Text: 1 Sam 13:5-18
Being king is a big job. Saul just never seemed up to the task. His dad, a wealthy land owner, had tasked him with the donkeys and apparently wasn’t too concerned if he went missing for quite a few days. At his corronation they have to dig him out from hidding amongst the baggage (1 Sam 10:22-23). Right after the corronation people are already uncertain (1 Sam 10:27). The kingdom must be renewed shortly after the first battle (1 Sam 11:14). The prophet Samuel tells Israel – you made a mistake, but now you are stuck with it (1 Sam 12:19). And in the first real military test the Israelites are running (1 Same 13:6-7). Poor Saul had been told to wait for Samuel (the adult guidance?) for the pre-battle offerings, but Samuel took his time and Saul for once takes charge. What is the response? Not your responsibility – that will be the end of your kingdom (1 Sam 13:13-14). Saul never really seemed to understand his role. He ran and hid when courage was required, and he usurped the authority when it wasn’t his.
Are we not often like that? I think the phrase is “the grass is always greener on the other side”. We are given vocations and the living out of those vocations (job, family roles, church roles, political positions, etc.) is a call to justice and truth, a call to recognize and act on the correct and appropriate authority. Instead, we too often seek to run from those roles because they are hard. They require us sometimes to wait on God. They require us to act outside of our comfort and have faith that God works in our weakness. Jesus is our great example of living out his vocation. Jesus was the messiah, the son of God. Part of that vocation was the suffering servant – being perfectly obeidient to the Father’s will. Jesus lived out his vocation all the way through the cross. Because of that – uniquely – Jesus deserves and has been given all authority. We can’t do that, but Jesus did it for us. That cross covers our errors.
Texts: 1Samuel 4:1-11, 1Samuel 5:1-12, 1Samuel 6:1-16
The three text sections above carry the full tale of the Ark. The Israelites under old Eli have gone to war with the Philisitnes and were being slaughtered, so they think “let’s bring the Ark out with us!” This of course is the Indiana Jones Ark, along with the spear of destiny and any other “holy” artifact that would give anyone – even Hitler – the victory. Sorry for the sarcasm. Indy is a great movie, but the theology is horrendous. A bad theology shared by the Israelites of the time. “We’ve got God in a box. Let’s take him out to fight for us.” That ends badly as the Philistines capture the ark.
The Philistines have their own bad theology. “Since we defeated the Israelites, our God must be stronger. Let’s put the Ark of their God in our temple as a lasting tribute.” The theology is suffering equals punishment from God or in a multi-god worldview -“Nah, Nah, your god is a 98lb weakling.” But the “winning idol” falls over twice and plagues start appearing in the land. The Ark becomes a hot potato being passed around among the cities of the Philistines, and plague travels with it.
Eventually the Philistines just want the Ark gone. What is interesting is that the Philistine priests acknowledge the Exodus. The warning is don’t be like Pharoah – let the thing go now! The hook it up to two cows, put images of the plagues inflicted on them next to it and send it on its way driverless. Never-the-less the cows go the right way and the Ark is returned.
It is probably a moral failure in me, but I find stories like this one amusing. We moderns think we are so advanced, but the two theological errors of the Israelites and the Philistines are still with us. When things are going bad, the first response for the christian is often to play the religion card – “God, get me out of this.” Or should we call it is the Jesus Take the Wheel theology. Not that God is not there, it is the easy and thoughtless manner of the call for divine intervention. When we think we are on top an easy triumphalism enters or maybe “Our God is an Awesome God” theology. Again, not that he is not awesome, but He claims everything is his and not just one side in a petty dispute.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob whose Ark this was has his own ideas. Ideas as crazy as “I am God – there is no other. (Isa 45:5)” Ideas as crazy as dying on a cross actually being victory. Whose ideas have ultimate reality? God has a way of poking fun at our bad ideas about Him – like a driverless cow cart bringing back the Ark with gold tumors next to it.
