This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
MORSI ACTED UNCONSTITUTIONALLY SAYS ARMY
1 Samuel 13:1-18
New English Translation (NET)
13 Saul was [thirty] years old when he began to reign; he ruled over Israel for [forty] years. 2 Saul selected for himself three thousand men from Israel. Two thousand of these were with Saul at Micmash and in the hill country of Bethel; the remaining thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin. He sent all the rest of the people back home.
3 Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost that was at Geba and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul alerted all the land saying, “Let the Hebrews pay attention!” 4 All Israel heard this message, “Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel is repulsive to the Philistines!” So the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal.
5 For the battle with Israel the Philistines had amassed 3,000 chariots, 6,000 horsemen, and an army as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven. 6 The men of Israel realized they had a problem because their army was hard pressed. So the army hid in caves, thickets, cliffs, strongholds, and cisterns. 7 Some of the Hebrews crossed over the Jordan River to the land of Gad and Gilead. But Saul stayed at Gilgal; the entire army that was with him was terrified. 8 He waited for seven days, the time period indicated by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the army began to abandon Saul.
9 So Saul said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings.” Then he offered a burnt offering. 10 Just when he had finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel appeared on the scene. Saul went out to meet him and to greet him.
11 But Samuel said, “What have you done?” Saul replied, “When I saw that the army had started to abandon me and that you didn’t come at the appointed time and that the Philistines had assembled at Micmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down on me at Gilgal and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt obligated to offer the burnt offering.”
13 Then Samuel said to Saul, “You have made a foolish choice! You have not obeyed the commandment that the Lord your God gave you. Had you done that, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever! 14 But now your kingdom will not continue! The Lord has sought out for himself a man who is loyal to him and the Lord has appointed him to be leader over his people, for you have not obeyed what the Lord commanded you.”
15 Then Samuel set out and went up from Gilgal to Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin. Saul mustered the army that remained with him; there were about six hundred men. 16 Saul, his son Jonathan, and the army that remained with them stayed in Gibeah in the territory of Benjamin, while the Philistines camped in Micmash. 17 Raiding bands went out from the camp of the Philistines in three groups. One band turned toward the road leading to Ophrah by the land of Shual; 18 another band turned toward the road leading to Beth Horon; and yet another band turned toward the road leading to the border that overlooks the valley of Zeboim in the direction of the desert.
This passage shows an ambiguity which results from the author using two sources: one favourable to Saul and the other opposed. The section verses 7-15 reflects the more negative view. Saul’s supposed fault is not spelled out but we can assume it is the same fault as that of the Israelites when they brought the Ark of the Covenant into their camp to boost their power against the Philistines. Here Saul offers sacrifices without the presence of Samuel the prophet because he wants to compel the power of God to favour his army. But God is not WMD; this is a lesson which Israel needed to learn over and over. God is great but his greatness may be his opposition to the plans of his people.
As the more extreme of the Egyptian Moslem brotherhood reflect today on the military rule of their country, they might ask themselves whether their habit of co-opting Allah to their own plans has been helpful or destructive. There is much to be gained from a disciplined practice of allowing faith in God to influence one’s politics; but allowance has to be made always for the holiness of God who refuses to be n anyone’s pocket; and the fallibility of human understanding of God’s will. For example, God may not be as exclusive as we think he ought to be. He may look with love on the adherents of religions we think mistaken, provided they sincerely look for his goodness. That might allow Shia and Sunni Moslems to live in peace with each other, and perhaps extend that peace to include Christians and secularists.
The passage today passes judgment on Saul for trying to recruit God to his cause. Historically this may be unfair to Saul, but theologically, there is no more important message for today’s religions.