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

Bulls and Baals (Gideon 9)

YHWH decided it was time to smash the Baal and slaughter the Bull.  He picked Gideon for the task (Judg. 6:25).

Gideon’s father, Joash had a Baal altar and before Gideon was to gather troops to overthrown the Midianites, they needed to undertake some idol bashing.  They were supposed to worship YHWH only, so the Baal altar needed to get torn down.  Joash also had an Asherah, which was technically a sacred pole (like a totem pole), but the pole was dedicated to the goddess Asherah, Baal’s supposed wife or consort.  The Asherah also needed to get cut down.  To celebrate this idol bashing, Gideon was also supposed to take his dad’s prize bull and slaughter it, using the wood from the Asherah.

This task should be no problem for a “mighty” warrior like Gideon, but he knew his father and the townspeople might not endorse this undertaking, so Gideon does it at night.  The text tells us that Gideon did it then because he was afraid (Judg. 6:27).

How would you feel if your son took the car (a bit like a bull) and crashed into your HD TV (the closest thing we have to an altar–we devote a lot of time and energy to it–Andrew Luck on TV right now is making it hard to finish this blog…)?

Before God calls us to do something big like Gideon, he’s going to want us to make him first.  God commands us to not worship idols, and even though we’re not really bowing to Baal much (hopefully…), we’ve other things we devote too much time, energy and money to (cars, computers, TVs, houses).

So have you ever smashed a TV, or destroyed one of your idols? 

Angel cakes and goat stew: Gideon 8

To impress his guest, Gideon makes the angel cakes (presumably not angel food cake?) and goat stew(next time you have an important visitor, I dare you to prepare them a goat–“hmm…this is the best goat I’ve ever had.”).

Gideon has finally stopped arguing that he can’t deliver Israel, but now starts asking for signs.  So, part of the sign involves Gideon making a meal for the angel (Judg. 6:19).  The angel apparently isn’t too excited about angel cake and goat stew, so he torches Gideon’s offering, consuming all of it (Judg. 6:21).

Finally, Gideon realizes he’s been interacting with a messenger of YHWH: “Help me, Adonai YHWH!  For I have seen the angel of YHWH face to face” (Judg. 6:22).  YHWH tells him, “Shalom to you.  Don’t fear.  You won’t die.”  So Gideon constructs an altar, he calls “YHWH-Shalom.”  (God is peace.)

From questioning, to insecurity, to testing, to peace, to praise–not a bad pattern actually.

In the midst of a hurricane (the rain has started, the wind will start in a few hours), it’s good to remember that God is not only responsible for “Acts of God”, but he’s also the source of Peace/Shalom.

How do you find peace in the midst of a storm?  What do you think of Gideon’s pattern (questions, doubts, insecurity, testing, praise)? 

“Gosh, darn people like you” Gideon 7

Last time we talked about how Gideon thought he was the least and the weakest (Judg. 6:15) so he was convinced that there was no way he could deliver Israel from the Midianites.

Interestingly, YHWH doesn’t correct this impression.  There’s no, “But you really are special, Gideon.  You shouldn’t say that about yourself.”   (Stuart Smalley would say, “And gosh, darn, people like you.”)  That’s the sort of insipid thing we typically say when trying to encourage someone.  God doesn’t worry about that, because it doesn’t matter if Gideon is the least and weakest or the greatest and strongest.

YHWH says to Gideon, “But I will be with you and you will strike down the Midianites.”  God tells him not to worry about his supposed inadequacies, but focus on God and his presence.  Previously, the text has called Gideon’s dialogue partner “the angel of YHWH” (Judg. 6:11, 12) and referred to YHWH in 3rd person language (YHWH appeared to him, “YHWH is with you”).

But at the moment of Gideon’s call YHWH speaks directly to Gideon (Judg. 6:14) and now the promise of divine presence isn’t expressed in 3rd person terms, but 1st person–“I will be with you.”  Not “he’s with you” but “I’m with you.”  Gideon should have known God was with him because he was talking with God.  But for some reason, Gideon wasn’t aware of what God was doing.  Sound like anyone you know? 

Instead of telling someone who is discouraged that they are special, perhaps we should just remind them that God is with them.  Surprisingly, even as Gideon was chatting with YHWH/an angel of YHWH he still doubted that God was present (Judg. 6:13).  Have you ever said, “If only God spoke directly to me, then I’d know what to do?”

Yeah, that didn’t work for Gideon, at least not at first (and he’ll continue to doubt along the way).

Why is it more powerful for people to hear that God is with them, than that they are special?