Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lesson from the Life of King Saul: Tracing His Early Life

Remember this 2001 movie with Brendan Frazer and Rachel Weisz? Yup, that's it: The Mummy Returns. The man standing beside them on the foreground is Israeli actor Oded Fehr. If any of us is wondering what King Saul may have looked like, Fehr may be a good replica for the King: a stand-up kind of guy, a head taller than any of his countrymen. The very thing that got him volunteered into the throne from the beginning.(Picture Credit: Copyright 2001 Universal Studios.)

I. Saul's Early Life:

Little can be gleaned of Saul in the records of his pre-king days and it can be safe to say that the dispositions of anger, fear, and envy may have had roots in his past. Nevertheless, general Biblical records show that Saul started out good.

In 1 Samuel 9–10, we can gather that he was considerate of his father, obedient to the charge of finding the lost donkeys, and wanting not to be a source of anxiety if he lingered too long without any word to his father about how he fared. In verse 2, he was noted to be “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others.” This last statement was even re-echoed in 10:23. In this same verse, we find Saul hiding among the baggage which delayed his ordination as king. For us today, we find this impulse of timidity a little “cute.” It’s like, “Awww, isn’t that nice: just like Gideon hiding in his father’s threshing floor, or Moses trembling before the burning bush and volunteering his brother Aaron, instead of himself, to free the Israelites in Egypt.” And we can also recall how that suggestion by Moses infuriated God in Exodus 4:14.

Further into 1 Samuel 10:27 is a documentation of the presence of some “troublemakers” who “despised him” in the crowd that came to witness his appointment as king. No such mention of troublemakers was made during the anointing of David or, much less, Solomon. In relation to this is Saul’s mysterious silence. In the same way, the passage is silent as to why these troublemakers were ever mentioned at all. It can, however, give us a clue to a character of Saul as seen by those individuals that day: a character that brought him at odds with the Prophet Samuel and God.

II. Saul's Emotional Instability

Saul lived a life of emotional instability, in that he was not sensible enough to apply or remember the basic self-discipline expected of a respectable member of the Israelite society. Every Israelite raised in the Scriptures, which Moses had already furnished for the nation three hundred years further back, knew that the world’s first murder was committed by Cain due to his failure to “master” the sin that was crouching in his life (Genesis 4:7). Emotional self-control was nothing new to the people of Israel. The proverbs on the subject made by King Solomon simply reinforced what the Israelite society already practiced and upheld.

Throughout his tenure as king, Saul exhibited a variety of mood swings that panned between terror and wrath. He was a character of emotional instability. In spite of the transformation God performed on his character in 1 Samuel 10:9, it was this flaw that led to his downfall. It is what is known to us today as something that we need to specially focus on and give more effort and discipline in renewing even with prayer, fasting, and counseling. Saul, however, never bothered with this, probably because he was too proud, too busy, or too blind to the fact of it. Just like Cain in Genesis 4, Saul was too careless to master the sin crouching into his life.

If the story of King Saul, instead of David's, ever be made for the movies, I'd vote for this guy to play the King. (Picture Credit: Copyright 2001 Universal Studios.)

Saul was a man of anger. In many instances, Saul launched out almost unstoppable in the zeal of burning anger. For a while this worked. In 1 Samuel 11:6, he “burned with anger” when he learned about the dilemma of Jabesh Gilead. The Spirit of God used this anger to fuel his drive to inspire all of Israel to engage the besieging Ammonites into war. Soon, however, this fuel became so combustible that it led him into a murderous rampage to send David running, the slaughter of the priests and the inhabitants of Nob, and a breach of a vow made hundreds of years before involving the Gibeonites later bringing a three-year famine into Israel during the time of David. The passage in 2 Samuel 21:2 states that “Saul in his zeal…had tried to annihilate” the Gibeonites. The word “zeal” in this verse is the Hebrew qana, affirming a malicious zeal
borne out of jealousy or envy.

