There is a golden goblet of life. It is filled with blood-red wine. So thick that one could not tell whether it was born of grape or man. The taste of it is time. It is the time of kings and prophets. To the tongue of a keen judge the wine of life is smokey sweet.
To God, the Lord of time, it is a goblet brimming with the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Once deadly poisonous, calloused souls merely suffer indigestion from this poisonous fruit, like the indigestion of repeated indulgence in hearty meals. Yes, this blood-red wine still kills, but the death is slow and barely noticed is its coming. The drinker accepts this slow death like the eye accepts tears from the heart. Like the lame accepts the wheelchair.
In our journey through the woodland of the earthly life of the sons and daughters of the Maker, we arrive at the era of kings and prophets.
The Promise Land flowing with milk and honey turned into a bloody field of battle where baby boys grew to become soldiers who wrenched their mother’s hearts. Where the King of Glory was swept aside to make room for the king whose power emanated from sharp metal swords. The sword, that tool of murder and victory replaced the mystical staff of Moses. Muscle made a sore substitute for mystical.
The King of Glory gazed upon His Creation with dismay and love. He never abandoned Adam. Like a good father, He answered when called upon, and gave advice when it was not requested.
“Enough leisure!” bellowed God to Gracefeld and Perambula. “Your sabbatical is ended. Go back to earth. There is work to be done.”
“Where will you have us go my Lord?” replied Perambula. “Your people have scattered far and wide. They are free.”
“Free to make a mockery of your Law.” added Gracefeld
“Free to demand a king!” said Perambula cynically. “Will they never cease to insult You, my Lord? Why oh why do you not destroy this lot and start over? These people are clearly not worthy of You my Lord.”
“I agree.” said Gracefeld.
“My dear angels. This is exactly why you are so different than mankind, than Me. I don’t mind taking tiny steps through time. You think that if you aren’t flying, you aren’t moving. Patience! You will behold the day when life ultimately shatters death. When impudence unfolds its moldy layers to heal in the warmth of light. When the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil is fully ripened and then consumes itself in its rottenness. When blood and oxygen no longer sustain life.”
“In our simplemindedness my Lord, we cling to You and love You and serve You.” sung Gracefeld trying to divert the conversation away from embodiment, the thought of which always confused this angel.
Picking up on Gracefeld’s turn of tone, God said, “For now, my friends, let’s just give them a king.”
There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, a man of wealth. He had a son named Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than Saul; he stood shoulders above everyone else.
“Perambula” said God, “Go down to the House of Kish and lead his donkeys astray. Drive them through the hill country of Ephraim and through the land of Shalishah, then through the land of Shaalim. Go beyond Benjamin to Zuph where My prophet Samuel lives. Saul will be recognized by the prophet and anointed king there.”
“My Lord, with all due respect, first you have me drive your slaves out of Egypt and now I am being asked to drive sheep. Is this a demotion?”
God smiled at Perambula’s attempt at humor. “Drive the animals and watch the young man follow.
Tell Samuel to anoint the tall man the king.”
Perambula looked confused. “My Lord, why would you select a king for his appearance? How can stature and shape of face have anything whatsoever to do with the qualifications of a king?”
“My dear Perambula in their shallowness the people demand to be like their neighbors. They would not accept anything less than physical appeal because their desire is material.
“I will use this big but ordinary man to prepare My true choice for their king. I have already selected a boy after my own heart. Saul is the forerunner.” said God feeling self satisfied in His shrewdness.
Gracefeld chimed in, “Did You just say my Lord that You will give them a tall king who is not even a holy man?”
“Holy?” replied God. “He is not even capable of simple obedience! The man Saul will served My purpose. Enough conversation. It’s your turn to be obedient, now go and drive those animals, and for heaven’s sake, don’t get lost!”
Perambula and Gracefeld carried out their mission well, being among the most reliable angels of their rank in the Lord’s stable.
The tall handsome young man was anointed king much to his own surprise. With the confidence that his title bestowed upon him Saul proceeded to act kingly by leading armies to fight enemies..
For all his victories, and unaware of the aid provided by Gracefeld and Perambula, King Saul proceeded to award himself generously. Along with the material grandeur of homes and wives, purple cloth, cheese and leather, came the spiritual decay of hubris, arrogance, and ever increasing self aggrandizement. Saul became a perfect characature of a king. The king that God had warned the people about. Taking their riches for himself. And yet in his soul, perhaps because of his meteoric rise from shepherd to king on one day, Saul keenly felt the inner conflict of unworthiness which of course he continually misinterpreted.
One day in the midst of a losing battle with the Philistines the Hebrews, to save themselves, squirreled into any cave they could find. Meanwhile King Saul was at Gilgal waiting for Samuel to come and pray for victory. Saul had gotten word that Samuel would arrive in seven days. On the seventh day Saul was overcome with fear and anxiety because Samuel had not yet arrived.
In desperation, Saul barked, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the offering of well being! Quickly!” So King Saul went ahead and offered the burnt offering himself instead of waiting for the prophet. As soon as he finished, Samuel arrived and Saul went out to meet him. Samuel said, “What have you done?”
Saul replied that that the people, his soldiers were slipping away and that Samuel hadn’t come yet on the seventh day and that the Philistines were getting ready to attack. He was in a tough spot and needed to entreat the Lord, so he forced himself to perform the burnt offering ceremony.
