Harps or Spears
Years ago, a friend of mine asked me what I thought about some big artistʼs new worship CD, and I remember taking the opportunity to (ever so subtly) slander the artist. I was able to word it in a way that it sounded impersonal, objective, and merely a matter of opinion, but deep down I was giving in to a nasty little sin.
Soon after, I started studying through the relationship between Saul and David in 1 Samuel (chapters 16-19). What I saw in Saul was disgusting, even pitiful, and what’s worse was that it was exactly what I was seeing when I looked in the mirror.
Saul started out legitimately loving David, even “greatly loving him” (16:21). Saul was the first king of Israel, and for a while things were going pretty well for him, but no amount of external success could’ve protected Saul from what was growing within his heart. Before long, David was becoming wildly popular, having singlehandedly delivered Israel from the hand of the Philistine army, and something switched in Saul. His disposition toward David moved from great love to suspicion (18:9). And then the spears start flying as suspicion turns to fear (18:12), and fear grows into outright dread (18:15). The result? Saul commands David be put to death (19:1).
Thereʼs a little subtext throughout this story thatʼs worth mentioning. Look how the Bible says it: 1 Samuel 18:10 Now it came about that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual; and a spear was in Saulʼs hand.
Youʼll start to notice how often it speaks of David and his harp, and conversely, Saul and his spear. If it weren’t so sad, it would be comical (see 19:19, see 20:33, where Saul chucks his spear at his own son, and then see 26:7, where Saul is now sleeping–SLEEPING!– with his spear).
So you have David, with harp in hand; and you have Saul, with spear in hand. One was an instrument of healing, the other an instrument for hurt. One was used to deliver, the other to destroy. One was a tool for soothing, the other for striking.
I have to ask: What’s in your hand? What would people who are close to you say is in your hand? Are you constantly speaking life, peace, and help to the hurting? Do you seek to go out of your way to bless, intercede, and deliver people who are under spiritual attack? Or are you more about nailing people to the wall, driving your point home, and tearing people down? Do you look for the opportunity in a conversation to get your subtle slurs in?
The Bible has so much to say to the significance of our words; In the tongue is the power of life and death, In the tongue is the power to bless and curse, the lips of the righteous nourish many, etc. But what disgusts me in this story isnʼt only that Saul chose the spear, but that so often, so do I. The reason I do is the same reason Saul did – I am insecure. Iʼve had to ask myself, “Am I like Saul? Insecure? Am I plagued with jealousy? Do I believe God canʼt handle this situation? Do I just want to be in control, on the throne (or on the stage)?” And my honest answers broke my heart.
If I was honest, Iʼd have to say that I was hoping to cut somebody else down a little bit, so I might be lifted up a little bit. Sounds so stupid doesnʼt it? (Sin always does, after the fact.)
Itʼs always the insecure, ineffective, in-the-flesh leaders who will throw spears. Youʼve seen it in people, you may have seen it in yourself; jealousy is an insidious tenant of the heart. If you find yourself throwing spears, constantly using sharp words, always having to make your point and drive it home, ask the Lord to search you and reveal whatʼs really going on–inside you. Truth is, youʼre probably revealing more about yourself than the person youʼre slandering.
So what do we do? How do we come against it? Look what David did–he ducked and never mentioned it. It happened again, so David ducked, again. And he got out of there.
Saul is insecure and carnal; David is anointed and walking in the fear of God. And David never threw one spear back. Seems if anyone couldʼve really proven successful with a spear, David wouldʼve been a prime candidate. But David wouldnʼt dare; in fact, it broke Davidʼs heart to even cut the hem of Saulʼs garment. Such was the respect of David for the anointing of Saul that heʼd say, “Far be it from me to lay my hand on Godʼs anointed” (I Samuel 24:6).
What powerful words. When you are secure in who you are and what Godʼs called you to be, you are able to recognize and respect Godʼs anointing on others, and the anointing you respect can be the anointing you can receive. David had such esteem for the anointing of God on Saul that even in Saulʼs madness and rage, David wouldnʼt disrespect Saul without it violating his own conscience (1 Samuel 24:5).
“Far be it from me to lay my hand on Godʼs anointed.” If God has anointed someone, if God is using someone, we would do well to “keep our hands off” them. We need to shut our mouths and stop the petty gossip, slander, and smearing.
In Deuteronomy 20, God is giving Israel instructions on what to do when theyʼd go to war to besiege a city. Thereʼs a fascinating little verse (19) where God says, When youʼre laying siege to a city, be careful not to destroy any fruit-bearing trees, because you should eat of their fruit. If trees were bearing no fruit, they were to use those trees for their weapons, ramps, battering rams, so on. But itʼs a key for us: In your wartime mentality, do not let your axe fly indiscriminately! In a war, itʼs easy to let our axes fly, after all, itʼs intense! But if weʼre not careful we can (inadvertently even) end up cutting down that which the Lord has given for us to glean from.
There are people in your life and people in mine who we are tempted to cut down, to belittle, to let the axe fly. If there is any fruit in their life: Donʼt do it. Realize: the enemy is the enemy. Remember what Jesus told Peter? “Put away your sword Peter!” Why? He was hurting people with it! What would happen if all the energy we spent arguing over doctrine or style actually went to fighting the real enemy? If thereʼs fruit, donʼt cut it down. If Godʼs anointed somebody, hands off!
Look, thereʼs a difference between constructive criticisms and throwing spears. Thereʼs a difference between rebuking and maligning. Randall Wallace, writer of Braveheart, said, “When I criticize someone, it’s a quiet whisper in their ear, but when I praise someone, I shout it from the rooftops.” And this is the key to freeing yourself from the trap of jealousy: Celebration.
Celebration is the antidote to the poison of jealousy. If you feel tempted to throw spears, choose instead to celebrate–publicly praise–that person or ministry. And if you canʼt find anything worth praising, try what your mother told you when you were young: If you canʼt say something nice, shut your stupid mouth! (My mom could be feisty.)
Iʼve learned to do this. I now look forward to getting to publicly celebrate people. When a name comes up who I feel may threaten me or set off my insecurities, I love to compliment and celebrate them. In fact I had a chance to meet the artist I referred to above. I had to confess my junk to him; told him all about it, why I slandered him, and asked him to forgive me. He was more than gracious. Today he has become a friend and trusted counselor whose fruit is a significant blessing to my life. Who knows what God might do as we humble ourselves, celebrate one another, and let the Lord free us to really be who Heʼs created and called us to be.