Monday, August 8, 2011

The Pursuit of Peace

We have seen peace mostly as a river; some of us have no problem seeing it as a protective wall. Very, very few of us, however, see it as a blessing that holds all the other blessings of God in place. Notice that the vital requirement of prosperity is peace. It is almost inconceivable for us to have prosperity without peace. A nation at war, for example, is stuck in the present with all its resources struggling to stay above critical level. Conflict has the power stagnate a nation. Note the United States, however, after  World War 2: an unexpected prosperity flooded the nation that influenced a sudden unprecedented growth in the population, the generation being called the Baby Boom era.

Peace is the consolidator of all natural elements for the blessings of God to come together. It is best to view peace as the strap that wounds around a sheaf of grain during harvest time.

We can also say that peace is the table upon which our meals are set upon. I spoke with someone before who told me: "Dude, God loves you! God loves you so much, in fact, that He gives you everything you ask for in prayer! But if you ask for something, make sure you've got somewhere to lay His blessings on!" I didn't get the specific gist of what he was telling me until I got hold of this concept of peace. Back then, I was a zealous Christian who went for every opportunity for God by heart, but with not much brains to back it up. I never took time to consolidate and thank God for many things. I just wanted to go. One day, I got a hold of the Book of Genesis in my devotions where it said, a lot, that "he saw that it was good" after completing a step of His project of Creation. God could have created the heavens and the earth in one day, no problem! But He decided to do it with the light first, then the separation of night and day, and then, this, then that. Notice, however, that after one creation, the Bible said that He looked at what He made and "saw that it was good." It did not take Him one entire day to make, say, the light. He just spoke it, and it was so. Then after that, He looked at His creation for one whole day and "saw that it was good." God celebrated each step of His work with rest, with peace. Some of us just need to learn to relax!

For prosperity to enter, there must be peace. For healing to come, there must be peace. And it is not difficult to find peace since we can find it in Jesus. He promised us: "Peace I leave you; my peace I give you" (John 14:27). He already had given us His peace. All we need to do now is use it. And in using it, we must preserve it, for He entrusts this peace in stewarding hands.

There is an interesting story in 2 Kings 23:29 that invokes the question as to why did not bless the godly King Josiah with success when he decided to come against the Pharaoh Neco of Egypt. The story is given more detail in 2 Chronicles 35:20–21:

"Neco, king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah marched out to meet him in battle. But Neco sent messengers to him, saying, 'What quarrel is there between you and me, O king of Judah? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God who is with me, or he will destroy you."

Just a thougt: Did God really speak to Pharaoh Neco? During this time, Egypt was allied with Assyria. This battle would later be called The Battle of Megiddo, an important encounter that delayed the Egyptians in aiding the Assyrians against the Babylonians. The Battle of Megiddo later led up to the Battle of Carchemish that wiped out Assyria and the Egyptian army against, mainly, the Babylonian force. Because Egypt and Assyria were allied, the first one adopted the latter's style of how it intimidated and blackmailed their victims into surrendering. Notice how the Assyrian king Sennacherib tried to threaten Judah into surrendering:

National Geographic Society/Corbis

"...have I come to attack and destroy this place without word from the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it" (2 Kings 18:25).

See any difference in the way the Pharaoh Neco spoke to King Josiah?

But King Josiah stood his ground. He refused a peaceful transit of Assyria's ally. The King knew that the Assyrian empire was now in its downfall and was greatly impelled towards a dream of reuniting all Israel once again. It was, however, God's decision to send the ten tribes of the North to exile a little more than a century before this, and that it was God's will for Judah to remain still while the transition of world power was at its most turbulent. Josiah would not keep off his saddle. It was a rude realization for all Judah and her king to find that God was not in the battle to give them the victory.

Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS
God wanted Josiah out of the war. Judah during this time was experiencing a tremendous time of peace and prosperity following a wonderful revival of Judaism after the Law of Moses was rediscovered in the holy Temple. Spiritual truths were beginning to take root once again; significant festivals like the Passover last celebrated during the time of the Prophet Samuel back in the tenth century was once again being held. The Word of God was prospering in the land, so much in Judah that outreaches were already being made to the lands of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel.

The aftermath of the Battle of Megiddo, however, left a wide gaping hole of opportunity for Pharaoh Neco to seize. King Josiah's mistake caused the people to wiggle out of the security of the peace of God and into the feeble comfort of their own ability. King Josiah gets mortally wounded and dies (2 Kings 23:29); his twenty-three-year-old son Jehoahaz is placed on the throne. Neco makes an appearance in Jerusalem, carries Jehoahaz away, appoints Judah the king he wished, and imposes a heavy tax levy on the holy kingdom. The subsequent kings were no longer like Josiah was "did right in the eyes of the Lord." Four kings after Josiah, in 586 B.C., the Kingdom of Judah is carried into Babylonian captivity.

