SAUL, THE FIRST KING OF ISRAEL, had three things going against him almost from the beginning. One of them was the prophet Samuel, another was a young man named David, and the third and worst was himself.

Samuel never thought Israel should have had a king in the first place and told him so at regular intervals. After Saul defeated the Amalekites, Samuel said the rules of the game were that he should take the whole pack of them plus their king and all their livestock and sacrifice them to Yahweh. When Saul decided to sacrifice only the swaybacks and runts of the litter, keeping the cream of the crop and the king for himself, Samuel said it was the last straw and that Yahweh was through with him for keeps. Samuel then snuck off and told a boy named David that he was to be the next king, and the sooner the better. In the meanwhile, however, they both kept the matter under their hats.

Saul was hit so hard by the news that Yahweh was through with him that his whole faith turned sour. The God he'd always loved became the God who seemed to have it in for him no matter what he did or failed to do, and he went into such a state of depression that he could hardly function. The only person who could bring him out of it was this same David. He was a good-looking young redhead with a nice voice and would come and play songs on his lyre till the king's case of the horrors was under at least temporary control. Saul lost his heart to him eventually, and when the boy knocked out the top Philistine heavyweight, their relationship seemed permanently cinched.

It wasn't. David could charm the birds out of the trees, and soon all Israel was half in love with him. "Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands," the ladies would dither every time he rounded the bend in his fancy uniform (1 Samuel 18:7), and Saul began to smolder. It was one day when David was trying to chase his blues away with some new songs that he burst into flame. He heaved his spear at him and just missed by a quarter of an inch. When his own son and heir, Jonathan, fell under David's spell too, that did it. It was love-hate from then on.

Saul hated David because he needed him, and he needed him because he loved him, and when he wasn't out to kill him every chance he got, he was hating himself for his own evil disposition. One day he went into a cave to take a leak, not knowing that David was hiding out there, and while he was taking forty winks afterward, David snipped off a piece of his cloak. When David produced the snippet later to prove he could have tried to kill him in return but hadn't, Saul said, "Is this your voice, my son David?" and wept as if his heart would break (1 Samuel 24). It was exactly what, in the end, his heart did.

He was told in advance that he was going to lose the battle of Gilboa and die in the process, but in spite of knowing that, or maybe because of it, he went ahead and fought it anyway.There are two versions of what happened to him then. One is that after being badly wounded by arrows, he persuaded a young Amalekite to put him out of his misery. The other is that he took his own sword and fell on it. In either case, it is hard to hold it against him for tendering back to the God he had once loved a life that for years he had found unbearable.

1 Samuel 9-30

-Originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words 

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