You can learn a lot from reading the Holy Bible, and some of the lessons will hit you from out of nowhere. One example came a couple weeks ago during the weekly men’s bible study I attend on Friday morning with a group of guys from my church.
We were reading from the book of II Samuel, Chapter 1. As background, II Samuel opens immediately after the death of King Saul, the first of the kings of Israel. Things started out well for Saul, but his pride and ego got the best of him and after breaking one too many of God’s laws and instructions, word came down through the Prophet Samuel that Saul had been rejected as king, and that another would soon occupy the throne. That other, of course, was the shepherd boy David, already famous in the land for slaying the Philistine giant Goliath.
There was a chart-topping song – a psalm or poem of praise – written shortly after that legendary triumph, with the line, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” That didn’t sit well with Saul who, in spite of having lost most of his marbles, rightly figured out that David was the guy who would one day rule Israel, so Saul devotes much of the last years of his life trying to kill David.
David goes on the lam, a fugitive in his own country, and with a rag-tag entourage of misfit soldiers he not only manages to elude Saul, but has a couple chances to dispose of the insane monarch. David, however, commits to waiting for God’s time and eventually takes refuge in Philistia until word comes to him that Saul and his sons, including David’s best friend Jonathan, have been killed in battle.
It is then that, in spite of all the trouble and heartache Saul had caused David, something beautiful happens. In verses 19 – 27 of II Samuel, David writes a song lauding Saul and commands that everyone sing it and to teach it to their children.
One portion that gives a sense of the spirit of the song reads:
Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with luxury; who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
Not a hint of the true character of Saul, but what might be the first example of a posthumous image rehabilitation campaign. And it was constructed by his once-mortal enemy.
After finishing the chapter, it struck me that David’s example is one that we’d do well to follow today. What good does it do our nation to continue to demonize leaders from the past? Where is the traditional respect that we once had for the Constitutional offices of the United States?
Big party politics has turned into a game of high-stakes one-upmanship, and in that climate the worst of President George W. Bush’s blunders, foibles, and dunderheaded moves are justified by his supporters with impassioned defenses that usually start with the phrase, “Yeah, but Bill Clinton…”
King David was smart. Better than anyone he knew the kind of a ruler and man Saul was, but he also knew his own reign could never be successful if he kept the people of Israel focused on the past, on Saul’s consuming vengance and what it cost Israel. Moving forward as a nation meant looking ahead at the challenges and opportunities Israel faced. The work of uniting a nation of twelve tribes and fending off threats from all borders (and within) would not be easy, but it would be impossible if he started by reminding everyone of Saul’s shortcomings — even if it made David look all the better by comparison.
The Philistines hung Saul’s dismembered corpse from the walls of Beth Shan as a display of their triumph, lording his failure over the Israelites to dishearten them. Today’s political failures are ruminated in strategy meetings and hung out during partisan press conferences. The parallels between David’s Israel and American politics today are plentify. Over the last three decades there has been no shortage of Sauls, the party out of power would have us believe.
Break-ins and erased tapes, WIN buttons and errant golf shots, hemorrhoids and rabid bunnies, impromptu naps and questionable arms deals, lip reading and nausea, blue dresses and Chinese missiles, verbal miscues and weapons of mass destruction. All are evidence that, even at our best we are still led by fallible human beings. Mistakes should be addressed and corrected when made, but put aside in deference to the good of the nation once relegated to history. Instead we’ve decided that political affiliation trumps all, and national interest takes a back seat to the outcome of the next election.
Rather than hold up these examples of the weakness of men in order to demonize the opposition, let’s use them as reminders of the strength of our Constitution and the resilience of our people when united.