Monday, July 1, 2013

God’s People Reject God in Favor of a Human Ruler (1 Samuel 8:1-22)

Olympianity is the oldest religion in the world and has always been the most popular. It is the religion of power. Whole societies devote themselves to the six gods of Olympianity--to the gods of politics, war, technology, sex, money, and consumption--to get more power in each of these essential areas of life.

In 1921 BC, the one odd god of freedom invited Abraham to leave his Olympian society. Yahweh invited Abraham to be his companion and to learn a very different way of living. Abraham accepted this invitation, left his city, and traveled with his family to live with Yahweh in an unknown land.

In that land, Abraham had a son named Isaac and Isaac had a son named Jacob. Yahweh renewed his companionship with the sons and they with him. The six Olympian gods emphasize power and suck vitality from those whom they control. In contrast, Yahweh blessed his companions with truth, freedom, love, and vitality and blessed others with these through them.

In 1706 BC, Jacob took his family and moved from Canaan to Egypt. His descendants remained there for over 200 years.

Then, in 1491 BC, Yahweh sent Moses to lead his people out of Egypt. With this Exodus began a new era of Yahweh as leader of and companion to his people. He blessed them for 40 years in the wilderness of Sinai. Yahweh then chose a man named Joshua to lead his people out of the wilderness and back into the land he had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to give to their descendants. By 1445 BC, all 12 tribes of Israel were settled in the portion of the land given to them by Yahweh.

Yahweh continued to serve as their king from 1445 to 1095 BC. He enjoyed blessing them and ruling them lightly. In times of prosperity and peace, he allowed his companions to run their own affairs. In times of crisis, he would choose a leader for them and, through that very human leader, save them from their enemies. These leaders later became known as judges.

So Yahweh related to Israel as a ruler who blessed his people and blessed others through them for over 800 years: from 1921 BC until 1095 BC. In 1095, however, a very different era began in the history of Israel’s relationship to Yahweh.

Yahweh as king had chosen Samuel to serve as his spokesman. As Samuel grew up, [Yahweh] was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of [Yahweh]. [Yahweh] continued to appear at Shiloh, for [Yahweh] revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of [Yahweh]. And the word of Samuel came to all Israel (1 Samuel 3:19-4:1 New Revised Standard Version, here and following).

This lasted for several decades. But when Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel…Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice (1 Samuel 8:1, 3).

Yahweh is the one odd god of freedom. He is the one god who blesses those he leads and who blesses others through them. Samuel had lived as a witness to this. His sons had not. They were Olympians. Because they devoted themselves to Pluto, the god of money, they turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice (1 Samuel 8:3).

The elders of Israel noticed this and resented it. They said to Samuel, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways…” (8:4a). That’s a fair complaint. A fair response on their part might have been: “So pray for us, to Yahweh our God, that he might call another person to serve him and lead us as you have.”

But that’s not how they responded. Instead they asked Samuel, not Yahweh, to “appoint for us, then, a king to govern us” (8:5). In truth these elders wanted a king so that they could be like other nations (8:5). In other words, they saw this clear disappointment in the sons of Samuel as an excuse to question, challenge, and replace Yahweh’s kingship with a very human one. That way they could become self-respecting Olympians like everyone else.

All through history this has been the temptation of us Christians: to fit in, to drop the differences, to be like everyone else.

But the thing displeased Samuel (v. 6) as well it should. Let us, however, carefully note Yahweh’s response to this very clear rebellion. [Yahweh] said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them” (vs. 7-9).

So Yahweh first acknowledges the truth of the situation to his loyal companion Samuel. Then he tells Samuel to warn his people of the destructive consequences that will follow should they choose a very human king—and the very parasitic Olympian gods who will use him.

Notice that Yahweh does not attack or even threaten his people. He loves them, seeks to bless them even when facing their rebellion, and does so by warning them.

Samuel warns Yahweh’s people of the terrible evils they will suffer if they reject Yahweh as king and instead concentrate power in the hands of a human king. That king will take their sons and daughters; the best of their slaves, cattle, donkeys, fields, vineyards, and olive orchards; and a tenth of their grain and flocks (vs. 11-17). In the end, they shall be his slaves (v. 17). In other words, a human king and his court will not bless them and others through them. A human king and his court will exploit and enslave them. This human ruler and his hangers-on, like parasites, will suck vitality from them. The most terrible warning of all: And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but [Yahweh] will not answer you in that day (v. 18).

We Christians, individually and as communities, repeat this mistake today whenever we betray God anew by justifying the concentration of power in the hands of rulers—be they governmental, corporate, or even Christian. Whenever that happens, people get exploited and enslaved rather than blessed.

Despite these words of wisdom and warning, Yahweh’s people insisted on being like everyone else and having a very Olympian king ruling over them (vs. 19-20). They insisted on creating that focal point for the parasitic power of the Olympian gods. So [Yahweh] said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them” (v. 21).

Yahweh did not destroy his people in response. Nor did he make them do his will. But he did respond creatively to their rebellion. First, in response to the destructive power concentrated in the hands of kings, Yahweh called men to be prophets and to challenge that power in his name. Second, Yahweh enabled David, the second king, to be a king after his own heart. Third, Yahweh sent his own son Jesus to fulfill everything that he ever thought a king might be and do.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.