Saturday, June 30, 2012

David As Moses

The chapters of Samuel that present the life of David before becoming king, are essentially 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 incident 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.       

Friday, June 29, 2012

Introducing David (part 2 of 2)

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).  Here 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/Levitical/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 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.     

Introducing David (part 1 of 2)

It is in connection with the rejection of Saul as king of Israel, and of the evil spirit that comes upon him in the wake of that rejection, 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 David 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 can 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 as reported in 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. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Saul's Entrance Into Exile (part 2 of 2)

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 can 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 the midst of 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 Samuel 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 27, 2012

Saul's Entrance Into Exile (part 1 of 2)

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 books of Leviticus and 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.        

Jonathan & Redemption

Within the story of King Saul, we come upon the story of 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.  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. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Samuel, Exodus & A Historical Faith (part 2 of 2)

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).    

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.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Samuel, Exodus & A Historical Faith (part 1 of 2)

Following Israel’s victory 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.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Saul's Faithfulness

Shortly after Saul’s installation as king, we read 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).  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 a 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, 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 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.      

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Saul As Redeemer

As Saul is presented as the 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 from foreign oppressors 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 can later be found 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).              

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Samuel & The Exile Of Kingship (part 2 of 2)

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)  Let us note that, though there is a deliverance, there is still a subjection to a less-than-ideal ruler, who is liable to bring the exilic curses upon the people.

However, let it also be said that 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 this theme 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 can 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 the seventh chapter notes 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, points us in this direction.    

Samuel & The Exile Of Kingship (part 1 of 2)

The life and career of the prophet/judge Samuel is an interesting one.  Following the exodus from foreign subjugation that is wrought under his service as the judge of Israel, we eventually 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 day” (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 the strong Scriptural themes of exile, exodus, and subjugation, are the warnings to be found in the twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy (and the twenty-sixth chapter of Leviticus).  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, the 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 19, 2012


Though the books of Samuel are essentially about King David, the story recorded therein begins with a man named Elkanah and his wife Hannah (1 Samuel 1:1-2).  “Hannah was childless” (1:2b).  Therefore, within the community, Hannah is looked upon as being cursed by God.  By extension then, she embodies exile.  However, in contradistinction to what would have been thought about her, we find that “the Lord had not enabled her to have children” (1:5c).  Interestingly, “Her rival wife used to upset her and make her worry, for the Lord had not enabled her to have children” (1:6).  So while the author speaks of the power of God, presenting the position that the delivery of children stands within the realm of God’s blessing, Hannah’s rival wife (Peninnah) turns this in a different direction, diminishing the power and blessing of God inherent in the statement, and thinks only of God’s cursing.  She points the finger of scorn and rejection at Hannah, while it is said of Elkanah, her husband, that “he especially loved her” (1:5b).  He evidenced this love in that “Whenever the day came for sacrifice, he used to give meat portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters.  But he would give a double portion to Hannah”  (1:4-5a).  So whatever it was that was said or thought about Hannah within the community, Elkanah, through this type of act toward her, in spite of the fact that she had not been able to give him any children, identifies himself with Hannah in the midst of her perceived cursing, and freely joins her within her exilic condition. This sounds a great deal like what God would do for His people, in and through the Messiah. 

During one of the times that the family went to sacrifice, “after they had finished eating and drinking, Hannah got up” (1:9b).  She began to pray.  “She was very upset as she prayed to the Lord and she was weeping uncontrollably” (1:10).  For various reasons, Eli the priest thought that she was drunk (after all, they had been eating and drinking), so he questioned her about her physical condition.  Hannah protested that she was not drunk, and answers him by saying “I have spoken from my deep pain and anguish” (1:16b).  Now, in her condition of childlessness, which was considered to be in a cursed state and therefore akin to being in exile, it could be said that Hannah was groaning under her burden.  This would be not unlike the Israelites in Egypt, as “They cried out, and their desperate cry… went up to God” (Exodus 2:23b).  In much the same way as “God heard their groaning” and “remembered His covenant… saw the Israelites, and… understood” (2:24-25), Hannah hears Eli say, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the request that you have asked of Him” (1:17).  “After some time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a Son.  She named him Samuel, thinking, ‘I asked the Lord for him’.” (1:20)  The reason for the name is that “Samuel,” which means “Name of God,” sounds like the Hebrew verb that is translated as “asked.” 

We go on to read that Elkanah (Hannah’s husband, Samuel’s father) continued his yearly tradition of going to Shiloh to make yearly sacrifices, but that Hannah did not go with him (1:21-22).  “Instead, she told her husband, ‘Once the boy is weaned, I will bring him and appear before the Lord, and he will remain there from then on” (1:22b).  This was based on her vow concerning her son “to dedicate him to the Lord all the days of his life” (1:11b), which, based on the way things would progress, implied his service in the tabernacle.  Eventually, she would fulfill this vow.  Now because for Hannah Samuel represents exodus from exile, thereby making him serve as a deliverer of sorts for Hannah before he would ever carry the mantle of judge and prophet in Israel, this story does have a bit of a connection with that of Moses, which should not come as a surprise.

