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What the heck has happened to Saul? Remember how just a few chapters ago he was basically a nice guy, and maybe a little star-struck about suddenly becoming king? He was the guy that went out of his way to chase after a bunch of lost donkeys . . . donkeys that the Bible spends waaaay too much time telling us about since they turn out to be basically irrelevant to the story except for character exposition. Saul was a little taciturn, sure, but he wasn’t a jerk.
How quickly power changes people.
Saul adjusts to the idea of kingship pronto and gets the transition done old school: he finishes off an enemy. Now he’s feeling like a king! His glory days last about three chapters. It’s all downhill from there.
By chapter 14 we see him swearing to kill his son Jonathan–one of my favorite characters in the Old Testament–just because Jonathan, weary and hungry after kicking butt in battle, ate a little honey to refresh himself. No one had told him the honey was cursed. Oops. And Saul would have gotten away with killing his son, too, had not the pesky people gotten in the way.
Saul’s going a little crazy here. To add to the mix, he also sets up his own unauthorized altar, which is very bad in OT land. DIY religion never ends well in these stories. One minute you’re creating your own altar, and the next you’re consulting the Witch of Endor (also bad; she looks much nicer in the picture) and learning that God’s ordered a hit on you.
What’s interesting to me about Saul’s arrogance and violence is that God initially turned away from him because Saul wasn’t violent enough. Given the chance to kill every last Amalekite (chapter 15), Saul showed just a chink of mercy, and God chastised him for it: compassion was not in Saul’s marching orders! It’s all downhill from there for Saul. When God picks a new wunderkind, David, Saul will be torn between his love for David and his terrible jealousy. And here’s some foreshadowing: Saul’s fall from grace is a precursor to David’s, except that David’s sins will make Saul look like a choirboy. Saul only threatens to kill his son; David actually gets the job done with one of his sons.
Lots of fun ahead. Tune in to Flunking Sainthood every Friday for further installments of As the Bible Turns.
#Twible 1 Sam 9: Lost donkeys a McGuffin to set up Saul as the kind of guy who’d seek lost donkeys. Sam as talent scout: stick w/me, kid.
#Twible 1 Sam 10: Silent sons never change. Returning home from Sam’s, all Saul says is “Donkeys are OK.” No “Oh yeah, & BTW I’m king now.”
#Twible 1 Sam 11: Saul makes bid for kingship old-fashioned way: hacking an enemy. Ah, the good old days. Coronation! Party like it’s 1047.
#Twible 1 Sam 12: You know how Obi-Wan has to vanish after Luke’s a Jedi? With Saul as king, Sam exits stage left, lecturing all the way.
#Twible 1 Sam 13: 1st occurrence of “land of Israel.” We’re a real country now, people. No more wee clans & land plots! A Colbert Nation.
#Twible 1 Sam 14: Saul’s son Jonathan doesn’t get memo re: not eating honey; mean Saul curses him. People stand up for Jon. Power 2 people!