“The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”
1 Samuel 15:21 (NIV)
Plundering has been an aspect of warfare for as long as people have made war on one another. In fact, throughout history, there have been people groups who made themselves rich by attacking weaker people groups and plundering all of their possessions as their own. Part of the horrors of the holocaust, less than 100 years ago, was the fact that the Nazis drove Jewish families from their own homes to death camps, and then plundered all of their possessions. American soldiers also plundered as they fought their way through Europe to Berlin. Plundering has always been a part of warfare.
In today’s chapter, it’s important to place Samuel’s directive to King Saul in this light. The Amalekites were a nomadic people who had violently opposed God and set themselves against God’s people since the days of Abraham. We read about the Amalekites warring against Abraham, Moses, and Joshua as well as in the days of the Judges. When Samuel gives Saul the instruction to destroy the Amalekites, the ancient Hebrew word refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to God. In other words: No plundering. Destroy it all.
Of course, this directive would not have been popular with the fighting men who saw plunder as the reward for putting their lives on the line. Plundering was viewed as a right and privilege of warfare. There would have been grumbling and complaining. There might even have been talking amidst the troops of desertion or rebellion. This is a test of Saul’s leadership.
Saul compromises on carrying out the directive, allowing his men to plunder “the best” of the Amalekites’ hoard. He then “set up a monument in his own honor.” When confronted by Samuel, Saul tries to justify his actions before confessing that he feared his own men. Samuel then declares that God has rejected Saul as king.
I noticed a small detail in the text that I believe might often be overlooked. When Saul is justifying his disobedience he twice tells Samuel that they took the Amalekite plunder in order to sacrifice them to “the LORD your God.”
As Jesus said, “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Saul distances himself from God, and God’s command. This is your God, Samuel. We did this to make sacrifices to your God.
This got me thinking this morning about my own relationship with God. I have long observed individuals who relate to God as other. Jesus, however, was quite specific about His desire to be one with His followers just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one in the mysterious union of being that is beyond human comprehension. I don’t consider God to be other, I consider God to be intimately personal, connected, and one with me, and me with God, in ways I can’t even comprehend.
As I wrap up my quiet time this morning and launch into a busy new work week, I’m not leaving God behind in the quiet. As St. Patrick’s prayer so aptly communicates, God goes with me, within me, before me, beside me, above me, behind me, on my right, and on my left. This, in turn, changes the way I think about the entire week.
I’m living to surrender and serve Christ, not plunder this world.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.