OT: I Sam. 15:1-16:23
In today's reading, Saul receives the same type of instructions that the Israelites did when they went into Canaan: kill everything that breathes. (Well, I remember that the Israelites had to kill every person; I'm not as sure about the livestock.) Anyway, Saul spared the king and some of the better livestock, oblivious to how that would tick off God. He seemed shocked when Samuel confronted him, insisting that he had saved the animals to offer as sacrifices. This prompted Samuel to respond with an idea that would later be echoed by the prophets and then by Jesus (and, coincidentally, by our proverb today): "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams" (22). A few observations on this scenario with Saul:
--The situation reminds me of the Paul's NT declaration that not many people should presume to be teachers of God's word, b/c teachers are held to higher standards. Apparently, so are kings. The judges weren't held to these type of standards. That brings me to my second thought:
--When people got a direct word from God, it behooved them to obey it to the letter. I don't remember God giving direct instructions to any of the judges. The angel spoke to Gideon, but that was to tell him to fight. And he did. The angel's instructions lacked the specificity of Samuel's to Saul. Maybe that had something to do with the punishment, as well.
--Lastly, the situation highlights how it is really hard to describe the mind of God. Samuel tells Saul that God "does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind" (29). I can think of several examples where God seemed to change His mind, but I need look no further than six verses later: "And the Lord was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel" (35). Doesn't it seem that God had changed His mind there? Again, I just think this shows that men (i.e. Samuel and/or the writer of I Samuel) struggle to describe how the mind of God works.
I love the story of David, and of course, the famous verse: "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (16:7). Nevertheless, the man who wrote this book felt compelled to note that David was pretty hot: "He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features" (12). Not that it mattered, right?:)
NT: John 8:1-20
See, this is what I'm talking about! After all that strong rhetoric, here is the kinder, gentler Jesus that I picture in John. Unlike Saul, who was punished for not following God's instructions to a T, and unlike the NT crowds, who are chastised for their evil deeds (7:7), this adulteress is spared. Indeed, rather than condemn her, Jesus rescues her from condemnation. This act again shows that Jesus' chief concern was the spiritual well-being of the people, which included their forgiveness from sins. It also demonstrates that old saying that "Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." (Isn't that how the saying goes?) Anyway, to those who were confident in their own righteousness, Jesus had the harshest of words. To those who were broken and downtrodden, Jesus brought mercy and relief.
This is such a weird psalm, and yet it gets so much play in the NT! First of all, Jesus uses the first verse to vex the Pharisees and to delight the crowds in the Synoptic gospels. And verse 4 is thoroughly explored by the author of Hebrews. And frankly, neither of those two verses make a ton of sense to me in this psalm, even with the future explanations (okay, the Hebrew writer does clarify verse 4 pretty well, saying that Melchizedek was a priest and a king, just like Christ. But still...Melchizedek is a pretty random reference!). But the other verses in the passage are even more confusing! What the heck does verse 3 mean? "From the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth?" Does any part of that phrase make sense to anyone? And I like how the alternate translation of, "He will drink from a brook beside the way," is "The One who grants succession will set him in authority" (7) What?? The only thing that those two translations have in common is that neither one makes any sense to me!
I did like verse 2, which says that the subject of this psalm "will rule in the midst of your enemies." Since the NT interpretations of verses 1 and 4 link this psalm to Christ, I assume that He is the subject of the whole psalm. As such, the idea that He "rules in the midst of [His] enemies" describes well His place on this earth.
As I alluded earlier, these proverbs apply well to the OT story today. Verse 8 echoes Samuel's words regarding the uselessness of disobedient sacrifice, and verse 10 definitely describes what happened to Saul: "Stern discipline awaits him who leaves the path..."