King Saul and David (1 Samuel 18)
The Thoughtless Outrage
When some contemporary Christians read this passage the reaction is one of visceral outrage.
27 David took his men with him and went out and killed two hundred Philistines and brought back their foreskins. They counted out the full number to the king
These Christians read this troubling description of massacre and mutilation from a presumed position of moral superiority that allows unmitigated disgust at the savagery of this primitive culture. They also sometimes respond by openly questioning the legitimacy of the Old Testament’s witness.
While I don’t in the slightest argue that this passage isn’t troubling to virtually everyone, Christian or not (including me), I do believe that there is an equally troubling lack of historical context and self-awareness in play. For, King Saul, David and the entire nation of Israel found themselves enmeshed in a system of zero-sum conflict that existed throughout the ancient world. To them (and their enemies) this situation of open-ended warfare was just “how this world operates.” Thus, concepts such as “peaceful coexistence” and “a rising tide lifts all ships” would have been incomprehensible to these ancient peoples. We have had the benefit of 3,000 years of human experience that they simply did not.
We need not go back 3,000 years to find a similar lack of historical understanding in play. Consider the currently popular Progressive Leftist drive to discredit and erase the names of our nation’s founding fathers. Besides the unconscionable fact that they were generally male, the fact that many of them either owned slaves or appeared to be accepting of this horrific institution’s existence is enough to convict them of utter evil.
However, while I totally agree that slavery was (and is) a morally monstrous, reprehensible institution that needed to be eradicated, I can yet understand how our founding fathers could have, within the context of their time, managed to live oblivious to this reality. For, in their time, slavery was an institution that had existed in human civilization since literally the beginning of known history. Thus, a person living then could easily have just accepted this moral outrage as something of a given.
I realize that this discussion is very dangerous, given that the cloud of faux moral superiors, disregarding any nuance of thought that doesn’t advance their ideology, is always poised to attack. However, someone needs to explain these things or the mad rush to obliterate our entire civilizational heritage will certainly succeed.
Is it possible to, while fully acknowledging that our founding fathers accepted what future generations correctly recognize to be an utterly evil system, yet give great credit to them for founding a nation that aspired to the proposition “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“? Did not this aspiration, though unrealized at the time (some likely did realize it), not a mere eight decades later fuel the eradication of slavery from the United States through a great and terrible Civil War?
Returning to David, aside from their purposeful disinterest in historical perspective, I think that these outraged Christians are driven by anger that God would have used a flawed man, molded by his own particular environment, as a means for advancing His purposes. How dare God not miraculously create a person who, 3,000 years ago, lived up to the presumed moral perfection of, who, why themselves!
This is the crux of their fury. As I intend to demonstrate, there is a failure of self-awareness and self-righteousness at work here that literally deforms the human soul. As a result, all sympathy, curiosity, context and humaneness is crushed down into a hard, cruel core of narcissistic judgmentalism.