Even Saul’s tiniest tendency pointed toward a violent disposition. 1 Samuel 15:27 documents how Saul in desperation caught hold of the edge of Samuel’s robe and tore it when the Prophet turned his back to leave. Here, Saul had just willfully disobeyed a Divine mandate to completely annihilate the Amalekites and everything that belonged to them, when he caught sight of the best of the sheep and cattle.

Fear and timidity was no stranger in Saul’s life. In 1 Samuel 10:27 he was greatly intimidated by the derision of his detractors. In 1 Samuel 13:12, the sight of the great Philistine army in Micmash paralyzed him in seven days of fear, deciding to wait for the time of the Prophet Samuel’s arrival instead of launching out an offensive on the enemy. He “felt compelled” to offer the burnt offering Samuel was supposed to dedicate as he did in the end of the breaking of the siege of Jabesh Gilead. This infuriated the Prophet when he arrived at Saul’s camp at Gilgal to find the Israelite army caught up in an impasse caused by Saul’s tentativeness. In 1 Samuel 17:16, another stalemate maneuvered by the Philistines froze the Israelite king and his army into petrified indecision. A giant named Goliath walked out before the armies and issued a challenge “every morning and every evening” for “forty days.” The single good thing that came out of this deadlock was that it provided the avenue for David to rise and Goliath to fall.

(Next up: Saul's Legendary Disobedience.)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lessons In the Life of King Saul: A King Possessed?

THE DEVOLUTION OF SAUL SANK DEEPER until he was as terrible as a beast in bloodlust when he chased David all over Israel. Beast was a proper typology of this king whose inability to hold rein of his impulses drew him mad. Notice the sudden shift of royal murderous temper to that of relent and remorse in 1 Samuel 24:16 to 21, where he even wept. Aloud.

But Saul pursues David a second time. Talk about mood swings! It is clear how his nature of rage and this tormenting spirit had permanently possessed him. David and a warrior creeps down into the king’s camp while they all had fallen into deep slumber and snatches evidences close to where the king lay to later show him and the entire camp how easy it was to slay him. Again: Saul’s heart changes color from red to yellow—"Is that your voice, David my son?" (1 Samuel 26:17) "I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have erred greatly” (verse 21). Had not his death occurred in a battle against the Philistines shortly after that, Saul might have pursued David a third time.

To us reading this account of Saul’s life, it will be plain for us to conclude that the mental torment of fear and rage had finally deteriorated into insanity. Remember, however, that this type of insanity is associated with, and with all the fingerprints of, demonic oppression. And the ultimate goal of oppression is possession. Almost every Christian who has handled demons in exorcism before know that demonic oppression is the final step that leads to possession. Saul’s type of demon-possession was similar to the symptoms of schizophrenia, in that the spirit visited him at intermittent times. This explains why the king was normal at one moment then homicidal all of a sudden. This would also explain 1 Samuel 18:12 why “Saul was afraid of David.” There was only one reason for Saul’s fear of David, and it was not because he knew the latter would eventually take his throne and be the next king, greater and more beloved. Simply, “because the Lord was with David.”

An evil spirit cannot withstand the Presence of God. In Psalm 68:1, David pointed out in poetic rejoicing: “Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered: let them also that hate Him flee before Him” (King James Version). So great is a demon’s fear of His Presence that the very hint of His approach can send it scuttling away. This can be seen in Matthew 15:21–28 where a Canaanite mother was pleading for Jesus to deliver her possessed daughter. Jesus granted the deliverance, even though He found no need to physically come face to face with the victim. Notice in verse 22 how the mother addressed Jesus: “Son of David.”

The people of ancient Israel understood the association of demons (also known as unclean spirits) with certain types of insanity. In the New Testament, the opponents of Jesus accused Him of being “demon-possessed and raving mad” (John 10:20). In the same way, there were physical impairments that were of supernatural origin. In one instance, Jesus dealt with a demon-possessed man “who was blind and mute” (Matthew 12:22). The result of the instantaneous deliverance was also the restoration of the man’s sight and speech. For such a miracle alone, Jesus received a unique kind of amazement from all over Israel during His time because, before Him, there has almost been no known permanent deliverance for a demoniac.

