Human obsession with power — by any and all means — is one of the few common traits that runs all down through history. Pop culture is obsessed with power right now, from the intrigue of the coming presidential election to the Game of Thrones books to Lebron James being the most powerful loser to ever play the game (not my words), human fascination with and hunger for power is constant and deadly. But power can also be stewarded wisely and well, bringing blessing and life to those who see it as vested stewardship from God. (For great stuff on this concept, check out Playing God by Andy Crouch.)
I recently revised a homily offered in the spirit of A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards. Let this familiar story find you again and speak to your own notions of power and its many nuances, blessings and dangers.
“The people want a king,” Samuel said.
“They want to be like the nations around them,” came the prophet’s timid reply.
“If I give them a king, they will suffer. Go tell them that.”
“So be it. Let them have what they say they want.”
The throne of Saul was oppressive. Taxes and tribute demanded, fathers and sons sent off to war. Saul was a strong man, a born leader, but his heart strayed from God. In God’s eyes, he was a king. In his own eyes, he was still the boy hiding with the luggage. And his insecurity got the best of him. In false worship and fear, he turned to self-reliance and self-protection, forfeiting his throne by seeking to please his people rather than his God.
“Saul, what have you done?” asked Samuel, fear in his eyes.
“I did what you said, Samuel.”
“Then why do I hear the sound of the spoils of war. God said everything… everything was to be destroyed.”
“I did destroy everything, Samuel.”
“Saul, stop deceiving yourself. You did not obey, and now you have lost your kingdom.”
“Samuel, I have removed my spirit from Saul. Go to Jesse’s house in Bethlehem and I will show you there whom to anoint as king.”
“Is it this one, Lord?” inquired Samuel. “He is tall and strong, a fit leader by all appearances.”
“Samuel, I am not looking at appearances. I am looking for a heart that is pursuing my heart. I have a shepherd’s heart. Find the shepherd boy.”
The throne of David was glorious…eventually. Four years of running from Saul in the wilderness of Israel, shacking up in a city of the enemy, acting like a crazy person in order to escape certain death, twice able to kill Saul and out of respect not willing out to do so…this is the anvil upon which David – the shepherd-king after God’s own heart – was pounded.
Eventually, the throne was secured, the kingdom of David was moved to Jerusalem and David ruled with strength of heart and mind. But even the man after God’s own heart can fail. David again lies across the cold iron, this time an anvil of self-inflicted suffering, as he embraces adultery and murder, losing a newborn son in the process.
The great hammer of suffering continues as his own son, the one he loves most tenderly raises a coup against him. Again and again, the hammer rains down its blows and with each strike, the heart of David pursues God’s heart harder and faster, spurring the kingdom of God into a point of glory and strength it had never known. People knew the shepherd-king could love, but they did not know how well he could lead.
“Father God,” the Great King prayed, “I love you to the depths of my being. My greatest desire is to lead the people in praise as we go up to the house we have built for you here on you Mt Zion, Jerusalem. Father, may I build you a home among us?”
“David, my son, “ replies the Father with great tenderness, “stretch out your hands. What do you see?”
“I see hands ready to work for the glory of Your temple.”
“But David,” came the gentle reply from God, “I see the blood of Uriah. I see the blood of countless enemies you have slaughtered. Hands covered in blood cannot build My house.”
“Solomon, wake up,” God stirred the new king of Israel, the heir of the throne of David, from his slumber.
The Father continued, “Solomon, I want to give you a gift. Anything. Material or immaterial…what do you want?”
“You have chosen well, my son. Wisdom is yours, and with it, all the things you did not ask for that you could have: power, wealth, influence, greatness, and fame.”
The throne of Solomon was magnificent and powerful. The increase of the government of Israel was profound. All around the world, the mysteries and songs of the great nation of Israel were spoken. Magistrates and ambassadors, kings and queens, flocked to Israel to see the greatness and wisdom of this majestic king on display. What David was not permitted to do, Solomon executed perfectly and he built to God a temple of worship whose glory was unrivaled anywhere in the known world. The glory of the nation of Israel was at its peak, world-renown, deeply powerful, poised perfectly for the worldwide proclamation of the name of YHWH, enthroning Him as King and God over the entire world.
But Solomon was experiencing such deep inner difficulty and turmoil. What good was wisdom without a heart after God? In his times of counsel with his priestly advisers, he longed for David’s strong connection to the heart of God. And each night, as he entered the room of his chosen concubine for that evening’s pleasure, each morning as he listened to the financial reports of the greatness of his kingdom, each afternoon as he bypassed the Great Temple he had built on the way to his own resplendent palace, he felt the void in his heart and spirit grow deeper and darker.
The power and glory of Israel was soon to understand exactly what he meant.