From time to time, I get to sit on hiring committees, looking for new professors to swell the ranks of English teachers at my school. You start with perhaps a hundred applications, winnowing out the less qualified, and then you interview a handful, offering the job to whoever rises to the top of the pile. The goal, of course, is to hire the best person we have available to us. And over the years, I’ve helped to hire some pretty great colleagues.
Why is it then, since I set out to find an excellent co-worker, that I find myself sometimes annoyed at the success that these people enjoy. I look at people I’ve voted to employ and find myself thinking them just a bit too awesome.
That’s what I think of when I read about Saul in the aftermath of the whole Goliath encounter. It’s in 2 Samuel 18:5 and beyond. Let’s pick up the story, already in progress:
David marched out with the army and was successful in everything Saul sent him to do. Saul put him in command of the fighting men, which pleased all the people and Saul’s servants as well.
Notice some key facts here. Where did David find success? He found it in “everything Saul sent him to do.” It’s not like David is going into a shameless self-promotion tour. He’s doing what the king told him to do. And how does that king respond. We’ll find out in a moment. After one successful military expedition, David and Saul make their way back home in triumph. Here’s what we find in 2 Samuel 18:6-7:
As the troops were coming back, when David was returning from killing the Philistine, the women came out from all the cities of Israel to meet King Saul, singing and dancing with tambourines, with shouts of joy, and with three-stringed instruments. As they danced, the women sang:
Saul has killed his thousands,
but David his tens of thousands.
Saul doesn’t like this one bit. He doesn’t hear the praise directed at him but instead is obsessed with the greater praise directed at David. Never mind that the women came out to meet King Saul rather than David. Never mind that no matter what David does tomorrow, Saul will remain the king. Saul simply cannot stand the accolades that flow at the guy who is only doing what he was hired to do.
Jealousy is an ugly thing, and that’s what Saul felt toward David and what I, in a weaker moment, feel toward those excellent colleagues whom I, after all, selected to be excellent. There’s nothing new about this emotion. Envy probably lay at the root of Cain’s murder of Abel. It is singled out in the 10th commandment. Proverbs 14:30 warns us that “envy rots the bones.”
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:4 that love “does not envy.” When I envy that successful colleague, it’s pretty hard to simultaneously love him or her. And like Saul, I need to recognize that the success of a colleague means, to some degree, a success for me as well. After all, I did help to hire this person.