[I want to let you know, beloved reader, that many times the Revised Common Lectionary has two sets of Old Testament/Psalms readings. One set is as equally good as the other; they might have different themes, or highlight different stories, or faith issues. As the sole writer of this blog, it is my prerogative to chose one over the other. In this case, the other Old Testament/Psalms pairing had the possibility of raising theological and faith issues that might be divisive, and that was not a direction I wanted to go so close after Pentecost. If you are curious what the other passages were, they were Genesis 3:8-15, and Psalm 130 – it was the Genesis passage that gave me pause.]
“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord 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.” (I Samuel 8:4-9)
Actually, ironically, the Genesis passage also dealt with God being rejected by Adam and Eve – when they ate the fruit from the forbidden tree. But that was a different type of “sinning” than we find here. But make no mistake, seeking a human king over a heavenly Ruler is also sin. That it was sin committed by “committee” makes little difference.
“So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; (Verses 10-11)
The RCL does not specifically include verses 12-15; these verses are expansion on the theme of what earthly rules require; and that seems to be the case of many rulers throughout human history.
“. . . and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.”
The lectionary does include verses 16-20. And again, these things happen not matter the ruler.
“He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
The significance is not lost on me, beloved reader, that I am writing this on Memorial Day. By the time you read this, the significance may have waned, but as I think about this its meaning in poignant. In exchange for earthly rulers and leadership, we give a great deal. The people of Israel (or at least the leaders and elders) saw that Samuel’s leadership was coming to an end. And there was no one in sight who could lead and guide the nation. They saw other nations who had strong powerful leaders, and yearned for that type of headship. God seemed distant in the heavens and far away from the Israelites daily lives.
Perhaps you feel the same way, that God is far from you (or it seems so). And you would like to have strong guidance and protection, so you look for it. But you look for it in the wrong direction and in the wrong ways. Anything earthly will fail you, and take from you without regard to your needs or resources. It is true the whole world over, beloved reader.
I do not know of many people who sound the warning siren concerning earthly leadership. I myself disengage myself from many political arenas, and tend to have opinions that run counter to human government and politics. Perhaps you have noticed?!
“But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (Verses 16-20)
But what they did not realize, beloved reader, was that their human king would govern from a position of affluence and comfort, and would send out other men to battle, leading more from behind than in the front lines. The verses from I Samuel chapter 11 that conclude the Old Testament Passage for this week are the end results of Saul’s “calling out the troops.” In fact, he threatens them if they do not come out and fight. They were victorious, and upon this victory Saul was confirmed as king.
“Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the Lord, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.” (I Samuel 11:14-1)5
But in time Saul failed them as king, as would many of the kings who followed him. In fact it was in Samuel’s life time that a new king was brought forth, King David.
May you, beloved reader, chose well who you will follow remembering that the Holy Spirit of the God-self was given to lead and guide us. Selah!