After Moses’ birth, and after his mother does her best to keep him from being killed at the hands of the Egyptians, she places him in a basket and sets him floating down the Nile River.  He is found by Pharaoh’s daughter.  Moses’ sister had been watching to see what would happen and “his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and get a nursing woman for you from the Hebrews, so that she may nurse the child for you?’...  So the young girl went and got the child’s mother” (Exodus 2:7,8b).  In an ironic turn of events, “Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child and nurse him for me, and I will pay your wages.’  So the woman took the child and nursed him” (2:9).  With this, we are put in mind of Hannah’s weaning of Samuel before bringing him to the Lord and leaving him with Eli at the tabernacle.  The connection is made a bit more explicit by the similar language that follows, as “When the child grew older she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son” (2:10a), just as Samuel would effectively become the son of Eli.  Closing out the connection, we go on to read that “She named him Moses, saying, ‘Because I drew him from the water’.” (2:10b).  Because “Moses” is related to the Hebrew verb which means “to draw out,” we see that Moses received his name in a way not unlike that in which Samuel received his name; and because Moses is intimately connected to exodus in every way, in this tacit connection with the birth of Samuel, we have a telling Scriptural signpost of the incredible significance of exodus in the understanding and interpretation of the divine Word.                 

Ruth (part 2 of 2)

For some reason there is a change of heart on Naomi’s behalf, as she “said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Listen to me!  Each of you should return to your mother’s home!  May the Lord show you the same kind of devotion that you have shown to your deceased husbands and to me!  May the Lord enable each of you to find security in the home of a new husband!’” (1:8-9a)  Clearly, making this statement was difficult for Naomi, as she then “kissed them goodbye and they wept loudly” (1:9b).  However, both were determined to return with Naomi, saying “No!  We will return with you to your people” (1:10).  Naomi speaks again, and this time is far more persistent, causing Orpah to accede to her wishes and demands, as she kissed her goodbye, presumably returning to her mother’s home as directed.  However, as we know, “Ruth clung tightly to her” (1:14b).  Naomi protested Ruth’s actions, but upon her doing so, Ruth famously and stubbornly declared “Stop urging me to abandon you!  For wherever you go, I will go.  Wherever you live, I will live.  Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God” (1:16).  Ruth’s dogged determination to be a part of the exodus people won out and Naomi relented, so they returned together to Judah, and more specifically, to Bethlehem. 

When they did return, Naomi uses the language of exile and exodus, but seemingly in reverse, as she says, “I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed” (1:21a).  It is possible that her bitterness (thus, the name change to Mara, or “bitter”) here had overwhelmed her, as she adds that “the Lord has opposed me, and the Sovereign One has caused me to suffer” (1:21b).  Apparently, she has forgotten that she left with her husband and children in a time of famine, and at a time that we can presume that Israel was in subjugation. It is possible that she saw their departure to Moab as an exodus, and had begun to think of Moab as home.  This might very well be the reason why she was so insistent that Orpah and Ruth stay in Moab, which in her own mind, had become a place of fullness.  Based on Ruth’s response to Naomi’s land and Naomi’s God, it seems reasonable to believe that Naomi attempted to paint a not-so-flattering picture of that land and of the Lord, with tales of famine and oppression and death and judgment, in an attempt to convince Orpah and Ruth of the futility of going with her, and the benefits of staying there in Moab.  Correspondingly, if her departure was an exodus, then she is now viewing her return home to Bethlehem in Judah as exile.  If so, this makes Orpah’s departure understandable.  If so, this makes Ruth’s clinging to Naomi even more remarkable, while giving us a glimpse into what lay behind the language of the rest of her statement to Naomi, in which she says, “Wherever you die, I will die---and there I will be buried.  May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise!  Only death will be able to separate me from you!” (1:17)  So against all probability, while Naomi thinks of the return to the promised land as an exile, Ruth looks forward to the end of exile, and a joining together with the people of exodus, in the land of the Lord’s promise. 

With all of this under consideration---Naomi’s trepidation in returning to the land, combined with the knowledge of the famine and subjugation that was in effect when she left with her husband, it is with a touch of apparent irony that “they arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest” (1:22b).  Immediately, in her land of exodus---which is the place of God’s mission for her---“Ruth went and gathered grain in the fields behind the harvesters” (2:3a).  This gathering, as we come to find out, took place in “the field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech” (2:3c).  When Boaz speaks to Ruth, he treats her quite well, embodying the grace and kindness to resident foreigners that was demanded of Israel in the law of their God---because they too had been foreigners in Egypt.  Though the author does not speak of this, it underlies the story and the treatment, and we are reminded of the constant overt and subtle recalling of exodus by the Biblical authors. 

