Saturday, June 9, 2018

Hebrew Testament Text for Sunday, 10 June 2018

Prophet or king, to whom shall we listen?

1 Samuel 8:4-20        All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; [and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.] He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

Reflection     Events have an interesting way of recurring and we humans have a way of forgetting what we learn. Nearing the end of his life it turns out Samuel’s sons are not unlike his teacher Eli’s sons had been, corrupt. “When (Samuel) made (his sons) judges over Israel… they did not follow in his ways, they took bribes and perverted justice.” (ISam 8.1,3) And the people come to Samuel demanding he anoint for them a king.

Theologians suggest two possible reasons the people want Samuel to  anoint a king for them. One train of thought suggests Samuel’s sons could not be trusted to govern them hence the people want a king “like other nations.” In this case it seems the mass of people want to transfer their alliance from the God of Israel as spoken through the prophet Samuel to an earthly king. This is emblematic of the human inclination to conformity, believing, “If other people do it, it must be right.”

A second school of thought  suggests it is an elite group of elders who come to Samuel asking him to anoint a king because having a king would contribute to their personal gain in wealth and power. Remember, “the best of the peoples’ fields, olive orchards and vineyards would be given to the king’s courtiers.” Power and wealth have an uncanny way of consolidating and self-sustaining.

In either case, Samuel is frustrated but, ever reliant on the Presence of God with him, he listens for the Word God to guide him and hears, “Listen to the voice of the people for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me (the Lord God) from being king over them.”

Faithful to what he “hears” from the Lord, Samuel warns the people about what it will be like to have a king. “He will take your sons and daughters and make them fight his battles and work his fields. He will take your best fields  and tax your businesses to fatten the purses of his rich friends. He will make you slaves, serving his ambition.” But the people refuse to listen. Twenty-six hundred years later, what have we learned?

Why are we humans so tempted to put our faith and pledge allegiance to earthly kings (read caesar, magnate, tycoons)?  Why do we turn our backs to God in favor of the flashing lights and prestidigitation of social, political and religious drama? Why do we still succumb to targeted sound bytes and seditious news pics designed to ignite fear and mistrust of one another? To what voice shall we pledge our allegiance? The voice of the prophet speaking on behalf of God or the voice of the self-serving king?

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