Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 33)

In between the two instances in which David exercises mercy and spares the life of the one that is attempting to kill him, we come upon another person who stands in the role of deliverer within Israel. The name of this particular deliverer is Abigail. Abigail, of course, will eventually become one of David’s wives, but when we meet her, she is married to a man named Nabal. He is said to have been “very wealthy,” while also being “harsh.” Additionally, we are informed that “his deeds were evil” (1 Samuel 25:2,3). That use of “evil” should be a clue that God’s judgment is eventually going to fall upon him.

Apparently, David had taken it upon himself, without being asked it seems, to serve as protection for Nabal’s shepherds and his flocks when they were out in the field. David instructs his men to go and inform Nabal that “When your shepherds were with us, we neither insulted then nor harmed them the whole time they were in Carmel” (25:7b). On the surface, this hardly seems noble, but for this, David appears to have expected some type of reward. When Nabal heard this, his response to what he obviously perceived as extortion was “Should I take my bread and my water and my meat that I have slaughtered for my shearers and give them to these men? I don’t even know where they came from!” (25:11) David’s predictable response, upon being rebuffed by Nabal, was to give his men instructions to “strap on your sword” (25:13a). He intended to bring pain and shame and cursing and exile on to Nabal and his household. This is the point at which Abigail actually enters into the story. One of her servants told her that “These men were very good to us. They did not insult us” (25:15a), which hardly seems worthy of reward, but nevertheless, the servant went on to tell Abigail, “nor did we sustain any loss during the entire time we were together in the field. Both night and day they were a protective wall for us the entire time we were with them, while we were tending our flocks” (25:15b-16). In regards to Nabal, the servant rightly feared that “disaster has been planned for our lord and his entire household” (25:17b), and urged Abigail to intercede.

In response, Abigail “quickly took two hundred loaves of bread, two containers of wine, five prepared sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred bunches of raisins, and two hundred lumps of pressed figs” (25:18a), intending to take them to David and his men, so as to appease David’s wrath and spare her husband from the exile of death that was coming to him. Eventually, Abigail greets David, falls at his feet, and says “My lord, I accept all the guilt!” (25:24b) In accepting the guilt, she stands in her husband’s place, asking David for mercy, and for the sparing of the one who has become another enemy to him. She asks to take the punishment upon herself. At the same time, she offers the presents that she has ordered to be brought to David and says “Please forgive the sin of your servant” (25:28a). With her gift of fruits and grains and animals, Abigail is not only functioning in the role of deliverer, rescuing her husband from David’s sword that will subjugate him to death, but she also becomes a vibrant reminder of God’s promises blessings upon His people.

In Deuteronomy, we read about blessings upon baskets and mixing bowls (28:5), upon the produce of the soil, and upon the livestock, which is represented by what Abigail is offering to David. She does not stop there, but goes on to tell David that “When someone sets out to chase you and to take your life, the life of my lord will be wrapped securely in the bag of the living by the Lord your God. But He will sling away the lives of your enemies from the sling’s pocket! The Lord… will make you leader over Israel” (25:29-30a,c). Now Abigail has reminded David of God’s promises to him, in regards to his rule, doing so by the use of words that sound suspiciously like that which are also to be found in Deuteronomy, when Moses speaks to the people of God’s promise to cause His people’s enemies to flee (28:7), while also making them “the head and not the tail” (28:13), and making sure that they always end up at the top and not at the bottom (28:13).

David had been about to take it upon himself to stand in the role of one whom God uses to bring the curse upon His people, rather than being the king and deliverer for which purpose his ordination had come. Not only does Abigial deliver Nabal from David’s sword, but she is also used to deliver David from, as he would say in quoting the words of Abigail, “taking matters into my own hands” (25:33b).

When Abigail eventually informs her husband about what David had purposed for him, and what she had done for him, “He had a stroke and was paralyzed. After about ten days the Lord struck Nabal down and he died” (25:37b-38). We read that “When David heard that Nabal had died,” he was reminded of God’s faithfulness---surely reflecting on the two-fold deliverance that Abigial had provided---and said, “Praised be the Lord who has vindicated me and avenged the insult that I suffered from Nabal!” (25:39a) David insists that Nabal had attempted to insult and shame him, which is a component of exile, and David sought to return the favor, bringing exile upon Nabal. With this turn of events, and in his speaking of vindication and the Lord’s vengeance, David employs the language of exodus (redemption, deliverance, salvation), as it was the repeated acts of exodus that would consistently demonstrate God’s vindication of His people (as we see it occurring numerous times both individually and corporately). David recognizes that through Abigail’s sacrificial act of deliverance, that “The Lord has kept His servant from doing evil” (25:39b), and he responds by inviting Abigail to be his wife.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 32)

At the close of this first encounter with Saul, which saw David deliver him from certain death by his own hand, Saul says, “The Lord delivered me into your hand, but you did not kill me. Now if a man finds his enemy, does he send him on his way in good shape?... Now look, I realize that you will in fact be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hand. So now swear to me in the Lord’s name that you will not kill my descendants after me or destroy my name from the house of my father” (1 Samuel 24:18b-19a,20-21).

Casting our thoughts rearward, again, to the plagues and the exodus and to Moses’ encounters with Pharaoh, we look to chapter twelve of the book of Exodus and to the words of Pharaoh after the carrying out of the plague of death against the firstborn. There, “Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron in the night and said, ‘Get up, get out from among my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, serve the Lord as you have requested!’” (12:31) With these words, Pharaoh, like Saul, is admitting to the fact of the Lord’s power. Pharaoh, like Saul, can see that he is being spared, though it is certainly not beyond the power of Israel’s God, at the word of Moses, to take his life. Pharaoh realizes that Israel must be freed, and that they will be established as a nation, and that Moses will be their king. Pharaoh then gives voice to a statement echoed by Saul, saying “take your flocks and your herds, just as you have requested. But bless me also” (12:32). Saul asked for David’s blessing and mercy upon him and his family, as did Pharaoh to Moses.

We can stay here in Exodus, moving forward to learn that “When it was reported to the king of Egypt that the people had fled, the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned against the people, and the king and his servants said, ‘What in the world have we done? For we have released the people of Israel from serving us!’ Then he prepared his chariots and his army with him… the lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he chased after the Israelites” (14:5-6,8a). Israel had been rescued from foreign subjugation, but their former oppressors wanted to re-subjugate them, turning exodus back to exile. How is this related to David? It is related in that the sentiment of the words that Saul spoke to David, which seemed to be words of peace and release, in recognition of the Lord’s faithfulness to David (like those of Pharaoh to Moses), seemed to be short-lived. A short time after the cave incident, “The Ziphites came to Saul at Gibeah and said, ‘Isn’t David hiding on the hill of Hakilah near Jeshimon?’” (26:1) Rather than recalling David’s mercy and the Lord’s faithfulness to David, “Saul arose and went down to the desert of Ziph, accompanied by three thousand select men of Israel, to look for David in the desert of Ziph” (26:2). Following a report, Saul’s heart is turned. This sounds remarkably like Pharaoh’s reaction to the departure of the people, after his previous recognition of the power and faithfulness of Israel’s God.

Pharaoh reversed his assertion and set out after Moses and Israel, and Saul would do the same. What happens? David confirms that Saul is pursuing him again, reversing the exodus, previously granted by Saul, from the subjugating and exile extending pursuit, but he does not respond in either fear or anger. Like Moses at the Red Sea, when learning that Pharaoh and Egypt were once again in pursuit in order to subjugate and bring Israel back to exile, David knows that the Lord is fighting his battles for him. He says, “Who will go down with me to Saul in the camp?” (26:6b) Naturally, this was not for the purpose that his men expected, which they hoped was to kill Saul and thereby end their exile, but rather, for David to take another opportunity to make yet another point to Saul, and function, yet again, as a deliverer in the eyes of Saul, Saul’s men, his own men, and ultimately all of Israel as well.

When Saul is approached while sleeping, the man that went with David, Abishai, said, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands” (26:8b). Quite rightly, he speaks of God’s blessing upon His faithful servant, David. David, however, does not necessarily focus on what God has delivered to him, but rather, God’s delivering of him from his own exile, and with being a deliverer, and a light, and a reflection of the glory of the God that has anointed him to be his ambassador in this world. It appears that David does not see deliverance coming through the striking down of his enemy, but rather, in loving his enemy, and sparing his life again, in what is going to be, for David, because his own exile and subjugation will continue for the forseeable future, a costly act of sacrificial love.

“David said to Abishai, ‘Don’t kill him! Who can extend his hand against the Lord’s chosen one and remain guiltless?’” (26:9) Pharaoh had attempted to do this, and things had gone poorly for him. David, of course, was not in the same position as Pharaoh (who was not the Lord’s chosen one), as it is Saul that, as far as David is concerned, still stands in that role. He said, “may the Lord prevent me from extending my hand against the Lord’s chosen one!” (26:11) David continued to rely on the faithfulness of his God, choosing to endure hardship and suffering, rather than enter in to the establishment of his kingdom by raising his sword against the one that was persecuting and subjugating him. He trusted that he would eventually be lifted from his exile and set upon his throne, with the requisite glory and honor and dominion that would be attendant upon that enthronement. In this particular instance, we see David bearing the image of the One from heaven.

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 31)

During the period of his exile, and in the record of some of the stories related to that time of David’s life, we find David, and others associated with David, functioning in the role of deliverer. So in the midst of exile, as David is being pursued by an enemy, and as he awaits the exodus into his God’s ultimate plan for his life, he embodies that which he is supposed to be for his people. The first time we see this is in the twenty-fourth chapter of 1st Samuel, when David is given an opportunity to kill his enemy, Saul.