Francis G. Mayer/CORBIS
King David said it many generations before in Psalms 34:14, and Saint Peter, centuries later, seconded it in 1 Peter 3:11: "seek peace, and pursue it."

   1. ©Owain Kirby/Illustration Works/Corbis
   2. ©David Arky/Corbis
   3. ©Darren Kemper/Corbis

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Peace On the Night He Was Betrayed

No, this is not about Saul. We're taking a break from the first Israelite king and getting down into something more basic, something more light.

For the longest time, we have conceived of peace as a large white cloud or puff of smoke descending vertically from Heaven and everyone it settles upon goes into a high, like, “Peace, man!” It’s about time we kicked away that outdated hippie concept, including why we need to maintain a peaceful lifestyle.

We have always defined peace as the absence of conflict. And for as long as I could remember, this definition had always elicited immediate responses like “uh-huh,” or “ohh…kay,” or “I ssseeee,” all indicating a doubtful and incomplete agreement that, because it’s so obvious, to further elaborate on the statement is generally pointless.

There are, however, some of us who have at one point rebelled against this point of view and have kindly demanded elaboration, but all we got was a restatement of the meaning delivered in a sterner tone. In our gut, we have always felt that peace is something more than just an absence of something. Understanding peace in its framework against confrontation is downright limiting, in the same was as we would call “white” as the opposite of “black,” or “red” as not the other colors in the color wheel.

The most popular definition of peace is contentment. With this, it is pictured as a river running across a lush green nature garden where various species of creatures great and small thrives. Because of the abundance promoted by the eternal water, there is an absence of slaughter, struggle, and disenfranchisement. Because of the river, there is a harmonious interaction of species in that local system and the welfare of all is secure. Through, therefore, the context of contentment, we fit the virtue of “counting our blessings” instead of pursuing that which we have not. Ideally, this will bring peace, or a stillness, in our lives as we detach ourselves from selfish aspirations.

But alas, we also agree that we are creatures of needs, that our bodies will always be dependent on the basic attention of the environment. So long as the water keeps flowing, the peaceful cooperation of the creatures in the environment will perpetuate. But what if for some reason, the water stops flowing? We picture the entrance of distrust, discord, territorialism, the hedging of one’s own interest. By then, the stillness and the security  will be gone, peace therefore threatened. There will be a struggle to control the remaining resources; those not strong enough to withstand will leave in search for the same environment watered by a “river of peace."

Is this the peace that Jesus promised His disciples in John 14:27 where He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid”?

It was that significant night, the night of the last supper of Jesus, when this statement was made. What was supposed to be a time of jolly fellowship of feasting was sat in distasteful restiveness. On that night, Jesus predicted His betrayal (John 13:18, 26), and Peter’s denial (verse 38); Thomas wanted to know where He was going (14:5), and Philip—speaking for the group—requesting to see the Father in a way to still the trouble in their hearts (verse 8). It was a very unsettling time. For the disciples, that is. Jesus, on the other hand, was in perfect peace, as living up to the Scriptural fulfillment (as always!) of Isaiah 26:3: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee”—the very essence of which He condenses into a command for His disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (verse 1).

But was there really peace? In the ensuing events, Jesus gets arrested in the garden of Gethsemane and Peter draws out a concealed sword and successfully chops off one of the arresting deputy’s ear (18:10), Peter denies his Master three times (verses 17, 25 to 27), Jesus was shackled like a criminal (18:12), bounces from one judge to another and ends up dead on a cross. In a span of a few hours after that night of the last supper, it seems like the river quickly ran dry and all that depended on the life it promoted had since then “scattered” (Zechariah 13:7, Matthew 26:31). To them who see desolation as peace, then there was peace. A counterfeit type of peace, that is.

In our illustration of that ecosystem with the river running through it, we made notice of the relationship of those benefiting from the water. When Jesus spoke peace during the last supper, He spoke to all His disciples, who were all present (except for Judas Iscariot who earlier took off to consummate the betrayal). He revealed Himself to be the Source of peace: “Peace I leave with you.” So that peace is a river then? Not exactly, and this is a part of our spiritual lives where we miss a lot of those good things we are supposed to be thankful to God for.

