The Word, at times, carries a little fog. More often, the Word is clear … clear like an evening sky, no clouds in sight, stars shimmering and piercing the space between here and there. A transcendent experience. At least it comes across that way to me. And with those priceless cloudless nights, by the way, it is odd that these galactic jewels are so far away … so far away that it is difficult to believe.
And elusivity is what I experience sometimes when I read about the Old Testament Saul. I have compassion for the man, at least to some degree. Here is one way to put it. Saul made some mistakes and God came down on him.
I always keep in mind that God knew then, and He knows now, the details of every story. God knew Saul’s heart, and God placed Samuel in a position to instruct Saul on what to do, and when to do it. Even that has a radical piece: a prophet, telling a king what to do? I don’t have a problem with that. But here is an example, from 1 Samuel 13, specifically 6 through 15. Once again, I am picking out some excerpts, and adding some paraphrase, from The Messasge.
6-7 Saul and his troops were way outnumbered, in deep trouble. Many of the soldiers ran for cover, hiding in caves, pits, ravines, brambles, cisterns—wherever. They ran like jackrabbits across the Jordan River, heading for Gad and Gilead. But Saul held his ground in Gilgal, his soldiers still with him but scared to death.
8 Saul waited seven days, the time set by Samuel. Samuel failed to show up at Gilgal, and the soldiers were slipping away, right and left. (Bummer!)
9-10 So Saul made a judgment call: “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” He went ahead and sacrificed the burnt offering. No sooner had he done it than Samuel showed up! Saul greeted him.
11-12 Samuel said, “What on earth are you doing?”
Saul told Samuel, “I saw I was losing my army from under me, and that you hadn’t come when you said you would … the Philistines were poised at Micmash, I said, ‘The Philistines are about to come down on me in Gilgal, and I haven’t yet come before God asking for his help.’ So I took things into my own hands, and sacrificed the burnt offering.”
13-14 “That was a fool thing to do,” Samuel said to Saul. “If you had kept the appointment that your God commanded, by now God would have set a firm and lasting foundation under your kingly rule over Israel. As it is, your kingly rule is already falling to pieces. God is out looking for your replacement right now. This time he’ll do the choosing. When he finds him, he’ll appoint him leader of his people. And all because you didn’t keep your appointment with God!”
15 At that, Samuel got up and left Gilgal. What army there was left followed Saul into battle. They went into the hills from Gilgal toward Gibeah in Benjamin. Saul looked over and assessed the soldiers still with him—a mere six hundred!
Yes, I have some compassion for Saul. I consider my mistakes. God has given me immeasurable amounts of grace, forgiveness, mercy, love. I consider that Saul fought with courage, and he made a decision about making the burnt offerings and peace offerings, because Samuel had not arrived by the time he said he would. Again, God was there, and I wasn’t. And, all of this was happening within the old covenant, versus the new covenant. And this passage reminds of the profound importance of waiting on God, following His direction, even if it doesn’t make sense. This ambivalence I experience, when understanding is elusive, brings me to a good place of trusting God with great respect and a sacred depth. Who else can we trust, more than God? And when God is elusive, shrouded by the clouds on a moonless night … God is. And, God will be.