Monday 18 January 2010

Bible Book:
1 Samuel

"And Samuel said, 'Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the Lord?'" (v.22)

1 Samuel 15:16-23 Monday 18 January 2010


This is what comes of wanting to be like everyone else!

Despite Samuel's advice to Israel, the tribal leaders had insistedthat they wanted a king to unite the tribes and to lead themagainst their enemies. Samuel had warned them that no good wouldcome of this, because it was the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob -and of Moses - who had united them and who protected them. God wastheir only true king.

But God agreed to their request, and Samuel anointed Saul as king.And all, for a time, went well. Saul had been successful in battlesagainst the Ammonites and the Philistines and Israel was delightedwith their new king. However, God then told Saul to launch anall-out attack on the Amelekites, distant nomadic cousins who hadsettled in the south of the Promised Land and who were Israel'snumber one enemy since the days of Moses and Joshua (seeExodus17, where God vowed that they would be utterly destroyed).Saul, acting on God's behalf, should have carried out the vow. Buthe spared their king, Agag, and kept some of the spoils of war tosacrifice to God.

Now we might think that this was commendable behaviour, but Samuelobviously didn't. He regarded Saul's actions as rebelliousstubbornness, and told Saul that God now rejected him as king ofIsrael. This may seem just a little harsh to us. You may even thinkthis is one of those stories that give the Old Testament a badname! It certainly raises all kinds of questions about God, or atleast about how God was conceived of during the early formativedays of Israel's history as a nation.

It also complicates our ideas about kingship. If kingship was afundamentally flawed project for Israel, how come King David ispresented as the idealised role model for God's appointed andanointed representative on earth, an idea which later developedinto the concept of the Messiah. But maybe we should read this asprecisely that - a stage in the creation of the 'king-cult' ofDavid. (The story is set around 1000 BC, but was probably not putinto this final form until several centuries later.)

It would be no surprise then to learn that David later succeededwhere Saul failed, not least in mercilessly annihilating theAmelekites (see 1Samuel 30). Which, of course, simply presents us with many moreof the same problems!

To Ponder

"Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites,and fight against them until they are consumed." How might youreconcile this image of God with Jesus' command to "love yourenemies" (Matthew 5:44)?

Bearing in mind that 'history is written by thewinners,' how do you think the Amelekites felt about Samuel'sgod?

How helpful to you is the idea of God (or Jesus)as king?

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