Soon after, as Ruth gives Naomi a report of the day’s activities, as well as the favorable treatment from Boaz, “Naomi said to her, ‘This man is a close relative of ours; he is our guardian’.” (2:20b)  Later on, Ruth goes back to Boaz, proposing marriage and reminding him that he is “a guardian of the family’s interests” (3:9b).  The Hebrew word used here for “guardian” is “go’el,” which is used as both “kinsman” and “redeemer.”  This means that this is “deliverer” language, thus presenting Boaz in the mold of Moses, which places the story squarely in the center of the exile, exodus, and rescuing motif that is much of the sum and substance of the Scriptural message.  As a guardian, or a redeemer, or a deliverer, Boaz agrees to Ruth’s proposal, and tells her that he will do what is necessary to become her and the family’s redeemer.  Before sending her away so that he can go and attend to this business, “he measured out about sixty pounds of barley into the shawl and put it on her shoulders” (3:15).  In this additional, favorable treatment by this redeemer (the one that was going to complete Ruth’s exodus and bring the family’s exile to an end), it could be said that Boaz went far beyond what either Ruth or Naomi would have asked or thought (Ephesians 3:20).  

As Boaz completes the transaction that will see him redeeming the estate of his kinsmen Elimelech, he says, “I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, as my wife to raise up a descendant who will inherit his property so the name of the deceased might not disappear from among his relatives and from his village” (4:10a).  In so doing, Boaz rescues the name of Elimelech from exile.  Almost immediately, we find ourselves reading about Ruth that “The Lord enabled her to conceive and she gave birth to a son… They named him Obed.  Now he became the father of Jesse---David’s father!” (4:13b,17b)  The marriage and the coming of a child marks the preservation of an inheritance within the land.  Because this is couched within the language of redemption (4:4-6), and because redemption is equated with exodus, all of these things serve as a reminder to both the witnesses and the later reader of this history, of God’s faithful, saving, covenant action on behalf of His people. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ruth (part 1 of 2)

When we wade into the book of Ruth, which effectively functions as a bridge to David because Ruth is his great-grandmother, we should so while bearing in mind the kaleidoscopic montage of exile and exodus --- the ongoing theme of subjection and rescue from foreign oppression that is a dominant theme of the Word of God from Abraham onward.  When we look into Ruth then, what is it that we immediately find? 

In the first verse we read “During the time of the judges there was a famine in the land of Judah.  So a man from Bethlehem in Judah went to live as a resident foreigner in the region of Moab, along with his wife and two sons” (1:1).  Amazingly, and almost as if we have hit upon another important theme of Scripture, famine is present.  If we took the time to trace this theme, we would see it with Abraham, with Isaac, with Jacob, and with Joseph.  The man in question here in Ruth, whose name was Elimelech, now stands in good company, walking the familiar path that has been previously trod by the patriarchs of the covenant people.  Elimelech, like these men, has voluntarily removed himself from the land of God’s promise.  He is now in a self-imposed exile.  We should note that the Scripture offers no commentary on his departure from the promised land, but simply presents it as a matter of fact. 

While in this state of exile from the land that represents God’s faithful promises to His people, Elimelech died.  His death left his wife (Naomi) and two sons (Mahlon and Kilion) alone.  Rather than return to the land of Judah, “her sons married Moabite women (Orpah and Ruth).  And they continued to live there about ten years” (1:4).  Here, we have echoes of Jacob’s first departure from his father’s house, coming on the heels of what he believed to be his father’s impending death (because of Isaac’s insistence on blessing Esau before he died), as we know that when Jacob was in the first of his exiles, in Haran, two women were married and there was an extended dwelling away from the land of promise.  For Naomi, the pain of exile would grow, as her two sons went the way of their father, dying there in the land of Moab.  With this, she is described as being “bereaved of her two children as well as her husband” (1:5b). 

It was within this bereavement, that Naomi “decided to return home from the region of Moab, accompanied by her daughters-in-law” (1:6a).  She decided to make this return journey “because while she was living in Moab she had heard that the Lord had shown concern for His people, reversing the famine by providing abundant crops” (1:6b).  This statement reminds us of the opening statement of the book, and the famine mentioned therein “during the time of the judges.”  Why would there have been a famine in Judah?  Well, if we believe in a God that is faithful to His promises (according to Deuteronomy), and if we believe in the record of the book of Judges, the famine is a curse related to Israel’s idolatry (doing evil in the sight of the Lord).  Famine points us to exile, while also informing us that Elimelech’s flight to Moab was most likely undertaken during one of the periods of subjugation to foreign power.  The reversal of this famine, in turn, points us to another instance of exodus, as God has raised up a judge to deliver His people, rescuing them from the regime of oppression, and giving their land back to them, as they have turned from idolatry to God.  The exile and exodus spoken to by the famine and the reversal of the famine stands in parallel to the exile and exodus that is being experienced by Naomi.

It would appear that the plan had been for Naomi and her two daughters-in-law to return to the land of Judah.  To that end, we read “Now as she and her two daughters-in-law began to leave the place where she had been living to return to the land of Judah” (Ruth 1:7).  This would indicate that all three were leaving their land of exile, and that all three were about to experience an exodus to the land of the covenant promise, even though both Ruth and Orpah were Moabites and had not previously left the region of Israel, and were not a part of God’s covenant people.  Of course, in the Egyptian exodus, there were non-Israelites that went out of Egypt with Israel, so we are seeing a bit of a re-playing of this as Naomi and the two women leave Moab.