The Unexpected Role

When Samuel had all Israel come forward by tribes, the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was taken. Finally Saul son of Kish was taken. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. So they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?”

And the Lord said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.”

1 Samuel 10:20-22 (NIV)

Over the past few months, Wendy and I have casually watched a six-part documentary on Netflix about the history of the classic British comedy troupe Monty Python. I found it both interesting and funny.

One of my favorite Monty Python scenes (among many favorites) is in their first movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which King Arthur comes upon some of his “common” subjects. They ask who he is and he tells them “I am your king!” They shrug this off saying “I didn’t vote for you!” and discuss the socialist constructs of their local, communal government system. It’s brilliant.

That scene came to mind this morning as I was pondering the events in today’s chapter. The Hebrew tribes are in process of migrating their system of government from a tribal theocracy to a monarchy. Samuel calls the Hebrew tribes together to give them what they wanted: a king.

In the ancient Near East, studies have shown that there was a common, multi-stage process for the ascension of a person to becoming a king. First, there was a divine designation. Second, the candidate demonstrated their worthiness in some way that drew public attention and support. Since the people’s primary goal for having a king was that of protecting them from threatening enemies and defeating those enemies, the desired “demonstration” was often a military victory of some kind. Finally, there would be a public affirmation or confirmation of the new leader.

The appointment of Saul to become Israel’s first king followed these same general steps. Saul had not led any battles or demonstrated victory over the dreaded Philistines, the casting of lots was used by Samuel to show that Saul was God’s choice along with Samuel pointing out to them that Saul was a head taller than anyone else.

Like the commoners in Monty Python’s sketch, some of the Hebrew people were less than impressed by Saul. He was just some tall kid from the smallest Hebrew tribe whom they never heard of. They begin to grumble and complain that Saul hadn’t proven that he could “save” them. Welcome to politics, Saul! The oil from your anointing hasn’t even dried and your people are already complaining about your leadership.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about multiple things that stand out to me in this fascinating transition of government.

God makes it clear through Samuel that they are rejecting Him as their king by wanting a human king. One of the metaphors often used among followers of Jesus is that “Jesus sits on the throne of our hearts.” But saying that and living that are two different things. The reality is that my words and actions are often key indicators that I really have something or someone else ruling my desires, choices, actions, and relationships.

Then there is Saul, on whom God’s Spirit descends to “change” him “into a different person.” This foreshadows the transformation of a follower of Jesus in which I, indwelled by God’s Spirit, become “a new creation” in which “old things pass away” and “new things come” (2 Cor 5:17). For Saul, the events and transformation appear not to have a desired effect of strength or confidence. When the lots were cast in his favor he was hiding. It’s no wonder he didn’t make a good first impression on some of his new subjects.

Along my life journey, I have experienced the call to positions and purposes for which I had little self-confidence. I have found myself in Saul’s sandals a time or two. “Really, God?! Me?!” A prophet once gave me a metaphor saying that God had picked out something for me to wear that I never would have chosen myself. I’ve learned along the journey that sometimes God does this and the reasons aren’t always clear. The metaphor that comes to my mind is from theatre. Sometimes I get cast in a role when I had my eyes and heart set on another character I wanted to play. Looking back, not once did I get to the close of the show and regret playing the part I was given. There has always been things for me to discover and learn in that “unwanted” role for which I was grateful.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

What the Camera Sees

What the Camera Sees (CaD 1 Sam 9) Wayfarer

Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.
1 Samuel 9:2 (NIV)

The other day in my post I mentioned how much change I have observed in our world and culture with the advent of the internet and social media. It has been fascinating to observe the dawn of such a powerful, global medium of communication. As with every communication medium, it has both the potential for so much good and the potential for so much evil.