Furious, Samuel said, “You have done foolishly! You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God which He commanded you. The Lord would have established your kingdom forever, but now your kingdom will not continue because your impatience caused you to be disobedient.”
Saul turn his face from the prophet and walked away sorrowful and confused. How could this old man take his kingdom away from him? Possibly he didn’t, not really. Nothing had changed. He still had his homes and his food.
Saul was not aware of the callouses growing on his heart. He was blind to the army of invisible demons that had latched onto his mind. In fact, as Saul continued to lead his armies to battle against the Philistines he very subtly morphed into an emotionally disturbed tyrant.
Besides, there were more battles and more fighting and killing to be done. Saul felt competent on the battlefield. The more enemies he could kill, the stronger grew his self-worth. There was nothing like a hard fought battle to take one’s mind off of Samuel and his threats.
Months later, on a morning after a particularly fretful night Samuel appeared at the palace of King Saul and was ushered into his throne room.
“What can I do for you?” asked Saul.
“I have come to give you a message from the Lord.”
“Thus saith the Lord, I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go to attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”
When Perambula heard the message the angel was astonished.
“Gracefeld, did you hear that? Did you know this? God is ordering mass destruction of a nation of people for something their ancestors did! Even children! How horrid, how violent!”
Gracefeld replied, “Perambula, are you disputing the Lord’s order?! You must know that He has His good reasons. Rest assured that in the end, all will be just and right and good. Now please don’t distract me. Listen!”
When Saul heard it, he was glad. Perhaps Samuel was giving him a second chance to regain his kingship. Coming straight from the Lord God, he knew that victory was in his hands. This was a job he was well suited for and so King Saul went right to work preparing for battle. Within weeks Saul raised up an army of two hundred thousand foot soldiers, and ten thousand soldiers of Judah.
They stealthily moved into the valley by the city of Amalekites.
On the way Saul spotted Kenites and sent a message to their leader, “Go! Leave! Withdraw from among the Amalekites, or I will destroy you with them; but I don’t want to, because you showed kindness to Israel when they came up out of Egypt.”
The Kenites were grateful for the warning and departed en masse as efficiently as they could, every man, woman and child packed up and scurried away from the Amalekites.
King Saul and His army waited to charge.
The battle went as expected and all the Amalekites were destroyed, but Saul and the people spared Agag, their king, and the best of the sheep and of the cattle and of the failings, and the lambs and all that was valuable.
As expected, God saw that Saul disobeyed the directive to destroy everything. Nevertheless God was angry.
Gracefeld was dispatched to tell Samuel about the Lord’s disappointment and fury. The Lord had given Saul one more chance to recover from his mistake of impatience, but once again the man failed to obey.
Gracefeld went directly to Samuel in prayer. The angel spoke to Samuel. “Samuel, thus says the Lord, ‘I regret that I made Saul king, for He has turned back from following me, and has not carried out My commands.’ He will come to you. Admonish him again!”
When Samuel heard that, he was angry too and cried out to the Lord all night. ‘Why oh why Lord did You have me select this foolish stubborn man?”
Perambula heard that and added, “Didn’t I tell you Lord?! How could you have picked a man to be king for his beauty and stature? You may as well have picked a stallion?”
The next morning Saul arrived.
After the victorious batter Saul had gone to Carmel where he set up a monument to himself. On his return he passed on down to Gilgal to visit Samuel and report his victory.
Samuel was sitting under the tree outside his home waiting for the king.
Saul arrived proud and cheerful. “May you be blessed by the Lord; I have carried out the command of the Lord!”
Samuel retorted, “What then is the bleating of sheep that I hear?”
Saul replied matter-of-factly with a big toothy grin, shoulders back and chest out, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the cattle to sacrifice to the Lord, your God; but the rest we utterly destroyed.”
Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”
He replied, “Yes?”
Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you to utterly destroy the Amalekites until they are utterly consumed. Why didn’t you obey? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”
“But I did obey. I have only brought back the king Agag and the best sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”
Samuel replied, “Surely to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity, and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you from being king.”
Saul, in his foolishness was astonished to hear that he messed up again and just when he was feeling so good about himself! He sensed immediately that this was no time to argue his position, and that contrition was the only valid response.
Saul spoke his mind, “I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice (passing the blame as did Adam) Now therefore I pray pardon my sin, and return with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”
Samuel said to Saul, “You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”
As Samuel turned to go away, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. Samuel looked down at his hem and up at Saul’s face and said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this very day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours who is better than you. Moreover, the Lord will not change His mind, for He is not a mortal that He should change his mind.”
Then Saul said again with contrition, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.”
Ignoring this plea Samuel turned his back on Saul. But Saul still went to worship the Lord.
Meanwhile Samuel asked for Agag the king of the Amelikites to be brought to him. When he arrived, Agag could see that he was doomed.
Agag full of fear said, “Surely this is the bitterness of death.”
Samuel replied, “As your sword has made women childless, so your mother shall be childless among women.”
And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord at Gilgal.
Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went” up to his house in Gibeah of Saul.
Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul.
And the Lord was sorry that he made Saul king over Israel.
And Perambula whispered, “I told you so.” winced and then flew into huge white cumulus clouds.