bible blog 1080

Today’s blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

Dying for it-property boom in Kabul



1 Samuel 9:1-14

Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)

9 There was a man from Binyamin named Kish the son of Avi’el, the son of Tz’ror, the son of B’khorat, the son of Afiach, the son of a man from Binyamin. He was a man of substance and brave as well. He had a son named Sha’ul who was young and good-looking; among the people of Isra’el there was no one better-looking than he; he stood head and shoulders taller than anyone else in Isra’el.

Once the donkeys belonging to Kish Sha’ul’s father got lost. Kish said to his son Sha’ul, “Please take one of the servants with you, go out, and look for the donkeys.” He went through the hills of Efrayim and the territory of Shalishah, but they didn’t find them. Then they went through the territory of Sha‘alim, but they weren’t there. They went through the territory of Binyamin but didn’t find them there either. On reaching the territory of Tzuf, Sha’ul said to his servant with him, “Come, let’s go back; otherwise my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.” His servant replied, “Here now, there’s a man of God in this city, a man who is highly respected, and everything he says proves true. Let’s go to him; maybe he can tell us something about where we should go.” “But look,” Sha’ul said to his servant, “if we go to the man, what can we bring him? We’ve used up all the bread in our packs, and there’s nothing for us to give the man of God — what do we have left?” The servant replied again to Sha’ul: “See, I have here in my hand a silver quarter-shekel [one-tenth of an ounce]. I will give it to the man of God to tell us which way to go.” (In Isra’el, back in the old days, when someone went to consult God, he would say, “Come, let’s go to the seer”; because a person now called a prophet used to be called a seer.) 10 “Well said,” Sha’ul answered his servant. “Come on, let’s go.”

Donkeys2-420x0 (1)So they went to the city where the man of God was. 11 Ascending the slope to the town they found girls going out to draw water and asked them, “Is the seer here?” 12 The girls answered them, “He’s here, he’s right ahead of you. Hurry now, he just came into the city today, because the people are sacrificing today at the high place. 13 Find him as soon as you enter the city, before he goes up to the high place to eat; because the people won’t eat until he comes and blesses the sacrifice. Afterwards, the ones invited will eat. So go on up, because this is when you will find him.”

14 They went up to the city; and as they entered the city, there was Sh’mu’el coming out toward them to go up to the high place.

From the severe prophecy against the election of a King, the reader is transported into a fresh pastoral world in which donkeys wander and coincidences abound. The author characterises this world as “in the old days in Israel.” It may be that this material comes from an early source, in which Saul remained a hero. In its present place in the narrative however, it is framed by the note of the Lord’s displeasure, which promises no good. Meantime we are in a world where lost donkeys lead to adventure, young men enjoy their freedom, girls talk to strangers, and a naïve youth can become a king. The reader knows that the meeting of Sh’mu’el and Sha’ul (Samuel and Saul) will be momentous.

Sometimes, the author tells us, there’s a magical time in which the Lord allows his creatures to find their own way, pleasantly, into his plans. It won’t last but it functions as a kind of divine courtship of his chosen servant. Once the servant agrees the way may not be as smooth. George Herbert, the English poet of  the 17th century, knew this: george-herbert

When first thou didst entice to thee my heart,
         I thought the service brave;
So many joys I writ down for my part,
         Besides what I might have
Out of my stock of natural delights,
Augmented with thy gracious benefits
At first thou gav’st me milk and sweetnesses;
         I had my wish and way;
My days were straw’d with flow’rs and happiness;
         There was no month but May.
But with my years sorrow did twist and grow,
And made a party unawares for woe.
Even a modern, insignificant servant of the Lord, like me, can remember the time when it seemed a great delight that I was somehow chosen. What a pleasure to think that one’s own special abilities were wanted by the Lord! Only gradually came the recognition that the service was a good deal more arduous that I would have wished or was truly capable of giving; that one of the qualities the Lord liked in me was my ignorance of the world and of myself; and that I had become part of a drama of which I was not the author. All of these were true of Saul, whose story ends in tragedy. My own story is more of a harsh comedy: in spite of failures, blunders and disasters I’ve kept going, not least because every now and then the cunning Lord allows a brief reprise of these original joys.
The way the story is told, as we shall see, attempts to justify the Lord’s apparent rejection of Saul and the transfer of his love to David. We may suspect that the Davidic coup owed more to circumstance and human cunning than divine preference but the narrator sees all human action and all accident as woven into the divine wisdom as, please God, may be the case. The human servant, wrestling with his own inadequacies and the Lord’s refusal to explain, may find peace in the daft logic of his heart’s affection, as George Herbert did:
“Ah, my dear Lord, though I am clean forgot,
Let me not love you if I love you not!”

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