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).              

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