Reviewing and renewing Biblical faith through story and study

Friday, September 14, 2012

Story Building with King David

My story building strategy is simple. There are two core principles I operate from when building a new storytelling presentation. First, stories from our ancient faith are of ultimate importance. If they weren’t valuable teaching stories they wouldn’t have been told, told and retold until they were anthologized in the Bible. Because these stories are recorded in the Bible they are core material — for Christians, Muslims, Jews (Old Testament), and western listeners (most of us) — and are very important source material that our kids need. The world around our children will make more sense, their faith will have more precedence to them and their personal character will be built on higher ground if they know the core Bible stories. These stories have been the building blocks of little minds for millennia and led to development of many great minds in adulthood. Even atheists in Western Society wound not be who they are if they did not come from a culture founded on the Biblical narrative. So, firstly, I must tell Bible stories and tell them in a captivating fashion that leads to a love for the Bible.

The second core principle is to choose ONE value to teach and build the storytelling around that value. You can put the value in the mouth of a character. You can have the narrator imbed the value in the way the character does what they do. You can even play around the edges of the value and have the kids guess what it is. But the principle I try to obey is, Choose one Value. Teach that value through core-faith stories. My typical approach is to search for a primary verse or story that states the value as clearly as possible. Once I have that key story/verse, I build the other stories around that.

So, let's build a story together. Let's do some work on humility. Think about the value: Humble. The first thing I thought, being a comedian at heart, is a funny text about Moses which says, “Moses was the humblest man who ever lived.” According to tradition, Moses wrote these words. That’s just funny! How can a humble person write that? How could you even think it? The humble people I know think the exact opposite about themselves. Biblical Scholars put brackets around the statement suggesting it was added in by an editor or copyist long after the text around it was written. That makes sense. But, this text is not a good core text for me to teach humility because it will take me down the tangent that it has just taken me down. And that’s not the point.

Then I thought of the verse, “David was a man after God’s own heart.” I chased it and found that this was said about David before anybody (other than God) knew who it was referring to. This captivated my attention and this is where I started my new talk. 

Well, after a small intro... How many of you watched the Olympics? Who was the tallest man there? BOLT! That’s right. He was head and shoulders taller than the rest. There is another hero, from ancient times, who was head and shoulders taller than the rest. His name? KING SAUL! 

And so starts the story of the Prophet Samuel coming late to a sacrifice only to be told by King Saul that they went ahead without him. They made a sacrifice to God, without the prophet. King Saul pretended he was the prophet. He’d seen Samuel do it a hundred times. Samuel was late. So Saul did it himself. Arrogance.

Samuel was enraged. He told Saul off. Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samuel and he said, “God was going to rule this kingdom through your descendants for generations to come, but not now! NOT NOW! God has already chosen someone else to be king after you. God has chosen someone after His own heart. Your days are numbered, big guy!” Samuel limped off, leaning heavily on his staff.

The search began. Who? Who had God selected? Samuel searched high and low throughout the land. He followed the leading of the Spirit and ended up in the home of Jesse. The Spirit is strong here. He asked to see all of Jesse’s sons. He went through them all and was disappointed. “Is it possible you’ve forgotten to call one son?” Ah, yes, David.

And the boy was anointed. “God has special plans for your life, young David.” Oil was poured over his head. Samuel left. David returned to the sheep, wondering, what was that all about? I’m just a shepherd boy. Precisely, just a humble shepherd boy.

Then David met Goliath. In the telling, I have a lot of fun with this story. But the key is in the way I enact it. David goes from humble righteous indignation to prideful showing off. Incensed by the Giant’s arrogant words against God and God’s army, David’s religious zeal was aroused. He told King Saul, “God wants this giant dead and when God wants something dead, it dies.” He told the king about the lion and the bear that came to take his father’s sheep. The lion and bear that David hit with his stick and then, when the beast dropped the sheep and spun to defend itself, David grabbed by the beard and beat with his stick — to death. “They are my Dad’s sheep. My Dad asked me to look after them. I asked God to help me. And when God’s Spirit comes over me... well, things happen! And God is being mocked by that ruffian of a Philistine and God wants him dead. So, I’ll go do it, if you let me!”

Goliath was a giant. He was head and shoulders taller than the other giants of Gath. And he was shouting, “Send me your biggest, tallest, strongest man. Let’s do this one on one.” And that man, the man head and shoulders taller than the rest of God’s Army was? KING SAUL! That’s right. And he didn’t want to go. he was afraid. 

But David was willing, ready and (according to his stories) able to kill the Giant. King Saul took a leap of faith. He risked loosing his kingdom to the Philistines by offering the fight to David. “Winner takes all. One man down means one kingdom down.” Those were Goliath’s terms, not Saul’s. But still, if Israel sent out a champion, their action showed they were agreeing to the terms. And Saul sent David. He must have been convinced that God worked through David. And perhaps that was the first inkling Saul had as to who his successor would be. Saul sent David to meet the Giant.

David came back with the giant’s head and his sword. He offered them to King Saul. Spoils of war, boy. They are yours! 

David did exactly what Bolt and every other gold medalist do — he went on a victory lap. David went from town to town and the crowds flocked to him. He pulled out the sword for inspection. And when the people pressed in tightly enough, he reached in his burlap bag of tricks and pulled out Goliath’s gnarly stinking head. People jumped back at the sight and stench and then crowded forward again in intrigued disgust. 

The women started to sing a new song — or maybe it was a new verse in an old song about King Saul. The verse said, “Saul has killed his thousands, David his ten’s of thousands.” Saul heard the song one to many times and set his sites — his war-machine sites — on David. How many times must David have wondered if his victory lap was really the wisest strategy. It brought the might of the kingdom down on his head. Perhaps I should have shown more gentleness of heart, David must have reflected time and again.