Do you remember that story about Jesus and the storm? Let’s take the version in Mark 4:36 to 41. The scene begins with Jesus concluding a long day of teaching with parables, thoroughly teaching a “crowd…so large” that Jesus had to stand on a boat as a pulpit since the people all thronged “along the shore at the water’s edge” (Mark 4:1). Now, Jesus was no fisherman, so you can understand how rather unfamiliar He was with boats, that Jesus had to fight for balance every time He shifted His weight just a little to assume a momentary posture that relieved the strain of another. And He was teaching them “many things” (verse 2). In addressing a large crowd, He shouted every word He uttered, making sure that they understood “as much as they could” (verse 33). In addition, He continued to elucidate His teaching “when he was alone with his own disciples” (verse 34). So you could understand that when evening came, Jesus was sapped. This explains why Jesus was sleeping soundly on a cushion in the stern in the middle of a “furious squall” that threatened to drown the vessel and everyone in it!

Notice the cry of the disciples in verse 39: “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” It’s just like the Psalmist who said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning” (Psalm 22:1). Honestly, there were times when we felt that God, in our ordeal, just stood there, and by not “doing anything” had made Himself invisible and as deaf and motionless as an idol. Think of how that would make you feel if your daughter whom you love with all your heart and soul said thatto you! By doubting God of His very concern to save you in your time of need is virtually an insult to His character!

Now, think of how you’d feel if you were Jesus being told, “Yo, Jesus, we’re drowning here! Whatever’s wrong with you can probably wait!” But Jesus, thank God, was—and is—one who understands. He was also, at that time, physically exhausted: probably His arms and hips hurt after all that strain to hold the boat steady; His neck was yearning for a massage, His jaw wanting to shut for a month, and His voice sore. But He gets up and addresses the wind and the waves: “Shut up!” And the elements shut up! In this account, He says nothing to His disciples whether before or after He rebukes the storm. In Matthew 8:26, He encourages them with an emphatic: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” In Luke 8:25, it was “Where is your faith?” The accounts are very clear: Jesus delivered one rebuke and it was to the storm, not to the disciples. If we were to understand, it was to go as such: “It’s okay, guys, just relax. Everything’s gonna be just fine.” And it was this assurance—this peace—that Jesus delivered to the disciples on the night of the last supper.

On that evening on the stormy lake, the stability of the disciples’ peace was like a line attached to Jesus as an anchor. Their faith was there, but it was predisposed to be buffeted by the wind and the waves of life. In John 14:27, Jesus delegated the peace that their faith was anchored to into their very hearts because He was about to leave them (John 14:1–4). How did He do this? By promising the “Counselor” from the Father, to be with them forever (verse 16). You could say that He was “leaving a part of Him in their lives.” But it was really more than a part of Him; He was appointing His Spirit to “live with [them] and will be in [them]” (verse 17). Very reassuringly, He says: “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you” (verse 18). And by that promise, He left them His peace. It was then up to the disciples to take care of that peace, as good stewards.

Peace is one of the promises God had always guaranteed to all who put their trust in Him. Not all who put their trust in Him, however, understand that, like prosperity, peace is something that must be upheld. God had already provided His guidelines for peace in His Word, that is, the Bible. And in it, the procedures of preserving it must also be observed through lifestyle. The Apostle Peter in his first epistle charged the believers to “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11); centuries before him, King David said the same thing in Psalms 34:14. The Apostle Paul taught that to have peace, one must first choose to live in peace (2 Corinthians 13:11). It was, to him, a simple equation: you choose it, you’ll have it. It is therefore clear that peace is already present, and all we need to do is use it! Jesus had left us His peace since that night of the last supper.

Jesus, along with Peter, Paul, and David, almost a thousand years before, discovered and shared a concept of peace that what most of us to this day conceive of something as a situation, which shatters at the slightest rumor of conflict.

After discovering peace, using it, and finding that it works, we are told to “pursue it,” or maintain it. The most pervasive reason why many choose and maintain peace is because we’re scared of conflict. By this, our illustration of peace transforms from the life-giving river into a life-preserving wall. But there’s also another reason why we see peace as a protecting wall. The walls of peace convey power, confidence, and sovereignty. A very good supporting example for this is how painstakingly and vigilantly Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem to get rid of the distress and reproach of Israel (Nehemiah 2:17).

Maintaining peace is a mandate Jesus had provided all Christians to pursue. He left His peace into our stewardship. Stewardship? Now, there’s a word we have always associated with prosperity, but not really with peace! We understand stewardship in the context of a parable where three servants were left with certain amounts of money to develop while their employer was away on a long journey (Matthew 25:14–30). In the story, the money loaned to them was carefully measured according to the ability of each to generate profit. It was a fair deal. The first two produced the expected revenue; the last one kept it in a hole in the ground. This last scheme is what some of us do with peace.

Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). But what do many Christians do? They sue each other “before the ungodly for judgment”—meaning, before courts of law—“instead of before the saints” (1 Corinthians 6:1)—or, settling the dispute before the elders of the local church who know what is best for the flock. Jesus told us to promote peace as we would the Gospel, calling us “peacemakers,” in addition to “Christians.” First, He makes known that “the kingdom of God”—to which all believers belong to—“is…a matter…of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Then, He commands us to “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (verse 19). He adds: “anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men” (verse 18). If there is something the people of God and the world share in understanding, it’s “peace” through “mutual edification.” The only—big—difference is that to the people of the world, peace and mutual edification is a slippery, if not unattainable, ideal; to the people of God, however, they are realistic, livable perspectives.

As peacemakers, Christians are not to be a source of turbulence, controversy, intrigue, or anything that provides hatred, doubt, and disrespect for the Name of Jesus. Peacemakers promote unity in the Body of Christ and in the way they conduct their lives in the sight of the unbelievers, even subservience, compliance and respect toward temporal authority (Romans 13:1–7), the concept and fire of the zealot of Jewish nationalism, the Apostle Paul abandons and discourages all believers to adopt. There should be no trace of rebellion or agitation against established authorities, in the local church or in a country’s government. That personal goes for us who have mostly or entirely lived our lives in a democracy thinking it perfectly fine to speak against the government without any responsibility or accountability of whether we have planted a seed of rebellion or discord in anyone who happened to be listening to us.

Perhaps the final thing (as of yet) that could be said about peace, which we have not really completely grasped, is that it is the agent that holds all the other blessings of God in place. If we go back to our illustration of peace as a river, we will notice that there was a place for the species to gather on while the source of life ran in the midst of them. What kept the opportunity for unique growth and proliferation was their positioning, that without the careful positioning of each life according to their capabilities, only a few forms would endure: probably aquatic and amphibian, and even some reptilian. What secured this opportunity for the mammals to join the system was the physical channel, the confinement of the river into a specific body. Peace functions in the same way: it is the entrenchment by which the blessing of God’s prosperity flows through.

[There's more on peace--I know, I know! I know you're thinking that every article I make never ends! Well, this one's gonna--on our Part II of this subject on Peace. So...peace!]

Photo Credits:
   1. David Barnet/Illustration Works/Corbis
   2. Frans Lanting/Corbis
   3. Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis
   4. Brooklyn Museum/Corbis
   5. Brooklyn Museum/Corbis
   6. Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis
   7. Frans Lanting/Corbis

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Saul, the Soldiers and the Servants

Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS
Saul’s loss of control over his soldiers was a frequent feature of his account. Before the incident with Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14:45, the distress created by Saul’s rash vow was so great that it drove his soldiers mad with hunger and exhaustion that they “pounced on the plunder and, taking sheep, cattle and calves, they butchered them on the ground and ate them, together with the blood” (verse 32). Fortunately, Saul was able to recover them to their senses and discipline them accordingly (verses 33 to 35).

But the costliest failure to rein his men was during the very important mission to annihilate the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15. The order was, as we already know by now from several articles we’ve discussed, to “totally destroy everything that belongs to them…not [to] spare them [but] put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (verse 3). Saul and his force slew the women, the children, the infants, most of the men except for the Amalekite king Agag, and the weak of the cattle and sheep. Why? Saul explained:

Ultimate Bible Picture Collection
“I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 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” (verses 20 and 21).

And in boasting he claimed, “I did obey the Lord” (verse 20).

After this, the Spirit of God departed from Saul, opening him to the attacks of evil spirits. The first one in 1 Samuel 16 haunted and severely terrorized him that paralyzed him from his kingly duties. The fear may have begun to take its toll on his health when this bright idea was suggested by the royal attendants:

“Saul’s attendants said to him, ‘See an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better’” (1 Samuel 16:16).

We cannot help but consider the hand of God that the attendants knew exactly what the king needed and whom exactly to turn to:

“One of the servants answered, ‘I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him” (verse 19).

It was as if they were on to David’s Facebook profile, or something! And how about the servant who had something to offer the Seer Samuel for the sake of the lost donkeys? Simple servants whose involvement opened the door to the most monumental chapters of Saul’s life and of the annals of the Israelite nation as well. Usually their roles are unnoticed as they lend support to the all-prominent figures of Saul and David, but many years after they have sank back to obscurity, Israel’s greatest monarch would sing in one of his world famous psalms that he “would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wickedness” (Psalm 84:10).

The Golden Gate of the Temple Mount at present time.

In the ancient world, the youngest child of the family, also called “the least,” received the brunt of all domestic menial work, at a certain point of his life. He was virtually the family servant. He was the one Jesus alluded to when He one day jumped in the middle of an argument among His disciples to settle “who would be the greatest” (Luke 9:46):

“Jesus knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest” (verses 47 to 48).

