Posts Tagged ‘1 Samuel’

Faith and audacity sometimes come close enough to each other to be indistinguishable to the naked eye.

While normally YHWH shows himself in the ordinary and the mundane, the confidence in his reliability that we call ‘faith’ sometimes emerges in the extraordinary moment.

Saul, Israel’s first and unfortunate king, will come to no good end. Yet his son Jonathan is the type of young buck that anybody (including YHWH and the future king David, it emerges) would love.

As Israel’s line of battle faces off against the Philistines in one of those slow-motion encounters that could almost be seen as casual—until suddenly it is not and warriors are dying—Jonathan plans a reckless foray into the Philistine camp.

Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.’ (1 Samuel 14:6 ESV)

In the mix, the historian of Israel hears Jonathan speak out one of YHWH’s great truths: the strength of his human cohort is of no matter when YHWH’s purpose is to save.

Jonathan’s dictum, for so it stands in the narrative, is both perceptive and nuanced. This is not what one would expect from a two-dimensional comic-book war story, which the Book of Samuel most certainly is not.

It may be, Jonathan tells us across the centuries, that YHWH will work for us. There is no presumption here, just principled courage or recklessness. Time will tell.

But if he is in this, Jonathan coaches his young armor-bearer, whose life will be equally at stake, then YHWH can do what he wishes to do. His hand is unbound.

Biblical realism takes many shapes. Similarly, its dimensions are sometimes writ large—across the span of nations—and at others sketched into the small space of a young warrior’s disgust with passive resignation in the face of enmity against YHWH and his people.

Either way, it challenges the reader to reckon with YHWH’s reality, not as a religious principle or a psyche-soothing construct but as a real and powerful presence. Just as real as this chair, this laptop, this floor under my feet.

Against mammoth odds—YHWH’s truth has now become Jonathan’s—the Lord can save if he wishes. We are not alone in this world so full of destroyers, without and within.


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Centralization of power is easier to achieve than to undo.

The biblical narrative, child of an historical era in which kings were routinely elevated to the stature of demigods, displays countercultural and powerfully mixed feelings about the magnetic pull of power to the political center.

The prophet Samuel attempts in vain to persuade Israel’s tribal confederacy that the apparent gains of monarchy are not worth the cost.

So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 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 servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the 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.’ (1 Samuel 8:10–18 ESV)

Alas, kingship had for these Israelites an obvious logic and an attraction too strong to resist. Besides, all the other nations have kings and it’s hard to be different.

Why swim against the tide?

Why, indeed, when we can be comfortably cared for, told what to think and when, provided for in our infirmity? Where’s the harm?

Then one day, we see our sons—their faces too young for such a hard, weary look—running and stumbling before his chariot. ‘Hail to your king!’, their lips move in unison.

Easy to do, impossible to undo.



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When YHWH calls the boy-prophet Samuel in the late-evening twilight of Eli’s life, light and speech have grown scarce in Israel.

The story of this special child’s emergence as Israel’s prophet is replete with last vestiges.

‘ … the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.’ (1 Samuel 3:1 ESV)

The nation’s state is mirrored by its Old Man’s own lot,

‘… for at that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. (1 Samuel 3:2 ESV)

One might as well sketch this scene as faded daguerrotype, the figures recognizable enough, but too little vision, too little light, too little clarity. Too little of all that mattered, YHWH having absconded to the shadows.

Even the physical ‘lamp of the Lord’ in YHWH’s Eli-tended shrine nears day’s end and the hour of its snuffing out. Or are we too read promise into its vesper flicker?

The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. (1 Samuel 3:3 ESV)

Soon the divine calling of Eli’s apprentice will occur in a voice that is at first too quietly enigmatic to be discerned. Samuel believes it Eli who calls, not only because the Lord has not yet clear ‘stood calling’ Samuel as he will soon do (v. 10). Indistinguishable whispers carry through the night air, for the boy Samuel is as yet a bare promise, a mere hint at Israel’s rescuer, not yet versed in the naming of voices, for …

‘… Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.’ (1 Samuel 3:7 ESV)

When YHWH inhabits the shadows—we are gently instructed by a narrative whose purpose seems prima facie to be bolder than just this—a restless boy might well become a man of God, evening’s shadow might just give way to a bright morning, lost Israel might find YHWH and thus herself.

Evening shadows, for those who will watch and listen, bear sometimes the quiet rustling of redemption.

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