The Spiraling Fear into Rage into Death.
Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had departed from Saul.
1 Samuel 18:12 (NIV)
(This is the sort-of second part of a sort-of two-part entry. Check out the kind-of first part here)
Saul began his Spiral all the way back in Chapter 13, when Samuel rebuked him for improperly sacrificing animals to the Lord. The punishment? “Your kingdom will not endure,” said Samuel, and while set aback, Saul did not let this get him down (13: 14). He then went on to rout the Philistines in battle, a successful tour of duty. The Spiral slowed.
Then, He disobeyed again with much more devastating consequences. He failed to complete a genocide of the Amalekites, sparing some choice cattle and the king. Finished – God rejected him as king. The Spiral started up again, but now at a much quicker pace.
So we meet Saul as he starts to hone in on his true self, the king Samuel predicted him to be, the monster God destined him to become. David has just defeated Goliath, and the people in the street sing his praises:
Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands. (18:7)
Saul’s anger grows at the thought of someone above him, and God hardens his heart and sends an evil spirit into him, to spiral his anger ‘round and ‘round. His feelings do fluctuate; sometimes, Saul possesses an extreme fondness for David. But it never lasts.
David spends an evening playing the lyre for Saul, but the evil spirit pounces. Saul drives a spear towards his head, but David escapes by a sullen breath. Deeper and down…
Saul’s son Jonathan shows affection and pity for David, protecting him from his father. Saul catches wind, and the rage swells. Faster and faster…
David flees for fear of his life and takes refuge with Ahimeleck, one of the priests of Nob. Saul arrives and strikes them down as retribution.
But then, while lying-in-wait, an unsuspecting Saul uses the restroom just inches from David’s hiding place. David spares Saul’s life and rushes out to announce his benevolence. But Saul pursues. Later, David sneaks into Saul’s camp and refuses to kill again. But no truce. The hunt continues.
The pursuit begins to run thin, and Saul’s faith in the mission wanes. So he calls upon a medium to bring up the spirit of Samuel, who voice echoes before him. His prediction is grim. “For you sins,” he says, “You and your sons will be with me tomorrow.” A staggering blow – Saul falls to his knees in agony. The prophecy comes to pass – his sons, including David’s beloved friend Jonathan, are killed swiftly in battle. And in despair, Saul impales himself on his sword, killing himself. His Spiral converges in the center – Saul becomes his true self – in death, so ends the life of an angry, angry man.
The Spiral I refer to is neither downward nor upward, as we typically think about burgeoning behavior of any sort. But rather, it is on a flat plane, a line moving around a fixed point, inching closer and closer with each swing. The center is the true self, and the line is time. It is not a pretty line, not clean like a well-drawn spiral that tracks a linear path inward. It wobbles, going in and out, slowing to a halt sometimes. There is a process.
Saul is an angry man. In the beginning, he is handsome… he begins far from his true self, and his Spiral indicates that. But soon, off he goes around, an attractor with strange properties, unpredictable turns. And in the end, he falls on his sword; he is an angry man.
I am a queer man. I have spent years in my own Spiral, but it is not downward. It isn’t even upward. It is just around and closer and farther and whatever. I am inching bit by bit to the center, to my true self. And the result, whatever that may be, is unstoppable.