by Father Mike Stubbs
True democracies pride themselves on peaceful transitions of power. When the president is voted out of office, he or she does not stage a coup d’état to oust the new president.
Similarly, a monarchy can provide a peaceful transition. When the king or queen dies, the rightful successor ascends to the throne.
But it doesn’t always work that way. When Saul, the first king of Israel, was losing political power, he became embroiled in a tug of war with David, the rising star of the land.
David had shown himself to be a charismatic leader and a skillful military strategist. Saul spent much time in pursuing David, to no avail.
We glimpse a picture of that in Sunday’s first reading, 1 Sm 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23. It tells us: “Saul went down to the desert of Ziph with three thousand picked men of Israel, to search for David in the desert of Ziph.”
During the night, David and his companion Abishai sneak into Saul’s camp, while Saul and his soldiers are fast asleep. David has the opportunity to eliminate his enemy Saul by having him killed. In fact, this is what Abishai suggests.
But David forebears. Instead, David takes Saul’s spear, as a sign that Saul had been in his power and as a sign of his respect for Saul as king and of his mercy toward Saul in sparing his life.
Interestingly enough, this pattern repeats what had already happened on another occasion.
Saul had taken three thousand men on a hunt for David. Along the way, Saul enters a cave to relieve himself, not knowing that David and his men were hiding in the cave. David sneaks up to Saul and snips off a bit of Saul’s mantle.
When Saul steps out of the cave, David calls out to him and shows him the piece of the mantle, as proof that David had Saul within his power, but showed him mercy and respect by not taking his life (1 Sm 24: 1-16).
This repeated pattern — searching for David, David’s ability to rid himself of his rival Saul by killing him, David’s mercy and respect for Saul by sparing his life — teaches us several things about David.
Even though he is being pursued by three thousand men, David eludes capture. As a skillful guerrilla warrior, he could easily eliminate his rival Saul by killing him. But he does not, thus taking the higher moral ground and showing his superiority.
All these qualities testify that he will make the excellent king that he will become in replacing Saul.
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