Thursday, November 20, 2008

Shalt say, I will set a king over me (1Sam 8)

Right off the top in chapter 8, the SAB catches yet another minute detail, and I applaud the thoroughness and attention to detail. Here, we are told that Samuel had (at least) two sons, and the eldest's name was Joel. However, in 1Chronicles, we are told that Samuel's firstborn was named "Vashni". Let me explain: I can't explain this one. From the little bit of research I did into the matter, I found that "Vashni" is probably an error, but nonetheless, it's nothing like "Joel", which makes it a pretty good error. That is to say, the one place I found anything approaching useful commentary on the matter pointed out that some scholars have suggested "Vashni" may be a scribal error, and the verse should have said "Hashni". There wasn't really any info on why this improved or explained anything, and the meaning of the names doesn't suggest anything to me. So unless someone else has some info for me, I'll chalk that one up as a point for the SAB.

It's fascinating, however, that there is this little short passage concerning Samuel's sons' corruption. It definitely reminds one of the story of Eli's sons a few chapters back. A claim that I believe has been made by Steve Wells that I'm not at all inclined to disagree with is that most of the fathers in the Bible have some serious lacking in success when it comes to bringing up children. Even Samuel--who had direct access to the word of God, and saw with his own eyes in his younger years the effect on Eli's family of having highly sinful children--is unable to set up a family that will continue in holy living after he's gone.

So the people come to Samuel, and they point out to him that he's put his sons in a position of authority, but they're not living up to their responsibilities, and they think that the solution to Israel's problems is to have a king. Samuel doesn't like this, and feels like he's been rejected, which seems to be part of his pride issue. God points out that, as Samuel is God's representation on earth to the people of Israel, they are really rejecting God Himself. (I think most people that read 1Samuel don't see so much of what goes on here as an issue of Samuel's pride, but the fact that God has to remind Samuel of this fact illuminates that Samuel likes being in a position of authority. The fact that he appointed his sons to positions of authority despite the fact that it's clear they don't belong there is also likely symptomatic.)

God tells Samuel that he should warn the people of all the bad things that come with having a king. So Samuel waxes eloquent about how a country with a king essentially becomes a nation of slaves to said king, and ends up having to put in a great deal of their labor and personal wealth towards supporting the government. (Some would probably say that this is true of any centralized government, just more obvious with a king.)

One thing in particular he says about kings seems to puzzle the SAB, however. In verse 18, Samuel says that if they have a king, and they end up suffering under the yoke of the king, God won't help them. So the SAB asks, "Does God help in times of need?" I'll answer that in the general and the specific. Generally, God is helpful to people in need who call upon him, but to be frank, I think the Bible tells us that this is not an area where God has the sort of consistency that we'd like to see. God's not the sort to come running when one of his people snaps their fingers like some sort of genie. God takes care of people who trust in Him, but sometimes He does it in unusual ways, or more likely, with unusual timing. Note once again, that in the verses quoted, there is a verse in each column from the same piece of writing, namely Psalm 22. The writer of the psalm is really saying that they don't understand why God seems to be unwilling to help, but in the end, God comes to the psalmist's aid. God likes to test people's faith.

In the specific instance here, where we are talking about the establishment of an Israelite monarchy, the lesson that Samuel is trying to preach (which may very well be his own words rather than God's) is that if they ask for a king, then God is largely going to leave the welfare of the nation in the hands of that king, since that's the help for which they asked. "Oh, are you in trouble? Why don't you ask the king to fix things, since that's what will fix things for you?"

They insist that they want a king nonetheless, and Samuel talks to God about it. God tells Samuel to give them what they want, and Samuel, with no clear indication that he was ordered to do so, sends the people away so that he can wait until another day to choose a king.

No comments: