Saul has fallen, defeated. His heirs lie at his side and his troops are scattered, at least the ones who still live. The Philistines take his head and his body as trophies. This is defeat. Saul was the Lord's anointed, and despite his failings and his stumblings we need to keep that in mind...or at least the people of Israel need to keep that in mind. I understand that to be the message for us as we end our time in I Samuel; but what does that message mean for us today?
There are a couple object lessons to embrace. As we move through the end of the 89th psalm and into the 4th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, one or two really stand out as cautions to us all:
- lesson #1-avoid triumphalism. Really, in the end, all victories do belong to God.
- lesson #2-when it comes to living in fidelity with God's will, beware of succumbing to earthly, political expediency
Sounds simple, but putting those lessons into practice is a lot harder than you would think. Saul's death removes his person as a block for Israel's "success" and "well-being." Saul's death clears the way for David to become king, to embrace his destiny and the anointing God, through Samuel, had placed upon him. Saul's death at his own hand removes the possibility that a guilt-stain for harming the Lord's anointed might attach to anyone. Three cheers for that? Not so much. Defeat is defeat, and the death of the Lord's anointed should be an occasion for mourning and not celebration.
On the other hand, the victory of God's anointed needs to be handled with the same caution and prayerful humility that we accept as is due in defeat. The name of Jesus is vindicated in his resurrection, and is revealed as a name with authority when Peter and John use it to heal the man crippled since birth. Despite the efforts of the religious authorities to suppress this good news, it continues to break out...and yet, Peter and the apostles use that victory as an opportunity to give glory to God and not to celebrate their victory over and against those opposed to them. It's a fine distinction, but an important one...and it is a model for the church and for all other human institutions. We experience true victory when glory is given first to the One who creates, redeems and sustains all things. That victory is confirmed when even the vanquished are lifted up and made as whole as can be, so that all can share and benefit in reconciliation and healing.