Deuteronomy 8: 1-13 1 Samuel 16 Matthew 4: 1-4
Scripture : True Or Not True?
May the Lord be with you! (And also with you…)
A couple of Sundays ago when we looked at 1 Samuel 15, ..at the sanctuary doors after the service had concluded, Lydia Bratton came up to me and said that she was enjoying our look at 1 Samuel and that she was learning from it, but then she also mentioned that she had one rather big problem with it all. And that problem was that she could not accept the idea of God telling a nation of people to simply go in and destroy another whole nation of people. If you remember specifically from 1 Samuel 15, God had ordered Saul to go in and kill all of the Amalekite people; young, old, men, women, boys and girls. And then on top of that, God wanted Saul to also kill out all of their livestock too, all of their goats and donkeys, sheep, dogs, cats, chickens.. just everything. But Saul didn’t do that, oh he did kill just about everything, but what was good and what he saw as being worth something, things that he could use, he and his army decided that it would be okay for them to take those things for themselves. And this included the Amalekite king also..if you remember.
And I can say that I honestly agree with Lydia, I too find it really hard to believe that the God that I know would be one to go to his people, or any people for that matter, and promote violence and death of any kind. And it’s not just because we as Christians came to be in touch with this notion that our God is a loving God. Which, by the way, was a pretty new concept that started with the dawning of Christ, remember – to the Israelites God had been a fearful, jealous and vengeful God. So, with that said though, then the other part that makes God’s demands and directives as such kind of hard to believe for us here could be, if God created everything and everyone, why would he want to see it destroyed, why would he set his children upon each other? And, if this was simply a test to see if Saul would truly obey God, couldn’t God have found something else just as telling but perhaps less destructive than putting out a hit on an entire people? There’re just some things that don’t make sense here.
Then, there was another point that was raised about 1 Samuel 15, and I forget who made the comment about it, but it was essentially this; if God is all seeing and all knowing and all understanding, why did he choose Saul to be the king over Israel to begin with if he was only going to take away his blessing anyway? I mean, why would God put everyone through that, including himself? Can God just really kind of change his mind like we might? That sounds pretty dubious and convenient? Doesn’t it? Or is it that God is not all seeing and all knowing and all understanding and therefore didn’t know the way that Saul might actually be as king? Was God actually not able to see into Saul’s heart and see that he wasn’t really that perfect example of humanity that he thought he may rise to be?
These questions really are head scratchers. Would God set his children against one another? Would he really want to see the life that he’s created be destroyed? Is God all knowing and all understanding and all seeing? And if that is the case, which is what we’ve always been taught, how could God not have seen how Saul would have been as king, and therefore simply not have appointed him instead of setting himself and everyone else up for disappointment?
Well, my quick answer to Lydia at the sanctuary doors was this, “Yes, I agree with you, but you have to realize that where we are right now in Scripture is essentially ‘the story as written by the winners’. ..And so just what does that mean? Because if such sections of Scripture are simply the one sided stories of the ‘winners’, which is what most written history is anyway, then does that mean that Scripture is essentially filled with untruths and half-truths that can then ultimately delegitimize our faith tradition overall? The big question becomes, how can we honestly approach Scripture, and how seriously should we take it when looking to verses such as these – and that is a biggie, because clearly, the Scriptures to our faith are just about as foundational to us as the Holy Spirit is. ..Let me try to explain what I meant when answering Lydia and how this ultimately does not mean what some people may think it does.
When the ancient stories found in Scripture were written out for a people in posterity, it all had to look to be much more divinely guided than it probably appeared to be on its surface reality… and so the way that the story was told and eventually written out on parchment was, we can surmise, done for simple human understanding and ‘belief reinforcement’, in other words, for those of us who generally don’t ask questions but instead simply accept as factual what is told to us by someone in authority, i.e. the winners. Now, does this mean that God actually doesn’t have a part, or doesn’t divinely guide us….no, that’s not what this means. But, what it does mean is that we can’t at the end of the day really approach these stories in Scripture as if they’re 100% factual documentation of what specifically happened all those years ago. Keep in mind too, that 1 Samuel wasn’t actually written down until about 400 years after David and Solomon had died. Until they were written down, these accounts had all been oral tradition, which although would have kept in place the main time-line of events, the conversations and exact happenings could not have been able to be as specifically documented as how we find them. Who said exactly what and to who and what their reactions were… All of this history did have to be put down, however, it was seen as needing to be done in a way that would allow people to know that God was guiding, God was taking part, and that ultimately, God is in charge. And certainly, we can say that the writers were very much inspired by God the father in their writing, because everything is so densely written that I’d say that it would have to have been inspired from up above, even though it’s also clearly the story of the those who were in charge of writing their own story in which they clearly wanted to look as good as possible.
