I recently finished reading 1 Samuel and the beginning of 2 Samuel, getting to know David all over again. And as I’m going through this early part of his life I can’t seem to shake his recurring reverence for Saul who he frequently calls, “the LORD’s anointed.”
David was anointed too, no? Maybe he didn’t know the backstory about Saul and how his own anointing came about – that the prophet Samuel was sent to find David after the LORD rejected Saul. Or maybe David did know, but somehow had the humility not to lord his acceptance over Saul’s rejection. Maybe that humility allowed him to think to himself, “If this could happen to Saul, it could happen to me” and he felt some strange fellowship-bond with the disgraced king of Israel. Yet, I would think that with the repeated attempts on his life, the terrible and prolonged experience of living as a fugitive in the wilderness, and the dignity-stripping act of living as a madman before a foreign king would have produced a vindictive spirit against Saul as someone who was once anointed, but is no longer. I would expect prolonged injustice against his very life would have colored his understanding of living before “the LORD’s anointed.” But somehow at every turn, he shows utmost deference before Saul. Even in the Cave of Adullam, when his companions were suggesting that he take advantage of the moment – “He’s on the potty! This is your chance! Go!” – David rebukes them for having no fear of raising their hands against the LORD’s anointed.
At the very end of 1 Samuel, we learn of Saul’s death. On the battlefield, we learn that Saul asks his armor-bearer to kill him so that he would not be used for sport and paraded around by the enemy, but he refused to kill Saul “for he feared greatly” (31:4). Instead Saul decides to fall on his own sword, but we learn in 2 Samuel 1 that he did not die from that attempt. It was a foreigner – an Amalekite – who heeded Saul’s instruction, “Stand beside me and kill me, for anguish has seized me, and yet my life still lingers” – and did what the armor-bearer, who “feared greatly,” would not. This Amalekite performs a mercy killing to serve Saul. He explains all this in a report to David because he “was sure that he [Saul] could not live after he had fallen.” (2:10). Yet even in this act that was done to answer Saul’s literal dying wish, David condemns as a capital offense: “Your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the LORD’s anointed.’”
It seems that David embodied a more intense version of “feared greatly” in his life and there’s something we can learn from his continuous heart posture before the LORD. The LORD’s choice in anointing Saul was more important than his choices. It was more important than his own comforts and preferences. It was more important that his political views and ambitions. It was more important than his pride and even his own life (he surrendered himself and repented before Saul after cutting his robe). How often does our own sense of justice and rightness keep us from properly posturing our hearts before the LORD? How often are we willing to do what seems right to us – or even doing something under the guise of serving someone else or their dying wish – instead of honoring the LORD’s choice – his decrees that don’t always seem “right” to us?