Saul, while pursuing David so as to kill him, ventured into a cave “to relieve himself” (24:3) in the area in which David was said to have been hiding. “Now David and his men were sitting in the recesses of the cave” (24:3b). David’s men’s thought that this was quite the fortuitous turn of events, saying “This is the day about which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand, and you can do to him whatever seems appropriate to you’.” (24:4a) They seem to be insistent that David’s moment of exodus---his deliverance from his oppressive and subjugating enemy---had finally arrived, and that this was the Lord’s handiwork. How does David respond? He “got up and quietly cut off an edge of Saul’s robe. Though this seems rather benign, we read that “Afterward David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off an edge of Saul’s robe” (24:5a), as he still looked to and recognized Saul as the Lord’s chosen king for Israel (24:6). There is a Moses-like quality, in a sense, that is on display here by David. How so? Well, when Moses went before Pharaoh in order to secure the release of Israel from Egypt, he went with the powerful backing of Israel’s God. Moses knew that he had been appointed as Israel’s leader and deliverer, just as David was well aware, in that moment with Saul in the cave, that he had been appointed as leader in Israel. However, with that knowledge, Moses did not strike hard against Pharaoh. Rather, as the plagues of Egypt would begin, we see Moses figuratively cutting off a corner of Pharaoh’s robe. As we look back on those events, we can say that the first of the plagues could be understood as a small sampling of God’s power, and that they were to be used as an inducement for Pharaoh to bring his oppression and subjugation of God’s anointed (Israel) to an end.

After David spared Saul in the cave, David raises his voice and asks Saul why he believes those that tell him that “David is seeking to do you harm” (24:9b). He goes on to say, “Today your own eyes see how the Lord delivered you---this very day---into my hands in the cave” (24:10a). After the first of the plagues in Egypt, Moses could easily have communicated such a sentiment to Pharaoh. In speaking of the way that the Lord delivered Saul into his hands, David alludes to the blessings of Deuteronomy---of being set over their enemies---that were to be enjoyed by the anointed of the Lord (Israel as a whole and him personally). David continues and says, “Some told me to kill you, but I had pity on you” (24:10b), which is another quasi-Mosaic quality, in that God threatened to kill the Israelites in the wilderness on more than one occasion, but Moses, with pity, interceded on behalf of the people, relying on God’s righteousness (covenant faithfulness) to carry the day. That reliance upon God’s righteousness is reflected in what followed David’s statement concerning his pity, when he said, “I will not extend my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s chosen one” (24:10c). Moses could easily have seized on the words of the Lord and had a great nation made from him, just as David could have seized on the opportunity to kill Saul and take the kingdom for himself, but both refrained from doing so, offering reminders of the Lord’s choosing and faithfulness to His chosen and to His purposes.

David says, “Look, my father, and see the edge of your robe in my hand! When I cut off the edge of your robe, I didn’t kill you” (24:11a). David is effectively telling Saul, “I have delivered you! The power to send you into exile was in my hand, and in that, my exodus was at hand. I was being rescued from your subjugation, but I rescued you.” David’s mercy, in this instance, extended to the one that was his enemy, as he left himself in exile, much like God would do for His people as mentioned by the Apostle Paul in the fifth chapter of Romans, in that “God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (5:8,10a). Yes, Jesus, the anointed one, went into exile (albeit a temporary exile, just as David’s exile was ultimately a temporary exile), so as to foster reconciliation, on behalf of those that were enemies of God. In that light, what was Saul’s response to David? It was a response of reconciliation, though unfortunately fleeting, as he says “You are more innocent than I, for you have treated me well, even though I have tried to harm you!” (24:17) Is that not the response of all of mankind to its Creator, as through its first and continued rebellion from God’s great purpose for the beings created to reflect His image into this creation, mankind says to God, “You have treated me well, even though I have tried to harm you”?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 30)

The next few chapters of the first book of Samuel, and of the life of David, are a chronicle of David’s exile. After Saul sets in motion several plans to bring about David’s demise, and undertakes additional attempts to kill David, David, for the first time, runs away and escapes, going to Samuel in Ramah (1 Samuel 19:18). David had been living in the court of the king, but now, was going to be living as a fugitive. This creates a parallel between David and Moses, in that Moses was also living in the court of the king of Egypt, but after striking down an Egyptian man because he believed himself to be Israel’s deliverer, he ran away and escaped. In a way, David’s period of exile, as he was running and hiding from Saul, not wanting to put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed, is something of an allusion to Israel’s wilderness wanderings.

As we are informed by Scripture, Israel wandered from place to place in the wilderness, doing so for forty years, as they awaited their entrance into the land of promise. Why did this take place? Essentially, it took place because they raised their hand against the anointed of the Lord, murmuring against Moses, while also, numerous times, railing against the Lord and His method of providing salvation. It is significant that Israel’s time in the wilderness was forty years, as that was also the length of Saul’s reign in Israel. Now, we do not know how long into Saul’s reign that the event occurred which saw him rejected as king, with David subsequently anointed as king-in-waiting, but the time periods are quite instructive, as David was also said to have reigned as king for forty years. The Bible does not give us the exact age of David’s death, only telling us that he was very old (1 Kings 1:1) and that he died at a good, old age (1 Chronicles 29:28). In continuation of the parallel to Moses, which should be done because of Moses’ intimate connection with the Biblical theme of exile and exodus, we remember that Moses spent forty years in exile from Egypt before returning there as Israel’s deliverer. After the exodus, Moses spent forty years functioning as Israel’s deliverer, as he was, in every respect, Israel’s uncrowned king. Likewise, David spent a lengthy period of Saul’s forty year reign in exile and under threat of death, until finally taking the throne upon Saul’s death and becoming Israel’s crowned king and deliverer.

Eventually, through a plan developed by Jonathan (Saul’s son and David’s best friend), David would come to realize that, in fact, Saul wanted him dead. Somehow, the spear-throwing had not been enough to convince him that this was so, but it is possible that David attributed such behavior to the evil spirit that had come upon Saul, which was also the reason that David would be playing the lyre for Saul when the spear-throwing would occur. It seems that David always wanted to think well of Saul. Having come to terms with this, David, in continuation of his “wilderness wanderings,” went to Nob. There, he receives food, which was actually the “bread of the Presence” (21:6), which reminds us of Israel receiving manna in the wilderness, which was very much an indication of the Lord’s presence with them. From there, David would go to Gath. Fleeing from Gath, David went to Adullam. While there, “his brothers and the rest of his father’s family… went down there to him” (22:1b).

As we continue the comparison of Moses and David, this should remind us of when “Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard about all what God had done for Moses and for His people Israel, that the Lord had brought out of Egypt” and “came to Moses in the desert where he was camping by the mountain of God” (Exodus 18:1,5b). There, Jethro observed Moses and “all that he was doing for the people” (18:14b), with Moses informing him that “the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it come to me and I decide between a man and his neighbor, and I make known the decrees of God and His laws” (18:15b-16). Jethro’s response to this “What you are doing is not good! You will surely wear out” (18:17b-18a). He suggests that Moses “choose from the people capable men, God-fearing, men of truth… and put them over the people as rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens,” telling Moses that “They will judge the people under normal circumstances” (18:21-22a). Moses would accept this advice and implement this plan.

Returning to David in Adullam, which is where his family came to him, we learn that it is there that people began to gather around him (22:2), and “he became their leader. He had about four hundred men with him” (22:2b). Now, there is no explicit mention of who these men were at this point, but we can safely presume that they included those men that would be closest to David for the rest of his life, and that this group included many of the people that David would appoint as leaders in Israel after finally taking the throne, assisting their king in settling disputes, judging the people, and making known God’s decrees and laws. During his time of exile, just as had been done for Moses, God was preparing David for the time at which he would lead God’s people.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 29)

After cursing David, what does Goliath say to him? He said, “Come here to me, so I can give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the field” (1 Samuel 17:44). Once again, we find the language of cursing in relation to covenant violations. When Goliath speaks in this way, and when the author reports his words, the reader is artfully reminded, in a way that should not surprise us in the least, of God’s warnings from Deuteronomy. For Israel at that time, Goliath had become the present embodiment of cursing and exile that stems from disobedience. In Deuteronomy we read, that “The Lord will allow you to be struck down before your enemies; you will attack them from one direction but flee from them in seven directions and will become an object of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth” (28:25). More specific to the present circumstance, we can go on to read, “Your carcasses will be food for every bird of the sky and wild animal of the earth, and there will be no one to chase them off” (28:26). The connection between the words of Goliath and the words of God through Moses could not be more clear.

David, however, does not fear Goliath. He does not fear exile. He knows that he has been anointed as the king, and as the deliverer of Israel as the king was supposed to be. Therefore he responds with “This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand! I will strike you down and cut off your head. This day I will give the corpses of the Philistine army to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the land. Then all the land will realize that Israel has a God and all this assembly will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves! For the battle is the Lord’s, and He will deliver you into our hand” (17:46-47). David actually verbalizes a reversal of those curses, declaring that what Goliath had said (most likely in a mocking recitation of the curses that could potentially settle on Israel if they did not worship their God alone) would actually come to pass upon him and the Philistines. At the same time, he exalts Israel’s God as the only God, in defiance of the Philistine gods that had been referenced by Goliath, thereby presenting a polemic against idolatry and idol worship. Interestingly, he uses the language of exodus (deliverance) to present a coming exile for the Philistines (though the Deuteronomic/exilic curses would naturally not apply to them).

