I Samuel 8:4-20
June 7, 2015
(Thank you to Mary Sanders for doing such a wonderful job playing the character of Mom this morning.)
Daughter: “Mom! Guess what I’m going to do next week with Barbie, Ken, Skipper and Midge?”
Daughter: “I’m going SkydiveSurfMobiling to a Fallout Boy concert and recording session in Antarctica!”
Mom: “Sorry, you’re going to do what?”
Daughter: (loudly and slowly) “Skydive. Surf. Mobiling. To. A. Fallout. Boy. Concert. In. Antarctica.”
Mom: “I’m not deaf. I heard you. I just have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Daughter: “Well, first you skydive into the ocean and land on a surfboard. You surf your way to shore, then you jump on a snowmobile and ride that through the snow to the concert. They’re recording with the penguins. You know penguins have that heartsong thingy.”
Mom: “I don’t know about this heartsong thingy, but there’s no way! You’ve never skydived before. Or surfed. Or snowmobiled.”
Daughter: “Yeah, but Barbie has. She’s going to teach us.”
Mom: “Okie dokie. What about the freezing cold water? And whales?”
Daughter: “Mother. I’m going to wear a thermal wetsuit. And whales don’t eat people. I think.”
Mom: “You’re not doing this! Your parachute might not open. You don’t know if the whales don’t eat people. They might. And if they don’t eat you, you might drown. You’re definitely going to freeze. There is no way you are going skydivesurfmobiling!”
Daughter: “Mom! My friends are all doing it and their parents are fine with it.”
Mom: “I don’t care if your friends are going, or if their parents are fine with it. As long as you live under my roof, young lady, you won’t go!”
Daughter: “Mom, I am 18. It is my body. I am going skydivesurfmobiling!”
Mom: “Well all I can say is if you do break both of your legs, get a concussion and die from hypothermia, don’t come running to me!”
I realize that the above scenario is just a wee bit exaggerated. However, when I read this passage from I Samuel, I can’t help but think of a child wanting to do something – dangerous or foolhardy or just plain silly – because “all the other kids are doing it.” But the thing is, the Israelites are not children, and if truth be told, the bad choices I’ve made in my life have not all happened before the age of consent.
The Israelites are making a bad choice. That is the basic tenet of this passage as I see it. They are making a bad choice. It starts when they go to the prophet Samuel and tell him that his sons are messing up. They aren’t following in Samuel’s upright footsteps. So rather than take a chance that one of Samuel’s wayward sons might lead them astray, they want a king to lead them. The proverbial elephant in the room at this moment, though, is that in a monarchy rule is passed down through sons. They don’t like Samuel’s sons, but they want a king who could also have sons that are as bad, if not worse, than Samuel’s.
Samuel is not happy with this turn of events. He is not happy at all. God tells him that this is not a rejection of Samuel, but of God. How frustrating and heartbreaking it must have been for God to hear and see this from the people he led out of slavery. Through Moses, he delivered the people from a tyrannical, despotic king who abused, exploited and murdered them. God led them to their freedom to truly be God’s chosen people, to be the blessing to the world that God promised Abraham they would be. But now the people are asking to be slaves again! Maybe they don’t see it that way, but that is exactly what will happen. God doesn’t fight them on this. God doesn’t forbid it. However, God does tell Samuel to tell them exactly what will come from having a king.
“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 courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.”
He will take. He will take. He will take. The list goes on. It sounds horrible, doesn’t it? The consequences of having a king sound much worse than not having one, but the people don’t care. They want to be like other nations. They want a king. They want a king to do their battles for them. God doesn’t stop them. God does what the people ask. God gives them a king.
As much as I would like to be mocking and judgmental of the Israelites for making such a bad, bad choice, I can’t. I know that I have made bad choices too. I know that I have been this stubborn, this hardheaded and willful. I’ve been this way about choices I’ve made because I thought that I knew exactly what was best. After all, I’m an adult, not a child. I should know what’s best for me. But child or adult, young or old, sometimes we don’t know. Sometimes we don’t do what’s best for us or want what’s best for us. Sometimes we make really bad choices.
The ultimate bad choice that the people are making by asking for a king is that they are putting someone else above God. It is idolatry. God tells Samuel that this is not a rejection of him but of God. It is idolatry. Perhaps the people didn’t understand it that way. I would say it is a sure bet that they didn’t. But idolatry it is. Idolatry is not merely putting up a statue of a golden calf and bowing down before it. Idolatry is putting something or someone between you and God. Whether it is a king or a job or an ideal or a loved one, when it comes between us and God, it is an idol. Idolatry is sneaky. Idolatry is easily confused with what we think is a good choice.
The question is why are we so prone to idolatry? Why do we make these bad choices? I think that idolatry is easier than being faithful. I think, and redundancy alert here, it is about trust or our lack thereof. Trusting is hard because it requires us to let go of our perceived control. Trusting is hard because we have to put our faith in something beyond our senses. Trusting is hard because there is absolutely no guarantee that we will get what we think we want or hope for. Trusting is hard because sometimes we get exactly what we want and it is the worst thing possible. There is a reason why we have the saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” In this case the Israelites get exactly what they wish for, and it what they wished for was a bad choice. They have a lot of kings and not very many of them were good. The consequences that God lays out for them through Samuel prove true. Their desire for a king was a bad choice.
But here is the good news. We are not just the sum of our choices, good or bad. We are more than the worst mistake we’ve ever made. Israel may have put up an idol between God and them; they might have broken relationship with God. But God refused to break relationship with them. God didn’t prevent their bad choices or the resulting consequences, but God didn’t give up on them either. God doesn’t give up on us. No matter what our bad choices, or how many idols we put between us, God keeps reaching out in relationship. God keeps holding the door open. Isn’t that what Jesus was all about? Jesus opened the door and bridged the gap and paved the way for relationship, new relationship, with God through him. No matter what choices we make, good or bad, God welcomes us and lets us come running back. And we are forgiven. And we are loved. And we are more than our choices. Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.