Things that get in the way…

Posted by on Sep 25, 2022 in Blog | 2 comments

person holding grapes between boy and girl

You’ve probably not spent a lot of time thinking about the troublesome little song recorded in 1 Samuel 18:7 “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” To all intents and purposes it led to a civil war, which was a pretty devastating and dramatic outcome for a song simply meant to celebrate a significant change in Israel’s military fortunes. Israel knew only too well what it was to be defeated in war, but now that Saul was king and David was a significant warrior in his army – well, the taste of victory was a lot sweeter than its opposite, and an optimistic tone started to settle on the nation. At last things were going well.

Were going well, that is, until Saul heard this song. For when he heard it, he flipped into a jealous rage. After all, the women accurately noted that if you evaluated a warrior by the number of corpses to their credit (and this was indeed a very violent period of history), David could claim far more than Saul. Now that shouldn’t have mattered much, for Saul’s role was far larger than being a warrior. He was the king and had a growing realm to govern – naturally he needed to rely on gifted warriors like David. And there is little doubt that the women who sang this song saw that as well, for they happily sang it in Saul’s presence. This was the ancient world. No one who valued their life would sing a song insulting the king within his earshot. If they did, their life expectancy would immediately have been reduced to around 37 seconds, for you couldn’t snub a king and get away with it. Clearly the women thought Saul would understand the song as they intended it, which was essentially to communicate gratitude for the good fortune now experienced by the people. In short they were singing, “We live at the best of possible times. Our amazing king has conquered thousands of our enemies, and the exceptional warrior he has been able to enlist has conquered even more. Thank you Saul – you have ushered in a glorious season for us. We are so, so happy.”

But it was not how Saul heard the song. Tragically he thought it portrayed him as a lesser hero, whose exploits were unfavourably compared with the upstart David. 1 Sam 18:9 tells us that after listening to the lyrics of this song “Saul kept a jealous eye on David” – and oh, the trouble that caused. For after this Saul views David as foe, not friend. The consequences were devastating for everyone.

Sad the things that get in the way – like jealousy, unfavourable comparisons, and unrealistic expectations.

While the context is very different, perhaps we can compare it to the awkward Martha, Mary and Jesus encounter found in Luke 10:38-42. You probably remember the division of labour. Mary was to entertain Jesus by chatting and listening to him, Martha was to make the necessary preparation for his visit – most likely an impressive meal. It got a bit much for Martha who suddenly burst in on Jesus and Mary’s conversation demanding to know why Jesus hadn’t instructed Mary to help with the preparations. Awkward indeed!

Though it is clear she didn’t sense it at the time, imagine the privilege that Martha had been given. If it was indeed a meal she was making for Jesus, think of the bragging rights it would have given her. If in the afterlife she bumped into prominent chefs talking about how they had cooked for the Queen or the President or for Shakespeare – well she could turn up her nose and say, “So you cooked for the Queen. How nice. I cooked for Jesus. He came back for seconds!” How can you trump that? Instead, now when we hear the name Martha, well, we repeat what I’ve written. Awkward. Awkward indeed!

Things that get in the way. For Saul it was jealousy – and if you dug a little deeper, probably insecurity and feeling overwhelmed by his role. For Martha, it was stuff – too much on the go, and perhaps also a little insecurity and jealousy.

Both Saul and Martha were in enviable positions. Saul, the king who ushered in a golden era for Israel. Martha, who offered hospitality to the Messiah. In both instances it ends up poorly because of little things that got in the way. And perhaps their story, like so many stories in the Bible, is also ours. For often in the muddle and mess of life we focus on the wrong things, get our noses seriously out of joint, and miss the blessing and gift of the present season. And perhaps the worst things to miss are that God has called you (like Saul) or that the Messiah is with you (like Martha). And regardless, we are loved by God. Or as 1 John 3:1 puts it: “See what love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” Best not to let anything get in the way of that…

As always, nice chatting…

Photo by Anna Shvets on

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  1. Hi Brian…and thank you for digging out these nuggets every week. This one is, as always, profound, keeping a godly perspective in the messiness of our daily lives isn’t easy… but it’s what God desires of us. Blessings to you.

    • Thanks Shelly, I enjoy writing up some of my thoughts. Very good to hear from you.

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