Friday, April 06, 2007

Saul--King of Israel 2.0 - a study in scarcity?

For me the story of King Saul has morphed from being a vaguely remembered Sunday school story to a puzzling tale of why God chooses whom He chooses. Early in the story I discovered that Saul was not the first king of Israel--God considered Himself the first king. This is one of those rare cases where the second release is dramatically inferior to the first.
Scene I: A New King for Israel
The people of Israel (to Samuel): "You have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations."
The Lord (to Samuel):"Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them."
MeditatorSaul was really the Hebrew's 2nd King, God was the 1st. As Christians, God is King of our lives, but how often do we reject His kingship to pursue phantoms of justice, security, or prosperity?
Samuel (to Saul) "And you shall go down before me to Gilgal... You shall wait seven days until I come to you and show you what you should do"
Narrator"So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal.
MeditatorIn spite of screwing up almost immediately Saul was king for probably 12 years or more. God selected Saul out of the whole nation of Israel. Was Saul the best to be had? It would seem so.
Narrator (about Saul)"Now he waited seven days, according to the appointed time set by Samuel, but Samuel did not come to Gilgal; and the people were scattering from him."
Saul"Bring to me the burnt offering and the peace offerings."
Narrator "And he offered the burnt offering. And it came about as soon as he finished offering the burnt offering, that behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him and to greet him"
Samuel (to Saul)"What have you done?" (with anger)
Saul (to Samuel)Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and then you did not come within the appointed days, and that the Philistines were assembling at Michmash, therefore I said, Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not asked the favor of the Lord. So I forced myself and offered the burnt offering.
The importance of obeying God’s specific instructions exactly is an oft repeated theme. Many times the Lord’s direction is faint or missing, but when it is clear take note and don’t deviate.
Saul's sin--not waiting for God, even when God is "late". The people were drifting away, Saul wanted to take action. He trusted the quantity of soldiers under his command more than he trusted God. Quite a contrast to Gideon sending most of his army away. So Saul "forced" himself to disobey God's command--because he had not yet asked the favor of the Lord. We want the Lord's blessing without the inconvenient or distressing obedience bits...
Samuel (to Saul)"You have acted 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. "
David’s kingdom was established through his offspring –which ultimately resulted in Jesus. If Saul had been obedient would Jesus have had a different mother?! How invariant is God’s plan?

Scene II Destruction of the Amalekites
Samuel (to Saul)"Thus says the Lord of hosts...Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey."
Narrator"But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed."
MeditatorGod's command to utterly destroy everything did not sit well with the Israelites. Likely the disobedience came for a desire to prevent "waste", avoid offending the masses, or perhaps to be "religious". In any event not obeying God's direct command exactly is not a good idea.
Lord (to Samuel)"I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not carried out My commands.."
MeditatorGod's response to Saul's sin? Some translations say regret, others say repent--or was it just a sigh (the simple definition of the Hebrew word used)
Narrator"And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night. And Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul"
Bystander (when asked where Saul was)"Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself, then turned and proceeded on down to Gilgal."
Saul built a monument to himself for "his" big victory against the Amalekites. So much for giving the glory to God.
Narrator"And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him"
Saul "Blessed are you of the Lord! I have carried out the command of the Lord!"
Samuel"What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?
Saul"They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed."
SamuelStop!...Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”
Saul"I did obey the voice of the Lord, and went on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took some of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the choicest of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord you God at Gilgal."
MeditatorSaul was not willing to take responsibility -- "the people" did this, or that.
Samuel"Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, "to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. "For rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king."

Scene III Too late -- Repentance
Saul“I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may worship the Lord.”
Samuel“I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”
Narrator"Then Samuel went to Ramah, and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel."
Narrator "Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him."

The rest of Saul's reign is really a nightmare: evil spirits, attempted murder, the ordered killing of Godly priests, consulting with a medium.
Given His omniscience I wonder why God chose Saul. But regarding God's choices you can say the exact same thing about all of mankind. Even the bright spots like Moses and David were murderers!
Is the story of Saul a microcosm of God's relationship with mankind? He creates us, selects us, we choose evil almost immediately, and things go mostly downhill from there? The only thing that makes sense is that God so desires relationship that He was willing to endure the pain and heartache of a mostly disastrous result. He chooses the best possible reality.


Anonymous said...

Intriguing. Also, Jesus chose Judas, whom he called "a devil". God is omniscient and knew the entire chain of events before He created the Universe.
The Spirit of the Lord came upon David mightily when Samuel anointed him. Was Saul ever anointed?

VanceH- said...

Yes, he was anointed in Samuel 10:1.

This tension shows up many places, all the way back to when God created the universe. It seems that either He knew what he was doing, or He is not all knowing. Either position is troublesome.

-- Vance