13 December 2016

The Witch of Endor: Poor Child

1. Samuel 28:3-25

You used to be the mighty King,
persecutor of the likes of me;
the scourge of all who practised my craft,
enemy of those not loyal to your god.
Your name alone meant dread to me -
today, do you bring death to me?

But now
your shell is cracked
and you seep through:
wounds and tears
from beneath the armour,
a broken man
underneath the mask.
I thought you were a mighty King -
but I all I see is a lost child
cowering frightened at my feet.

You believe yourself forsaken
by God and by men,
thrown aside and replaced
by a better man.
You believe yourself hated,
feel lost and alone -
my hunter is hunted
my persecutor brought low.
You have clung to your power;
you fought and you fought...
but not even the mighty
can stay the hand of God.

You used to be the mighty King,
persecutor of the likes of me.
Now here you are, a lost child,
cowering frightened at my feet.
Now I could gloat
to see my hunter hunted,
to see you brought low
by the god you disobeyed.
But all I see is a lost child
cowering frightened at my feet.

So I will be the comforting arms
to rock you, poor child, into much-needed sleep.
So I will be the motherly love
that you so hungered for.
So I'll provide you with one last meal,
with strength for the road,
that last heavy road
into failure and death.
So I, the heathen, will be God's final sign
that he hasn't forsaken you.


[13. December 2016]

The story of Saul, first king of Israel, is a very interesting and tragic one. Saul is chosen by God to be the first king when the Israelites pressure Him for one. He is a quiet, reserved, taller-than-average guy, used to farming. But he becomes Israel's leader in the wars against the Philistines. But then, he falls into disgrace with God and things start spiralling down. Saul is "rejected" by God, and a new king, David, is annointed. My Old Testament professor once pointed out that Saul was not rejected or forsaken as a person, but as king. Saul's mistake was clinging on to power after God had told him it was over. The Israelites wanted a king - God gave them a king, but on His own terms, meaning this kingship would not be like that of the gentile kings. God would be above the king, and God would be the one to decide who is king and for how long, i.e. the kingship wouldn't be a lifelong or inheritable thing.

This story of Saul's encounter with the witch / medium in Endor (1. Sam 28) begins with silence... Saul stands before a war with the Philistines and no matter what methods he tries to communicate with God and find out God's will, God is silent. Which of course only increases his feeling of forsakenness which has been following him for years now. In utter desperation, Saul goes to a medium - someone practising the forbidden Canaanite practices that he had tried to exterminate. He wants to try to talk to his dead mentor Samuel to find out God's will.

Is Saul really as forsaken as he feels? My OT prof's view that God did not reject Saul as person, but in his role as king, really opened my eyes to a new understanding of Saul's story. Saul develops a kind of "persecution complex", especially once he starts to see David as a rival. But David never tries to forcefully take the kingship from him - i.e. Saul's fear is not really warranted. It is Saul's insistence on clinging to power that drives him mad and makes him paranoid. And maybe Saul himself, like many interpreters of his story, believes God has rejected him personally.

What Saul doesn't see is the many little messages of grace along his way. David sparing his life multiple times is one of the more obvious ones. But especially towards the end of his life, there are little pinpoints of love which I believe (and maybe I'm reading too much from the p.o.v. of the New Testament but I don't care) are from God. One is the witch insisting on giving Saul food and rest before he goes to the battle that will kill him. Another (after Saul's death) is the people of Jabesh ensuring he gets a proper, honourable burial when no one else seems to care.

And yes, I do believe that God can work through unexpected, "unholy" people like this medium who did stuff that the Bible calls an "abomination". As I said: I'm coming from the NT in this. Because in the NT we see Jesus praising gentiles for their faith (the centurion, the Syro-Phoenician woman), saying prostitutes will get to heaven before Pharisees and Saducees (the religious people of the day). It's not even just in the NT actually; already in the OT we often see non-believers showing more understanding and faith than the believers (the people of Israel), e.g. the prostitute Rahab, Uriah the Hittite who was more just than David, and quite a few others. God works in weird ways and not at all in our neatly bounded system - and I think through that shows us all the more strongly that He is God of all the world. I believe the fact that a "heathen" shows love and care to Saul at the end of his life shows all the more emphatically that God has not forsaken him - and that He does speak, just not the way Saul expected him to.

Picture by Dmitri Martynov

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