By Matt Redmond
The story of Saul’s death and David’s actions afterward have always been hard for me to understand. As king, Saul had not only rebelled against the God he was supposed to be serving, but in his fits of jealousy, he also sought to kill David. And yet, David, upon finding out Saul had been killed by an Amalekite, turns around and kills the Amalekite—the one who’d put an end to his enemy. Then David sings a lament over Saul and Jonathan with the repeated refrain, “How the mighty have fallen,” which I can only hear now in the high and lonesome voice of country singer Margo Price.
Certainly the Amalekite was surprised by David’s action. He probably expected to be rewarded. But what about everyone else? He couldn’t have been the only one there who wanted Saul dead. Saul was a terrible king who’d been hunting David and his men, set on killing them.
I have to confess, I am more like the Amalekite and not very much like David. Wanting Saul dead is my gut reaction even now, reading this story for the hundredth time. I look at David and have trouble seeing his actions towards the Amalekite as anything other than capricious.
In his novel Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, C.S. Lewis retells the story of Cupid and Psyche. It’s a masterful work of storytelling. The first part of the book features the mercurial manner in which the King of Glome deals with those who are against him—even his own daughters. At any moment, his fury could flare, causing blood to be spilled and fortunes to be lost.
Reading that story alongside the saga of Saul and David, I find it easy to compare their actions and become frustrated with David. Why was David so grieved by the death of Saul, who wanted him dead? Why did he lament Saul’s death and go on to avenge him?
I think we get a clue when David repeatedly calls Saul the “LORD’s anointed” (2 Samuel 1:14). Yahweh Himself put Saul in the position to reign as king, and not even Saul’s most heinous acts could override God’s will. David’s conviction of this truth and his surrender to God’s sovereignty were stronger than his own pride and the desire to escape unscathed.
Some things are just bigger than our own skin.
In Romans 12, Paul’s instruction is, “Bless those who persecute you” (v.14), and that is exactly what David did: he blessed those who had tried to kill him. It’s a trait we also see in the Son of David, Jesus.
There on the cross, Jesus was mocked, persecuted, and hung to die—all under the watch of our wise and sovereign God. And what did Jesus do? He blessed. Jesus had compassion on those who persecuted Him, which is a form of blessing (Luke 23:34). And to this very day, He has not stopped doing the same for us, those who have sinned against Him yet call on His name (Romans 10:13).
Written by Matthew B. Redmond