I have been leading a Bible Study on I Samuel for a few months now (all welcome – Wednesday mornings, free breakfast at 8:00, Bible study immediately after). The life of Saul always leaves me feeling sad. We just went over chapter 18 which strikes me as the crux moment of all the trouble. Prior to this, Saul has made mistakes. Though he didn’t want to be king in the first place, be began to be addicted to power. ‘Power’ being the issue, he trusted military might more than he trusted God. These things led to Samuel informing Saul that God had rejected him from being king but Saul’s seeming inability to step down and go back to farming. Then David enters the picture. There is the slaying of Goliath (a job Saul surely should have stepped up to himself but didn’t) and the subsequent adulation of David by the people. Here Saul complains – What remains but to give David the kingdom?! Hint – that might have been a good idea! But Saul isn’t going to do that.
And the longer Saul refuses, the worse his problems become.
*Separated from God, Saul is troubled by an evil spirit. This idea is complicated by the description that God sent the evil spirit to trouble Saul. There’s more than one way to understand that. Briefly (since it really isn’t the point of this blog) The spirit in question may be an angel – not evil in itself - but accomplishing a purpose that may be described as ‘evil’ for Saul – contrary to Saul’s personal good and happiness. Or, the spirit may be a fallen angel; little to no distinction being made between what God allows and what God does/sends. Either way, Saul is deprived of the wholesome influence of God and left to something else. Repairing his relationship with God – which would need to have involved abdicating the throne – would be the direction of healing. Continuing in rebellion against God leads to – not healing.
*Saul’s son Jonathan becomes David’s fast friend. Saul perceives this as a personal betrayal. The more he hates David the more he resents his son’s loyalty to David. Not only is Jonathan, from his father’s perspective, being disloyal to his dad – he is also being disloyal to his own future interests. Saul wants Jonathan to take the throne after him – not David!
*Saul arranges (partly in accord with the promises he made to ‘whoever’ would slay Goliath) for David to marry one of his daughters. He plans for the daughter to become ‘a snare’ to David, i.e. feeding Saul crucial information about her husband and using her wifely position to influence David according to Saul’s dictates. In this manner, Saul will control and likely be able to ruin David.
*Saul, failing in his attempts to murder David personally, repeatedly puts David in dangerous situations with their national enemy – the Philistines. Saul openly admits to himself that he is trying to get David conveniently dead.
But Jonathan remains loyal to David. Michal (Saul’s daughter) turns out actually to love and support her husband and God keeps giving David success against the Philistines. Saul is increasingly isolated – neither his God nor his family seems to favor him over David.
What Saul seems incapable of realizing is that neither God nor his children wish to favor wrong over right. But, then, this is a common human failing. We want those important to us to support us – right or wrong – to take our side in every fight. We are painfully slow to realize that those who won’t support our wrong actions are doing us a favor.
And here, with all these frustrations mounting, the language changes. Saul had ‘hated’ David. Now he ‘fears’ David and a ‘feedback loop’ is established. Terminology note: In the world of audio-electronics microphones produce an increasingly loud and unpleasant sound when a feedback loop is established – Speakers amplify the signal from the microphone and the microphone picks up the sound from the speaker – which amplifies the signal from the microphone – which picks up the sound of the speaker – which amplifies the signal from the microphone – which ….. The technical term for this is ‘positive loop gain’. We all call it feedback. Business and advertising have picked up the idea and strive to set up loops in which information from the point of sale is fed back into product development which increases sales – the information from which is fed back into product development which …. They still call it a feedback loop. It’s a concept in psychology too. As it turns out – the phenomenon of feedback is useful for describing all sorts of things.
Anyway – Saul and feedback loops. Saul falls victim to twin monsters - isolation and fear – which feed each other. The two monsters grow increasingly large. And Saul’s soul shrivels, consumed by the growing feedback monsters. It didn’t have to happen. There were paths out. Saul just refused to take them.
And how different are we really? Don’t let Satan set up feedback loops in your life. But, for what it’s worth, there are positive (positive in the moral sense, not the digital audio sense) feedback loops for us too. Love and hope feed each other just as surely as isolation and fear but the result is – better.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Pastor of Indian Run Christian Church