As news broke about Volkswagen’s (VW) illegal practices and consequent disgrace over exhaust emissions, David’s lament for King Saul came strongly to mind — ‘How are the mighty fallen!’ (2 Samuel 1:19).
Saul was a mighty man, head and shoulders above his brethren, but he too suffered a fatal fall. There are significant parallels between his downward course and that of many institutions in our society today.
In Saul’s case, the fall was the result of personal sin, though he was not the only sinner in Israel. God does punish nations and corporate bodies for institutional sin, but behind it all there is personal sin. The moral culpability of corporations arises from their human participants. For example, while FIFA as a whole is in need of reform, its fall from favour has resulted from the obvious transgressions of individuals.
Departure from truth
There are key lessons to be learned from what happened to Saul. Civil power went to his head. When he thought himself above God’s order in holy things, he was reproved by Samuel with the words, ‘Thou hast done foolishly’ (1 Samuel 13:13).
God has his demarcation lines, even for non-theocratic nations. Neither pope nor king is head of the church, or are above God’s Word and moral order. Jesus Christ alone is head of the church, which he rules by his Word. We judge it a fatally wrong step for our government to meddle with God’s institution of marriage, for example.
When Saul failed to slay Agag and allowed the people to take spoil from the Amalekites contrary to God’s commandment, Samuel reproved Saul, saying, ‘Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry’ (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
In our age, every man does what is right in his own eyes. The departure from God’s Word has witnessed deceit and dishonesty in politicians (the expenses scandal), banks (the financial crisis), sport (performance-enhancing drug abuse) and business and economics (LIBOR manipulation).
Notwithstanding counsel otherwise from Samuel the prophet and Jonathan his son, Saul persisted in his persecution of David. He only heeded those counsellors who agreed with him. This too has a modern ring.
The departure from Christian truth in Western society has also left our education system bereft of clear moral standards for the instruction of the young. A whole new generation has grown up believing that truth and morality are relative. It should not surprise us if this amorality is reflected at all levels of society.
The UK government seems determined to keep biblical truth regarding creation, marriage and the family out of our schools and universities, and only allow the politically correct among the clergy to teach in them.
Saddest of all was Saul’s lack of repentance. King Manasseh was exceedingly wicked, but he repented and the Lord was gracious, even to him. Saul showed a lack of repentance despite all the promptings of God’s mercy, and, at the end, resorted to the witch of Endor rather than the Lord (1 Samuel 28).
Similarly, as Western society implodes, our politicians seem obsessed with imposing on the population ‘respect’ for different ‘faiths’, however much these may contradict biblical teaching and Christian conscience.
Saul’s fall was costly for the innocent in Israel. His sin impacted on others not complicit in his moral decline, including Jonathan and David. Jonathan, Saul’s son, had been faithful to both his father and friend, endeavouring to reconcile them, but in vain.
The chief executive of VW has gone and other VW directors may follow, but no one knows where the fallout from VW’s corporate problems will end — car owners, motor industry workers, component suppliers, insurers, pension funds and the German economy will probably all have a price to pay.
Saul’s injustices turned David’s life upside down. David went from being a respected figure in the nation of Israel to a fugitive. The death of Jonathan was the loss of a trusted and well beloved friend and left him in great distress (2 Samuel 1:26).
Lives today are also being turned upside down — by government legislation and judicial interpretation in the name of ‘equality’ and ‘tolerance’. Christians have observed what has happened to Christian registrars, hoteliers and open-air preachers and have good cause to be apprehensive about how counter-‘extremist’ legislation for those judged ‘un-British’ might be used against Evangelicals.
The military defeat of Saul’s army at mount Gilboa impacted the entire nation of Israel. The king and his son were dead, and the nation in disarray.
The changed face of UK politics as a result of the last election and the outcome of the recent Labour leadership contest are scarcely coincidental. Dissatisfaction with our political establishment has been a major feature. Many voters feel marginalised and disregarded, even as Christianity is marginalised and Evangelicalism dismissed.
Israel was only later saved from her enemies by uniting around David, the man after God’s own heart. There is a lesson here for troublous times! The answer to our woes is only found in King David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ — the one who David, in the Spirit, called ‘my Lord’.
Saul’s fall underlined the need for change in the whole nation of Israel. 2 Samuel 2 begins with the words, ‘And it came to pass after this, that David enquired of the Lord’. This is a methodology that never fails for rulers, but how many in the USA, Germany and the UK will seek to understand what God thinks about a crisis?
Is correcting corporate misbehaviour just a matter of taxes, incentives and fines? Doesn’t government have a duty of care for pensioners, workers and those who contribute to national income and prosperity?
‘Enlightenment morality’ will do little to resolve the complexity. What is needed is the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God applied to heart and conscience.
Some will say that you can’t bring God into politics and economics, but our generation interprets this to mean we cannot have absolute morality in legislation and business — an approach which can only destroy society from within.
Consider how Scripture inculcates truth and righteousness in relation to commercial activity. The New Testament Church was a caring and sharing community (Acts 1:45), but insisted upon the right of private property and the voluntary disposal of assets (Acts 5:1-4). Was not Abraham a successful entrepreneur and yet a caring master? There was no contradiction.
‘Profit’ may have acquired a nasty reputation, but at an accounting level it is merely the calculated result demonstrating income has exceeded costs and business activity is sustainable, with the enterprise not a rudderless boat.
But profits must be legitimately earned. The steward was expected to be both faithful and effective, as the parables of the pounds and the talents show. We must steer a course that blends emotion and clear thinking, and care and enterprise, when it comes to economics and social responsibility.
Scripture highlights the importance of truth and righteousness in government. The primary function of government is maintaining justice, law and order by upholding what is right against that which is wrong: ‘For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil’ (Romans 13:3).
The departure from God’s standards concerning the sanctity of life, marriage and the family, and our disregard of the Lord’s Day, show how far our legislators have departed from the Ten Commandments. Ethical decline in business is but one symptom of a legislative failure to uphold truth and righteousness.
Then there is the importance of truth and righteousness in individual conduct. Apart from the matter of Uriah the Hittite and his wife Bathsheba, David was exemplary in this; he ‘did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life’ (1 Kings 15:5).
Were it the same in the workplace today, deception could not gain a foothold there to produce and hide corporate fraud. Politicians in prison and important businessmen in disgrace serve as vital warnings to our nation.
How our sin contrasts so sharply with the purity, righteousness and love of Jesus Christ! How it underlines the necessity of his death in the place and stead of sinners! Truly, there was no other good enough to bear the price of sin, and it is time that our nation recognises the Saviour’s unique claims upon us.
Roy Mohon is minister of the Presbyterian Reformed Church, Stockton-on-Tees.