King David and the Challenges of Identity, Part 2

By Jacob Toman

This is part two of a three-part series; click here for part one; part three is coming soon.

In the first part of this study we saw that the people groups each of us are a part of can be simply broken down into two categories:

  1. People groups that we choose to join.
  2. People groups we are placed into.

 

Pride & Prejudice

Two of English literature's most beloved characters are found within the same work. These two characters epitomize the motivating accomplices of sinful discrimination: pride and prejudice. In Jane Austin’s writing, her characters are forced to confront the foundations of sinful attitudes towards other people groups. Mr. Darcy and Ms. Eliza Bennett consistently display negative attitudes that have been formed about one another's people groups. For Mr. Darcy, he looks down upon those of less social status and economic wealth; for Ms. Bennett, she detests the airs of superiority that intoxicate the ego of the well-to-do. Neither of these characters chose the families they were born into, and yet they judge one another mercilessly.

David, the man who ultimately became the most famous Old Testament King of ancient Israel, was a victim of the pride and prejudice of King Saul. David wasn’t responsible for being chosen as God’s next King for the covenant people, but he still had to deal with the repercussions of holding membership in a people group he didn’t choose.

Saul’s jealousy could be rendered today as an “ism” like racism or sexism, two of the most hot-button words on the internet today. In a similar fashion, Saul embodied a contempt that had no foundation or reason. The fuel for Saul’s passionate bitterness was nothing other than his own pride and prejudice. Saul’s discrimination of David came from a place of jealousy that fed on pride, and led to habitually active prejudice against the will of God in the life of the people of Israel. In other words, Saul wanted what David had.

 What Saul had lost was his own sense of the call that God had given him. This is exactly what happens when one people group marginalizes or engages in the oppression of another people group. Losing sight of a person’s place as image bearer of God inevitably leads to a dehumanizing, overgeneralizing, discriminatory attitude. When personal desires outgrow personal calling, the result is selfishness in epic proportions.

 

Peaceful civil disobedience

When Saul rejected David due to God’s decision, David modeled what righteous disobedience in the midst of holding citizenship ought to look like. There are particular nuances that differentiate David’s circumstances from other minority groups today, but it is within the similarities that helpful direction can be found for those who find themselves under majority oppression.

David had multiple opportunities to kill king Saul and end his persecution, yet he chose to act with integrity by sparing Saul’s life. David had multiple motivations to end Saul’s life:

  1. Self Defense - Saul had tried to kill David not once, but twice! In 1 Samuel 18 and 1 Samuel 19.
  2. Revenge - Saul gave his daughter Michal to David in marriage in an attempt to plant her as a spy in David’s house 1 Samuel 18:20-21.
  3. Power - David was anointed by God to be the next King in 1 Samuel 16:1-13; a living, breathing Saul was the only thing that stood between David and the kingship of Israel.

Yet David, the man who was portrayed by Saul as a rebellious insurrectionist, didn’t end Saul’s life, but instead sought to treat him kindly. Note that this kindness didn’t mean relinquishing the call that God had given to David; rather, it meant David sought in every way he could to honor God in his ascent to the throne. In other words, the person who is mistreated due to a call ought not to repay evil with evil. David’s peaceful rebellion is the epitome of Christ’s words in Matthew 5:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[h] let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Similarities:

*David’s reason for persecution was because of God’s choices for David’s life - namely to become King.

*When an ethnic minority is persecuted due to race, it’s because of their circumstances, not their choices - namely the ethnic heritage to which they were born.

 

David became an outcast of the people group he was born into (Israel) and a pariah to the people whom he had chosen to associate with (Saul and his followers). His life had become that of an outcast.

When he fled from Saul in 1 Samuel 21:1, David was alone. Without friends, without followers, this man had become the public enemy of the state due to something he didn’t choose (God’s anointing to be King).

Throughout history, mistreatment of individuals and people groups who are outside of the dominant hierarchical power structure has been a tradition of humanity. This isn’t something that has been universally decried by Christians and that’s a challenge to those of us who are active in the mission field today: to speak up for those who have a voice that’s been marginalized, and to take action by joining with those who are oppressed sinfully.

When an individual or group of people’s collective pride swells to a sense of over importance, the by-product is the marginalization of others. This phenomena becomes a cycle as pride turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy of prejudice. Those in power continue to value themselves in an inflated position due to their undervaluing of others; those who are the victims of this selfish pride experience the unfortunate reality of sinful pride turned into dehumanizing prejudice.

As image bearers, we find identity in the groups that we chose to be a part of, and the groups that we are placed in. This is a great thing! We wouldn’t have culture, civic pride, or collective identity without having some sense of ourselves tied in with those groups we choose, and are placed in. God has made humanity to be culture creators. In our creating of cultures, we must be on guard against the sinful plotting motivations of pride and prejudice.

 

Conclusion 1:

We (as humanity made in God’s image) will experience different treatment due to people groups we have chosen and haven’t chosen to be a part of.

Conclusion 2:

We (as humanity made in God’s image) will be entrenched in “isms” when we lose sight of the imago dei - that every person is an image bearer of God.