Friday, August 2, 2013

The Redemption of the King

The book of I Samuel has always been one of my favorites in the Bible – I've read it many, many times. I love Hannah the mother of Samuel, and the entire story of David. I recently revisited I Samuel in an attempt to get consistent with personal Bible reading. (It hasn't been very successful, but that's not the point of this post.)

Starting in my early 20s, I felt very convicted by I Samuel 8, the story of Israel demanding a king. I'm not entirely clear on why it was wrong for Israel to want to be ruled by a king instead of prophets/judges (especially since that system wasn't working out so well), but from what I can tell, it involved sinful motivations and pursuit of the wrong things. They told the prophet Samuel that they wanted a king "like all the other nations," and God saw it as a rejection of Himself. So He told Samuel to give them what they wanted, but to warn them of the sacrifices and oppression that a king would bring.

This story always brought to mind my persistent prayers for a husband, and specifically my prayers for a relationship with my ex, who was just a good friend at the time. No one ever drew that correlation for me, but it was very clear in my mind. Since nothing was happening, I felt like I was badgering God for something He might not want to give me, and maybe I was supposed to say "All I need is God" and leave it alone. Even once I was married, the comparison nagged at me. After my divorce, I came upon the story again. I thought about the hard work and suffering of my marriage, a marriage I had already prayed and wept over years before it began. I thought, Yep. That's what I get for "demanding a king." I don't even believe everything that this interpretation implies, and realize that a complex historical story and a normal desire for a spouse are apples and oranges. Yet I continued to feel vaguely guilty anyway. When I arrived at that chapter again last week, I re-read it with some trepidation. But as I continued reading, I suddenly saw something brand new. God ran with what was already in my head and showed me the rest of the story.

Israel wanted a king regardless of the consequences, so God chose Saul to lead them. Saul's rule began well, but it became clear that loving and serving God wasn't a priority in his life. Saul disobeyed God in a big way on several occasions, and when the prophet Samuel called him on it, he tried to backpedal. When he finally acknowledged his sin, it was out of fear and desperation not to lose what he had. In response, God regretted making Saul king, and removed him from the throne.

Samuel grieved deeply for Saul's actions, Saul himself, and his own role in the whole situation (even though he'd tried to honor God throughout). But after he'd mourned for a while, God said to him:

“How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. 
I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 

Even if you're not a religious person, you probably know that this son of Jesse was David, the star of the Old Testament. David was far from perfect. He committed many sins and blunders, and his reign wasn't free of disasters. But he was a man after God's own heart, chosen to bless Israel with his many skills and talents and point them to God in all he did. (He also happened to be charismatic and handsome. ;))

God could have ended the royal line with Saul, or left Saul in power and let things fall apart as punishment for Israel. Instead, He intervened and gave them David. So, within my flawed interpretation of this whole story, maybe He has a David for me too. God might not intend for me to marry again, and if that's the case, my life can still be happy and fruitful. But from now on, when I feel erroneous guilt about the path my life has taken, or am grieving unhealthily over things long past, I'll remind myself of God's abundant grace and mercy even in Plan B situations. I'll remember that I am free. Then I'll pray for a man after God's own heart, fill my horn with oil, and go.

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