A Zero-Sum Game

As they danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly… (1 Samuel 18:7–8a, NIV)


Ah, pride. King Saul had it in spades. As the first king of Israel, he pretty much had unlimited power; and we’ve all heard the saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That’s precisely what happened to Saul. And when a new leader began to rise and gain influence with the people, Saul felt his power threatened; his pride was poked in the eye, and he became outraged.

Saul was looking at things from a zero-sum perspective. In other words, if power is a zero-sum game, David’s rise in power and influence is only possible if Saul’s power and influence decrease. As David gains it, Saul loses it. And Saul didn’t like losing it.

As I reflected on this story, it occurred to me that this issue is very prevalent in our families, our workplaces, our schools, our nation, and (if we’re honest) our churches. It’s the mindset behind the posturing and politicking, the manipulating and popularity contests, the territorialism and insecurity. We are in a position of influence, God calls up another leader, and we immediately feel threatened. Often we react the same way Saul did. We get angry. We get scared. We draw battle lines. We try to discredit the other person. We turn passive-aggressive. We try to limit their sphere of influence. Saul tried to kill David. We may not go that far, but we just might attack their character through gossip and slander.

The truth is, power is a zero-sum game, and God has all of it. The moment we think that we have any of it is the moment we put our foot in Saul’s snare. All the power belongs to God, and He raises up leaders to serve His purposes according to His will and sovereign plan. God raised up Saul for a time, but power and position don’t last forever. When we find ourselves in Saul’s shoes, watching a David rise through the ranks, let’s not make Saul’s mistake. The power and the position were never ours; they are God’s and always will be. God has a plan for that person, and we have an opportunity to use our experience, training, and wisdom to help rather than hinder.

My prayer for the week is that God will bring to us someone we can pour into and be part of God’s plan for their life and ministry.