to us, whether or not we pay any attention? And are the biblical writers correct in believing that GOD PUTS THE QUESTION TO EVERY HUMAN: What part will you play on the stage I have given you, and in this story I am writing?
The bits of information we can glean from the book of 1 Samuel indicate that the young man Saul had a lot going for him. His family was the family of Kish, who was, for the times, a pretty successful agricultural business man, and Saul appears to be the main heir of all of this. And, of course, they had powerful family roots in a genealogy that included Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel and their son Benjamin.
We are also told that Saul himself is tall and handsome. He’s a lover of soul-searching, quieting music, a person respected my men and women alike for his courage, passion, sensitivity, and vulnerability (like many taller people who stand out in every crowd, Saul is a bit shy).
And, unlike most powerful people on the rise then or now, we hear of no bribery connected to Saul, no treason against his political superiors, and no adulterous affairs with the wives of his “subjects.” Saul is certainly not one who begins his assent as a power-grabber and center stage addict.
In terms of Israel’s well being, Saul does not build temples to idols. He is politically and militarily so successful that he moves Israel from third-world status to up-and-coming second-tier developing nation status, and he does not kill off those who opposed his rise to power, but rather includes them in his inauguration. Saul even has prophetic moments, in which he is overcome with the spirit of God and speaks prophetically. He also has three delightful, capable children, one of whom is Jonathan, who is deservedly considered the obvious choice to be the next king of Israel.
Now, you may be beginning to chaff under this delightful description of Saul as you think, “But you are omitting how he treated David!” That is what most of us know to be most significant about Saul. However—without diminishing the tragedy of how Saul treated David—I would like to suggest that even that particular tragedy is the consequence of a much larger tragic decision on Saul’s part: Saul never got over seeing God as a tool to be used in Saul’s agendas, in Saul’s story.
In other words, Saul never saw life as his opportunity to play a small but meaningful part in a much bigger story that God is writing. He never saw the world and history as God’s big stage, and his life as an invitation to improvise a part on this stage that is so much bigger than the small stage of our lifetime.
God wanted to give Saul a much bigger part than Saul ever took, according to the prophet Samuel, with whom Saul always had a love/hate relationship: “The LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, 14but now your kingdom will not continue; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart; and the LORD has appointed him to be ruler over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14)
What led Saul from a pretty good start to a life of increasing darkness, again and again, was that when his story and God’s story collided, Saul kept seeing the story as primarily his story, and God as an occasional bit player in Saul’s story.
In short, Saul is a model precursor of most of us modern humans, with our “secular” world view that knows there is a God, but thinks God’s role is to be invited to play an occasional part in our story. We invite God in for births, weddings, funerals, hospital stays, and Sunday church. We seem to hardly be able to imagine that our business, our vocation, our sex lives, our savings, our child rearing, our friendships, our difficult relationships, our vacations, and our recreation are all being played out on God’s stage, in God’s much bigger story.
What if the writer of the books of Samuel has it right? The Big Stage and the Big Story are God’s. It is us who are being invited to play a part in a narrative that is so much bigger than any one of us that we can hardly imagine where it has been or where it is going or where we are in the process. But, what if we are wanted? What if we are loved? What if the invitation is for real? And, what if, by some grace that is beyond my comprehension, God has decided that he would like it if my part in his story never has to end?