A Glimpse at the Life and Times of Saul, David, and Absalom
Judy A Bauman
Israel Demands That Samuel Appoint A King to Rule Them
To better understand how the “kingdoms” of Israel were first established, we need to look briefly at the man who gave Saul the right and the power to be the first king of Israel. This task fell to Samuel, who was the last of the Judges of Israel and the first one referred to in Scripture as a prophet of God. We pick up this story in 1 Samuel 8 when the Israelites demanded Samuel give them a king “to judge us like all the nations.” Even with a dire warning of what life would be like under the king and all he would demand of them, they cried out for a king to judge them and to fight their battles!
The Lord made it clear to Samuel that they were not rejecting him, but they were rejecting God as their King and had turned to idols. The Lord said to Samuel, “Heed their voice, and make them a king.” Doesn’t this speak of the mercy of God? His people, the ones He brought out of Egypt, the ones the Lord repeatedly delivered, rejected Him for what is promised to be a rough ride. Sadly, the need to be like others and to be admired is a common thread that is laced throughout this historical account.
Saul – The First King of Israel
Saul had no idea what was in store for him when his father sent him and a servant to look for some missing donkeys. (Let that sink in a minute. Sometimes we think we are meandering around, when in reality, God is setting us up for a life-changing event!) The Lord had told Samuel that He was sending a man from the tribe of Benjamin and that he was to anoint him as Israel’s commander. When Samuel saw him, the Lord told him that this was the man to be king. While Saul was handsome and taller than any of the Israelites, he didn’t see himself as one worthy of being king. Saul was from the least of the families of the smallest tribe of Benjamin. His confidence was so weak that when Samuel planned to introduce him, he was hiding! When he stood before the people, they saw his height and good looks and shouted, “Long live the king!”
Saul went home and tried to live life as usual but then heard a wicked report and was moved to act. King Saul took his rightful place as commander, and he had his first successful campaign against the Ammonites who were threatening the Israelites. Even so, Samuel reminded the people that by demanding a king, they had greatly sinned against God.
King Saul seemed to be doing well, but when faced with war against the Philistines, Saul took the role of the prophet and foolishly usurped Samuel’s authority and made a sacrifice to God. Because of this Samuel told Saul, “The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart.” Sadly, this was not the only impetuous act that led God to reject Saul as king, and though Samuel continued to pray for him, the Lord commanded him to anoint another.
David – The Second King of Israel
Samuel was sent to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse, of the tribe of Judah, to anoint Israel’s next ruler. However, none of his sons, as promising as they looked to the eye, were to be king. Jesse had not even bothered to call his youngest son, David, who was out tending sheep, to meet Samuel for consideration. David was a skilled musician, and commonly lifted a psalm of worship to the Lord God of Israel. He was courageous and fast to swing his sling to protect his father’s sheep and lambs from lions and bears. The moment Samuel saw him, God told him that David was His choice! Samuel anointed David as king with his father and brothers as witnesses, but interestingly, Jesse’s youngest son did not immediately take the throne. Though Saul had sinned against God two years after being anointed king, he reigned for forty-two.
David’s life first intertwined with Saul’s because the king’s disobedience had opened a door for a wicked spirit to torment him. Remarkably, David was chosen to play and sing for the king not only because he was skilled, but because his anointed music drove away the evil spirit from the king’s mind. At the time, it seems Saul was unaware that God had chosen David as his replacement. After David saved Israel from Goliath, Saul appointed him the commander over his army. This pleased all the people. David greatly loved Saul. One day minstrels joyfully greeted the king singing, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands.” Saul became consumed with jealousy! Much to his dismay, everything David did he did wisely. Saul was terrified of David because he knew the Spirit of God was with him. In his deranged thinking, he plotted to have David killed by the Philistines. The king didn’t ask David for a dowry for his daughter’s hand in marriage, instead, he asked for 100 Philistine foreskins! Would you believe he brought back 200? Saul could not win! None of his plots worked. The deep-seated jealousy toward David took over, and in his crazed state, Saul threw his spear at him at least twice. Fortunately, David was fast enough to avoid being hit.
Those who loved David helped him escape and he fled from Saul. The king became so incensed against his son Jonathan for siding with David, he threw a spear at him too! When Saul learned that the priest Ahimeleck had provided shelter and given David provisions, along with the sword of Goliath, Saul ordered not only Ahimeleck and his family’s death, but 85 priests in the village, along with men, women, children, babies, cattle, donkeys, and sheep were all slaughtered! Fortunately, one son of Ahimeleck survived and got word to David. There, David and his family, Ahimeleck’s son, and about 400 men stayed in caves and hid from Saul. The king’s men were commanded to hunt him like a dog, but David would not lay a finger on Saul to harm him.
There was a very fierce battle with the Philistine’s, and Jonathan and his two brothers were killed. In the same battle, King Saul is badly injured, knowing what the Philistines might do to him, he fell on his sword and died. David, being the man after God’s own heart that he was, grieved for his king and for his friend who perished. Normally the new king would kill all those who were hunting them, but not David. He sought to reunite Israel. There are many things David did well, and there were sinful mistakes he made; however, throughout all eternity, David will not only be known as the man after God’s own heart but is the king in the lineage of Jesus!
Absalom – A Self-Appointed Ruler
Earlier, when King David sinned with Bathsheba and ordered her husband to be killed, the judgment from the Lord was, “…the sword will never depart from your house… Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.”
This came about when Absalom, who was one of the king’s children by Maakah, was deeply offended with his father for not defending his sister’s honor when another of David’s sons forced himself upon her. David was very angry about the incident, but no real punishment came. Two years later, Absalom had his half-brother killed for this act and then fled. David grieved for his murdered son, but he loved Absalom and after three years he had him brought back into the kingdom. David was not repaid in kind, as his son had set his mind to usurp his father’s authority as king. Absalom went out early, standing at the gate of the city, and would greet the people with a kiss and listen to their grievances. He won their favor by promising if he were the ruler over the land, they would receive justice. This won the hearts of the people. It was said that there was no one more handsome than Absalom and he loved hearing the people’s praise. After four years, his support grew in power. He sent out secret messages to have his father overthrown, and again, Israel was divided.
King David had the choice to go to war with his son or leave. He trusted God to either return the kingdom to him or give it to Absalom, so he left Jerusalem with all his loyal people, but 10 of his concubines were to stay and take care of the palace. Once outside the city, he commanded Zadok the priest and his sons to take the ark to return to Jerusalem. When Absalom came into the city, he set up a tent in plain sight of all Israel and went into all the concubines. In this, he fulfilled the prophecy and defiled his father. At one point, Absalom went out to search for David to kill him but was caught by his hair in a mighty oak-like tree. David had given orders to bring Absalom back to him, but Joab and his men killed Absalom. He was deeply grieved, so grieved that David almost lost his army and faithful followers. They all knew Absalom would have gladly killed them! This shook the rightful king out of his grief.
David, a man after God’s own heart, refused to kill the anointed of God or any of Saul’s family or clan – even when taunted! He chose to live in caves for an undetermined amount of time not knowing if he would ever be free. He grieved when that king died and when the one who sought to kill and usurp his kingdom was killed. He didn’t treat Absalom as Saul had treated him. David trusted God and cared more about what the Lord thought of him than what people thought of him. Will we follow his example and be one that is known as a person “after God’s own heart”?