Thursday, July 3, 2008

So I feel sorry for Saul

In the Daily Office we're reading from I Samuel in the Evening Office. Tonight we read how King Saul was disowned by God because he offered sacrifice to God before the big battle with the Philistines without waiting for Samuel to come and do it. Of course, the army was deserting and the Philistines were advancing quickly. Now I completely understand that this is a story (not as awful as the story of the sacrifice of Isaac which I preached on last Sunday) that demonstrates that it's important to trust in God no matter what the apparent circumstances, but still. Consider:

I Samuel 9: 23 And Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the portion I gave you, the one I asked you to put aside.” 24 The cook took up the thigh and what went with it and set them before Saul. Samuel said, “See, what was kept is set before you. Eat; for it is set before you at the appointed time, so that you might eat with the guests.”

Now you have to know that this phraseology indicated that the portion reserved for Saul would normally be reserved the the priest for after the sacrifice.

Here's another:

I Samuel 10: 3 Then you [Samuel is speaking to Saul just after he has anointed him king of Israel] shall go on from there further and come to the oak of Tabor; three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there, one carrying three kids, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a skin of wine. 4 They will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you shall accept from them.

Again, it's not something you might know, but the bread was the bread of the "elevation offering" which again was normally reserved for the priest to receive. So Samuel was telling Saul that we would be treated in some sense as a priest.

OK one more:

I Samuel 10: 10 When they were going from therej to Gibeah,k a band of prophets met him; and the spirit of God possessed him, and he fell into a prophetic frenzy along with them.

So now Saul is prophesying, just like a priest would do.

BTW, this is not my idea; these are notes in the Harper-Collins NRSV version. I imagine the Rabbis have already put this together, but still, it kind of stands to reason that King Saul, who was treated like a priest at least three times, would feel under great distress that Samuel, God's prophet, wasn't around. So is it so unreasonable that he would undertake the sacrifice - reserved for only the priest to perform - when he had been so treated three times before?

Saul doesn't even get one chapter before he's rejected by God in favor of David. Now, I fully accept the omnipotence and the omni-knowledge of God. So how Saul fits in to the plan of salvation is beyond me. Perhaps Saul represents the earlier remnant of a dynasty before David in Israelite prehistory? I mean, it's just chapter 10 that he's rejected by God but it takes him to chapter 31 to finally die. And there is a lot of good stuff there. So as we move through July we'll get all of that, but in the meantime we get to deal with a God who apparently leads Saul on and then, when he does the seemingly natural thing, says he's wrong and that he will die and somebody else will be Kinf over Israel. I know there's more here, but that's what strikes me this evening.

Here's a scene from the G.F. Handel opera Saul:


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