When David does eventually prevail over Goliath, we see a fulfillment of the blessings of Deuteronomy, as “When the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they ran away” (17:51b). Indeed, Israel’s enemies fled before them (Deuteronomy 28:7), as the potential exile turned to glorious exodus, yet again, at the hands of their faithful God. After chasing after the Philistines, Israel returned to the Philistine encampment and looted it (17:53). With this, we see another application of the curse towards the enemies of Israel, as the Lord has faithfully entered in to engage the enemies of His people.

Following this, David was afforded great honor in Israel. “Saul appointed him over the men of war. This pleased not only all the army, but also Saul’s servants” (18:5b). Eventually however, this presented a problem that would lead to ongoing difficulties for David. After a successful engagement against the Philistines, “the women from all the cities of Israel came out singing and dancing to meet King Saul” (18:6b). This would not have been a problem, as honoring the king for the success of his underlings is perfectly understandable and a historically common practice. The problem arose because “The women who were playing the music sang, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, but David his ten thousands!’” (18:7) As we might expect, “This made Saul very angry,” and indeed, “The statement displeased him,” (18:9a) as he now viewed David (quite rightly) as a rival and a threat to his throne. The result was that “Saul was keeping an eye on David from that day onward” (18:9).

This statement and song by the women would routinely haunt David, causing him problems on numerous occasions. It would be the proximate cause for his personal experiences of exile before finally taking the throne for which he had been anointed. One day, with Saul keeping an eye on David, “an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul” and “Saul threw the spear” at David (18:10-11). This would happen on two occasions. Yes, Saul attempted to bring death to David, but David was spared from that particular exile. However, there would be two other times that David would experience trouble because of the song that the women sang. When David was fleeing from Saul, and went to Gath, it was said of him to the king of Gath, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land? Isn’t he the one that they sing about when they dance…?” (21:11b) At that point, David had to feign madness to escape certain death. Later, when David is in service to the king of Gath, and the Philistines are about to go battle with Israel, the Philistine generals complain about David going with them, repeating the words of the women’s song. This, however, was a bit less of a problem, as it spared David from having to go to war against his own countrymen, which he obviously did not want to do. Nevertheless, the words were only recounted because David found himself in exile from his home and his land, in subjugation and service to a foreign king, while awaiting his exodus and his throne.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 28)

It is in connection with the rejection of Saul and the evil spirit that has come upon him that we first meet up with the man who would become king of Israel, that being David. The introduction is made when Samuel goes to Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse, to find and to anoint the one that God has designated as king over his people. When Samuel encounters Jesse and his sons, David is not even counted among them. After the sons of Jesse are presented to Samuel and then eliminated from contention one by one, Samuel, perplexed by this, inquires if perhaps there might be another son that has not yet been presented before him. He is told, “There is still the youngest one, but he’s taking care of the flock” (1 Samuel 16:11b). At that time, David was off in the field, with no idea about what was going on or about what God had purposed for him. Figuratively, he was in exile. When he is brought before Samuel, “The Lord said, ‘Go and anoint him. This is the one!’ So Samuel took the horn full of olive oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers” (16:12b-13a). This was David’s exodus. He has now entered into God’s purposes for him and for God’s people, and to that end, “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day onward” (16:13b). We see something of a duplication of this scene in the life of Jesus, as after He was baptized, which represented His own exodus, it was said that the Spirit of God descended like a dove and came on Him (Matthew 3:16).

The story of Goliath follows quickly on the heels of David’s introduction, and in many ways, as do so many other Scriptural stories, it embodies exile and exodus. The story, of course, forms part of the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Philistines, which represent, for Israel, that constant tension between living lives of exile or exodus, depending on their response to their God and to His righteousness. When Goliath steps out each day to challenge Israel, he threatens them with exile (subjugation), saying “Choose for yourselves a man so he may come down to me! If he is able to fight with me and strike me down, we will become your servants. But if I prevail against him and strike him down, you will become our servants and serve us” (17:8b-9). Repeatedly, “all the men of Israel… retreated from his presence and were very afraid” (17:24). David, however, did not. He seized on the words of Goliath, and, if you will, accentuated the positive. Where the men of Israel heard the threat of exile from Goliath, David heard the words of exodus. Not only did Goliath speak of Israel being subjugated to the Philistines, but he was also proposing the reverse, which spoke to God’s promises to Israel to cause their enemies to flee from before them (Deuteronomy 28:7) and that they would be the head rather than the tail (28:13). This was connected to God’s promises to bless for the obedience of His people.

So, with God’s faithfulness to His promises in mind, David hears the men of Israel say “the king will make the man who can strike him down very wealthy! He will give him his daughter in marriage, and he will make his father’s house exempt from tax obligations in Israel” (17:25b). Because David has God’s faithfulness clearly in mind, we can attempt to imagine his response as he hears these words. Not having to pay taxes is always a good thing, but what else does David hear? Perhaps he hears more of Moses’ words from Deuteronomy in connection with the promises that the king is making, in which Israel is told “the Lord your God will elevate you above all the nations of the earth… You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the field. Your children will be blessed… You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out… The Lord will open for you His good treasure house” (28:1b,3,4a,6,12a). All around him fear exile while David grasps on to the continued promise of exodus. He goes on to inform Saul that he has experienced dangerous threats before, and that this threat was no different. David goes on to speak of “The Lord Who delivered me” (17:37), thereby using the very language of exodus, trusting in the God that had delivered Israel out of Egypt.

After first attempting to use Saul’s armor and sword, and finding that he was not comfortable with their use and that they would prove to be a disadvantage to him in his fight, David went out to encounter Goliath with his slingshot, some stones, and apparently a shepherd staff in his hand. Goliath said to him, “Am I a dog, that you are coming after me with sticks?” (17:43) With this, the unity of Scripture and Israel’s history once again leaps to the forefront, as we are reminded of Moses coming before Pharaoh, in his role of deliverer of Israel, and doing so with a staff in hand. Pharaoh was as dismissive of Moses as Goliath was of David, to their detriment.

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 27)

Saul’s response to Samuel’s declaration about his rejection as king---his exile from God’s intended purposes for him---presents interesting parallels to multiple events from Israel’s past through which we glimpse additional instances of exile and exodus. Saul says to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have disobeyed what the Lord commanded and what you said as well. For I was afraid of the army, and I followed their wishes. Now please forgive my sin! Go back with me so I can worship the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:24-25).

To draw the parallels, we first turn back a bit to the thirteenth chapter of 1st Samuel. There, a battle with the Philistines is at hand, and apparently, Samuel had promised to arrive at an appointed time to make an offering on behalf of Saul and the army of Israel. Saul “waited for seven days, the time period indicated by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the army began to abandon Saul” (13:8). Saul, not wanting to go to battle without making an offering to the Lord, said “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings” (13:9a), taking it upon himself to do what it was that Samuel had promised to do. “Just when he had finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel appeared on the scene. Saul went out to meet him and greet him” (13:10). Naturally, Saul thought Samuel would be pleased, but instead hears Samuel say, “What have you done?” (13:11b) Saul, perhaps a bit surprised at Samuel’s demeanor at this point, says “When I saw the army had started to abandon me and that you didn’t come at the appointed time and that the Philistines had assembled… I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down on me… and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt obligated to offer the burnt offering” (13:11c,12).

This particular instance should remind us of Aaron and the golden calf. In that situation, Moses had been on Mt. Sinai for quite some time. “When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered and said to him (Aaron), “Get up, make us gods that will go before us. As for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!’” (Exodus 32:1) Like Samuel, Moses was delayed. Aaron, as we know, responded poorly, acceding to the wishes of the people and fashioning a golden calf. It is not difficult to imagine that members of his army were applying the same type of pressure to Saul as well, saying “Samuel’s late. We don’t know where he is. The battle is upon us. We do not want to be subjugated. Make the sacrifice.” This, of course would be no excuse, as we can see with Aaron. What did Aaron say to Moses? For all practical purposes, he voiced the same words that would later come from Saul, saying in essence, “The people had started to abandon me and you didn’t come at the appointed time.” At the end of his life, Aaron would be stripped of his priestly garments and die without entering into God’s full purposes for him. Likewise, Saul would be stripped of his kingship and suffer the same fate. For both, exodus turned to exile.

Turning to the book of Numbers, we recount the story of the spies that were sent into the promised land, in order to bring back a report to God’s people. When they did so, the majority report was “We are not able to go up against these people, because they are stronger than we are!” (13:31b) It is said that they “presented the Israelites with a discouraging report of the land they had investigated” (13:32a). In response, “all the community raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the Israelites murmured against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, ‘If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had perished in this wilderness!’” (14:1-2) Though in exodus, they spoke longingly of returning to exile. In the end, their response committed them to a state of exile from the true exodus that was their entrance into the promised land. In response, Moses was instructed by God to inform the people “You will by no means enter into the land where I swore to settle you… as for you, your dead bodies will fall in this wilderness, and your children will wander in the wilderness forty years and suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your dead bodies lie finished in the wilderness” (14:30a,32-33). This was the language of exile, as Moses turned their words of dying in the wilderness back upon them.
Upon hearing such things, the people produced a natural response. The next morning, pretending as if nothing had happened and God had not spoken the words of re-exile through Moses, they committed themselves to bringing about their own exodus, in further defiance of God, saying “Here we are, and we will go up to the place that the Lord commanded, for we have sinned” (14:40b). Moses replied to this by saying, “Do not go up, for the Lord is not among you, and you will be defeated before your enemies… Because you have turned away from the Lord, the Lord will not be with you” (14:42,43b). This sounds remarkably similar to what we see with Saul, the Amalekites, Samuel’s words of Saul’s rejection as king, and his response to those words. Just as Israel said, “we have sinned,” so too did Saul. Just as Moses told the people that the Lord was not going to go with them, so did Sameul say the same thing to Saul (though he would later return with Saul so as to execute Agag). Just as Moses told Israel that they had turned away from the Lord and that the Lord would not be with them, so too did Samuel tell Saul that he had rejected the Lord, and that the Lord had rejected him. Just as Israel was cursed with forty years of additional wilderness wandering, it would not be long before Saul would be subjugated by “an evil spirit from the Lord” (16:14b).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 26)

Beyond the Philistines, Israel had other enemies during the reign of King Saul. At some point, Samuel came to Saul and informed him that the Lord’s command to him was to “go now and strike down the Amalekites. Destroy everything that they have” (15:3a). Because Amalek “opposed Israel along the way Israel came up from Egypt” (15:2a), when God was in the process of delivering His people from exile to exodus, the order to Saul included “Don’t spare them. Put them to death---man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey alike” (15:3b). Obviously, God wanted to get the attention of this king, with a clear demonstration of what would ultimately happen when one stands against the Lord and against His people. By speaking this way, and making mention of so much destruction, there seems to be an intent to cause Saul to be reminded, yet again, of the curses to be found in the book of Deuteronomy, pronounced by God towards His own people, and applied to them if they stood against Him by forsaking Him for idols.

Ironically, this situation becomes the cause of Saul’s downfall and the Lord’s rejection of him as king for His people. Why? Was it because he did not fully carry out the orders of complete annihilation? On the surface that seems like a reasonable conclusion, but Israel’s history is littered with failures (beginning with Abraham), so this hardly seems like the reason for God responding to Saul in this way. We read that “He captured King Agag of the Amalekites alive, but he executed all Agag’s people with the sword. However, Saul and the army spared Agag, along with the best of the flock… as well as everything else that was of value. They were not willing to slaughter them. But they did slaughter everything that was despised and worthless” (15:8,9a,c). The Lord’s response, following the presentation of this information, is “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned away from Me and has not done what I told him to do” (15:11a). Well, that seems pretty clear. Saul was instructed to wipe out all of Amalek, including their king and their animals, but he failed to do so, and therefore, that is the reason for God’s regret.

A bit later, however, when challenged by Samuel in regards to this partial sparing, we hear from Saul as he says, “I have done what the Lord said… the army spared the best of the flocks and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord our God. But everything else we slaughtered… I have obeyed the Lord! I went on the campaign the Lord sent me on. I brought back King Agag of the Amalekites after exterminating the Amalekites. But the army took from the plunder some of the sheep and cattle---the best of what was to be slaughtered---to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal” (15:13b,15b,20b-21). It’s altogether possible that Saul thought that he was doing what was right, and little reason to suspect that he was engaging in open rebellion. Besides, if God’s anger was aroused simply by the fact that the king and some animals had not been put to death, then the situation was easily remedied, and indeed, we see that such is the case when “Samuel hacked Agag to pieces there in Gilgal before the Lord” (15:33b). So there must be something more.

There must be a more substantial reason for God declaring that Saul has turned away from Him and not done what He was told to do, and it must be in connection with the larger issue of Saul’s role as king and deliverer for God’s people. We find that reason in verse twelve of this chapter. The morning after the Lord speaks to Samuel and informs Samuel of His regret about Saul, we read that “Samuel was informed, ‘Saul has gone to Carmel where he is setting up a monument for himself’.” (15:12b) This sounds like the beginnings of idolatry, and for Saul, this is what brings about his exile from the kingship. This position is reinforced when Samuel asks Saul, “Is it not true that when you were insignificant in your own eyes, you became head of the tribes of Israel?” (15:17a) Now though, Saul is setting up monuments for himself, in what seems to be a desire to have the people look to him. More than anything else, based on what we know of the God of Israel, along with His plans and purposes for His people, within this story of exile and exodus---of blessing and cursing in connection with their idolatry or the lack thereof, it is this creeping into self-adulation that has Samuel telling Saul, “You have done what is wrong in the Lord’s estimation” (15:19b).

Saul’s response to this, noted earlier, completely misses the point, as his exile begins to take shape, thus causing Samuel to speak of “obedience that is better than sacrifice” and “paying attention,” that “is better than the fat of rams” (15:22b). Samuel speaks of Saul’s wider rebellion, especially in the face of the reminder of his role as deliverer in the context of the Deuteronomic curses presented at the outset of this incident that could be applied to anyone that stood against the Lord, saying “rebellion is like the sin of divination, and presumption is like the evil of idolatry” (15:23a). Samuel brings the issue of idolatry, of which Saul is either painfully unaware or is hoping is being overlooked, front and center in the situation. Indeed, Samuel says, immediately following the mention of idolatry, “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,” which, more than anything else in the history of Israel to that point had to do with fleeing idolatry so as to enjoy God’s blessings and to avoid the cursing and exile associated with the same, “He has rejected you from being king” (15:23b). For Saul, exile was now at hand.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 25)

Within the story of King Saul, we come upon another person, a deliverer of sorts, whose story embodies the exile and exodus theme in a number of ways. This deliverer is Saul’s son, Jonathan. We are quickly introduced to Jonathan within the presentation of a circumstance regarding the weaponry of Israel. We read that “A blacksmith could not be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines had said, ‘This will prevent the Hebrews from making swords and spears.’ So all Israel had to go down to the Philistines in order to get their plowshares, cutting instruments, axes, and sickles sharpened” (1 Samuel 13:19-20). So even though Israel, at this time, is not in subjugation to the Philistines, it is a tenuous situation in which there are still conflicts in which the Philistines had an obvious advantage related to something that they had put in place during their time in which they had held Israel in subjugation. Here we see a remnant of Israel’s exile, in that “on the day of the battle no sword or spear was to be found in the hand of anyone in the army that was with Saul and Jonathan. No one but Saul and Jonathan had them” (13:22).

This is our introduction to Jonathan, and it immediately paints him, along with his father, in the light of deliverers of Israel. Indeed, the next chapter picks up on that very theme, informing us that “one day Jonathan son of Saul said to his armor bearer, ‘Come on, let’s go over to the Philistine garrison that is opposite us’.” (14:1a) A short while later we hear Jonathan again, saying “Come on, let’s go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will intervene for us. Nothing can prevent the Lord from delivering, whether by many or by few” (14:6). With these words, Jonathan speaks the language of exile and exodus, as the use of “delivering” speaks to something from which to be delivered. Clearly, Jonathan had in mind being used in the role of deliverer, and that through him, the Lord might bring to an end the ongoing attempts by the Philistines to re-subjugate Israel. When Jonathan, along with his armor bearer, show themselves to the Philistines, we hear them (the Philistines) say, “Look! The Hebrews are coming out of the holes in which they hid themselves” (14:11b), which reminds us of Gideon, and his threshing of wheat within a winepress, so as to be hidden from the Midianites, and of God’s reaching down into that winepress to bring Gideon forth as a deliverer for Israel. We go on to read that “Jonathan struck down the Philistines,” such that “fear overwhelmed those who were in the camp,” and that “This fear was caused by God” (14:13b,15a,c). Amazingly, God was still fighting Israel’s battles, even though the people had previously said, when asking for a king, that “Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles” (8:20b). In the end, though they had a human king, their King was still fighting on their behalf.

The events that were brought to pass as a result of Jonathan’s going up against this smaller group of Philistines resulted in the fact that “the Lord delivered Israel that day” (14:23a). Yes, exodus was brought forth from exile, yet again. Continuing on in the story of Jonathan as deliverer, we are immediately informed, following this deliverance, that “Saul had made the army agree to this oath: ‘Cursed be the man who eats food before evening!’… So no one in the army ate anything” (14:24b,d). Unfortunately, “Jonathan had not heard about the oath his father had made the army take. He extended the end of his staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb. When he ate it, his eyes gleamed” (14:27). It was not until after he had eaten, that “someone from the army informed him, ‘Your father put the army under a strict oath…’” (14:28a) in regards to eating food. Jonathan was, to put it mildly, a bit irritated at the words of his father, bemoaning the fact that the deliverance wrought by the hand of the Lord could have been greater “if the army had eaten some of the provisions,” saying that “the slaughter of the Philistines would have been even greater” (14:30a,c). Hearing that, the men with Jonathan all began to eat in a wild and unrestrained way (pointing out the folly of some unnecessary and ungodly restraints), which caused Saul to become angry, saying “All of you have broken the covenant!” (14:33b).

Saul resolves that he will get to the bottom of this situation, saying that even if the violation of the covenant occurred because of the actions of his very own son, “he will certainly die” (14:39). Saul undertakes a process that eventually reveals that Jonathan was, in fact, responsible for the widespread violation of Saul’s oath, to which Saul responds, “God will punish me severely if Jonathan doesn’t die!” (14:44) This made no sense to the army, seeing as how, regardless of the violation of Saul’s oath, deliverance had only come about because of Jonathan’s bold actions. They said, “Should Jonathan, who won this great victory in Israel, die? May it never be! As surely as the Lord lives, not a single hair of his head will fall to the ground! For it is with the help of God that he has acted today” (14:45a). It is said that “the army rescued Jonathan from death” (14:45b). In a strange turn of events, the delivered becomes the deliverer, interceding on behalf of Jonathan to deliver him from the exile of death that has been pronounced against him by his very own father. In that day, both Israel and its representative deliverer experience an exodus---Israel from possible subjugation by Philistia, and Jonathan from possible subjugation at the hands of Saul.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 24)

Samuel’s recitation of Israel’s past is not something that is confined to the Hebrew Scriptures, but we see it in the New Testament as well, especially since Christianity is pre-supposed by an actual, literal, physical, historical Resurrection. The book of Acts---that which marks the beginning of what we might refer to as the “Christian era,” is replete with the same such recitations, rooted in Resurrection. This demonstrates the importance of the historical underpinnings of this faith, and the eternally historical nature of the Gospel message (Jesus is Lord of all), which has God’s covenant with His people, the repetition of exile and exodus, God’s action within history, and the historical example of the Caesar and the Imperial/Caesar-cult (along with its language at the time of Christ), as its foundational premises.

Peter, in his Pentecost sermon, makes an appeal to history as he preaches the Gospel of the resurrected Lord. Stephen, the man who carries the record of being the first to be put to death for naming the name of Christ, presents a thorough history of Israel, replete with references to idolatry, and the ever-present themes of exile and exodus, before being stoned to death. In the thirteenth chapter of Acts, Paul speaks of Israel’s history as he is called upon to provide a “message of exhortation” (13:15), and does so by preaching the Gospel. We can imagine that such was not the first nor the last time. In Romans and Galatians, Paul makes it clear that the message of the Gospel cannot be presented without reference to Abraham (along with Isaac), as it was God’s dealings with Abraham that effectively mark the beginnings of the church. In the tenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes reference to Moses and the failures of Israel, and references Moses again in the second Corinthian letter, making yet another important historical connection, as Moses, and by extension, the significance of the exodus as it relates to the history of the people of God, is brought forward into the era in which Resurrection power is at work in the world.

In the anonymously composed letter to the Hebrews, we find that it is impossible to understand most all of what is written without reference to Israel’s history, its covenants, and its theology. The famous eleventh chapter of Hebrews, in fact, is a recapitulation of Israel’s history, couched in terms of God’s covenant faithfulness, as it boldly speaks forth of exodus after exodus, and of the deliverers and deliverance that only God could provide as He plots the path of His people though the ages. In the first letter of Peter, his speaking of God’s Israel (for all time) as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own” (2:9a), has him quoting from the book of Exodus, with the reminder that the purpose of the choosing being so much more than an escape from this world, but rather “so that you may proclaim the virtues of the One Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (2:9b). With those words, Peter might as well have spoken of proclaiming the One Who took you from exile into exodus, rescuing you (and continuing to rescue you) from the foreign subjugation that seeks to rob God’s people of their hope and confidence in Him.

Of course, all of Jesus’ words and actions, as recorded in the Gospels and in Acts (with His disciples questions concerning the restoration of the kingdom of God in the nation of Israel), are rooted in an understanding of the history of Israel, as Jesus echoes the themes of the past in the image of the judges and prophets of old, as it is impossible to understand the need and desire for a messiah apart from understanding the foundational premises of exile and exodus in God’s long dealings with His people. Indeed, it is impossible to understand the continued need for a redeeming messiah (King and Lord) apart from an understanding of the foundational premises of exile and exodus---historically, theologically, and cosmologically---in the context of God’s ongoing mission for and purposes in this world, as conducted and carried out through His church (renewed Israel), as He continues His long dealings with His people.

All of this historical rooting provides the context and the poignancy of the words of Jeremiah which, by way of reminder, have sparked this entire study. God’s people have been given a promise, and they know, especially in light of the previous Assyrian conquest of Israel and what they are experiencing with the Babylonian situation, together with the long history of covenant faithfulness as demonstrated through the pervasive pattern of exile and exodus, that their God is eminently faithful to His promises. The promise states that “When the time for them to be rescued comes… I will rescue you from foreign subjugation. I will deliver you from captivity. Foreigners will then no longer subjugate them. But they will be subject to the Lord their God and to the Davidic ruler Whom I will raise up as King over them” (30:9). Along with the following verse, where we read, “So I, the Lord, tell you not be afraid, you descendants of Jacob, My servants. Do not be terrified, people of Israel. For I will rescue you and your descendants from a faraway land where you are captives. The descendants of Jacob will return to their land and enjoy peace. They will be secure and no one will terrify them” (30:10). This promises encapsulates the message of the Gospel, and it tells of the actions that God is still performing, through His King and His kingdom, as the Resurrection project, launched through Jesus, continues to be brought to fruition, awaiting its final consummation.

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 23)

Following the victory of Israel over Nahash and the Ammonites, Samuel speaks to Israel, saying “I have done everything you requested. I have given you a king” (1 Samuel 12:1). The whole of chapter twelve is taken up with what might be thought of as Samuel’s “farewell speech” to Israel, though his career is far from over. In this extended oration, Samuel seizes upon the language of Deuteronomic cursing and blessing. He appears to speak to an underlying current of feelings of final liberation among the people, now that they have a king, which would seem to imply that there was a group within Israel that felt as if God’s rule through His judges, and through Samuel, was somehow oppressive.

With some of the words that he uses, Samuel seems to be defending himself against charges of oppression, while also reminding Israel of its idolatrous sin of asking for a king. He says, “Here I am. Bring a charge against me before the Lord and before His chosen king. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I wronged? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I taken a bribe so that I would overlook something? Tell me and I will return it to you!” (12:3) This, of course, as so often happens, returns us to Deuteronomy, landing us squarely within the chapter that is so incredibly seminal for the interpretative matrix of the Scriptures. Though we have covered this material repeatedly, we read in Deuteronomy’s twenty-eight chapter that Israel, if and when it violates that which represented its covenant responsibilities before the Lord, “will be constantly oppressed and continually robbed,” with oxen “slaughtered before your very eyes” and donkeys “stolen from you as you watch and will not be returned to you” (28:29b,31a,c).

Samuel, as we know, is no oppressor. Samuel represents the grace and love of God towards His people, as he serves as a reminder to them of God’s constant and never-failing covenant faithfulness (righteousness). He says, “The Lord is witness against you this day… that you have not found any reason to accuse me” (12:5a), and the people, while being reminded of God’s promised blessings and curses, were forced to concur. To reinforce the point that Samuel does seem to be making references to the Mosaic covenant in his speech to the people, he begins the next stage of his dissertation by reminding them that “The Lord is the One Who chose Moses and Aaron and Who brought your ancestors up from the land of Egypt” (12:6b). Samuel tells the people that he is going to “confront you before the Lord regarding all the Lord’s just actions towards you and your ancestors” (12:7b).

With this, we are reminded that God’s mission, and our place in that mission, can only be defined in the context of God’s historical dealings with His Israel. This is so because Christianity is not a mythical, mystical, and strictly legendary faith, but one that is rooted in the history of God’s creations and His covenants, as recorded within and presented through His Word. These dealings with His people have a this-worldly quality, that are sociological, economic, political, historical, and cultural, along with their being philosophical and theological, and have the purpose of shining the light of God’s glory into this world and dealing with evil in this world. Therefore, our consideration of what it is that God is doing, and what it is that He would have us to do in this same world, must be along all of those same lines. Because the Bible makes consistent appeals to a historical narrative, with a mission of God, through His people, for this world in which we live, we are ill-advised to completely spiritualize the Divine narrative, and pretend that the mission that God is carrying out for His people has only to do with an other-worldly existence in which this world that He created as good and perfect, and in which He has been revealing Himself throughout all of its history, is ultimately meaningless and destined only to pass from existence.
Returning to the words of Samuel, he makes an appeal to the recurring motif of exile and exodus, as he very briefly recounts the history of Israel, saying “When Jacob entered Egypt, your ancestors cried out to the Lord. The Lord sent Moses and Aaron, and they led your ancestors out of Egypt and settled them in this place. But they forgot the Lord their God, so He gave them into the hand of the Sisera… and into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them” (12:8-9). Samuel presents the fact that the people were in exile, and that God granted them exodus, but that they repeatedly returned to exile. Then, “they cried out to the Lord,” groaning like Israel in Egypt, and repeatedly “admitted, ‘We have sinned, for we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the images of Ashtoreth’.” (12:10a) Upon confession of what took them into exile, exodus is repetitively requested, with words such as “Now deliver us from the hand of our enemies so that we may serve you” (12:10b), which reminds us that exodus is not an exit, but an entrance upon God’s divine purposes for those previously in exile. The Lord, as we know, and as Samuel reminds the people, acted in the form of deliverers, and “sent Jerub-Baal (Gideon), Barak, Jephthah, and Samuel, and He delivered you from the hand of the enemies all around you, and you were able to live securely” (12:11).

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 22)

Shortly after we read about Saul’s installation as king, we find that “Nahash the Ammonite marched against Jabesh Gilead” (1 Samuel 11:1a). The reason for this coming against Jabesh Gilead, in an obvious attempt to subjugate, is not given. Whatever the reason, “All the men of Jabesh Gilead said to Nahash, ‘Make a treaty with us and we will serve you’.” (11:1b) From the answer provided by Nahash, we can see that there was no desire for peace. He said, “The only way I will make a treaty with you is if you let me gouge out the right eye of every one of you and in so doing humiliate all Israel” (11:2b). That is obviously not the type of language that is suggestive of a true desire for treaty. Nahash wanted to subjugate. Nahash, clearly, wanted to humiliate. Nahash was using the language of curse and exile. Borrowing from Deuteronomy, Nahash desired to make these people “an occasion of horror, a proverb, and an object of ridicule” (28:37a).

We see another response from the men of Jabesh Gilead, and their response is couched in the language of exodus, as they said “Leave us alone for seven days so that we can send messengers throughout the territory of Israel. If there is no one who can deliver us, we will come out voluntarily to you” (11:3). Once again, Israel, or in this case, a group within Israel, is seeking a deliverer. Just as there is no exodus without a deliverer, there is no need for exodus or a deliverer without some type of exile. Escape from subjugation and oppression is not sought unless one is subject to such things. They did as they said they would and sent messengers throughout Israel. Shortly, this message reached the ears of Saul, and he responds in a kingly fashion. Not for the first time, “The Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and he became very angry” (11:6). He was going to function in that role as deliverer. This is what had been said of him---of the king. This was going to be the first of his opportunities to serve the people in the mold of Moses, Gideon, and Samson, and he seized it upon it in a serious fashion.