The Old Testament method of exorcism was based on the atoning blood of sacrificial “goats and calves and ashes of a heifer sprinkled on them who are…unclean” to “ceremonially…sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean” (Hebrews 9:13, emphasis mine). With such rituals and methods did the priests and religious leaders in Jesus’ time treat a demoniac. The resulting ceremonial “outward cleanness” was the basis of Jesus’ remark when he described a newly delivered victim’s condition as being “swept clean and put in order” (Luke 11:25): something very inviting to a visiting demon. In Hebrews 10:4, these rituals were never meant to cleanse permanently, being merely “annual reminders of sins” (verse 3). When Jesus came casting demons out, the authority He wielded commanded permanence, drawing people’s amazement far and wide, very quickly (Luke 4:36). Jesus’ method was something simply new: to “give orders to evil spirits and they come out!” In Matthew 9:33 documents how the people remarked, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

Before Jesus, David held the record of having the most unique method of casting out demons: exorcism by harp music. The element of permanent delivery of the victim, however, was not there; and he was required to play once again “whenever the spirit…came upon Saul” (1 Samuel 16:23).

Demon possession in the Old Testament was deemed as a principal sign of the judgment of God in the life of a person. There was virtually no deliverance from it that it was a fact certain for the spirit to return and plague its victim repeatedly. Jesus in the New Testament cited this fact in the gospels, Luke 11:24 and 25—“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’” The very attacks of Satan himself are characteristic of this. In Luke 4:13, after an unsuccessful endeavor to tempt Jesus three times, he fled “until and opportune time.” It is an accepted fact, as further stated by Jesus, that the subsequent re-possession of the demoniac ill “worse than the first” (11:26). Because of this, the victim was cast far from the populously sanctified Israelite cities and towns into lonely regions, like the wilderness, where he could do the least damage and hopefully find death.

This popular view toward demon possession is somewhat suggested in the very syntax of the phrase “an [or, the] evil spirit from the Lord” in 1 Samuel 16:14, 17 and 23. The innate emphasis of this passage is quite the opposite of what it appears to suggest. God did not send the evil spirit; He was not the source of it. Instead, the invasion of this spirit came the instant God withdrew His Holy Spirit from Saul. Notice that verse 14 begins with the clause, “Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul.” This departure of the Spirit, thus, opened the opportunity for an evil spirit to attack Saul. Perhaps the best word to use here is “abandoned,” in that Saul was deserted for whatever influence that found its way to him. The phrase “from the Lord” simply hinting on the grammatical mood of speech , can therefore be interpreted: “as if from the Lord.”

There are, however, evidences in the Scriptures that show God deliberately handing over the life of one mortal over to the enemy, such as what was done to Job. Here, Satan was not authorized to take Job’s life, unlike with Saul. In the New Testament, this principle continues to exist in 1 Corinthians 5:5, where the Apostle Paul charged the church members to “hand [the offender] over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.”

In the Old Testament, a demon-possessed individual was viewed as a walking deadman awaiting death. His life is viewed as that of the fallen angels’, destined for hell yet continue to walk the earth before the appointed time of their judgment. This kind of life can be seen in the documented case of the Gadarene demoniac in Mark 5:1?20 and Luke 8:26?38. In Luke’s account, the man “for a long time…had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs” (verse 27) in addition to other “solitary places” where the demon would drive him into (verse 29). Permanence, to settle down in a home and establish a livelihood, is a quality of the living; but not to a demon-possessed who cares nothing for his own existence, as a beast headed for destruction. In the same way, note how Saul was driven two times to scour the Palestinian countryside. In light of a possessing demon’s restless disposition, it may seem that Saul enjoyed the travel alone apart from his desire to see his target slain.

The study ain't done yet. More King Saul to come.

PHOTO CREDITS: Corbis images