Enabling Abusers: Saul and the Ziphites

Saul was just like the other kings. Israel had asked for one. And they got one.

He was a rotten leader. Often we downplay his wicked leadership.

Psalm 54 is described as a song that David wrote when he was ratted out by the Ziphites when Saul was hot on his tail. David, God’s anointed king to replace Saul, had been Saul’s greatest supporter. But when Saul began to see David’s popularity for being such a gifted warrior – abilities David used for the purpose of supporting King Saul – Saul’s wickedness became evident.

David had no intention, we are told, to replace Saul. He had multiple opportunities to stage a coup, killing Saul, and rise to the throne. Yet, he said,

“The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’S anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’S anointed.”

1 Samuel 24:6 (ESV)

But Saul, nonetheless, pursues David to murder him. Saul even had priests of the Lord murdered because they helped David, not knowing David was on the outs with Saul. When accused by Saul of colluding with David, the priest Ahimelech said to King Saul,

“And who among all your servants is so faithful as David, who is the king’s son-in-law, and captain over your bodyguard, and honored in your house?

1 Samuel 22:14 (ESV)

The servant is to point to the master. And, David did just that. Ahimelech explained that David was faithful to Saul. He was his right-hand man. David, in essence, glorified Saul, his king.

And yet, Saul had all the priests killed.

Then Saul comes to the Ziphites. From David’s own tribe, yet they are all too happy to turn David in to Saul, enabling the abusive king.

Then the Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah, saying, “Is not David hiding among us in the strongholds at Horesh, on the hill of Hachilah, which is south of Jeshimon? Now come down, O king, according to all your heart’s desire to come down, and our part shall be to surrender him into the king’s hand.”

Then check out what Saul said to them:

And Saul said, “May you be blessed by the LORD, for you have had compassion on me.”

1 Samuel 23:19-21 (ESV)

Matthew Henry comments on Saul’s words, “Saul affected to speak the language of piety. Such expressions, without suitable effects, can only amuse or deceive those who hear, and those who use them.” Saul puts lovely religious language on his abuse. “You had compassion on me.”

In the book, “A Church Called Tov,” Barringer says,

"Rather than accepting responsibility and apologizing for sin, pastors and church leaders may create false victimization narratives in which everything is reversed and the perpetrators of sexual violence become the victims."[1]

“Poor me,” Saul is saying. “I am the one who has been treated badly.”

Hear the abuse ringing through? Saul is a manipulative and wicked man. He was what the people asked for – a king like the other nations. Rather than appreciating and building up his right hand man, David, who did so much for Israel, Saul is paranoid of him and seeks to kill him.

Saul is a fool and an evil man.

Unfortunately, this is not unusual.

Twice recently I have watched as two women have suffered under their abusive husbands as their pastors continue to support their abuser. It is all too common in Christian organizations for the same thing to happen with toxic bosses.

Like the Ziphites, the board, other managers, or even other co-workers continue to enable the leader in his abuse.

And the abuser just puts on the religious charm and others are overcome with empathy for his plight.

Just like Saul. And his enablers.


[1] Barringer, Laura McKnight . A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing (p. 65). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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  1. Pingback: Tongues Are Sharp As Swords: Verbal Abuse in the Bible | Pearls & Swine

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