October 18, 2020

"Saul: The LORD has worked Salvation"

Scripture Reading: I Samuel 11:1-15

A tall, handsome man named Saul has muddled his way to the top. The man who was searching for some lost donkeys has found a kingdom. This shy, and rather incompetent man has been chosen to be the leader over God’s covenant nation and when he was finally revealed to the people they say, “Long live the king!” However, aside from this enthusiastic acclamation from the people and an earlier brief display of God’s Spirit coming upon him, Saul hasn’t said or done anything of significance. He was anointed in a private act by the prophet Samuel, revealed to the people while hiding among the baggage and then sent home at the end of our reading the last time. Where is all of this going? What is the purpose for revealing a king only to have that king go home to the family farm and away from the people he is supposed to lead?

Questions:

What is Saul doing when word comes to him about what happened at Jabesh-Giliead?
Who is the “enemy” who has attacked God’s people? What is he threatening to do?
What or who moves Saul into action?

As we read this story and others like it in the Old Testament where the people of God engage the enemy in battle with violence and death, it can make us uncomfortable. It should make us uneasy. How can these narratives lead us to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the proclamation of the Kingdom of God? Does being a Christian mean we are called to violence and warfare? Are we justified in killing our enemies in some kind of Christian “jihad”, a Christian “holy war”? No, we are not. Crusades, war, violence – they bring shame to the gospel of Christ. In I Samuel 11 the battle is real but it is not a call to arms.

Questions:

Where do Christians see their victory over the enemy accomplished?
What two things must we keep in mind as we hear this story?
When it says in the text “the LORD rescued Israel” what does it say literally?

In I Samuel 11:14 Samuel calls on the people to “reaffirm the kingship”. However, it’s more than that because literally he calls the people to “renew the kingdom”. In the immediate sense the people will renew their commitment to King Saul. In the fuller sense, this is a commitment to the Kingdom of God that would come in Jesus Christ, the King of kings. God is not honored through acts of violence against the enemy. God is glorified in his people’s commitment to the Kingdom of Christ. The final words of our reading today say, “There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the LORD, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.” Again, more literally they “rejoiced greatly”. The enemy may be real but so is our victory over the enemy in the Kingdom of God.

Questions:

What did some people want to do with those who initially did not support King Saul? Who do they ask for permission? Who responds? What is the result?

The bumbling man in search of his donkeys ends up finding a kingdom. Only by God’s direction can Saul be anything more than he was. His story and the story of Old Testament Israel were going somewhere because of the One working in them to bring his Kingdom to the world. By the end of I Samuel 11 we are seeing the high-point of King Saul’s reign. There are troubling times ahead for him, but for now we see that God can use this tall, handsome, shy, and even incompetent person for his own purposes. A narrative such as this one in I Samuel 11 can make us uncomfortable because of the violence and bloodshed. However, if we hear it in light of the fullness of time, we hear a Kingdom centered Word.

The Conclusion:

As we engage the world with the gospel of Christ we can expect the enemy to react. The Word of the Kingdom does not fit into the powers, politics, and systems of this world. In Ephesians 6 the apostle Paul speaks about the “Armour of God” and the things we use in order to engage the world. The Church is not a business. It does not have a gospel to sell, an idea to market, a message of persuasion that leads to a transaction. It has a gospel to “live out”.

Question:

What tools are we given by which to engage the world?

As King Saul and the Israelites celebrate their victory over the enemy, they are reminded that “Salvation belongs to the Lord”. They are not so great. Their victory is not their achievement. This is God’s work for God’s Kingdom and he has done it all in Jesus Christ. Amen