Read 1 Sam 8-28
This part of your Bible will present a God that doesn’t fit into your categories. He is sad and angry and at times you’ll feel compassion for God while at times you’ll be angry on Saul’s behalf. The same is true of Saul — some moments you’ll hate him and at other times you’ll think God is being unfair to him.
Last week’s sermon we encountered the God of terror and awe – a dangerous presence you wouldn’t dare approach irreverently. How could a God who’s so wildly transcendent also be so emotionally involved in the affairs of humanity?
You cannot encounter this God and remain unstirred. Ours is a stirring God — a stirred God – affected, attached,elusive, emotional — wholly outside of the boundaries of our reasonable expectations.
The text begins with the elders of Israel rejecting God — Samuel and God grieve this rejection and solemnly warn Israel that a king would take and take and take everything until they’re right back where they were before Moses was talking to burning bushes.
They don’t care: Give us a King!
Samuel goes and anoints Saul. He chooses Saul simply because he’s tall and handsome: he looks the part. Let’s look together at three stories about Saul.
- In 1 Samuel 13 the Philistines are mustering war against the Israelites. Saul has 3000 men and the Philistines have 30,000. Saul is supposed to wait seven days before he goes into battle, however. He’s waiting for Samuel to come make an offering before the LORD. At the end of the seventh day, Samuel hasn’t shown up and the men of Saul are growing discontent and anxious. His men begin to leave him — some join the other side — some just abandon him altogether. Saul can’t bear it any longer and so he just gives the burnt offering himself. It’s irreverent — but can you blame him? He was chosen to fight wars and there was a war to fight. How can you make God and the people happy? Samuel is horrified and shames Saul for being so foolish and impatient. Saul tried to make people and God happy and ended up forsaken by both.
- In 1 Sam 15 Saul was sent by God to battle against the Amalekites and annihilate them completely, taking no plunder. Saul does not follow these rules: he lets the King and the best of the plunder come back from war with him. Saul claims it was so that he could offer it to God (makes sense to me) but Samuel rebukes him again. In this text, God tells Samuel that he REGRETS making Saul King. When Saul begs Samuel to intercede on his behalf, Samuel says, “Is God a man, that he should change his mind?” Is this a rhetorical question?!?!?!!? At the end of the story, God again says that he regrets making Saul King. The next verse tells us that the Spirit of the LORD left Saul and an evil Spirit from the LORD was sent to Saul. What does this even mean? How do evil spirits come from God? Saul is driven to madness — he’s jealous of a young shepherd boy named David. Both of Saul’s children are in love with him, all of the people adore him — Saul has been rejected by God and his people. He is impulsive and obsessive and attempts to kill David several times. He told David that he’d let his daughter marry David for a bride price of 100 Philistine foreskins. David brought him 200.
- The final story about Saul I’ll share is found in 1 Sam 22. Saul gets word that the Priests at Nob have been hiding David and in a violent rage, Saul kills 85 of the priests and the entire town including women, children, sheep, donkeys, and oxen.
In this story we see a King who is irreverent, impatient, impulsive, jealous, heart broken, rejected, desperate — trying to do his best to be the King the people expect him to be. He wants to be found worthy and continually faces rejection. It seems as if he’s doomed to fail. How does one reign over a people dissatisfied even with God?
In this story we see a God who is jealous, rejected, perhaps even spiteful — dangerous and wildly affected by the people’s decision to get themselves a King.
in 1 Sam 28 we learn that at the end of Saul’s life, he is facing an epic battle and David is fighting on the opposing side. In an act of sheer desperation to hear from God and figure out what he’s supposed to do, Saul goes to a witch in Endor and pays the witch to summon Samuel from the dead. It works — Samuel is brought up from Sheol. Samuel hears Saul plead for guidance and his answer is simple: “Saul, you shouldn’t have woken me — you’ll be here with me tomorrow”. Saul dies in battle the next day.
Now ponder — where do you see yourself in the story? I find myself relating to the Israelites- discontent and dissatisfied with God, longing for something more tangible and immediate and yet compelled by the mysterious and dangerous Presence. I see myself in Saul — wanting to be loved by God and humanity — wanting to be found worthy and yet often finding myself feeling forsaken and alone. I see myself wanting to be angry at God and yet also wanting to be righteously angry on his behalf. Is it possible to have compassion for both Saul and God? Is it possible that Saul was welcomed into the arms of Jesus with the words, “when the world hates you, remember it hated me first?” Remember, God was rejected before Saul was. Remember, Jesus was forsaken by God and humanity and we gather around the Table where Jesus gave his broken body on the night he was betrayed, every Sunday. This story is complex and unsettling and serves as an invitation to wrestle and to wonder. To come again to the altar with reverence and an openness to encounter the God that is wildly beyond our boundaries of reasonable expectations. If you’re ‘deconstructing’ your faith — perhaps you’re deconstructing the God who fits in the box. Let him out!
The name Israel means, “wrestles with God” — in what ways do you wrestle with God?
Have you ever felt forsaken by God?
How do you allow the messy parts of scripture to stay messy? Do you find yourself wanting to “fix” them and explain away the incongruities you see in God’s portrayal?
Why do you think the author leaves so many questions unanswered and presents God in this complicated way?
If God wanted the story to present a less unsettling portrayal of himself, how would it read?