Friday, April 1, 2011

Samson, Saul, and David: a Common Bond

While reading through I Samuel today, something struck me.  Samson, Saul, and David all have one thing in common: the Philistines.  Samson was judge against the Philistines.  I Samuel says that Saul battled with the Philistines all his days as king.  David, in service to Saul, is constantly going out to battle against the Philistines.  In a way, this creates a standard with which we, the reader, can make some comparisons.  Namely, as leaders in the nation of Israel, which of the three gives us the best example and definition for "servant of God?"

Of course we remember Samson: womanizer, murderer, narcissist, hot-head, and lover of prostitutes.  He is only a servant of God in the sense that God uses him.  As far as being an example to Israel of what it means to serve God, Samson is an absolute failure.  Samson's life culminates in an act of vengeance, and suicidal vengeance at that.

Next we have Saul.  Saul starts out alright.  He's humble.  It is not ambition that leads him to accept the crown (or sword, or whatever his sign of office happened to be).  But once he is king, well, he becomes as self-serving as Samson.  Keeping power becomes the driving force guiding Saul's use of power.  In the end he leaves serving God behind in the name of serving himself, betraying is once mentor, his son, his daughters, and his greatest servant.

Finally we see David, a shepherd, a musician, and a military genius.  Even though the fact that Samuel has anointed him king is kept a secret, everyone who sees him realizes that this man has royal potential.  When women welcome the armies home by singing, "Saul has killed his thousands, but David tens of thousands," Saul rightly perceives this as a change in national support.  It may be subconscious, but Israel's allegiances are shifting.  But how does David handle this?  He never tries to overthrow Saul.  He constantly obeys Saul as God's anointed king.  When Saul gives him the opportunity to marry his daughter, David sees himself as unworthy.  Even in the face of repeated murder attempts, David never retaliates.  He never grasps for revenge like Samson or seeks his own advantage like Saul.

The tension with the Philistines created an environment of instability and disorientation for Israel.  Sociologists, psychologists, and theologians have long understood such an environment to be an impetus for growth and change.  Samson, Saul, and David are all shaped by that environment, but how are they shaped?  Samson and Saul become self-destructive.  Only David takes a different road.  Only David comes out as a true servant of God, capable of providing his people with an example of how they were meant to be.  In so doing, he set the standard against which Israel would compare all their later kings.  When compared to Samson and Saul, it makes sense that Israel would remember him as a man after God's own heart.  Samson was a man after Samson's heart.  Saul a man after Saul's heart.  Only David focused his eyes on God's will and not his own...at least up to this point in his life.

Stopping point: I Samuel 20

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