The message of the “greatest least” became a recurring theme throughout His three-year ministry, telling and showing all Israel that, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35); and, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43 to 45).

And the life of a least did His earthly ancestor live his young days, a shepherd of the flocks of his father Jesse (1 Samuel 16:11) until a simple chore brought him to the right place at the right time.

The Bridgeman Art Library/Gettyimages
“Now Jesse said to his son David, ‘Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them.’ Early in the morning David left the flock with a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed” (1 Samuel 17:17 to 18, 20).

It was the last errand he would ever make. On that day, he singlehandedly shuts the mouth of the Philistine champion permanently and captures the awe of every Israelite, from King Saul to the singing women who celebrated “his tens of thousands” slain (18:7 and 8).

David was introduced into Saul’s life as a servant. He was Saul’s private harpist who performed a very unique form of exorcism by playing his harp (16:18, 23). And it pleased Saul to have him in his court:

“David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him” (verses 21 to 22).

Saul’s fondness for David would not last, however. Of all Saul’s servants whom he afforded a measure of respect, David was the most loved, the most feared, and the most abused. Shortly after David shot to fame, his popularity galled the king who at once “kept a jealous eye on David” (18:9). With the Spirit of God gone from his life, “an evil spirit from God came forcefully” (verse 10) and possessed him to draw his spear and twice attempt to “pin David to the wall” (verse 11). The twelfth verse explains how fearful Saul grew of David that he promoted him from harp player into a commander over a thousand men who victoriously led the troops in their campaigns (verses 13 and 14) “because the Lord was with him.” For this, there was nothing heard in Israel but David’s fame, and Saul, who wanted nothing more but the adoration of all Israel to ensure his and his posterity’s position on the throne, drove him in an insanity that bordered between the bitterness and fear of his former harpist. His attempts to extinguish the kingdom-wide craze called David went from spearing the boy twice in the privacy of his royal home to putting him in the lead of a thousand-man troop in hopes of getting him killed in battle with the Philistines (verse 17). Saul even went to absurd lengths in deceiving David by maneuvering him “to take revenge on his enemies” (verse 25) and bring back “a hundred Philistine foreskins” (verse 25). David the Circumciser? But even in this seemingly ludicrous quest, “the Lord was with David” (verse 28) and granted him “with more success than the rest of Saul’s officers, and his name became well known” (verse 30).

Because of David, there were those who would suffer and die. While the Lord covered him in the shelter of His wings during the time when Saul obsessively lusted after his life and pursued him across the Israelite landscape, the little town of Nob would get wiped out in one of Saul’s temper tantrums because he insularly suspected that this humble settlement of priests had set its loyalty on David and not reveal his whereabouts (22:11 to 16). In this episode, the instigator was another servant by the name of Doeg, an Edomite.

Charles & Josette Lenars/CORBIS

Now, if you’ve read Chapter 21, you would probably remember an Edomite by the name of Doeg, who may strike some of us as a weasel, cowardly and shady. He was King Saul’s “head shepherd” (v. 7). It seems that in this chapter, Doeg was given special mention with a standalone paragraph of a verse dedicated to him and what he was doing in Nob:

“Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s head shepherd.”

A number of foreigners living in Israel, specifically in royal service, have been mentioned in the Bible; and they have been noted for godly things. Uriah the Hittite in 2 Samuel 11, Bathsheba’s original husband, was among these foreigners whose name has been highly held in the Scriptures. As for Doeg, the Edomite, 1 Samuel 21:7 says that he was “detained before the Lord” the day David visited Nob. What a royal herdsman was “detained before the Lord” at Nob for is yet unclear to us. We can speculate, however, that this foreigner was undergoing ceremonial cleansing proceedings prescribed for aliens living among Law-abiding Israelites. Yet there is a more pressing fact relating to his detention with Nob bearing a massive significance.

Nob was a levitical city. A city of priests. In Numbers 35, God commanded Moses and the children of Israel to provide cities for Levites where they can live in along with a common land around those cities, “a thousand cubits all around” the city wall (vv. 4–5), that they could raise their livestock. In verse 6, God prescribed six of these towns and cities to be for the purpose of local asylum: “to which a person who has killed someone may flee.” In verse 15, however, God purposed these six points to be “for Israelites, aliens, and any other people living among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.”

When the time came for the Israelites to appoint the levitical cities of refuge, Nob was not one of them. Joshua 21:17 to 18 enumerates its neighbors—Gibeon, Giba, Anathoth, and Almon—being cities of refuge. But in Numbers 35:6, God also expressed to “give” the Levites “forty-two other towns,” for their herds. It could be that throughout the years, Nob had become an additional satellite refuge of any of the original four mentioned.

