Rejection is hard; I’ve been on both the receiving and giving end of it. In chapters 28 and 29 of first Samuel, we see two stories of rejection mixed with a frenzy of fear, pain, and anxiety on both sides. David is still in hiding from Saul and thinks he is heading to battle with the king who has given him refuge, King Achish of the Philistines. When David and his men arrive to join the other Philistine armies, the other military leaders reject him and demand that Achish send him home. But who can blame them? How could they trust him? Saul is facing armies that will certainly be his demise. Samuel has died, and Saul needs advice. The question I have wrestled with in these chapters has been how two men who are both in desperation and reaching out to God can get two polar responses: one of engagement and one of silence. I don’t know that I have the answer for that, but I think the responses we see to rejection offer something we can talk about.
When Saul sees the Philistine army, he is completely enveloped in fear. Saul does not want to die, and in this moment, he wants to know exactly what he should do. Saul pleads with the Lord for guidance, and uses every resource available to him to get an answer. Now hold your hearts because this is where it gets a little gritty. God refuses to answer him. This is hard to come around, and in order to try and come around why God ignores Saul’s pleas, we have to look at Saul’s past. Saul never seems to be able to get behind the purpose of his anointed leadership. Eventually, we read, Saul gets his last chance and chooses to disobey God by failing to wait for Samuel to slaughter the offering to the Lord. This is when God turns his head and rejects Saul as the leader over Israel, commanding Samuel to find the next king. Fast-forward to chapter 28 and Saul is calling upon a God whom he has rejected and disobeyed throughout his entire reign. When Saul reaches out, he has no connection with God because he has no relationship with him.
Even when he reaches out, he does so as a means to be rescued, not to be with God. He quickly resolves to seek a medium, after feeling he has exhausted his other resources, in his final attempt for an answer. I don’t blame Saul for his desperation, but I can’t blame God for his silence either. Saul deals with the Lord’s rejection by frantic actions driven by fear. He can’t listen among the chaos or beyond the circumstances. I don’t know if Saul was ever after God’s heart, but if he did, I think he lost his desire for it. I relate to this part of Saul’s story, in the midst of chaos, just wanting an answer. This said, I think Saul will serve as a reminder of the importance of taking a step back, and checking my intentions in this relationship.
At the same time Saul is spiraling, David is dealing with his own rejection. In chapter 29, the Philistine kings reject David and he immediately becomes defensive (a completely normal human response) and he wants to know why. He is offended and confused; he’s likely angry and frustrated. He eventually concedes and heads home with his men the following morning. It is almost strange how hurt David seems and how easily he leaves. I may be taking some liberties on David’s feelings, but I don’t think he let go of his feelings that quickly. I think David’s concession to the other kings’ verdict is an application of deep trust in his God. Psalm 56, which was written just before/around this time, reflects on David’s fear and the opposition he faces in the land of the Philistines. David pleads with the Lord to protect him, and for justice.
He then goes on to reaffirm his belief in God’s promises saying,
But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised.
He repeats this several times in the psalm, and ends with,
I will fulfill my vows to you, O God, and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help. For you have rescued me from death; you have kept my feet from slipping. So now I can walk in your presence, O God, in you life-giving light.
David truly trusts God, and although this does not completely free him from fear, anxiety, and hardship, it offers him a place to rest. I don’t think he simply repeats But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised simply for the sake of the poetry. I think he needs to remind himself of God’s faithfulness and goodness, and prophesy to himself the fulfillment of God’s promises. David’s response to rejection, danger, and fear, is to remind himself of God’s promises and faithfulness. In this, he can rest, and know that God is consistent in an inconsistent and chaotic world.
Rejection is a part of life, and it is hard to deal with, but it makes us take a hard look at ourselves and discern what is true about ourselves. Sometimes, we act as the rejecter, and are surprised when we cannot take that action back. When rejection is accompanied by fear, I think it can even challenge who we believe our God is and what He can do. I hope we can take these chapters and see a faithful and just God, working in an unjust and broken world for the good of His children. We may not feel this all of the time, but I hope we can know it, even in our doubts, and praise the Lord for what He has promised. We all need a reminder sometimes and I hope that we can serve each other as a community by being that reminder for each other. So may we walk in the presence of the life-giving light of God together.