Saturday, August 13, 2005

Nobel prizeworthy

It's so easy to believe that there's nothing to learn from the Bible's exhaustive and generally uninteresting lists of geneologies... But recently, I learned something from just such a geneology. In fact, I think I may have discovered none other than the key to world peace.

In reading through 1 Chronicles chapter 8, I was fascinated to discover that a whole line of descendents somehow managed to survive Saul, the first king of Israel. Maybe this doesn't seem so special, and maybe you've never given it much thought (I know that I certainly hadn't). We know much about Saul and quite a bit about his son Jonathan. But we know considerably less about Jonathan's son Merib-Baal (also known as Mephibosheth), although I can recall some obtuse references to this handicapped young man that David took under his wing out of honor and respect for Saul and Jonathan. But I guess I always assumed that a "cripple" in that culture could never survive and even reproduce -- so I figured that the family line had died with Merib-Baal, and that's why we never heard much more of the line of Saul...

But 1 Chronicles records that Merib-Baal did indeed have a son: Micha. And Micha had four sons -- and the family line kept expanding from there. Generations later, 1 Chronicles 8:40 records that "The sons of Ulam (a descendent of Saul) were brave warriors who could handle the bow. They had many sons and grandsons -- 150 in all." And that was just one element of what must have survived from Saul's family tree... There were probably thousands.

And yet I don't know of any rebellion, disloyalty, revolution -- clamboring for rights to the throne. These untold thousands were descendents of Saul -- the original king of Israel, innaugural ruler of God's chosen people. It would not have been a stretch for them to believe that they were "rightful" heirs to the throne. They were strong and brave warriors -- and descendents of the king -- yet they held no royal power... To me, that sounds like a recipe for revolution.

Yet these men were in fact loyalists -- presumably ardent supporters of the Davidic dynasty. Ten of the twelve tribes of Israel broke off to form their own kingdom -- but the Benjamites, including these descendents of Saul, were the only tribe of Israel to stick with Judah and the line of kings descended from David. And while the battle for royal succession raged generation after generation among the rulers of the Northern Kingdom (murder, revenge, and rebellion galore), the Southern Kingdom of Judah and Benjamin remained relatively stable and peaceful, with an orderly succession of kings descended from the line of David -- the very man who had replaced Saul as ruler of God's chosen people.

Incredible, isn't it? But how? And why? Potentially one of the most volatile situations in the history of the world (battles for royal succession and "rights" to power -- the stuff filling our history books as well as popular novels and films)... mysteriously averted and avoided. It's hard to understand...

But not so unexplainable. I believe the key to this improbable peace goes back to the simple decisions of one man -- one self-assured, compassionate, respectful, and godly servant of the Lord -- David. Although annointed by God to replace Saul as king, David was not power-hungry or consumed with self-preservation. David himself was a loyalist to Saul. He had opportunity, on more than one occasion, to kill Saul -- even under circumstances that could easily have been justified as "self-defense" -- but he repeatedly refused to "lay a hand on the Lord's annointed" (1 Samuel 26:11). He even vowed to Prince Jonathan -- who would have been his adversary under typical circumstances, as a competitor to the throne -- that he would be kind to his descendents and not wipe them off the face of the earth (1 Samuel 20:13-16), which would have normally been such a common response following a transition in power in that era... Thus, when Jonathan's son timidly surfaced some time after the death of Saul and Jonathan (at the hands of the Philistines -- not David), the new king proved his loyalty to be genuine and complete. He gave Merib-Baal a place of honor in his royal house and created the opportunity, evidently, for Saul's family line to prosper in spite of the circumstances that would seem to dictate otherwise.

And thus I see that one man's kindness and loyalty can make a profound impact on nations, generations, and countless individual lives. It would have been very easy for David to cut off the one pitiful branch remaining from Saul's family tree -- out of fear, consolidation of power, "common sense," revenge, self-preservation... But he didn't. He decided to do something different and make a difference in the process. It was one man and one friendship -- between David and Jonathan -- that changed the course of history and allowed Judah and Benjamin to co-exist, even as allies. One man and one friendship that allowed the children and grandchildren of Ulam to serve as brave warriors, skillfully shooting arrows in protection and service of the Davidic dynasty.

It's unbelievable, really. Revolutionary -- in a curious sort of counter-revolutionary way...

Do we dare to believe that we hold this same power today? Is it possible to believe that such answers can be claimed for our modern questions of power struggles, ethnic cleansings, revenge, retaliation, self-preservation? Israelis and Palestineans? Hutus and Tutsis? America and al-Quaida? Theo van Gogh and Mohammed B.? Me and the boys who broke into my home through the living room window?

It seems impossible to believe... But I think I want to try.


At 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you deserve a Nobel prize just for observing this phenomenon and suggesting it for the world today.

At 5:09 PM, Blogger michele said...

cool. enjoyed the entry. Well written and thought out. Interesting. I had never thought much about Saul's family line. I always figured it had died out. Thanks.


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