It might also be that Doeg had killed somebody and was seeking asylum in Nob. For such reason, he was “detained.” And while Doeg stayed in Nob, he had the opportunity to witness the entrance of David into the city, speak to the priest Ahimelech, and ask for assistance. Doeg observes how Ahimelech takes the consecrated bread used in holy ceremonies (verses 4–6) and give it to David for consumption; and sees the sword of the Philistine giant Goliath pass into the hands of the young warrior as well (verse 9). Doeg must have thought, “If this were not assistance, I don’t know what is!”

How he found his way into the king’s service is as unclear in the passages as how he coincidentally appeared in Nob at the time David arrived there. It can be assumed that Doeg was carried off as part of the plunder in one of Saul’s operations against Edom, as the one sparsely mentioned in 1 Samuel 14:47, which occurred at the beginning of Saul’s campaign against all of Israel’s “enemies on every side.”

After some days later, Doeg springs out of Nob and is found in King Saul’s presence in chapter 22 verse 9, and successfully raises royal tantrum to a frightening level with his report: “I saw the son of Jesse come to Ahimelech son of Ahitub at Nob. Ahimelech inquired of the Lord for him; he also gave him provisions and the sword of Goliath the Philistine” (verses 9 and 10).

Immediately the king sends for Ahimelech “and his father’s whole family, who were priests at Nob” (verse 11). The last clause, “who were priests at Nob,” is included for a purpose because King Saul orders these people hacked to death in front of him, hacked to death by none other than by the hand of Doeg the squealer. Then the unthinkable takes place:

“Then the king ordered the guards at his side: ‘Turn and kill the priests of the Lord, because they too have sided with David. They knew he was fleeing, yet they did not tell me.’ But the king’s officials were not willing to raise a hand to strike the priests of the Lord. Then the king ordered Doeg, ‘You turn and strike down the priests’” (verse 17 to 18).

In the passage that follows, this idiot did what no Israelite soldier would do. Doeg was an Edomite, a foreign fool who harbored no hesitation in butchering that day all the “eighty-five men” of Ahimelech’s household, including Ahimelech himself.

And as if that were not enough, the paragraph includes the nineteenth verse stating how Doeg in his lonesome, fueled with his berserker’s bloodlust, penetrated deeper into Nob and slaughtered the entire populace—“men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys, and sheep”! It comes to show a tradition of rage flowing from the highest point of authority—the king—down to the scum feeding on the soles of royal hierarchy. Though the Israelite guards knew better and did nothing to accomplish the king’s order and lay a strike down the priests of the Lord because of their love for their Israelite way of life, it was no surprise that Doeg the Edomite, who had no regard for and hated Israelite way of life, made good the command.

There is a significant note we need to see here regarding the fulfillment of God’s judgment which He pronounced against the house of Eli, the judge and high priest who raised the boy Samuel in Tabernacle service. A part of the prophecy held that God would “cut short [Eli’s] strength and the strength of [his] father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in [his] family line” (1 Samuel 2:31). The judgment stated:

“Although good will be done to Israel, in your family line there will never be an old man. Everyone of you that I do not cut off from my altar will be spared only to blind your eyes with tears and to grive your heart, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life” (verses 32 to 33).

Ahimelech was a descendant of Eli. His son was Abiathar, Nob’s sole survivor, who “escaped and fled to join David” (1 Samuel 22:20). He successfully caught up with David and reported the massacre. This man went on serve David as high priest (1 Samuel  23:6, 9 to 12), even sharing the position with Zadok (2 Samuel 8:17). Through thick and thin with David Abiathar was faithful (2 Samuel 15:24 to 29). He even went daringly undercover for David during Absalom’s usurpation (2 Samuel 15:34 to 36). His end, however, did not come as pleasant. At the end of David’s reign, he shifted alliances to a usurping prince named Adonijah (1 Kings 1:7,9). But the hand of God was upon another prince, Solomon, who immediately deposes him (1 Kings 2:26, 27, 35), thus ultimately ending Eli’s influence in the priesthood.

But God will not forget Ahimelech. In verse 20, a son of this brave priest named Abiathar, And when he had successfully caught up with this king, Abiathar reported of the massacre. What is more heartbreaking, however, is in verse 22 wherein David said, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family.” Photo credit: American Colony Photographers/National Geographic Society/Corbis

We cannot help but feel sorry for Abimelech. As readers of a different time and cultures, we view his death as something that had happened needlessly, a result of the senseless rage and paranoia of a demon-minded king. We cannot help but lament for this Old Testament martyr who could have been saved should have David prayed and sought the Lord’s instruction and not merely relied on his own wisdom. But on the other hand, we need to realize that at this point of David’s life, he had nothing but the hand of God as his only guide and shield. Even in his life as a fugitive, the statement in 1 Samuel 18:14 rang true, that, “In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him.” And by the very hand of God, he was led into Nob, not only to be aided, but to be ceremonially consecrated and confirmed as the next king of Israel whose house would “endure forever” (2 Samuel 7:15). What happened in Nob was Abimelech, Eli’s descendant, fed the consecrated bread to David, who in his insistence gave this interesting argument:

“Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out. The men’s things are holy even on missions that are not holy. How much more so today!”

