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Getting out the Pagan Within Part 6: A Biblical Theology of I Samuel 15:27-31 in Context

1 Samuel 15 6 smallIn our last few posts on 1 Samuel 15:27-31, we attempted to unpack the text in context in order to draw out of it, the narrator’s intended theological message… i.e. the reason he included the story in the larger Samuel narrative.

Individual stories function in larger biblical narrations much like cogs in a machine, or circuits in a computer, in which each story serves a vital role in preaching a grand message.

In this instance, 1 Samuel 15:27-31 plays a central role in 1 Samuel 15 generally, and 1 Samuel 15 plays a role in Samuel, which, according to some plays a role in the much larger work of Deuteronomy or Joshua through Judges, Samuel and Kings.[1] The big discussion of Biblical theology is whether one may say that this unit in turn plays a purposeful role in the Old Testament as a whole and that in Scripture as a whole. Fun times!!!

The grand story is the story of the Kingdom of God emerging in the world (through various tools & people) to set the stage for God’s ultimate victory over the chaos that is sin in order to bring the whole of creation to the place that God intended it to go when he made it. A fundamental part of this revelation is of God himself, his attributes, his way, his plan.

1 Samuel records the shift from charismatic leader rule to kingdom with a tension between the motives of the people in the shift and God’s plan for the shift. If the history of Deuteronomy is what I think it is, then king and kingdom were always part of YHWH’s intentions in Israel, but both the timing and motives of the people are off. They want a king NOW! They want a king so that they can stop depending on YHWH’s spontaneous election of a ruler.

They get Saul, a corrupt pagan-ish, cowardly, egomaniacal, priest murdering, fool of a king; a man who saw other people and YHWH himself as tools for his own self-aggrandizement.

What was waiting in the wings, however, had they been patient enough for YHWH’s perfect timing, was David.

1 Samuel 15 plays an important role in exposing the legitimate displacement of Saul, not BY David, but WITH David. YHWH displaces Saul… and for good reason. King David was not David’s plan… the ambitions of the shepherd who would be king. David was YHWH’s plan who looks to the heart and plucked him from the sheepfold to set him over His kingdom as regent.

In 1 Samuel 15, YHWH looks to Saul’s heart, the unrepentant, blame shifting, blame‑confessing violator of herem, and chooses against him in favor of the Neighbor who is better than him.

Within this mini-drama, 1 Samuel 15:27-31, working within 1 Samuel 15, informs the reader about the nature of God. God cannot be manipulated by external displays. Those who desire a change in God’s response to them need to change themselves.

Saul used cultural pressures to manipulate Samuel into behaving the way he desired. The pagan world believed that through similar actions, they could manipulate their gods into behaving the way they desired.

1 Samuel 15:27-31 declares unequivocally that YHWH will not be manipulated by men.  God acts at all times in keeping with Himself, and neither prayer, Scripture quotation, worship, fasting, nor incantation can cause Him to act otherwise. The goal of our worship is to get ourselves into His will, to get ourselves reflecting His character NOT to strive to get YHWH to back up our vision, our plans, our dreams.

We should avoid two temptations when applying this.

The first is to believe that YHWH’s rejection of Saul under the “Old Covenant” does not apply under the “New Covenant,” as if there was something broken in both God and the Old Testament that Jesus and the New Testament needed to repair rather than fulfill.

Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1ff), Simon (Acts 8:18ff), and the Pharisees of Mark 3:22 would probably agree with this statement if you could ask them… as would the author of Hebrews. (Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26-29; Hebrews  12:15-25)

The second is to find oneself in Saul’s shoes in response to every sin and failure in life—nail-biting faith. This is for an individual to find Samuel’s condemnation of Saul and declaration of divine determination to be a personal word against every misdeed in his or her life.

The condemnation of Saul finds a balance in the mercy shown to David in unspeakable sin (2 Samuel 11:1ff).

Saul’s sin was not just a moral failure, nor a bad motivation, nor a slip of the tongue. It was a complete slip of the heart, a rebellion against YHWH’s covenant, a high handed disregard (Num. 15:30-31) for the commands given to him through Samuel—blasphemy against YHWH’s Holy Spirit. He grew up as a bitter root in the land of Israel (Deuteronomy 29:18; Hebrews 12:15).

It is God’s desire that all men repent and be saved. Therefore, it is commanded in Acts 3:19 “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”  If a man desires forgiveness rather than wrath, let him genuinely repent, for there is no means in heaven or on earth  by which one may manipulate God in his favor.

 

[1] Liberals call this Deuteronomic History. I tend to think of Joshua-Judges-Samuel-Kings as a unit.

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