Month: April 2012

Why was God so mean to Saul? Part 2 (1 Samuel 13, 15)

Saul’s sins involved a premature sacrifice (1 Sam. 13) and an incomplete slaughter (1 Sam. 15).  That doesn’t sound too bad, particularly in comparison to David’s murder and adultery.  And yet as we observed in a recent blog, those are the sins that got Saul in big trouble with YHWH and his prophet Samuel.

So, why was God and Samuel so harsh in judging Saul?  I see two reasons.

First, Saul as the initial king of Israel, his actions set a precedent for future kings.  And, as we read the story in the books of Samuel and Kings, later rulers struggled to obey.  Samuel had just made it clear to the people and their brand new king that they all need to obey diligently, and if they don’t, they’d be punished (1 Sam. 12:15, 25).  So, Saul’s decision to disobey Samuel’s command to wait, had consequences.  Leaders lead for good, or for ill.

Second, Saul should have known that he could trust YHWH and wait.  The clues are there in the text.  The description of the Philistine army, “like the sand of the seashore in multitude” is reminiscent of Gideon’s story where the Midianites are “countless as the sand of the seashore”.  And what was Gideon’s big problem, according to YHWH?  Too many soldiers.  The fact that Saul was losing men was a good thing.  He wasn’t going to need to do the lap like a dog trick.  Saul had just been reminded of the story of Gideon by Samuel (1 Sam. 12:11; Gideon is called Jerubbaal by Samuel).   Despite appearances, Saul should have trusted God. 

The final thing to note here, is that Saul’s judgment wasn’t as harsh as it may seem.  He was allowed to rule for another 15 years or so.  The main punishment fell upon Jonathan, who wasn’t able to succeed his father.  And Jonathan was an impressive guy.

But this is just the first judgment against Saul.  Come back later for the discussion of why God judged Saul so harshly for not completely slaughtering the Amalekites.  That’s a problem.

So, was Samuel too harsh or too lenient to Saul? 

Image of Samuel Reproving Saul from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Samuel_reproving_Saul_.jpg

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A soul-melting sorrow (Psalm 119:28)

My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word (Psalm 119:28 NRSV).

What do you do when you’re depressed?  The psalmist writes a poem of prayer, describing to God the pain of a soul-melting with sorrow.  (Despite his blue, melted body, the guy in the picture doesn’t look too bad.) I usually just watch TV.  The psalmist’s plan is probably better.

In Hebrew the verb dalaph (“melts” or “weeps”) begins this fourth verse of this fourth section of the psalm (119:25-32) where every verse begins with the fourth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, dalet.  So, it could be translated literally, “Weeps my soul from sorrow…”

So, what’s the cause of the psalmist’s sorrow?  It’s hard to know, and there’s not a clear connection between this verse and the previous one where the psalmist ended by meditating on God’s wonderous works.

In any case, the psalmist knows help is needed, so the request is for strengthening according to the word of YHWH.  How is the word going to lift the depression?  Again, it’s not clear, but two things are clear.  First, when the psalmist is struggling with sorrow, prayer (“strengthen me”) is the remedy chosen.  Second, the prayer itself focuses on God’s word.  Sounds like a good prescription for health.  Prayer, Scripture, God.

God, in our pain, help us remember you and your word. 

Image from http://www.treehugger.com/corporate-responsibility/cool-eco-campaign-climate-change-melts-man-in-buenos-aires.html

Why was God so mean to Saul? (1 Samuel 13, 15) Part 1

Why was God so mean to King Saul?  A premature sacrifice (1 Sam. 13) and an incomplete slaughter (1 Sam. 15).  As sins go, those seem mild.  David, “a man after God’s own heart”, committed adultery and murder, and he got off lightly compared to the judgment that fell upon Saul.  Why was God so mean to Saul?

Let’s look at 1 Samuel 13.  Saul had already defeated the Ammonites (1 Sam. 11), and a Philistine garrison.  Now he’s getting ready to fight the Philistine army.  The prophet Samuel told Saul to wait for seven days at Gilgal, then he would come and make a sacrifice before the battle.  Saul is outnumbered.  According to the text, Saul has about 3000 troops and the Philistines have about 30,000 chariots and 6000 horsemen.  Saul is seriously outnumbered.  The Philistine forces are “like sand on the seashore” (1 Sam. 13:5).

To make things worse, Saul’s forces are starting to panic and desert.  Saul realizes he needs to act fast, and he can’t wait for Samuel any longer.  It’s been seven days.  He needs to take matters into his own hands.  He offers the sacrifice to ensure that they have God’s favor for their military efforts.

The moment Saul’s sacrifice is over, Samuel shows up.  Was he watching Saul all this time?  Samuel blasts Saul, “What have you done?!?”  Then Samuel tells Saul that God would have given him an eternal dynastic promise (David got one of those: 2 Samuel 7), and his kingdom is going to be cut off.

Seems harsh, don’t you think?

Why do you think Samuel and God were so harsh toward Saul?  (to be continued…)

Image from http://www.thebricktestament.com/king_saul/saul_rejected_for_seeking_gods_favor/1s13_14-15.html

The Luddite Chronicles I

The Luddites were English textile workers who violently opposed mechanization of their industry between 1811-1816.  They liked to smash things, automated looms usually.  The movement was so popular that the British army had to get involved to quash it.

Now a “Luddite” can refer to anyone opposed to innovation, often involving technology or computers.  Which brings me to the point of this blog.  I consider myself a bit of a Luddite.  (It sounds quite flattering actually–“Hey, you big Luddite!”)  I’m not a Luddite in all areas, just a few areas related to technology, so I thought I’d start a series of Luddite Chronicles.

Topics that I plan to discuss are:

1) Newspapers v. news online
2) Dumb phones v. smart phones
3) Real books v. e-books

Just to be clear, my Luddite tendencies are not due to technophobia.  I have a MS degree in engineering and I taught computer science.

What other categories of technology would you like to discuss?

Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddites