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The Word in the World

The Bible Reading Club: The Word in the World – Reign over me (1 Samuel 8:19-22)

Today’s Reading: 1 Samuel 6-10

Today’s Reflection: 1 Samuel 8:19-22

19) But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20) that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 21) And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. 22) And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”

A few weeks ago, the whole world it seemed was in awe of something that seems rather simple: a wedding.  But of course this was no ordinary wedding.  It was the wedding of Prince William, second in line to the throne of England, and his Princess to be Kate Middleton.  The day of the wedding it was nearly impossible to find a channel on television not covering the event in some way shape or form.  The questions about when William might rise to the throne, the political implications of marrying a ‘commoner’, the style trends Kate was expected to start (not to mention sister Pippa), the impact on the world markets, the stories of thousands upon thousands of people traveling from around the world just to stand outside the cathedral and watch the new couple pass by (but few reports on the tremendous sums of taxpayer money spent to maintain the royal family’s lavish lifestyle).  The most notable narrative was the idea that this widely celebrated event would rehabilitate the image of a monarchy tarnished by infidelity, scandal, and tragedy.  But for some of us there was an even bigger question:

Why does anyone care?

Today’s reflection text goes some way to explaining why.  After God freed Israel from slavery, led them to the Promised Land, delivered it into their hands from the people of Canaan, and allowed them to establish a prosperous nation, the children of Israel responded to this favour by…  Rejecting Him in favour of an earthly king.  Yes there was corruption in the priesthood—the effective human leadership over Israel—which the people pointed to as their reason for wanting a King, but God Himself made clear this was just a convenient excuse:

1 Samuel 8:7 – And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.”

The people said it themselves.  They wanted a king so they could be like the other nations.  Even though they were warned that like those nations, they would be subject to the whims of their kings, would have to surrender their wealth, their children, their freedom, and be at the mercy of their wisdom (or lack thereof), Israel still wanted a king.  And God gave them what they asked for.

Israel chose what they could see over what they ought to have known to be true.  They wanted the spectacle of great men they could boast of to the surrounding nations, not an invisible God who moved in mysterious (and at times, maddeningly unknowable) ways.  But are we today any different?

We know that the royal families of the world (and the public figures—politicians, athletes, entertainers and celebrities of all kinds) are just people.  Fallible.  Prone to temptation and error.  But they appear to be more.  Larger than life, adored by millions, physically flawless, capable of astonishing feats, favoured by every advantage and luxury available to mankind.  The media does a great job of editing out their imperfections and shortcomings. Even though we know it isn’t really true, that it is impossible for anyone to be that perfect, we buy into the fantasy.  We want our gods to be visible, and tangible.  We want them to look like us—perhaps because then we can imagine being them, and the idea of being our own God has always been an attractive but ultimately destructive idea for humanity.  And that idea usually continues to prove attractive until the inevitable failure—divorce, crime, scandal, premature death—when our heroes’ fragile humanity shocks us back to the cold, hard reality of truth: there is no one of us worthy of being worshipped by the rest of us.

Too often we embrace the illusion of the fleeting, and throw away the reality of that which is life-giving and eternal.  The truth is whichever we choose we become transformed by and beholden to.  Whichever we choose ultimately becomes king over us.  Remember, just as God gave Israel a choice, He gives you one as well.  Who will you choose to reign over you?

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