Like most people, I have enjoyed exploring, learning, and using different online tools and social media like this blog I’ve been writing now for sixteen years. With two grandchildren living on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, I am so grateful for photos, video, and FaceTime. I’ve enjoyed that social media has allowed for closer, more frequent direct connections with family, classmates, and friends. I have been amazed to watch groups of people supporting others in times of need and crisis that never would have been possible before the internet because everyone was scattered around the world and we simply lost track of one another with no good way to effectively and easily communicate with so many people.

Along the way, I have also observed how things are communicated on social media. I have thought long and hard about how I want to use this tool and what I choose to communicate. I’ve observed that it is easy to start living life almost completely online. For those who are physically isolated for one reason or another, that brings incredible freedom. At the same time, I’ve observed that it becomes a dangerous escape for others.

In the early days of the internet, I was part of a group chat with people from all over the world. What I discovered over time was that some individuals in the chat were themselves, while others in the chat had created a persona they wanted others to believe was them. One member messaged me privately to confess that everything they purported to be in the group was a lie. The person was lonely, depressed and life was out of control, so they lived a fantasy online life in a group chat, hidden behind a username.

I have also been fascinated to observe how people present themselves online and how “likes” and “views” have become intertwined in a person’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth. I’ve also learned that young people will sometimes have two social media accounts on the same platform. One is for the general public and parental viewing/oversight while the other “secret account” is for their private group of friends to post the things they don’t want mom and dad to see or read.

In my mass communication classes in college, I was drilled into me that we only see what the person behind the camera wants us to see. My professors in the 1980s were talking about news editors, publishers, and filmmakers. The internet has brought the power of mass communication to every person in the world and put it right in the palm of our hands. With our posts, tweets, and photos we project ourselves to the world. Our followers see and hear only what we choose to show them. So what am I choosing for others to see, and why?

In today’s chapter, the first thing we read about the young man who will become Israel’s first king is that he is tall and handsome and from a prominent family in the tribe of Benjamin. What a perfect description of an ideal political candidate. But what if underneath that handsome face and six-foot frame there lurks a tortured soul, hidden rage, or mental health issues? We only see what the author of 1 Samuel wants us to see. Just like me and my social media feed.

Over time, I have found myself posting far less on social media than I once did. It’s not that I made a specific rule for myself. I simply began asking myself honest questions about my motives and my choices, and I began to embrace that no one really needs to see a photo of my suitcase on a business trip or the cowboy guy on my flight. I want to be present with loved ones and friends in the moment, and less worried about making sure the world knows who I was with and what I was doing.

What do I want others to see? Just another wayfaring stranger with very normal problems, faults, and shortcomings. I’m following Jesus. I’m pressing on this earthly journey one day at a time, reading the Great Story, pondering things in the quiet, and trying to enjoy life and my good companions with whom I share this journey and whom I endeavor to love well.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The “Human” Problem

The "Human" Problem (CaD 1 Sam 8) Wayfarer

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
1 Samuel 8:19-20 (NIV)

As a youth, I was always involved in student government. I served regularly from junior high and into my college years. There was a period of time in those years that I dreamed of running for elected office as an adult. A few years ago I ran into one of my high school classmates at a coffee shop. As we enjoyed a casual conversation and caught up on each other’s lives she asked me if I still thought about running for office. I told her that the desire left me a very long time ago. She graciously teased me about reconsidering. It was kind of her.

Along my life journey, I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem with any human government is the fact that humans are involved. It has been famously observed in history that power corrupts, and it is true. Even with all the checks and balances the founders of the United States placed in the Constitution to diminish the possibility, an objective glance at Washington D.C. reveals all kinds of waste, fraud, and abuse that result from corruption at all levels.

In today’s chapter, the Hebrew people come to Samuel, who was leading the tribes as a Judge, and demand that he appoint a king and establish a monarchy. This didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s been brewing for some time.

