I could also have called this post ‘What should you do if someone throws a spear at you?’* For both of these questions are taken from a long and difficult phase in the life of King David. It is reckoned that some 15-20 years went by between the day that Samuel anointed David until the day David’s place on the throne was finally secured. For much of that time he was forced to live as a fugitive, hiding in caves and sheltering with some of Israel’s traditional enemies while Saul, consumed by murderous fear, pursued him in an attempt to get rid of him.
The two sides of the David/Saul relationship give us a vivid insight into the two sides of the problems of rivalry and jealousy.
What do you do when it seems as though you are in the sandals of David? Someone is out to get you. You are the victim of an unjust boss at work who only sees you as a rival and not as a valued collaborator. How do you respond when people treat you in a way that you don’t deserve? What should you do when someone is blocking the path to something that you believe God has promised you?
These are the times when we need grace; we need God to come to our rescue; we need him to steady our faith.
But we are not always in the sandals of David. Rivalry and jealousy are double-edged swords. What about those times when there is more of the Saul than the David about us? What about those times when we are jealous of another person’s success, threatened by someone else’s gifts and popularity, or resentful of someone’s rapid rise which seems to be at our expense? Unlike Saul, we may never throw an actual spear at someone, but how often have we lingered in the dark shadowlands of jealousy and bitterness?
Saul gives a window into the psychology of envy.
When he first met David, it was so that David’s skilful musicianship could bring some calm to a troubled man who had been rejected by God as king. After David’s victory over Goliath (while Saul was hiding with everyone else – that’s leadership for you!), Saul was impressed. He invited him home. His son formed a close friendship with David. David was promoted in the military. No threat. No envy. No rivalry.
But that soon changed. Because of a song. Saul has struck down his thousands, sang the women, and David his ten thousands.
Whatever good vibes the first part might have inspired in Saul, the second part ticked him off. David is on the rise. Next thing he will be king. Saul would watch him.
Saul was in a terrible place. As RT Kendall describes him, he was ‘yesterday’s man.’ A lame duck king, rejected by God, plagued by an evil spirit, prone to dark moods, wracked with fear. He would spend the rest of his life fighting the Philistines and pursuing David.
One of the traps for leaders in Christ’s Kingdom is to think that it is, in fact, their kingdom. It might seem a very obvious mistake to make, but if you are a leader whose heart is dominated by jealousy and fear, if others are perceived as rivals rather than brothers and sisters and fellow workers, you need to ask yourself whose kingdom you are really working for.
If you are not a spiritual leader, it’s still worth exploring how you view other people around you. Can you genuinely rejoice in the success and prosperity of others? Can you be genuinely glad when they rise faster and travel farther than you?
The madness of jealous rivalry was such that it eventually led Saul to hurl a spear even at his own son.
On the other side of the picture is David. How do you respond when someone throws a spear at you? What do you sing when you are hiding in a cave from a mad king with murder on his mind?
When someone throws a spear, many people will be tempted to throw one back. How many workplaces, organisations and even churches have been turned into places of living misery because people are throwing spears at each other. Not literal spears, just accusations, lists of failures, shortcomings and inadequacies. Churches that are a far cry from what Spurgeon described as ‘the dearest place on earth’!
There is of course a uniqueness about David’s situation. At a particular time in history, this was God’s chosen king, waiting to reign. He points to Jesus. It will soon be time for us to sing once again, ‘O Come, o come, Emmanuel.’ He is God’s ultimate King and we pray, ‘Your Kingdom come.’
But while David may point to Jesus, he still speaks to those of us whose lives consist of spear-dodging. What do you do?
Amazingly David had not one, but two opportunities to take matters into his own hands and be done with Saul. The first time was in a cave (2 Samuel 24). David had previously taken up cave-dwelling with a rag tag bunch of disaffected malcontents in a place called Adullam (2 Samuel 22). Now he was in En-gedi when Saul came ‘to wash his hands.’
Even though some of his colleagues saw this as a God-given opportunity, and even though David was capable of quick, violent activity, this time (and in chapter 26) he said no. This was ‘the Lord’s anointed’; the Lord would take care of him.
‘Do not touch the Lord’s anointed’ is not meant to be a slogan behind which spiritual leaders can hide while they exempt themselves from all correction or criticism. It probably doesn’t mean that you should never use an appropriate grievance procedure in the office if you think a manager has been treating you unfairly. But it is a reminder of Scripture’s call to honour those whom God puts over us even as we honour all people.
Saul was a failed, flawed king, but David never treated him with anything less than honour and dignity. In his lament in 2 Samuel 1, David gave place to both Jonathan and Saul, calling on the people to remember what Saul had done for them.
Can we not hear the whisper of David’s Great Son, Jesus, calling on us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us?
And what should you sing in a cave?
You could try Psalm 57. David was in his cave, on the run from saul when he wrote it.
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.
I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah
You can read the rest of the Psalm here.
*Thanks to Gene Edwards (A Tale of Three Kings) for the inspiration to make use of this metaphor.