Monday, April 29, 2013

Saul and Samuel

I'm still about a week behind in my Bible reading.  I'm in I Samuel now.  This is where reading it chronologically is going to start getting confusing.  As I start reading about David, there are a few Psalms here and there that go with I Samuel, and then as I get into II Samuel, a few Psalms and some of Chronicles gets mixed in.  Then as I finish up II Samuel, I'll have Chronicles, Psalms, and some of Kings all mixed in.  All this is in an attempt to follow the kings of both Judah and Israel.  There's a break in the middle of all that for Solomon's writings before the split of the kingdom, then later on various Old Testament prophets are mixed in with the longer spanning Chronicles and Psalms.  Then in the New Testament according to the reading plan I read a little bit in just about all of the gospels each day.  I'm really excited about this, even though it's more complicated to keep up with.  This has been part of the reason I wanted to read it this way, so that I could see the whole picture at one time, and get the connections better.  Anyway, as a result, I suppose when I blog, I'll be blogging on particular people and events, instead of by each book.

I Samuel primarily revolves around 3 people.  The first third of the book tells about Samuel - his birth, growing up, and serving as Israel's last judge and first prophet.  The next section tells about Saul as king until the Lord has pronounced judgement on him.  The last part (that I'm just starting on) tells about David, after he is anointed as king, but before he assumes the throne.  There is such a huge difference between Samuel and Saul, that I don't know how I haven't seen it before now.  See I've always felt a little sorry for Saul in some ways, like he was a good guy that just got promoted above his level of competence.  (Think Jimmy Carter, great governor, terrible president.)  I'm not so sure about that assessment now.

Samuel was prayed for, literally, and his mother made a vow that if the Lord would give her a son, that she would give him back for His service.  Now, unlike Sampson, this vow seems to have affected Samuel as much as his mother.  She didn't try to get out of it and keep him either.  She had no guarantee that the Lord would give her more children (she gets 4 more) and yet she still gives her most precious "possession" up.  I have often wondered if I do enough to be sure that my children get the message of what is most precious to me - the Lord's Church.  Apparently Samuel got that message.  Early in life the Lord calls him, and he answers, in the way we all ought to when we know what He would have for us to do.  Throughout his life he travels the length and breadth of Israel judging the people.  He even appears to serve perhaps as a priest for a time, between Eli and his sons' death, and Eli's grandson coming of age.  (The grandson right about the time, the others die.)

Saul on the other hand, has been living his entire life, just the next town over from Samuel's home town, and base after Shiloh is destroyed around the time of Eli and his sons' death.  He is famous, and Saul doesn't have a clue who he is, from the exchange in I Samuel 9 and 10.  That tells me that he wasn't concerned about spiritual things at all prior to this.  That's confirmed when as Samuel predicts Saul begins to prophesy, and everyone says "Is Saul among the Prophets?" as if to say, when did he get all religious (I Samuel 10:9-12).  This is the root of the problem with Saul as King.  He looks the part of the king, in some ways he acts the part of the king, but ultimately he isn't concerned with the things of God, so he can never be a true king, a good king, the kind that would lead God's people.  He takes credit for Jonathan's victories, rather than being honest in giving his son the credit (I Samuel 13:3-4).  He takes it upon himself to offer sacrifice rather than waiting for the man of God, and then makes excuses for himself rather than own up to it.  As a result, God tells him that his descendants won't rule after him (I Samuel 13:8-14).  He makes a foolish vow that no one can eat until everyone is defeated which impared his army from fighting, led them to sinning by eating meat with the blood still in it, and would have let his son die, if the people hadn't intervened (I Samuel 14:24-45).  The ultimate mistake was when God told him to kill everything and everyone, and burn the stuff of the Amalekites.  Saul doesn't do it, lies telling Samuel he did.  Samuel calls him on it saying, I am not an idoit, I hear the sheep! (Obviously my paraphrasing.)  Saul then tries to blame it on the people, and says we were going to sacrifice it. Samuel replies with that famous line, "to obey is better than sacrifice" (I Samuel 15:22).  He then tells him that the Lord will not be with him any longer, and is removing the kingdom from him.  It is still so sad to me.  Here was a man that appeared to have such potential, who initially recognized his unworthiness when he said, "Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? wherefore then speakest thou so to me?" (I Samuel 9:21).  Despite all that potential he squanders it by not seeking and following after God.  I'm not there yet in my reading, but to think of such promise, and at the end of His life he consults with a witch and dies by suicide on the battlefield with basically all of his descendants.  It's such a sad story.

The difference between Samuel and Saul is huge, because Samuel chooses to follow after God.  His mother may have made the decision to dedicate him and carry him to the priest in Shiloh as a child, but Samuel chose to follow God, even when he had unpleasant things to report.  Saul chose to do what he wanted.  We all have a bit of Saul in us.  We all want to do what we want to do.  I've heard Gary say, it's easier to ask forgiveness than get permission.  Too often we do things that we know we shouldn't, and then try to make up for it afterward.  I would hope I can become more like Samuel and less like Saul.

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