This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
POPE WELCOMES NATIVE ARGENTINIAN LEADER
1 Samuel 7:2-17
Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)
2 From the day that the ark arrived in Kiryat-Ye‘arim a long time elapsed, twenty years; and all the people of Isra’el yearned for Adonai.
3 Sh’mu’el addressed all the people of Isra’el; he said: “If you are returning to Adonai with all your heart, then be done with the foreign gods and ‘ashtarot that you have with you, and direct your hearts to Adonai. If you will serve only him, he will rescue you from the power of the P’lishtim.” 4 So the people of Isra’el banished the ba‘alim and the ‘ashtarot and served only Adonai.
5 Sh’mu’el said, “Gather all Isra’el to Mitzpah, and I will pray for you to Adonai.” 6 So they gathered together at Mitzpah, drew water and poured it out before Adonai, fasted that day, and said there, “We have sinned against Adonai.” Sh’mu’el began serving as judge over the people of Isra’el at Mitzpah.
7 When the P’lishtim heard that the people of Isra’el had gathered together at Mitzpah, the leaders of the P’lishtim marched up against Isra’el; and when the people of Isra’el heard about this, they were afraid of the P’lishtim. 8 The people of Isra’el said to Sh’mu’el, “Don’t stop crying out to Adonai our God for us, to save us from the power of the P’lishtim.” 9 Sh’mu’el took a baby lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to Adonai. Then Sh’mu’el cried to Adonai for Isra’el, and Adonai answered him. 10 As Sh’mu’el was presenting the burnt offering, the P’lishtim advanced to attack Isra’el. But this time, Adonai thundered violently over the P’lishtim, throwing them into such confusion that they were struck down before Isra’el. 11 The men of Isra’el went out from Mitzpah, pursuing the P’lishtim and attacking them all the way to Beit-Kar.
12 Sh’mu’el took a stone, placed it between Mitzpah and Shen, and gave it the name Even-‘Ezer [stone of help], explaining, “Adonai has helped us until now.” 13 Thus the P’lishtim were humbled, so that they no longer entered Isra’el’s territory; and the hand of Adonai was against the P’lishtim as long as Sh’mu’el lived. 14 The cities between ‘Ekron and Gat which the P’lishtim had captured from Isra’el were restored to Isra’el, and Isra’el rescued all this territory from the power of the P’lishtim. There was also peace between Isra’el and the Emori.
15 Sh’mu’el continued in office as judge of Isra’el as long as he lived. 16 Year by year he would travel in a circuit that included Beit-El, Gilgal and Mitzpah; and in all these places he served as judge over Isra’el. 17 Then he would return to Ramah, because that’s where his home was, and he would judge Isra’el there too. He also built an altar there to Adonai.
In the Complete Jewish Bible translation which I’m using here, ADONAI =The Lord; ba’alim and ashtorot are respectively male and female Canaanite deities; Sh’mu’el = Samuel; P’lishtim = Philistines.
The editors of this material, although not the original story-teller are called “Deuteronomists” by scholars, that is, representatives of the kind of legal religion which became established in Israel in the 4th century BC. They took the view that the ancient “judges” of Israel were figures of authority who implemented the law of God in Israel, in other words, a bit like themselves. They saw Samuel as the last and greatest “judge” calling the people to abandon false Gods and keep the Torah. This way of telling the story probably formalises and magnifies the role of Samuel, whose historical practice may be better represented by verses 15-17.
Doubtless however the ancient story did include Samuel’s call to the people to renew the holy covenant with the Lord; and Israel subsequent victory over the Philistines who took advantage of a holy ceremony to attack them. Samuel’s establishment of the Even -‘Ezer, the stone of help, accompanied by the words, “So far ( or “until now”) the Lord has helped us.” acted both as a statement of faith and as a wise limit to Israel’s re-conquest of territory.
In the style of Bible reading popular in former generations Samuel’s gesture was applied to the struggles of believers in their pilgrimage of faith. My late paternal grandfather, Rev. Alex Mair, born in the fishing village of Portknockie towards the end of the 19th century, became a missionary with the China Inland Mission and lived much of his life in that country, which he loved. Although a gentle and most courteous man, he had a fierce evangelical faith which sustained him through many difficulties including the death of his beloved first wife, Janet, in China. He often used the expression Eben-ezer, which he translated as in the KJV, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us,” by which he meant that looking back on the help already received gave him a fighting confidence for the future. But there was also a canniness about the expression. He wouldn’t say, “The Lord is helping” because that would be presumptuous. Knowledge of past help was blessing enough.
This is a testing time for me because of family illness. Receiving the word of Samuel through the faith of my grandfather gives strength.