bible blog 1082

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


1 Samuel 10:17-27

Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)

17 Sh’mu’el summoned the people to Adonai in Mitzpah. 18 He said to the people of Isra’el, “Here is what Adonai the God of Isra’el says: ‘I brought Isra’el up from Egypt. I rescued you from the power of the Egyptians and from the power of all the kingdoms that oppressed you.’ 19 But today you have rejected your God, who himself saves you from all your disasters and distress. You have said to him, ‘No! Put a king over us!’ So now, present yourselves before Adonai by your tribes and families.” 20 So Sh’mu’el had all the tribes come forward, and the tribe of Binyamin was chosen. 21 He had the tribe of Binyamin come forward by families, and the family of the Matri was chosen, and Sha’ul the son of Kish was chosen. But when they looked for him, he couldn’t be found. 22 They asked Adonai, “Has the man come here?” Adonai answered, “There he is, hiding, in among the equipment.” 23 They ran and brought him from there, and when he stood among the people he was head and shoulders taller than anyone around. 24 Sh’mu’el said to all the people, “Do you see the man Adonai has chosen, that there is no one like him among all the people?” Then all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

25 Sh’mu’el told the people what kinds of rulings should be made in the kingdom, then wrote it on a scroll and set it down before Adonai. After that, he sent all the people away, everyone to his own home. 26 Sha’ul too went home to Giv‘ah, accompanied by warriors whose hearts God had touched. 27 True, there were some scoundrels who said, “How can this man save us?” They showed him no respect and brought him no gift, but he held his peace.

I’ve been using the Complete Jewish Bible translation recently. Adonai=The Lord; Sh’mu’el = Samuel; Sha’ul = Saul.

The storyteller is having trouble reconciling his sources in this passage. One source is opposed to the monarchy because only God is king over Israel; the other is in favour of Saul as King. No wonder there are worthless fellows of don’t give respect to the King when Samuel himself has reminded the people that he is usurping the place of God! If the cracks in the competing sources are showing here, we will also see how the author / editor of the material begins to grapple with the mystery of Saul’s character and fate. Ultimately he sees him as a tragic figure, cursed by the ambiguity of God’s attitude to him; in contrast to the less noble figure of David, who enjoys God’s favour. We don’t need to believe in the predetermining power of God to recognise the profound portrait of a man undermined by corrosive  self-doubt in the case of Saul; and of one blessed with unearned self-confidence in the case of David. Saul’ rejection by God is no more merited than Cain’s and the consequences are just as terrible. Yet the bible authors insist that God is like this. A God whose choices are sometimes inscrutable satisfies their image of God as not subject to human notions of justice. “It is the Lord,” Eli says, when he’s told that his whole family will be punished for the behaviour of two of his sons (See Bible Blog 107)

Human beings, including the authors of the Bible invent “God” as a character in their stories. For that reason we must not, although many theologians are guilty of this, simply lift “God” out of these stories as if he were a historical person. “How many children had Lady MacBeth?” asked critic LC Knights, mocking a style of Shakespearean scholarship which transposed fictional characters into the real world.  We readily admit that the “meaning” of a Shakespeare play is in the whole text; the same is true of the books of the Bible, and seeing it is an edited collection of books, of the Bible as a whole. What the author of Samuel wants to say about God is not limited to the character “Adonai” but is suggested by the complete narrative.

Am I saying that the God of the Bible is fictional? Yes. God may be the greatest of human inventions but of course, he’s an invention. Like the wheel, like E = MC2. Even if prophets, lawgivers and apostles testify that God spoke to them, we must not think that this testimony guarantees their teaching. Christians who want to claim this for say, St Paul, should remember that Mohammed and Joseph Smith were also addressed by God. Of course even in the case of visionaries, faith is as much a product of imagination, as of experience. The question is whether the fictions that make up the Bible do justice to the reality of the world while telling us something about One who is not the world. This question is asked most crucially in the case of stories about Jesus, who is imagined very differently by each of the gospel writers. The question is not so much: how can we reconcile these accounts to produce a Jesus who is outside the stories; but rather, do these stories give us a character who is convincing as a human being while pointing clearly to the One the stories call, “father” “The One who sent me”, “God”. I think they do.

When I say, “I believe in God”, I mean that the tradition I’ve inherited, the community to which I belong, and my own images of God reveal truths about myself and this world, while opening me to the “love that moves the sun and the other stars”.




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