When the day arrived for David to kill Saul, they were both different people. Saul had gone mad. David had grown-up. They both had their followers. King Saul’s followers were conscripted soldiers, forced to obey. David’s followers were blood brothers, compelled by honor to serve David. The two groups of men were night and day. One served the darkened mind of a murderous king. The other joined the cause of everyman, protecting the wellbeing of farmers and landowners from stock thieves and wandering criminals.

David and his band of men holed up in a cave system for the night. Saul’s army wasn’t far behind. But, David knew the network of caves and felt safe slipping into them knowing there were many escape routes. Saul and his army came to rest outside the cave mouth just entered by David’s group. Saul wandered to the quiet privacy of the cave to relieve himself. But he wasn’t alone.

David’s men saw the situation as a gift from God. “God is sending Saul into your hands. Kill him, David!” David agreed and snuck up behind the business oriented king. He drew his dagger and hunched down for the final few steps in darkness. As his eyes fell on the King of Israel — God’s King — David was humbled. He crumpled to his knees in shock at what he had nearly done. Then he saw the hem of Saul’s robe. He reached out, clenched a fist carefully around the robe and cut off what he held in his hand. Silently, he tip-toes back into the depths of the cave. 

His men were dumbstruck. “You didn’t kill him?” David explained the horrible folly of even considering the murder of God’s anointed king. The men were humbled by the Godly nature of their leader, and reminded once again why they loved David so deeply. This is a man after God’s own heart.

Then he showed them the remnant of Saul’s garment. Eyebrows raised. Arms crossed. Feet scuffled. “I cut his robe!” David started to laugh. “I cut the King’s robe!” Then, realizing the sad nature of the joke David looked into the eyes of his chagrined men and recognized what he had done. He shook his head, “I didn’t want to disrespect God by killing his anointed king, so I chopped up his clothes instead. What’s wrong with me. I am such an idiot.”

Then David did the unthinkable. He turned and ran toward the cave entrance. Toward the army of Saul. His men would have stopped him, but he was gone before they knew what he was thinking. 

David ran out of the cave mouth and shouted, “Saul! King Saul!”

From the camp of his army, Saul yelled back, “David? My son, David?”

Then David apologized. He held up the remnant of fabric and said, “I will never hurt you King Saul. You are God’s anointed. Why must you hunt me?”

King Saul’s reply still leaves leaders humbled. Leaders who have seen the error of their ways in the godly character of a young person. King Saul shouted, loud enough for everybody to hear, “David, you are more Godly than I.” In his own words King Saul heard an echo from decades before, “A man after God’s own heart.” David was becoming the King God needed — a humble king.

When I tell this story to high school groups, I tell the story of Bathsheeba. Wooed by King David. Fell pregnant. Her husband sent to his death by King David to save face. Not David’s best day. 

And then my favourite kind of Bible character shows up – one of God’s Storytellers. Nathan, the prophet, told David a story (this happened in your Kingdom, sire!) about a rich man who had hundreds of sheep and a poor man who had only one. The family of the poor man loved their one sheep so much they let it live inside and eat scraps - like a pet. The rich man had a guest show up and decided to have roast lamb for tea. But he didn’t want to deplete his own stock, so he sent his servant to the home of the poor man, took that sheep, cooked it up and ate it with his guest.

David was livid. His knuckles went white as he gripped his throne, “That man!” He shouted, “That man should be forced to pay four times over for his evil!”

Out came the bony finger... The prophet waggled his pointer finger in the King’s face, “You are the man!”

And David got it. Oh, the power of story! 

And oh, the power of humility in the heart of one who has the heart of God. 

David slumped to the floor. He begged for forgiveness. His newborn child — Bathsheba’s newborn child, was dying. “Please Lord! Please forgive me. Me! Punish me! Let the child live. Please, forgive me!”

For seven days David stayed in this posture. The palace servants were so fearful for David’s sanity and safety they didn’t know what to do when the child died. “If we tell him, will he kill himself?” They whispered amongst themselves. 

David heard murmuring. His head jerked up. He demanded, “Is it the child? Is there news?”

“Yes, my Lord,” one servant stammered. “The child has died.”

David stood and walked toward his rooms. “Run my bath. Prepare a meal. I have lots of work to do.”

Just like that. David was over it. Well, probably not, but David was handling it. Why?

Because a man after God’s own heart is Humble. And When God wants something it happens. And David knew this. His prayer was hopeful but not heartless. He knew God will do what God will do. And he had a heart that understood God’s heart.

The wiseman wrote, “Humble yourself before God and He will lift you up.” Just like he lifted David up, after seven days of fasting, weeping and begging. Just like He lifted Jesus up after He was whipped, mocked and crucified — the death of a criminal — to a place above all others, given a name above all others so that at His name every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. ... And what does Jesus do with this praise? “To the glory of the Father.” He gives it back. 

That’s what a heart like God’s heart is like. All glory belongs to God the Father. The rest of us, at our very best, are humbled in incomparable insignificance and yet loved beyond all reason by the lifter of the humble hearted. 

David was a man after God’s own heart. Not because he was good enough. Not because he didn’t make mistakes. Not because he deserved it.

David was a man after God’s own heart because when he realized he had done wrong, he saw himself for what he was — broken and in need of mending. He didn’t defend himself, throwing the dirt higher so it took longer to land — digging his own prideful grave. And he saw God for who He is — the lifter of the hunble hearted. 

David humbled himself in the eyes of God and God lifted him up.

May we all Live like THiS.