In his anger, Saul offers up a curious response. On the surface, the response appears to be somewhat unusual, but as we will see, it is yet another thread in the grand tapestry of God’s faithfulness that is presented in and through the Scriptures. Saul “took a pair of oxen and cut them up. Then he sent the pieces throughout the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers, who said, ‘Whoever does not go after Saul and after Samuel should expect this to be done to his oxen!’” (11:7a) Unusual? Yes. Was it a threat? Was Saul threatening to go around all of Israel and cut up people’s livestock if they did not go to battle against Nahash, on behalf of Jabesh Gilead? We should hardly expect that to be the case. Rather, how should we view this? Well, right in line with what has been seen so many times, and especially because this chapter is dealing with issues of exile and exodus, subjugation and deliverance, humiliation and exaltation, it can be seen that Saul’s response is tied with Deuteronomy. How so?

Again, Saul is not threatening people’s livestock. When he promulgates this decree, we read that “the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they went out as one army” (11:7b). Had this been a threat by Saul against the people, that he would carry out a judgment by his own hands or the hands of emissaries that he would send, it is doubtful that the terror of the Lord would fall on the people. Instead, it would be a fear of Saul that would motivate service. So why did the terror of the Lord fall? It fell because Saul invoked the faithful, covenant God of Israel, reminding them of His words of blessing and cursing. Saul was simply informing the people of Israel that this subjugation by Nahash would not stop at Jabesh Gilead, but that it would continue, and ultimately, all of Israel would come under his subjugation. That is what is being implied by the cutting up of the oxen and the insistence that such would happen to their oxen as well. Can this scenario really be viewed in this way? What do we find in Deuteronomy? In the curses that were promised to attend the people’s forsaking of the covenant, Moses informed the people that “The Lord will allow you to be struck down before your enemies… Your ox will be slaughtered before your very eyes” (28:25a,31a). Saul informs Israel that failure to stand with Jabesh Gilead will result in cursing and humiliation coming upon all of Israel.

Returning to the issue of why Jabesh Gilead was experiencing the threat of subjugation, it is not outside of the realm of possibility to consider that it had something to do with idolatry. That is the basic, recurring reason for exile. Might it be possible that Saul understood this, especially as the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and as he considered the situation, he took in a broader view of all Israel, saw that idolatry was just as much prevalent there as it was in Jabesh Gilead, and responded accordingly so as to avert the disaster?

Once the armies of Israel gather, in the terror of the Lord and in response to the reminder of God’s faithfulness, Saul informs the potentially oppressed that “Tomorrow deliverance will come to you” (11:9b), and it did. What can be taken from this story? Beyond the obvious presentation of the way it fits within the larger narrative of Scripture, as an additional example of the faithful God, it can also be seen as a warning to Israel (for all time) against a narrow-minded tribalism, exclusive-ism, and division within Israel, as the various tribes fail to always consider that they are part of a larger whole, and not independent units designed to stand alone inside their own little territories.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 21)

Saul is now king of Israel. He has been hailed by the majority of the people, as they said “Long live the king!” (1 Samuel 10:24b), though there were some who questioned the possibility of deliverance at his hands, saying “How can this man save us?” (10:27) He has also been hailed by Samuel, who has said, “Do you see the one whom the Lord has chosen? Indeed, there is no one like him among all the people!” (10:24a) Those last two statements are quite interesting, as they are somewhat reflective of what we will later find in the life of Jesus. There might be an expression of incredulity at such a statement, but is latter not what we hear from John the Baptist in the Gospel of John?

Like Saul, Jesus had already been hailed as king by a messenger from God. For Saul, the messenger was Samuel. For Jesus, there had been multiple messengers---the angel Gabriel, Zechariah, and Simeon. With the words that he would speak, John was also effectively announcing kingship, saying “Make straight the way for the Lord” (John 1:23b). His hearers knew what was meant by this, as John was quoting from Isaiah, who had spoken of a time and act of deliverance for Israel that would be personally brought about and wrought by their God. Those who were carefully listening to John quickly connected this with the promise of a messiah (king) for Israel, saying “Why then are you baptizing if you are not the Christ (Messiah)” (1:25b)

Baptism, as needs to be understood, was linked with the issues of exile and exodus, in connection with Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan River. Baptism was exodus activity, signifying the end of exile, and more importantly, exodus into God’s purposes. It was associated with deliverance, which was associated with a deliverer, which, in the time of John, was associated with messianic expectations that would mark the end of Gentile occupation of Israel, an end to their theological exile from their promised land, long sought-for autonomous rule, and the exaltation of Israel over the nations. A person performing baptisms was understood to be replaying the story of the exodus and positioning themselves to be messiah, yet John was declaring that he was only “the voice of one shouting in the wilderness” (1:23a), and making no claims for himself. This fact of expectations around baptism, for which John is most famous, is confirmed by the questioning that he endured because he was baptizing people. He was asked “Who are you?” (1:19b). “He confessed---he did not deny but confessed---‘I am not the Christ!’” (1:20)

At that time, like Saul, Jesus had not yet been revealed to the people. At his “coronation,” Saul had actually hidden himself, apparently not wanting to be recognized as king. At Jesus’ “coronation,” as John speaks of the Lord and his hearers speak and ask questions about the messiah (the king), John says, “Among you stands One Whom you do not recognize, Who is coming after me” (1:26b-27a). When Samuel points to Saul, what did we hear him say? “Do you see the one whom the Lord has chosen?” When John points to Jesus, we hear something quite similar, as he says, “Look, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29b) John effectively says, “Do you see the One Whom the Lord has chosen?” Now, when John said this, the people did not hear, “Look, the Lamb of God that forgives me of my sins to that I can go to heaven when I die!” What they would have heard, in context, was “Look, the Lamb of God, Who brings about the end of exile and gives us a new exodus.” They would have also heard something a bit different than what they might have expected, in that John did not refer to taking away the sins of Israel or the sins of “My people” (ending exile) but rather, that of the world.

Looking again at what was spoken of Saul by Samuel, we also heard it said that “Indeed, there is no one like him among all the people!” Was this said of Jesus? Most definitely. John said of the King that He was proclaiming that “I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandal!” (1:27b) No one like Him indeed. In yet another similarity to the announcements surrounding Israel’s first king, John reinforces his declaration by later saying “I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God” (1:34).

After Saul was officially set forth as king of God’s people, “some wicked men said, ‘How can this man save us?’” (10:27a) To this was added, “They despised him and did not even bring him a gift. But Saul said nothing about it” (10:27b). Do we see this reflected in Jesus’ life? As a matter of fact, we do, though it is at His death. When Jesus hung on the cross, officially set forth as king, where “The inscription of the charge against Him read, ‘The King of the Jews’” (Mark 15:26), “some were mocking Him among themselves,” saying, “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, that we may see and believe!” (15:31b-32a). Yes, as Israel gazed upon Jesus, as He was being crucified by the Romans as yet another failed messiah, the question was “How can this man save us?” The men that said this about Saul were said to have brought him no gift, and we know this to be true of those that said this of Jesus as well. For Saul, at the very least, “With him went some brave men whose hearts God had touched” (10:26), but for Jesus, all had fled and forsaken Him. Finally, we read that Saul, though king and vested with power, said nothing to those that did not support him, though he was their king. Jesus, Who was not only King of the Jews, but as Messiah, King of all peoples, did not hold His tongue, but rather, when all (His disciples, Israel, and all involved in His execution) were thinking “how can this man save us,” said “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 20)

Though there are elements of the kingship as described by Samuel that can easily lead us to view it as leaning towards having exilic qualities, and though such ideas are reinforced by the Lord speaking to Samuel (upon Samuel’s first seeing Saul) and saying “Here is the man that I told you about! He will rule over My people” (1 Samuel 8:17b)---as rule over God’s people by anybody but God is never a good thing, and clearly linked with exile---God enters in so as to favorably alter the situation. Shortly after Samuel is informed of the Lord’s decision in this area, “Samuel took a small container of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head. Samuel kissed him and said, ‘The Lord has chosen you to lead His people Israel! You will rule over the Lord’s people and you will deliver them from the power of the enemies who surround them’.” (10:1a)

Not only is this an indication of God’s enduring favor upon His specially chosen people, but the language of exodus is used, as Samuel speaks of delivering (redeeming) Israel from its enemies. This causes us to quickly re-trace our steps through the Scriptures, to see that Saul is now linked with many that preceded him in quasi-kingly roles. God told Moses from the burning bush, “I have come down to deliver them (Israel) from the hand of the Egyptians… and I will send you to bring my people… out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:8a,10). When we meet Gideon in the book of Judges, the Lord says to him, “You have the strength. Deliver Israel from the power of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?” (6:14b) Samson is introduced in similar terms, as his parents are informed that “He will begin to deliver Israel from the power of the Philistines” (13:5b). Though it is a move forward in Scripture, we have covered it enough to also point out that this is the language used of Jesus, when Joseph is informed that Jesus “will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21b).

