(Carlo Collodi, RIP. Photo credit)
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Gilboa or Ziklag?
Now the Philistines attacked Israel, forcing the Israelites to flee. Many were slaughtered on the slopes of Mount Gilboa. The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons, and they killed three of his sons—Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malkishua. (1 Sam 31:1-2)
If the Darwin Award had been awarded in the year 1010 bc, the grand prize would have had to go to Saul’s soldiers who died on Mount Gilboa, with Jonathan, son of King Saul of Israel, as the poster boy. We’re taught in Sunday school that Jonathan was a great man of faith—unlike his father Saul, who was obviously a son of Satan—and for much of his life that seems to be true. But I award him a Darwin for being, when it was most important, in the last place his spiritual acumen should have taken him.
Put another way, if his desire was to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mt 6:33), and if the godly people of the land were his true heroes (Ps 16:3), he should not have followed Saul to Mount Gilboa.
Maybe he was there because he looked up to his father. Saul’s first act as king had been to be the leader in battle that Israel had called for. As leader he sacrificed his own property before asking anyone else to sacrifice theirs, and he led the charge against the Ammonites and so rescued the town of Jabesh (1 Sam 11:7-11). So far, he was the kind of father Jonathan could look up to. But not for long.
We first meet Jonathan when he leads a successful revolt against Philistine rule over his tribe’s allotted land (1 Sam 13:3). The good is soon undone, however, when the Philistines mount a response: Saul panics and offers a burnt sacrifice in direct violation of the Torah and the instructions of Samuel, God’s chosen leader (1 Sam 13:6-14). It is at this point that God first announces that Saul’s dynasty will end (13:13-14). If Jonathan did not hear Samuel speak with his own ears, without doubt someone else told him what Samuel had said. He certainly knew by the time he told David, “You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you” (1 Sam 23:17).
Soon after Samuel’s announcement, Jonathan raids another Philistine garrison, which triggers another battle in which Israel wins a Pyrrhic victory: Saul places a curse on anyone who eats anything before Saul the egomaniac is satisfied with the results of the battle. When the Lord shows Israel that they cannot continue to fight the Philistines because someone has sinned, Saul specifically names Jonathan as included under the curse: “I vow by the name of the LORD who rescued Israel that the sinner will surely die, even if it is my own son Jonathan!” (1 Sam 14:39). I suppose Jonathan could still have been looking up to his father even after that—Saul was treating people equally there, if nothing else—but I have to wonder why he stuck around.
We should notice here the parallel between this incident and the confrontation between Jacob and Laban at Mizpah, where Jacob pronounces a deadly curse on anyone who would have stolen Laban’s household idol. As it turned out, the culprit was Jacob’s beloved Rachel, and she did indeed die soon thereafter (Gen 31:32; 35:19). God made the curse come true. If Jonathan connected Rachel’s situation to his own, he shows no evidence of it: as already noted, later in the story he seems to assume he will live to see David become king (1 Sam 23:17).
Jonathan no doubt heard Samuel later tell Saul that God had already chosen Saul’s successor to the throne (1 Sam 15:28), and he acted on that knowledge by giving David his accoutrements as crown prince (18:4).
Yet no matter how murderous and ungodly Saul became, Jonathan refused to leave his side. He stayed after he learned that not only David’s but his own life was in danger from Saul (20:33). He watched his father slaughter the innocent priests of Nob (22:19) and no doubt heard that David had twice spared his father’s life when he could have easily killed him (24:11; 26:15). Even so, Saul was still single-mindedly pursuing David to the death.
Finally, he no doubt knew that his father went to visit the witch at En Dor before the battle on Mount Gilboa (28:7-25). He would have known of the hypocrisy of a man who had purged Israel of mediums, presumably by killing at least some of them (28:9), himself visiting a medium. He would have known that “the LORD [was refusing] to answer [Saul], either by dreams or by sacred lots or by the prophets” (28:6)—in short, the Lord was no longer with Saul. And he would have heard that at the séance the Lord through Samuel had promised to kill not only Saul but him as well the next day.
Yet that next day he goes out and fights the Philistines beside his father and is killed.
If indeed his first priority in life was to be second to David in David’s kingdom (23:17), why did he never join David in exile? Life was rough in that exile, of course: while Jonathan was being killed, David and his band were still recovering from the Amalek destruction of their homes in Ziklag. Before that they had wandered from Philistia to Moab and back again (21:10; 22:3-4; 27:2), always in fear of their lives. So things were rough for David, but Jonathan knew that God was with David and not with Saul. So why did he stay with Saul?
As I can come up with no good reason, I present the Darwin Award to Jonathan and Saul’s other soldiers.
The men who had taken Saul’s banner down from the castles of their hearts and were following David—or most of them, it seems—lived to tell about it. Those who—in obedience to some Old Testament version of Romans 13?—went to battle singing “his banner over me is Saul’s” didn’t. What’s really scary is that in suit-and-tie Sunday school terms Jonathan was a much better man than David’s general Joab, yet it was Joab who was out living in the cave with David.
If “wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it” (Lk 7:35), who was wise, and who was otherwise?
My vast readership knows that I’m going to try to apply the folly of Jonathan and his men to US evangelicalism’s undying devotion to Uncle Sam, and I won’t disappoint you. “But Jonathan had supernatural revelation from Samuel,” I hear you say. “We don’t, so we can’t know for sure that Uncle Sam is evil, so we have to stick by him.”
OK, fair enough. My question is this: What means apart from special, supernatural revelation might God use to tell his people to withdraw their support from ungodly authority, ordained of God though it be? Today
Look at the plain brown wrapper evidence Jonathan had to work with: Saul was disobedient to God, lethally selfish in battle, guilty of shedding innocent blood, and lethally hypocritical. He was a moral and ethical failure. David was imperfect, but he was good enough that Jonathan could see through his own self-interest and acknowledge David as worthy of being king.
How obedient is Uncle Sam to God? God is not welcome in Uncle Sam’s education system, he’s becoming less welcome in the military, he’s a laughingstock in popular culture, and that list goes on. The leveling of Fallujah and the blithe acceptance of “collateral damage” shows his bloodthirstiness to be no better than Saul’s. His War on Drugs, run by at least three presidents and God knows how many legislators who (and whose children) have used illegal substances but not gone to jail for it, is proof of his hypocrisy. Finally, I would also consider Uncle Sam’s defeats—none of the original military objectives are currently in effect—in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan as evidence that the Lord isn’t in Uncle Sam’s war efforts. (And no, I don’t necessarily believe he always has been heretofore.)
So you, my conservative evangelical brethren, are welcome to continue to trudge up Mount Gilboa with Uncle Sam. Go ahead and vote for Pinocchio, whether the long-eared or the long-nosed variety, and defend him against people like me.
As for me and my house, the Amelekites may burn our shacks in Ziklag to the ground, but I think I’m better off in exile with David’s greater Son, even if it means working alongside the Joabs—atheists, non-evagelical Christians, and people of no particular religious commitment—who are leading the revolt against Uncle Sam’s godlessness, while the evangelical Jonathans proudly send their taxes and children to aid and abet it.
Moses “thought it was better to suffer for the sake of the Messiah than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the great reward that God would give him.” May God grant me the grace (and you the desire) to do likewise.