Have you ever surfed the channels on television and come across a movie that caught your attention, but after a while you realized that you had seen this movie before? That is the feeling I have been having over the last several months while observing President George W. Bush.
The original "movie" is not his father's presidency, although there are some eerie similarities. Both Bushes engaged in wars in Iraq, both had to deal with weak economies, both had scandals involving lying to the people, both signed liberal and expensive bills into law, and both saw huge popularity ratings tank into mediocrity. However, there are enough differences to indicate that the current show is "Bush: Episode Two" rather than the same flick.
The movie that comes to mind is a grand, biblical, epic feature. It stars Saul, a scion of the small and weak tribe of Benjamin, whom God chooses to become king of all Israel. Saul is a strapping young man, head and shoulders taller than any man in the country (I Samuel 10:23). Yet, he possesses a trait God greatly desires among the leaders of nations: humility. He thinks so little of himself that, on the day he is proclaimed king, he hides himself among the equipment (verse 22)! Even when some rebellious Israelites reject him and fail to accord him the proper respect, "he [holds] his peace" (verse 27).
Though proclaimed king, Saul returns to his home in Gibeah—and not only that, he quietly goes back to work on his ranch (I Samuel 10:26; 11:5). When he hears that his nation is at risk, his anger rises, and guided by God's Spirit upon him, he wages war against the Ammonites and defeats them soundly (I Samuel 11:6-11). He magnanimously pardons the rebels (verses 12-13), and the prophet Samuel crowns him as king (verses 14-15). All is well with the world.
Yet, some time later, Saul begins to think a great deal more of himself than he had before. In his impatience with Samuel's tardiness, he takes it upon himself to do a priest's job—offer burnt and peace offerings (I Samuel 13:8-9). Samuel is aghast, telling him:
You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which he commanded you. For now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you. (verses 13-14)
From that point on, Saul's career spirals steadily downward. He makes a rash oath that nearly takes his own son's life (I Samuel 14:24-46). He is constantly at war with the Philistines and never able to win a decisive victory, though he presses every able-bodied man into the army (verse 52). He sets up a monument to himself on Mount Carmel (I Samuel 15:12). He directly disobeys a clear command from God to destroy Amalek completely, blaming the people for the infraction (verses 20-21). Finally, he is frequently troubled by "a distressing spirit from the LORD" in his later years (I Samuel 16:14).
Samuel sums up his problem in a few words: "When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel?" (I Samuel 15:17). Saul lost his humility. Ego, pride, a sense of being irreplaceable, made him believe that he could even disregard the commands of God. The downfall of Saul is a sad tale.
George W. Bush came across as a sincere, responsible, unassuming candidate—a man of conviction who would follow the founding principles that made this country great. His response to the horrors of September 11, 2001, seemed to bear this out. But maybe that event turned his head, much as Saul's authority over Israel brought out his pride. Over the last several months, the president has followed his political advisors rather than his stated ideals and embraced liberal, budget-bloating measures—for instance, the Farm Bill, Education Bill, the Medicare Bill, and most recently, increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts—for the sole purpose of drawing enough votes away from the Democrats to be reelected in November. In addition, his approach to foreign policy strikes allies and enemies alike as arrogant and heavy-handed.
Solomon writes, "The end of a thing is better than its beginning" (Ecclesiastes 7:8). Perhaps that should better read, "The end of a thing should be better than its beginning," or as the Living Bible puts it, "Finishing is better than starting!" In this movie, we observe the careers of two men in the highest offices of their nations, who held such promise but failed to follow through. How disappointing it is to see such potential wasted.
- Richard T. Ritenbaugh
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