Being saved from sins, of course, rather than this being primarily intended for personal application in the quest to determine the final disposition of one’s eternal soul in either heaven or hell, is a means of speaking of deliverance from exile, as the sins of God’s people (idolatry, Sabbath-breaking, and failure to reverence the sanctuary---failure to accomplish God’s purposes to be lights in the world that are reflective of His glory) is what would bring about exile. In connection with Jesus, Zechariah (the father of the John the Baptist) speaks of God raising “up a horn of salvation for us… that we should be saved from our enemies” (Luke 1:69b,71a). A bit later in Luke, when the man Simeon took Jesus in his arms when His parents brought Him to the Temple, he says “my eyes have seen Your salvation” (2:30). That is the language of deliverance. Also, in His own words, Jesus styles Himself as a deliverer in the synagogue at Nazareth, when He quotes from Isaiah and declares part of His vocation as He applies the words to Himself, saying that He is there “to set free those who are oppressed” (4:18b). Once again, that is the language of deliverance from foreign subjugation. We should note that this puts Saul, at least initially, in very, very good company, as God, just as He would do for all of His deliverers, “changed his inmost person” (10:9a).

When God speaks of deliverance, there is most definitely a reason for it. When used in the stories of Moses, Gideon, Samson, and Jesus, it is clear that the deliverance is from exile and from foreign subjugation. Deliverance-speak is most certainly exodus-speak, so even though the people’s request for a king is akin to idolatry and is also somewhat akin to demanding subjugation to what is essentially a foreign and fallen power (in terms of the result of the fall of man and his becoming a foreigner to his Creator God’s purpose for him), we note God’s gracious entrance to turn the situation to His people’s good by His promise to Saul to work through him to deliver the people from the power of their enemies, just as He did with Moses, Gideon, and Samson. This, of course, indicates that Israel was in fact in some type of exile.

Though the most recent subjugation was brought to an end under Samuel, as we saw in the seventh chapter that “the Philistines were defeated,” that “they did not invade Israel again” because “The hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel,” that “The cities that the Philistines had captured from Israel were returned to Israel,” and “Israel also delivered their territory from the control of the Philistines” (7:13-14a). This situation, as far as the Biblical record is concerned, is unchanged when we meet Saul and he is anointed king, yet deliverance is necessary, indicating exile is an existing condition. This would lead us to consider that the state of exile is that of spiritual exile, as Israel, though in control of their territory, was not effectively engaged in the fulfillment of God’s commandments for them, and are not fully committed to the worship of the Lord alone. The situation with Samuel’s corrupt sons, and obviously the insistence on a man to lead them and to take God’s place as the true judge and leader and fighter of battles for His people (8:20), with the Lord linking this with idolatry, point us in this direction.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 19)

Continuing with Samuel, following the exodus wrought under his service as the judge of Israel, we come to find out that “In his old age Samuel appointed his sons as judges over Israel” (1 Samuel 8:1). This did not go well, and they did not serve well. Samuel’s sons “did not follow his ways. Instead, they made money dishonestly, accepted bribes, and perverted justice” (8:3). Clearly, such behavior is unacceptable for a judge, whose first priority is to bring about justice. It was the performance of his sons that served as the proximate cause for the elders of Israel to gather together and approach Samuel at Ramah and to ask for a king to be appointed over them (8:4-5). This is quite hurtful to Samuel, as in their request for a king and in their rejection of his son, Samuel naturally feels as if they are rejecting him as well. That is why “this request displeased Samuel” (8:6a).

When Samuel seeks the Lord’s input on this matter, much of significance is revealed, as God informs Samuel that “it is not you that they have rejected, but it is Me that they have rejected as their King” (8:7b). What’s more, God goes on to connect this matter---as so many things are---to Egypt and the exodus, saying that this rejection of Himself as their rightful and legitimate King is “Just as they have done from the day that I brought them up from Egypt until this very say” (8:8a). From here, God goes into the issue of idolatry, which gives us an idea where this conversation with Samuel is headed, saying that “they have rejected Me and have served other gods. This is what they are also doing to you” (8:8b). So in God’s eyes, the request for a king---a human leader to whom to give honor, respect, and reverence---is not altogether different from the idolatrous practices which have consistently led them into exile and away from God’s purposes for them. In spite of this, God says to Samuel: “So now do as they say” (8:9a). To this, however, God adds “But seriously warn them and make them aware of the policies of the king who will rule over them” (8:9b).

Where else do we hear God providing warnings to His people? The first instance that should come to mind takes us all the way back to the garden of Eden. God warned Adam that he “must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” saying, “for when you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Acting contrary to this warning caused man’s exile from the garden. Now obviously there are other warnings to be found in the Scriptures, but the next warning to be discussed, which is probably the most prominent warnings, as they relate to our themes of exile, exodus, and subjugation, are the warnings to be found in the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy. Naturally, we have visited this chapter repeatedly. The curses that are outlined throughout the chapter are warnings against violating God’s commandments and statutes (28:15), with specific attention given to idolatry. The pinnacle of the curses, as we know, was exile from their land, which represented God’s promises to them, and God’s promises to the world and His creation through them.

Returning to Samuel with these things in mind, we note again that God speaks of His people’s service of other gods, along with warnings to be sounded in connection with their request for a king. Idolatry, as we have repeatedly seen, brings with it a form of exile. Does this mean that the coming of a king represents exile, or at least, a form of exile? Let’s see. What does Samuel go on to say about the king, as He delivers the warning that God demanded? He said, “He will conscript your sons and put them in his chariot forces and in his cavalry; they will run in front of his chariot. He will appoint for himself leaders of thousands and leaders of fifties, as well as those who plow his ground, reap his harvest, and make his weapons of war and his chariot equipment. He will take your daughters to be ointment makers, cooks, and bakers” (8:11b-13). Well honestly, to begin with, that doesn’t sound too terrible. What, though, do we find in Deuteronomy, in the list of curses connected primarily with idolatry (which God has connected with the request for a king)? There we read, “Your sons and daughters will be given to another people while you look on in vain all day, and you will be powerless to do anything about it” (28:32).

What comes next from Samuel? The king “will take your best fields and vineyards and give them to his own servants. He will demand a tenth of your seed and of the produce of your vineyards and give it to his administrators and his servants” (8:14-15). In Deuteronomy, God says, “As for the produce of your land and all your labor, a people you do not know will consume it, and you will be nothing but oppressed and crushed for the rest of your lives” (28:33). Samuel continued on, saying “He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best cattle and your donkeys, and assign them for his own use. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will be his servants” (8:16-17). Deuteronomy says, “Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes but you will not eat of it. Your donkey will be stolen from you as you watch and will not be returned to you” (28:31a). Samuel concludes by saying, “In that day you will cry out because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord won’t answer you in that day” (8:18). It could be said that a king chosen for oneself sounds suspiciously like an idol. Does Deuteronomy have a corollary to this? Indeed it does, as we read, “Your flock of sheep will be given to your enemies and there will be no one to save you” (28:31b). For good measure, in relation to idolatry and curses and exile, a few verses later in this chapter in Deuteronomy, God mentions “the king whom you will appoint over you” (28:36b). Nevertheless, in the face of the clear presentation of exilic imagery in association with a king, they people refuse to heed Samuel, crying out “No! There will be a king over us!” (8:19b) By adding “We will be like all the other nations,” and “Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles” (8:19b-20), all of which had been the territory and prerogative of their God to that point, God’s people were practically demanding subjugation.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Calling Down Fire (part 3 of 3)

Before moving forward, it is necessary to back up just a bit so that we might continue our effective contextualization and historical integration. Included within His commands to His appointed disciples, we hear Jesus saying, “Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house!’” (Luke 10:5) There would have been a number of reasons for giving this particular greeting, but there is one particular reason to which we have already alluded, which is that of Caesar’s notion of peace. Remember, Luke still has us in the context of that which is previously written, as chapters nine through nineteen (which includes chapter ten) of his Gospel are presented as a lengthy, single narrative. Caesar’s peace---Roman peace, or the “pax Romana,” would have been part and parcel of the message of the herald of the Caesar, as Caesar (as Jesus would do) “sent messengers on ahead of him… to make things ready in advance for him” (9:52a,c).

What would happen if Caesar’s peace and gospel message about himself and his kingdom was rejected? Death would come upon those that rejected the message, until there were either no more rejecters, or until all willingly bowed the knee to accept his “peace.” This is the context, as we have seen, for James and John wanting to call down fire from heaven and consume those that rejected Jesus. This is also the context for Jesus’ rebuke of them for wanting to adopt Caesar’s forceful and deadly way of establishing his rule and authority. Clearly, at that point, they did not understand Jesus’ true power or the nature of the kingdom and peace that He was bringing to the world, as they were steeped in messiah and kingdom expectation that was rooted in forceful overthrow by violent means and awe-inspiring displays of power.

So when Jesus’ disciples arrive in a village and in a house and say “May peace be on this house,” we can imagine them being met with some trepidation. Again, this is not un-familiar. We can imagine the people thinking, “Great, more peace,” as they envision Caesar’s notion of peace. Then, when those same disciples go out into the public square and begin speaking of the kingdom of God that has come upon them, that message of peace, coupled with kingdom, continues to invoke thoughts of Rome’s crushing domination and their means of establishing peace and extending the kingdom. This, of course, is where attentiveness to the sick comes in, as it was a distinctive badge for Christ’s disciples to wear. The usual, traveling preacher would pay little attention to the sick, as there was little to nothing to be gained from them financially; and naturally, the Caesar, or his representative, cared nothing for the sick, as such would be nothing more than a burden that the people were all to happy to shift to Rome. Still, even with the healing of the sick, this preaching of the kingdom of God that had come could create a natural skepticism, and induce a “here we go again” attitude amongst the populace, as they were fully cognizant of Caesar’s methods that would be meted out to those that rejected the message.