What I found fascinating in today’s chapter was the fact that what brought the issue of national governance to a head was the fact that Samuel’s own sons, whom Samuel had appointed as his successors, were corrupt, just as the sons of Eli had been corrupt in the time of Samuel’s childhood and youth. I don’t think it is a coincidence. It’s a pattern and a very human one, just as it is tempting to believe that another form of human government will be better than the one under which you’re living. But I cannot escape the “human problem” on this earth. I can discuss the relative merits and downsides of every form of human government that’s ever been tried in the history of civilization, but there are always downsides to every system of government because human beings are involved and no matter how much I want to believe that humans can be good and altruistic history has proven that at some point the one(s) in power take advantage of their power in the system to personally benefit.

This is what God tells Samuel to remind his fellow Hebrews. Having a king will bring certain benefits, but the monarchy is also going to have negative consequences that the people and their descendants will experience acutely. This is correct. The rest of 1 Samuel and the next five books in the Great Story (2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles) are a testament to the truth of Samuel’s words.

As I ponder these things I am reminded of the Apostle Paul who was, himself, a citizen of Rome and took full advantage of the exclusive rights and benefits that came with it in his day. He also reminded Jesus’ followers in Philippi that they were citizens of God’s heavenly Kingdom. In that same vein, I consciously consider myself as having dual citizenship with the rights and responsibilities that come with both U.S. citizenship and citizenship in God’s eternal kingdom. One of those citizenships will end at some point while the other will not.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Change

Change (CaD 1 Sam 7) Wayfarer

Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life.
1 Samuel 7:15 (NIV)

What is the most acute example of change that you have experienced along your earthly journey? That’s the question that came to mind as I read this morning’s chapter.

I thought of the time the place where I worked went through a transition of leadership that was tremendously difficult for everyone involved. It personally rattled me enough that I started looking for another job.

Then there was the experience of moving to a small, rural town (just over 300 people) after growing up in the city of Des Moines and going to college in the Chicago area. There were so many things that I had to learn about the culture and realities of small-town life. It was a completely different paradigm.

Going through a divorce brought both radical changes and unique challenges in virtually every area of life.

The changes I have experienced in daily life because of rapidly advancing technology and the internet are so great that it’s hard to believe.

Then there are the changes to our world because of a pandemic and a global shutdown that we’re still grappling with, and we will continue to realize its effects for some time.

There are days when I feel as if the world has turned upside-down in my lifetime.

Change is a challenge. I’ve observed it bring out the best and worst in people. I’ve had to learn how it affects me. I’ve grown to better understand how I handle it both positively and negatively. I’ve had to learn discernment between that which is ever-changing and those things which never change. I have had to gain wisdom to know the difference.

The book of 1 Samuel is about a massive change in the history of the Hebrews. For 300-400 years the Hebrews have lived and survived in a loosely structured tribal system with occasional national leaders, called Judges, who typically rose to power in times of war or crisis and who were recognized for their leadership through the rest of their lifetime.

But the times were changing.

It was clear to the Hebrew tribes that other city-states with the centralized power of a monarchy, a king, were able to both secure their kingdoms and increase their power by conquest. The tribal system was becoming untenable. They needed to change.

Samuel is the lynchpin of this change. He was the last of the Judges. He will consecrate the nation of Israel’s first two kings and continue to be the nation’s spiritual leader in the background. He also becomes the first of the prophets who will become key figures on both the spiritual and political landscapes of the kingdom for the next 600 years. Samuel is the agent of change.

In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel explains how Samuel rose to become the last Judge, leading the Hebrews in holding back the advancing Philistines and providing strong national leadership for the rest of his life. The author is setting the reader up for this massive change that is about to take place.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself coming back to the question of change in my own life and times. Having just completed this chapter-a-day journey through the book of Revelations, it’s clear to me that things will continue to change until the Great Story’s conclusion. As a follower of Jesus, I should expect it. And, as a follower of Jesus, I believe that I am called by Jesus to press on in this earthly journey with the dogged determination to live each day with the three things that will remain throughout this Great Story and into the next: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these being love.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

What Indiana Jones Taught Me About Holiness

What Indiana Jones Taught Me About Holiness (CaD 1 Sam 6) Wayfarer

But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they looked into the ark of the Lord. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the Lord had dealt them.
1 Samuel 6:19

Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of those movies I associate with my youth. It premiered in my Freshman year of high school and it became one of the biggest blockbusters of that era. It was also during this same era that the advent of the Video Cassette Recorders (VCR) allowed for renting and buying a movie to be watched over and over again at home. I have no idea how many times I’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s a lot.

