Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Beth Carter, Dreaming King Bronze. 140x42x28cm.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
— 1 Samuel 8:4-5
The Israelites may have abandoned their temples to Baal but it is clear here they haven't ceased their idol worship. They are still in thrall to the Canaanite culture, wishing to mimic their system of governance, make us a king to judge us like all the nations, believing their own system to be inadequate by comparison. Idol worship is not literally to bow down before statues and images, that's just its facile representation. In truth it means to worship or even be drawn towards that which is not the true God.1 I suppose we all suffer that to one degree or another. The sin is not in the attraction towards temptation, the sin is the denial of our motives once we wake up to, or have pointed out what they are. Humans can (and do) explain and justify all kinds of appalling behaviour, including genocide, torture, humiliation and slavery, often using distortions of the Word to do so. But I digress.
Samuel himself in this story is not above temptation. In the incident that prompted the visit from the elders, Samuel made his own sons judges of Israel, against tradition and advice. It was God who chose the judges, not man, and as Gideon pointed out sons shall not inherit such positions from the father.2 Samuel no doubt justified his decision through a desire to serve, and being so close to them was unable to admit the sins of his offspring, And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.3 The elders thus had a case to push back on this appointment, but instead of putting their trust in God to lead them, they are drawn into mimicking the system of governance most prevalent in the land, being swayed by the logical fallacy that because everyone else is doing so, it must be right. This argumentum ad populum is a trap we all can easily fall into. It is a test of ones faith to pause, to discern, and to not be drawn in. This is so hard when balanced against our need to belong, to be at the centre of the herd. But perhaps that is what faith is: living on the edge.
1 'Here Are Your Gods!' Faithful Discipleship in Idolatrous Times by Christopher J H Wright, IVP, 2020
2 Judges 8:23
3 1 Samuel 8:3