The handing of the consecrated bread over to David from the priest was symbolic of the dismantling of the high priesthood and its surrender to David who represented the real High Priest, soon to emerge from his lineage as God would promise as soon as he assumed kingship:

Marc Garanger/CORBIS
“The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you”(2 Samuel 7:11 to 15).

Soon after the consecrated bread was given to David, Abimelech handed David Goliath’s sword, the symbol of David’s greatest victory and Israel’s popular approval of his ascent to national leadership. The house of Eli would faithfully assist David throughout his reign until the end (1 Kings 2:26 to 27).

Then the Prophet Samuel died, and while all Israel mourned for him, Saul mourned for himself. For all his life, he depended on the counsel of this great judge and now that Samuel was dead, the only channel of God’s guidance in his life was cut off (1 Samuel 28:6). For a while he was relatively calm about it but when he caught the sight of the Philistine army assembled at Shunem, he lost all hope of salvation. Thoughts began to run through his mind, and then…

“Saul then said to his attendants, ‘Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her” (verse 7).

There is something we can note from these “attendants.” In 16:15 and 16, they knew exactly what was bothering Saul, they knew exactly what he needed, they knew exactly who to help him, and they knew exactly were to find him. Israelite Facebook, I’d say! Now…

“’There is one in Endor,’ they said” (Ibid.).

Ka-ching! Like I said….

We have studied a lot about that night in Endor—and will study more about it! But what we need to see at this time was the protection Saul gave to the witch who held the door of his fate wider to destruction. Instead of executing sentence to this witch whose trade was outlawed by the Law of Moses, he proposed absolution:

“Saul swore to her by the Lord, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this” (1 Samuel 28:10).

At the end of the traumatic séance, Saul made good his promise; and the witch, who now owed her life to her royal client, offered him a little piece of advice: “eat” something (verse 22). Saul listened to the witch.

“He got up from the ground and sat on the couch. The woman had a fattened calf at the house, which she butchered at once. She took some flour, kneaded it and baked bread without yeast. Then she set it before Saul and his men, and they ate. That same night they got up and left” (verse 23 to 25).

The next day, Saul was with a different type of servants: his soldiers, the ones who would not comply with his wishes at all times. And even in defeat and him in the face of death, defiance would yet get the better of his armor-bearer when he was told to run his king through the blade (31:4).

“But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him” (verse 4 and 5).

The soldiers of Saul killed many in their lives, but none in the Scriptures is found that their blades were stained by the blood of their fellow countryman. The armor-bearer chose to stain his blade with his own blood over the guilt of murdering his master.

That was the end of the armor-bearer along with Saul’s three sons, but not Saul. In the first chapter of 2 Samuel, a figure of tattered clothes and with dust on his head came running to David’s camp in Ziklag. He explained that he had “escaped from the Israelite camp” (verse 3), apparently an aide of Saul or one of his soldiers. When asked of his background, the aide explained:

Alessandra Bennedetti/Corbis
“’I am the son of an alien, an Amalekite,’ he answered” (verse 13).

From the very race God ordered wiped out. The death of Saul had finally given testimony of his disobedience.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Saul and Symbols: The Servants

Brooklyn Museum/Corbis
When God’s presence turned from the crucified Jesus Christ, the anguished cry “Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?” was heard echoing from the cross. I bet King Saul wailed this same phrase out many times in his private. And just as with Jesus, the cry merely rose and dissipated in the sight of an empty sky. Yet for both these kings, there was, in truth, no need to raise the question, except through despair. They knew exactly why God abandoned them; both, however, for different reasons. With Jesus, it was His obedience; with Saul, disobedience. And in the days that followed after being withdrawn the kingship did Saul’s life plunge into psychological hell.

