The higher you go, the less oxygen

It was the Roman politician and philosopher Cicero who narrated the famous story about the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius II and his courtier Damocles. Cicero had read in the History of Timaeus of Tauromenium.

In summary, Dionysius is a highly successful king, and this makes his servant Damocles start envying him. He wants to have a feel of what his King experiences.

The King does not hesitate but allows Damocles to have a bite of supreme pie.

What happens?

Damocles is placed on a golden couch. The couch is covered with a most beautiful woven rug and embroidered with splendid works. He is adorned many sideboards with chased silver and gold; then chosen boys of outstanding beauty stand by his table and attentively wait on him. Also, unguents and garlands are provided; perfumes are burned; tables are piled up with the most select foods. Damocles seemed to himself fortunate.

In the middle of this extravagance, Dionysius ordered that a shining sword, fastened from the ceiling by a horse-hair, be let down so that it hung over the neck of that fortunate man. And so he looked neither at those handsome waiters nor the fantastic silver work nor did he stretch his hand to the table. Now the pretty wreaths slipped off. Finally, he begged the King that he should be allowed to depart because he no longer wanted to be fortunate.

That is how we got the phrase, ‘the swords of Damocles’.

Brace yourself

In real life, things don’t get better as you go higher. They get dense and tensive.

There is an incident in the Holy Bible that is rather comical.

“So Hanun seized David’s men, shaved off half their beards, cut off their robes halfway up their buttocks, and sent them packing,” 2nd Samuel 10:4 (MSG).

This was quite an embarrassment – more kicks than halfpence. The guys were shaven and hanged out to dry. In modern days, it would be comparable to high commissioner staff or consular being stripped naked. It is tantamount to declaring war. The idea behind the act was to humiliate David. How dare slit robes of ambassadors halfway up their buttocks?

Surprisingly, David did not take any action. It appears that he wasn’t interested in war.

“You don’t have to fight every battle. Know when to let it drop.”

He only responded when his intelligence revealed that the Ammonites were mobilizing forces in preparation for war.

David was starting to settle down as a king. I presume he didn’t know that some guys were disconcerted with his new status. He didn’t know that only a few people could trust him.

His actions towards King Hanun were utterly in good faith, but Hanun did not think so. David’s new status had made Hanun, and his nobles develop mistrust.

In the previous chapter 5:17-25, we encounter a similar scenario. The Philistines marshal forces immediately they learn that David is the new King in town. They go after him hammer and tongs.

It is as if none of David’s neighbours wanted him as a King.

Years later, deep within his household, we would find people like Absalom challenging him.


God desire is that we grow, and more so spiritually. However, this new level, this turnaround, will attract new hurdles and new devils. This should not come as a surprise. Always remember it has nothing to do with you; it is spiritual warfare.

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