In the end, the bottom line that we do put out there, is that Scripture is truthful, but truthful on much deeper than simple surface levels. We do need to read between the lines in Scripture – often – and then allow it to speak to us personally, to listen for what God may be saying to us or pointing us toward. When we read that God wanted Saul to kill an entire nation of people, I’d say that that was a simple reasoning, or even an excuse, for the warring Israelites to go in and take over another people, something that was going-on on an extremely regular basis between peoples then, and still is really. If you are successful in your war, it was because God told you to do that, if you lost, it was because God had not wanted you to do as you had done and was punishing you. Very simple reasoning, very easy to grasp. But then there’s also the overall lesson to learn. And in 1 Samuel 15, our big lesson that’s written between the lines is that no matter how successful we may be, no matter how much together we may be perceived as being, the lesson is that ultimately God is always in charge, and that always we have to follow what it is that God is putting in front of us if we want to continue to be blessed by Him.
And now we move on to 1 Samuel 16, and we’re confronted here by that second question that was actually brought up also in 1 Samuel 15. And that’s the one about God changing his mind.
God comes to Samuel and says, “Ok, enough, let’s go appoint someone else as king, I’m so done with Saul. He doesn’t follow my directions, he only wants what he wants and then gives me silly excuses when he’s caught doing crazy things.” God directs Samuel to Bethlehem, why Bethlehem? Well actually, Bethlehem was the nearest community where Jews lived which was outside of Saul’s official kingdom lands. Notice Samuel had been worried that Saul would find out the plan to appoint a new king. Samuel’s going to appoint a king which would undermine Saul, Saul could put him to death for treason. So, Samuel goes to Bethlehem as directed by God where it’s safe for him to go and is led to Jesse. For whatever reason, God decides on David, and Samuel anoints him to be the future king and then leaves and goes home.
Once again, we’re asking the question, “What’s the deal with God changing his mind, because it’s not as if David ended-up being perfect?” Keep in mind that this was all written well after the fact. ..Think of it like this; David was a very high-up ranking military official when he took over as king, he had been at logger heads with King Saul – who really was his boss for all intents and purposes. In fact, he was staying completely outside of the Kingdom because Saul had been trying to hunt him down and have him killed – remember, we’re told that all of that was simply because Saul was jealous and possessed by demons. Ok, maybe – if we want to believe David’s side of the story. Saul is then killed in battle with both of his only sons, guess what – they’re family line is finished. Who are the Israelites going to turn to? They’ve had Saul as their king for forty years? I know, they’ll turn to someone who is very well respected and a strong warrior, lo and behold we have David. David takes over as king, the story has to be told so that we know how God was clearly with him from the beginning and wanting him to be king, and yes, even though he was not perfect, God’s blessing obviously never left him because his son Solomon then took over the kingship after his passing, and oh look how great Solomon was too. David had been the warrior that brought prosperity, and then Solomon knew how to manage and sustain the prosperity. How could that not be God’s blessing? And how could the modern day Israelites not still be simply just waiting for another David to be their messiah, their Savior? By the way, they are. But I get ahead of myself…
The question we were asking was, did God really just change his mind when it came to Saul, or were there political relationships, challenges and take overs due to circumstances that occurred? Well, I don’t believe that God simply changes his mind, I believe that God puts things into place and then lets them unfold, and then ultimately, who are we to really explain God’s actions? I don’t know if we can, even though we’d certainly like to and definitely do try to. Oh, and the overarching lesson found in between the lines? God is in charge, always and ultimately.
And then there’s this too. Verse seven, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height… The Lord doesn’t make decisions the way you do! People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at a person’s thoughts and intentions.” Remember, Samuel had seen David’s oldest brother and had made assumptions about what God would obviously want. “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at a person’s thoughts and intentions.” Well now that one is a little more obvious, isn’t it? Even today we have lots of sayings that state that same thing, “Can’t judge a book by its cover” is really just one of them. I’d have to say that most of the time we do judge a book by its cover, by its superficial face, that’s because we tend to be pretty superficial too. Remember, we also say that “First impressions are the most lasting impressions”.
If we walk away with anything from all of this today, I would hope that we can realize and accept that Scripture is truthful – even if we are forced to look more deeply into it, it’s too rich and dense in meaning to only think that the surface view is the only view. And then, realize and accept that we silly humans are actually the same. It’s not very often that you meet someone and your opinion of them never changes. As we grow, as we acquire wisdom, as we develop our relationships with God, the meanings of things usually become clearer and not what they once were, the relationships become deeper and richer and more complex, although not necessarily ever easier. It’s therefore, always really important to look beyond the surface in everything. I think that’s the main reason why we refer to this life as a journey of learning.
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.