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The disobedience of Saul stands before a background of irony in that at the beginning of his account, he was one never seen with the slightest thread of rebellion. His first appearance in 1 Samuel 9 presents him as a good son whom his father trusted to find and bring back their lost donkeys (verse 3). Unknowingly, he embarks on a spiritual journey of destiny that leads to the first royal throne of Israel. As he and his servant meandered into Ephraimite territory, it was as if they were bring strung along to cross paths with “a man of God…highly respected” whose every word “comes true” (1 Samuel 9:6). At that moment, Saul’s mission gained a new objective: to seek and consult this “seer” (verse 11). The rest of the story from verses 11 to 19 came like a swift cascade of events as one turn “up the hill to the town” of Zuph (verses 5 and 11) brings him face-to-face with the seer and the offer of kingship (10:1). At this point, God begins to unravel His plan for Saul’s life. Note that God does not reveal His plan for one’s life in an explosion of instant information, but as Proverbs 4:18 explains, “like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” It is a condition that requires one to abide in Him in obedience and perseverance through the early steps and stages necessary in the foundation of His design, faithful with the early hints and pieces that build up in time to the perfection of His vision.

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When God promised to His people the land of Canaan to possess and occupy, He did not supernaturally translate them from the gates of Egypt and into borders of the land flowing with milk and honey. On the contrary, through Moses He guaranteed to “drive out those nations…little by little” (Deuteronomy 7:22). In the rest of the passage, He elaborates: “You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you.”

Saul had nothing but questions, inquiries, for this are what his name stood for: literally, “asked.” The Hebrew  shâ’ûl is a past participle of shâ’êl, meaning “to inquire, to request” and to a greater extent, “to demand.” And throughout his account, it is very interesting to note that the most significant milestones of his life were not without the initial insinuation of a servant. And Saul in all these welcomed them.

From the beginning of his story, it was a servant that gave him the idea to consult a seer to help them locate the missing donkeys:

“’Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let’s go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take’” (1 Samuel 9:7).

Charles O'Rear/CORBIS
It is interesting to note that it was the servant who had something to give and willingly volunteered to give the seer (verse 8). For a moment a thought may jut into a reader mind as to who between Saul and the servant actually owns the donkeys!

“’Look,’ [the servant] said, ‘I have a quarter of a shekel of silver. I will give it to the man of God so that he will tell us what way to take.’”

In 1 Samuel 13:11, Saul admitted that his fear was compounded when he saw his soldiers scattering in panic at the sight of the great Philistine army assembled at Micmash. In other words, he did what everyone else on his side did and, as a result, lost the favor of God and the chance for his name to be established over Israel for all time (verse 13 to 14).

 “Saul replied, ‘When I saw that the men were scattering…I felt compelled to offer the burnt sacrifices’” (1 Samuel 13:11-12).

 In the fourteenth chapter, Saul could do nothing but bend to his soldiers’ protest against Jonathan’s execution.

 “Saul said, ‘May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan.’ But the men said to Saul, ‘Should Jonathan die—he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the Lord lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.’ So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death” (verses 44 to 45).

The soldiers continued to be faithful to Saul, but there was more to lose that day than a moment’s spark of mutiny. Saul was about to take the battle to enemy territory, an act that would significantly neutralize the Philistine military strength to regroup and invade. Instead, “Saul stopped pursuing the Philistines, and they withdrew to their own land” (verse 46). In this context, this is why, “All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines” (verse 52). The forty-seventh and forty-eighth verses seem to romanticize Saul’s heroic prowess as he “fought against [Israel’s] enemies on every side” (verse 47); that “wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them” (Ibid.); and “he fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them.” The passages portray the king as a merciless and relentless butcher of pagans. And he should have truly been such. For failing to bring the fight into enemy territory, the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zobahites, Amalekites, and the Philistines must have been as common as a landscape feature arrayed every now and then taunting Saul with their war chants to engage them on the battlefield.

National Geographic/Gettyimages
Saul never broke the power of Israel’s belligerent neighbors, an ominous indication of the Prophet Samuel’s prophecy coming to past: “…your kingdom will not endure, the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command” (1 Samuel 13:14).

Saul’s loss of control over his soldiers was a frequent feature of his account. Before the incident with Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14:45, the distress created by Saul’s rash vow was so great that it drove his soldiers mad with hunger and exhaustion that they “pounced on the plunder and, taking sheep, cattle and calves, they butchered them on the ground and ate them, together with the blood” (verse 32). Fortunately, Saul was able to recover them to their senses and discipline them accordingly (verses 33 to 35).

Sandro Vannini/CORBIS
But the costliest failure to rein his men was during the very important mission to annihilate the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15. The order was, as we already know by now from several articles we’ve discussed, to “totally destroy everything that belongs to them…not [to] spare them [but] put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (verse 3). Saul and his force slew the women, the children, the infants, most of the men except for the Amalekite king Agag, and the weak of the cattle and sheep. Why? Saul explained:

“I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 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” (verses 20 and 21).

And in boasting he claimed, “I did obey the Lord” (verse 20).

[And we ain't done! Stickeround 'coz we ain't done!]