This is the story of David and Goliath. We had a lot of questions about when this happened. Supposedly about 1025 BC roughly. There were also questions about items in the text. For example, why did Saul act as if he had never heard of David, and yet he okayed him to go and meet Goliath? David had been playing the lyre for Saul as well for some time. Did Saul not know that David was going to be his successor? It seems that would be hard. This is probably a story that set things up for David to become king. So many times in the Bible, the unlikely one is chosen. In some sense, the one who is least prepared. Many times as in this case and also Joseph’s, it is the younger ones in the family. The Jewish culture is one in which clever is prized even possibly to the point of taking advantage of someone else. We talked about the Palestinian question and what the solution might be. The Jews have always been interlopers in Palestine. Abraham came down from Haran, Moses came from Egypt, and now they are trying to get rid of the people who have been living in “their land.”
We re-read the story of the choice of David to succeed Saul. We go from a situation where Samuel is afraid to leave Bethlehem for fear that Saul will kill him to the selection of David to succeed Saul, and finally to David being a top assistant to Saul and calming him with his lyre music. Much of our discussion was about the origin of evil. The Lutheran Study Bible note says “Because of Saul’s disobedience to God, the Holy Spirit does not abide with those who, on account of the instability of their will, easily reject the grace which they have received. An instance of this is seen in Saul, a harmful spirit from the Lord. Harmful, or evil spirits are subject to God’s control and operate only within divinely determined boundnaries. What God permits, God is said to do. God still guides what Saul does. ‘God permits , allows, suffers sin in the sense of deserting or leaving someone to it.” This can be troubling to think about. Why do they say that God caused an evil spirit to occupy Saul? What do they mean by God controlling evil. How does the presence of evil spirits fare with our understanding of mental illness today? Part of the confusion is because the Old Testament writers tend to believe God is behind all things which befall the people, both good and bad. Pope Francis seems to believe that evil spirits can be exorcised from individuals as depicted in the article John sent to all of us. We don’t distinguish between evil happening and an individual being possessed by evil.
Why did Saul lose his leadership? Was it because he came in, united the people, put their enemies down and then there was a malaise among the people and a feeling by Saul that he was invincible and became too proud of himself? Is this a natural outcome of a successful leader. Is the concept of servant leader helpful here? I think that it is a very useful concept because otherwise we fall into the trap of thinking that we are invincible and can do no wrong.
We started out reading chapter 13 about Saul and then had to read some parts of chapter 9 and 10 to find out how he had been chosen to be king and why they decided to have a king. It appears that the judges were not able to keep the people under control. After all, there were 12 separate tribes each with their own space. All of the other people around them had kings and maybe the people n different tribes had different ideas about what should happen. The judges who were the rulers of sorts probably had limited capabilities to unite the people and they may well have been besieged from time to time by the kings of the tribes around them. So the people decided they wanted a King. God, somewhat reluctant decides to go along with their wishes, although he had worked through the judges, particularly Samuel, to make his wishes known to the people. Prior to Samuel, God’s word to the people particularly as noted in the story of Eli, was scarce, but He appeared to be talking to Samuel in words that Samuel relayed to the people. So we saw how almost by chance Saul was selected by God through Samuel and then anointed by God to be the first king of Israel.
We commented on the battles with the Philistines and how Saul was constantly doing things against the will of God, like burning all the burnt offerings given by the people to him, although I don’t know why this was so bad. It does appear through these readings that God wanted obedience and not a confession after the fact and he would rather have an obedient king rather than one who sinned and then asked for forgiveness with a burnt offering. This may be the beginning of God’s rejection of burnt offerings from his people, even though the practice continued through Jesus’ time. Then in chapter 15, there was the word of God as communicated to Saul by Samuel that he should kill the Amalekites, and literally slaughter men, women, children, and all of their animals as well. Saul instead slaughtered most of the people, but spared the king and the prime cattle, sheep, donkeys, etc. He also had the silly rule about the soldiers fasting when they were battling the Philistines where Jonathan was so successful. Saul, seemed also to rule a lot by chance as when Jonathan was singled out because he had eaten some honey after Saul said everyone should fast. Samuel was angry with Saul several times and corrected him and told him God was distressed with him and would ultimately replace him. Saul tried to defend himself and then pleaded with Samuel to forgive him and plead Saul’s case before God. It sounds a lot like us today. We try to defend ourself when we do wrong and then plead forfgiveness. God seems to demand obedience no matter what and this is a theme running through the Bible. We wondered about the need to issue the commands to kill everyone, but God was consistently doing that in order to keep his people special. I wonder about the use of these methods today? I know they would not be acceptable. Is this not what the warlords in Africa are doing?