There is a great scene towards the climactic end of the movie in which the villain archaeologist, Belloq, dresses like a Hebrew high priest to open the Ark of the Covenant and peer inside. He is surrounded by Nazis filming and witnessing the event while Indy and Marian are tied up a short distance away. There’s a moment at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark that is a brilliant piece of writing and filmmaking. It takes the audience on a roller coast ride of emotions from disappointment to wonder to horror and it ends with awe.

One of the things that I always loved about Raiders of the Lost Ark is that it is rooted in events from the Great Story like the events in today’s chapter. “Didn’t you guys ever go to Sunday School?” Indy asks the government officials who come to him asking about the Ark.

The Philistines, despite moving the Ark around to different towns had experienced an ongoing outbreak of a plague of “tumors” since they took the Ark captive at the battle of Ebenezer. Scholars over the years have proposed that either both bubonic plague or bacillary dysentery could be the culprits as they could easily have been carried by rodents on ships from other regions. The Philistines were coastal people heavily involved in sea trade.

The Philistines return the Ark with a guilt offering to the Hebrews at the border town of Beth Shemesh which happened to be one of the Levitical towns, one of the towns scattered through all the Hebrew tribes where Levites would be living among them. According to the Law of Moses, only Levites would be allowed to handle or move the Ark.

While the Ark is in Beth Shemesh, curiosity gets the better of some of the residents who take the opportunity to peek inside. The chapter says they died, though the specifics are not recorded so we have no idea whether Hollywood pyrotechnics were involved.

This string of Ark stories is fascinating because of the attitudes of the human beings in each scene. Last week I observed that the corrupt priests and Hebrews treated the Ark like a good luck charm, and God remained silent, allowing them to be defeated, the ark taken captive. Then the Philistines treated the Ark as the trophy of a defeated God. The result was the destruction of their idol and an outbreak of plague. In today’s chapter, the residents of Beth Shemesh treat the Ark as an object of trivial curiosity and meet with similarly disastrous ends.

At the end of today’s chapter, the residents of Beth Shemesh observe, “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?” The Hebrew word for holy is qādôš and its meaning is a fascinating subject of study. When Moses stood before the burning bush God told him to take off his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. The Ark was to be kept in the “Most Holy Place” in the Tabernacle and only the High Priest was to enter its presence once a year because it was holy. Holiness is often thought of in our culture as simple moral purity, but it’s so much more than that. I love that the makers of Raiders of the Lost Ark seem to have captured it. Even Indy, who must have learned something in Sunday School, knows to close his eyes and tell Marian to do the same. They can’t look. It’s holy. They, like we the audience, get to the end of the scene with an overwhelming sense of awe and wonder. That’s qādôš.

In a bit of synchronicity this morning, the devotional that Wendy and I read at breakfast each morning spoke of Rudoph Otto’s description of “holy.” It sounds like spells from Harry Potter’s world. He says that that which is “holy” is a paradoxical experience of the opposites mysterium tremendum (scary mystery) and mysterium fascinosum (alluring, fascinating, seductive mystery). Otto argued that if you don’t have both you don’t have the true or full experience of the Holy.

The problem with both the Hebrews and the Philistines in the opening chapters of 1 Samuel is that they arguably had neither as it related to God and the Ark of the Covenant. At best, they had the latter and not the former.

In the quiet this morning, I enter another day and another work week as a follower of Jesus endeavoring to think and speak and act with regard for the fullness of His mysterium tremendum and mysterium faschinosum.

Note: A new message from 7/31/22 was added to the Messages page. CLICK HERE

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.