In this light, what does Jesus tell His disciples? He says, “whenever you enter a town and the people do not welcome you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you’.” (10:11a) This was different. This was not a calling down of fire. Where Caesar would have whetted his sword with blood (which then need to be wiped off) and left men, women, and children lying in the dusty streets for their rebellion in rejecting him, Jesus suggests a significant, symbolic action. Beyond the action, Jesus instructs them to say these words, “Nevertheless know this: The kingdom of God has come” (10:11b). Even in rejection, they were to reiterate the message of the Gospel. There is no forcing. Naturally, Caesar did not ask for anybody to accept him or for allegiance to his kingdom. It was demanded at the point of a sword, as death was the only power that he truly had at his disposal. Jesus does go on to say, “I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town” (10:12), but that is God’s prerogative and God’s business. If God wants to call down fire (echoing James and John) in judgment, then God will do that. To this, Jesus adds, “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects the One Who sent Me” (10:16). Caesar could say the same thing, and he could justify his murderous actions to the people of his kingdom by saying that those that he slaughtered (or ordered to be slaughtered) had rejected Rome and the people of Rome (the one who had sent him).

The job of the disciple was not to pronounce judgment and call down fire and condemn, but rather, to preach the kingdom of God. The job of the disciple is to preach that Jesus of Nazareth was, is, and forever will be the crucified and resurrected Messiah of Israel and Lord of all, while consciously recognizing that it is God, by His Spirit, that goes to work to make that message effective and impactful and transformational in the hearts, minds, and lives of those who hear it, doing so according to His purposes for them. When we desire to call down fire, urging “conversion” or “acceptance” through the coercive preaching of eternal fire, or act as if we are functioning as God’s duly appointed representatives when we call down fire by referencing the judgment that God Himself brought to Sodom, we simply reject Jesus and assert that His Gospel message lacks any true functional power.

Is Jesus as weak as Caesar? Is death the only tool at His (and our) disposal when it comes to extending His kingdom? Are we not charged to speak the words of life in Resurrection? When we grasp these things, and are brought to the point that we fully and truly believe that there really is a power in the very proclamation of the Gospel, and that there really is a Holy Spirit that brings, activates, and works within that power, and that there really is a God in heaven that has a purpose and a plan for His creation, it is then that we can hear Jesus speaking to us and saying, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (10:23b-24).

Calling Down Fire (part 2)

Chapter ten of Luke begins by saying, “After this,” thereby connecting it with the words and events of chapter nine. Luke writes, “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others (possibly seventy) and sent them on ahead of Him two by two into every town and place where He Himself was about to go” (10:1). This is quite similar to what we saw taking place in the ninth chapter, when Jesus “sent messengers on ahead of Him… to make things ready in advance for Him” (9:52a,c). With the sending, Jesus included instructions, saying “Do not carry a money-bag, a traveler’s bag, or sandals, and greet no one on the road” (10:4). This sound to us like rather unusual instructions, but it is possible that Jesus wants His disciples to be distinctive from other wandering teachers in those days. He added a demand that once they find a hospitable response from a household, that they stay in that one house, and “not move around from house to house” (10:7b). Again, without getting too bogged down in details, suffice it to say that this will continue to set His disciples apart. Ultimately, they are to realize that they are there for a single mission, which would be to “Heal the sick in that town and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come upon you!’” (10:9)

They were to go out and preach the Gospel. The coming of the kingdom of God meant the arrival of the Messiah. It meant that the long night of exile and oppression was coming to an end, which was portended by the healing of the sick. It meant that the Lord was at work, redeeming His people. This was to be the sum and substance of those sent by Jesus. Though these that Jesus then sent out were to limit their ministry to the house of Israel, it is very much like that which comes at the end of Matthew, where Jesus says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (28:19a), which would include informing all nations about the kingdom of God that had come in Jesus’ death and Resurrection, in that “all authority in heaven and earth” (28:18b) had been given to Him. Then and now, this message---the Gospel message---was a message of power, carrying God’s power to accomplish His missional purposes for His world and His people in this world. That’s what the Apostle Paul believed, and to that end, he wrote some of the most beautiful words ever penned, making the declaration that the Gospel “is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16b). Jesus’ demand that this message of the kingdom be preached, along with the appropriate response to the response of those that hear and possibly reject the message, stands up as a daily challenge as to whether or not we truly believe the message and in the power inherent within it.

As we consider these things, it is incumbent upon us to always, always, always historically contextualize Jesus’ words and actions as presented in the Gospels so that we may better understand them and apply them in our own day. In that time, people will have seen actions such as these and heard words like this. Neither the mode of preaching nor the message was entirely new, either in the Israel of Jesus’ day or in the world into which His disciples would later travel. We can know that the method of preaching was not new, because Jesus had to make sure His disciples looked different from all of the other traveling preachers---thus the restriction on the bags and sandals and greetings, along His insistence that they not move around from house to house. The cultural familiarity with the practice that Jesus’ disciples were to undertake probably has a hand in the Apostle Paul referring to the foolish method of spreading the Gospel of God’s kingdom that had been established in Jesus (apart from the apparent foolishness of the message). You see, God did not ordain a new practice that would somehow make it easier to preach the message of the Gospel of Christ. He did not give a new tool that would make the Gospel’s gaining of attention a much more simple task. He took something familiar and imbued it with the power of the Resurrection.

In addition to a familiarity with the method, the message of “The kingdom of God has come upon you” would not have been unfamiliar. Though it held particular and incredibly significant meaning to those in Israel, not only was it the case that Jesus’ disciples would not be the first to go out heralding the arrival of a messiah, and thus, the arrival of the kingdom of God, but it was also the case that this was the same message that Caesar’s representatives carried into the world that he had conquered as well. Those that heard this message of the kingdom of God, whether inside or outside of Israel, would be familiar with the “gospel of Caesar,” which was, among other things of course (as the Caesar cult aided in the spread of imperial propaganda), that he was lord of all and the savior of mankind, could easily be set forth as the “kingdom of the son of god has come upon you; and you do not need to feel conquered, as Caesar extends his realm of peace and security to you.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Calling Down Fire (part 1)

We’re going to make a brief departure from the “Rescued From Foreign Subjugation” series, but it will be resumed.

Now when the days drew near for Him to be taken up, Jesus set out resolutely to go to Jerusalem. He sent messengers on ahead of Him. As they went along, they entered a Samaritan village to make things ready in advance for Him” – Luke 9:51-52 (NET)

This action of sending messengers ahead of Himself, so as to make things ready in advance for Him, as we read about in relation to the Samaritan village, is a Caesar-like action. Undoubtedly, as we bear in mind the recipient of Luke’s writing (who was likely a Roman government official), this was meant to draw a contrast between Caesar (the man that was then honored as the world’s savior and son of god) and Jesus. It is also possible that Luke’s use of “taken up” in reference to Jesus is a subtle allusion to the “apotheosis” of the Caesar, which is his deification as a god.

Sending a messenger ahead of himself was common practice for the Caesar. Those messengers, who could be referred to as “evangelists,” went out proclaiming the “good news” (evangelion) concerning Caesar, going ahead of him so as to prepare the town or city to welcome the Caesar with all appropriate honor, and preparing the people to bow the knee to Caesar as their lord and master. This is the likely interpretive framework in which we are to understand Jesus’ sending of messengers on ahead of Himself, as the world’s true Savior, Son of God, King, Lord, and Master. In the case of the particular instance recorded here by Luke, though Jesus had sent these messengers to make ready things in advance for Him, and to prepare the people, “the villagers refused to welcome Him” (9:53a). Luke adds the explanatory statement that the refusal to welcome Jesus stemmed from the fact that “He was determined to go to Jerusalem” (9:53b). The Samaritans, of course, were looked down upon by the Jews (though clearly not by Jesus), and in turn, the Samaritans refused to honor One that had determined, within His messianic mission, to simply use their city as a stopping point on the way to Jerusalem. Regardless of the reason, the significant fact to observe is that Jesus was not welcomed.

Because of this, we read “Now when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’” (9:54) Why would they say such a thing? Clearly, Luke is pointing out the fact that James and John were well aware of the Caesar-like nature of what was Jesus had done in sending messengers ahead of Him to prepare various places to welcome Him as King. To go along with this, they have already heard Him repeatedly use royal titles for Himself, such as Son of Man. They have also seen him cast out demons, heal the sick, raise a man from the dead, still a storm, and feed a multitude. They rightly interpret these things within the messianic, kingly context in which they are performed, and which Jesus had given them by the words of His mouth, so the sending of messengers, in the mold of Caesar, is not at all surprising to them. We can also be quite sure that they enjoyed being a part of the chosen entourage of the King that was now traveling the path to Jerusalem.

They also know that if Caesar had sent messengers ahead of himself, to prepare a village for his arrival there, and that village rejected him for any reason whatsoever, that Caesar’s response would be to make an example of that village. Caesar would kill those who did not bow the knee, and probably do so in a fairly dramatic and attention-getting way, so that it would not be necessary to repeat such a thing upon reaching the next village during the course of his travels. So James and John desire to follow the same pattern. Truly, if this King is greater than Caesar, than all should be made to bow the knee. Calling down fire from heaven to consume those that refused to show honor would be the way of insuring that such would happen. We know Jesus’ response. He “turned and rebuked them” (9:55). He did not turn and rebuke the villagers that rejected Him. He rebuked His disciples that wanted to go about commanding allegiance in the way that Caesar and all other kings had commanded allegiance, which was ultimately the threat of death. Of course, one cannot help but think of the regular “calling down of fire,” that of death and the eternal fire of hell, that is employed to convince people to bow the knee to Jesus. Rather than stay in that village, attempting to defy the rejection, “they went on to another village” (9:56). Jesus was not going to be side-tracked in His mission to preach the Gospel of His kingdom, which is what truly carries power.