We then moved on to read chapter 16 about the choice of David to succeed Saul, although Saul was never informed of his successor. A couple of things stand out, one, is that Samuel feared for his life on this mission, as he asked God to give him some subterfuge that would allow him to have an excuse to go to Jesse so that Saul wouldn’t see what he was doing. So God said take a heifer and take it for a sacrifice to Jesse. So Earlier God wasn’t happy with Saul’s burnt offerings, but now Samuel was to give such an offering. Then the choice was made for the replacement of Saul and David’s 7 brothers were considered and found wanting and then David, the runt of the family was called for and was chosen. One version suggested that David was good looking and had beautiful eyes. I suggested that this would be evidence that God was a woman, as which of us men would notice beautiful eyes in a man? We didn’t have much time to discuss this and a suggestion was made that we continue to discuss this a little next time before we go on to chapter 17. Chuck also suggested that we spend a little time talking about the article on evil that John had sent to us. Here is the link to John’s article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/a-modern-pope-gets-old-school-on-the-devil/2014/05/10/f56a9354-1b93-4662-abbb-d877e49f15ea_story.html?tid=ts_carousel
We started our discussion after reading I Samuel 3, but soon decided that we needed to finish chapter 2 because of the need to know about what Eli’s sons were doing that was so terrible in God’s sight. We then started our discussion about a call from God and what constitutes a call. Frank said that he felt he was called to come to Iowa City. Ministers respond to a call when a congregation wants to employ them. How does that differ from a job offer in other disciplines. Certainly, there is a lot of thought that accompanies an offer to take a job in another city or another state or even country. In many cases there is prayer that accompanies the discernment of where God wants us to be. Curt discussed his role as a member of a committee that determined if an individual should be offered a call into the ministry. Psychological tests were administered and the results were used to determine if the individual was suited to being a minister or not. He said that sometimes he was overruled by other members of the committee in determining if an individual should be allowed to receive a call. We had a lot of discussion as to whether or not an individual is called into a job or not. For example, is a used car salesman called in that job? There might be many other kinds of jobs that we might wonder if individuals are called to be in that profession.
One other aspect of Samuel’s call was the fact that people revered dreams in those days. Does that determine some aspect of what a call might be? Was Samuel’s call from God really a dream? Are all calls successful and for that matter what does it mean to have a successful call. Here we are talking about the calls that ministers receive. We can think about individuals who have received calls at Zion who may have had less than what could be regarded as successful ministries while here at Zion. But is that really fair, as there are so many criteria that could be used to determine the success of a ministry. Possibly the called individual touched someone’s life in a life changing way. Is the only successful call one that results in the growth off a congregation or is the minister of a small congregation in North Dakota accomplishing as much by preaching the word of God to that small group of people. Does it give hope to the people about the presence of God in their lives. Or is that even our attempt to say what God thinks is successful for a ministry? Is it pre-ordained by God that someone would be called and does God have the task in mind for that individual? We are caught up in this discussion of what God wants us to be doing with our lives and whether we are ordained to do something He has in mind for us?
Another aspect of the passages we studied were that Eli wanted to know what God had said to Samuel about what would happen to his family? Samuel told him, but Eli already knew as much because he knew how corrupt his sons had become. That would be very hard to be told that your sons would have to imprisoned or worse because of what they had been doing. I don’t know how I would deal with such information. So many times, things like that present so many problems. I do know that despite such revelations, I would try to redeem my sons and help them to get to a better place in their lives. They would have to accept whatever punishment they deserved, but they would need the support to get them to a better place in their lives.