but they were rebellious in their purposes,
and were brought low through their iniquity.
Nevertheless you regarded their distress
when you heard their cry.
(adapted from Psalm 106:43-44)
1 Samuel 8:1-9:27
How do I decide what is most important? Who will get it for me? Once I know the answer to those questions, I will know where my allegiance will lie.
The Old Testament passage for today is describing a time when the escaped slaves were back in their promised land but before they had an established monarchy. They didn't have a royal king and retinue to tell them what to do--and protect them from foreign enemies. They had the priest Samuel to communicate God's wishes to them.
Samuel warned them of the dangers of turning away from paying attention to what God wanted them to do. They wanted a powerful person to protect them. Samuel listed for them what powerful people have the power to do. He can take your sons and appoint them to take care of his horses, to plow his fields and reap his harvests, to manufacture armaments. He can take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He can take your best lands and give them to his courtiers. He can tax you heavily.
When you have a king, you'll have a king. You'll have someone who can control your family and your resources.
Commentators tells us that this passage is part of what they term the Deuteronomic literature, an evaluation of mistakes they had made that led to loss and exile.
And we read it today also pondering how we got where we are, where we ought to be, and how we get there. That is, where do we place our allegiance?
James Newsome writes in Texts for Preaching of Samuel's emotions:
Do these who now cry out for warrior-king not realize that, by means of his own combined offices of judge, prophet, an priest, he has secured the well-being of his people? In their craving for a monarchy, patterned not on Yahweh's will but on the countless kingdoms around them, they are simply giving in to the ancient temptation to cournter the sword with the sword....Samuel had listed for them the ways that the king would take from them, but the community refused to listen to him. They said, "We want a king so that we can be like other nations. We want a king who will govern us and fight our battles."
James Newsome in Texts for Preaching:
To be honest, there are few in our time who can fault Samuel's contemporaries, for the history of the world is too full of peaceful persons who have been led to slaughter by their more powerful and aggressive neighbors. But the decision of the people of Israel now is a momentous one, and Yahweh, instead of rejecting them in return for their rejection, simply points out to them the terrible consequences of their choice....In their effort to avoid oppression from without they have embraced it from within.Preaching the Old Testament, Allen & Williamson,
The church continues to be vexed with a problem similar to that described in this passage. At what points are the life and witness of the church strengthened by accommodating, even adopting, the values and practices of the culture? And at what point is the church compromised by doing so? When the congregation, figuratively speaking, asks for a monarch, the preacher can follow the model of Samuel and help them think critically about such situations.John 6:22-42
Why do we go to church? What do we expect to get out of it?
Or, what methods do we use to try to get other people to join our church? What do we think motivates them?
Jesus told the crowds that day, "You've come because I provided food for you."
He adds, "You're searching for the wrong kind of food. Church suppers are great, but you'll still want breakfast the next morning."
Yet, I don't think he is disparaging typical church evangelistic efforts. We do want to get people in the doors. But, once inside, they need to know more.
Both are important--work and what they are supposed to work for.
Their work is to believe. Believe--how hard is that? Believe--is it possible? Believe--does he mean creed or something else?
The goal is bread. And they want it. They ask how they can get this true bread from heaven. Jesus says, "You've already got it. I am the bread of life."
This passage is raising a lot of uncomfortable questions for me today: Why do I go to church? What do I pray about? What am I working for? How do I know if I have passed the "believe" requirement? Am I looking for a sign? And most disturbing, what do I do with verse 35? I know that hunger and thirst exist, and I know that good, believing people are among the hungry and thirsty. And I know that I don't want to metaphorize the terms completely.
Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a reproach to any people.
A servant who deals wisely has the king's favor,
ut his wrath falls on one who acts shamefully.
Prayer for Today: O Lord, increase my belief. O Lord, direct my belief toward your way. Amen.