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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, July 9, 2019              

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 Samuel 15:24–31                         

Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, I pray, pardon my sin, and return with me, so that I may worship the Lord.” Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you; for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” As Samuel turned to go away, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this very day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. Moreover the Glory of Israel will not recant or change his mind; for he is not a mortal, that he should change his mind.” Then Saul said, “I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.” So Samuel turned back after Saul; and Saul worshiped the Lord. (NRSV)

Boy, the Bible can be pretty disturbing. What goes on around this passage, why Saul is in trouble here . . . it’s one of those events we may not really like to look at.

So, what did Saul do that was wrong? Short answer is that he listened to the people and didn’t follow God’s command. And what was that command? “Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” Saul’s offense? He didn’t kill everybody and everything, and he allowed the people to take the valuables and livestock as spoils.

Plunder, that was the crime. Then Saul tries to make it all right by dragging out his hostage and chopping him into pieces, but Samuel is all “Sorry, too late.”

I’m so glad I don’t live in the late Bronze Age. It was a cruel time.

So, what’s our takeaway from this, in our time? “Butcher the enemies of God?” Are we supposed to be absolved of our atrocities if they are committed against the “right” people? Does property mean more than human life?

Some might say yes. But that’s not my God.

I think we’re supposed to be disturbed by passages like this. It’s supposed to turn our stomachs. The parts of the Bible that are disturbing are supposed to be disturbing to us today. It’s a litmus test.

Litmus paper has been treated to react to substances. Christians have also been treated, so to speak, by Christ’s teachings and example. Our reaction to accounts like this shows us what we are just as surely as red litmus paper turns blue when exposed to bile. Having been commanded to love one another, we should be horrified by this.

Yet, as horrifying as the command was, Saul’s sin was in not completely obeying it, and God held him accountable. Our command is to love one another. How completely do we obey that one?

Lord, remind us that we are not called to cruelty, that we have a different example before us. Please show us ourselves, that we may know how imperfectly we follow your commands and be more accountable to you. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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