Text:1 Samuel 3:1-21
It is hard to really get a grip on poor old Eli. I guess the picture is just of a weak man in an office much bigger than he was. His kids ignore him and do despicable things. He assumes that drunk people normally stagger into the Tabernacle (Samuel’s mom), and quickly rushes to cover his mistake. He lives and works in the place of worship, is the chief worship leader, and yet the Word of the Lord was rare in those days.
In the Lutheran tradition we speak of Law and Gospel proclamation. The Law is what bring terror while the Gospel is God’s peace for us. I wonder if when Samuel told Eli what God said – that his house would be cut off – if Eli took that as law or as Gospel. If it was law you’d expect a personally pious man to repent and be grieved (think David when confronted by Nathan and Psalm 51). Proclaiming the law is tough and Samuel doesn’t have an easy first assignment – hence the hesitency and Eli’s insistence. Maybe for the first time in his life Eli is forcing “his son” and himself to do the hard thing. Eli’s response is – “It is the LORD, let him do what seems good to him.” I can’t help but think he took it as a Gospel proclamation – God would deliver his people from all of Eli’s faults. No tearing of the clothes. No sacrifices or attempts to save himself, his son’s and his line. But a sense of consigned happiness. The weight of it all, the office, the misbehavior, that lack of the Word, would be removed.
I can’t help but think of Eli as something of a symbol for much of our leadership both national and in families – too weak a people to carry out the duties assigned and expected. 40% of children in America are born outside of marriage. Fathers are too weak to accept the role their bodies signed them up for. Mothers too weak to admit picking poorly. Those parents bring up children who run loose and behave like Eli’s children with any amount of power. Religious leaders afraid of preaching and teaching the gospel with personal lives too screwy to do so effectively. And if they are too afraid and live like that, why should parents teach their own kids. Political and cultural leaders who behave as children and cry when caught with their hands in the cookie jar. But the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the Word of the Lord. So is our prayer – Lord reveal yourself again by your Word in our lives.
Text: 1 Samuel 2:12-26
I got a kick when the phrase “…before I go Old Testament on you…” entered into the vocabulary of every 6th grader. (If I remember right it was from Pulp Fiction which I can’t explain why 6th graders would be watching that movie.) The phrase actually captures some of the flavor of these Old Testament stories. Eli’s sons in the space of a few versus: are called worthless, demonstrate their disregard for God and their positions by abusing them and the people they serve, and using their position to procure sex from those who served in the place of worship.
I remember as a kid both at home and in Sunday School a steady diet of these Old Testament stories. Now with my oldest being 6 years old – and her favorite bible story being “The Ten Plagues” – I sometimes have the same thoughts as Ben Myers here. Just what is this little one getting out of this? Samuel was a constant in those Sunday school lessons. First his mother’s piety and Eli stupidity. Then Samuel’s calling by God in that small voice that would doom Eli. It was usually tied together with some type veggie-tales “little guys can do big things to” moral or a stern warning to “obey your parents and respect God.” (Like Mr. Myers’ child thinking about the goat, my Anna always cracks up at the frogs in the plagues. There is something about a swarm of frogs that tickles her funny bone.)
I wonder how many kids of even Christian familes are hearing the old testament stories today? And I am not asking that strictly through a sentimental fog. There is no question that the OT seems rougher and more brutal (excluding the cross of the NT). After growing up, did those stories at that age have an effect on our rougher and vulgar culture today as Ben implies? Or do we not tell those stories to our children (in violation of the old testament directive to speak of them always) because we have lost or never gained the vocabulary to talk about them? Since they end up watching Pulp Fiction anyway, shouldn’t Eli and his worthless son’s get their time? And think for a second about the implied lessons on duty, authority and justice. Justice is the purpose of all authority. The authority that perverts justice loses its mantle. To the extent that a small child will tell a 90 year old the Word of God. Even from a secular point of view those sound like good republican virtues.