Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Bible Redux: Obedience over Sacrifice

This was how it all went down.

The people of God wanted a king. Despite the dire warnings of the Man of God, who knew what having a king meant, the people demanded it. Though the Man of God had led them for years, they insisted on it. God spoke to his prophet, and said, "Don't sweat it. They aren't rejecting you as their leader; they're rejecting Me. So I'll give them exactly what they want. But warn them of what is to come first; I am a just God, after all."

The people said again, "Man of God, give us a king, so we can be like our neighbors." And the Man of God said, "You stupid people. Don't you realize that having a king will mean all sorts of problems for you? A king will become a burden to you. Better to be led by a perfect God than an imperfect king." The Man of God listed off the awful results of having a king.

But the people pressed him. "Man of God, give us a king, who can go before us and fight our battles."

"Very well!" said the Man of God. True to his word, he found the person that God had selected, and made him King. The King was a mighty warrior, and a good ruler. But the King was also impetuous, and impatient, and immature. Once, when told by the Man of God to wait until his return seven days later to make a sacrifice, the King made the sacrifice too early, before the prophet had arrived, because the people around him began complaining.

The King also made rash vows, difficult to keep. Once, during battle, he swore that any warrior who stopped to eat before they were victorious would be put to death. When his son, who hadn't heard this proclamation, ate some honey and was refreshed, the King found out and would have killed him, if not for the intervention of his soldiers. He was a foolish King.

The final straw came after a battle against a nearby Enemy, an Enemy who had brutally attacked the people many years before. The Man of God instructed the King, "When you defeat the city of the Enemy, you are to destroy every living thing in it, man and woman, child and beast. Leave nothing alive, down to the smallest lamb. Wipe them out. This is the command of the Most High." So the King led his army of 200,000 warriors into battle, and they were successful. The army of the Enemy was slaughtered, along with every one of their people.

However, the King captured the Enemy Ruler and kept him alive, as a prisoner of war. And when the time came to slaughter all of the Enemy's livestock, the King and his warriors destroyed all of the weak, diseased, and ugly animals, but kept the fittest and best cattle alive, as spoils of war.

Far away, the word of 'He Who Sees' came to His prophet. He told the Man of God, "I am sorry that I made that man the King, because he has rejected My word and disobeyed My instructions." The anger of the Great and Mighty One burned against the foolish King. The Man of God cried out to his Maker through the night, praying and pleading on behalf of the people and their stupid King.

The next day, the Man of God set out to meet with the King. When the Man of God returned to the camp, he was told that the King had gone to a mountain to set up a monument of his victory over the Enemy. The Man of God went out to meet him.

The King greeted the Man of God warmly. "May the Mighty One bless you! I have completed all of His instructions."

The Man of God could barely contain his anger. "Oh really? Then why is it that, in this empty plain, I hear the bleating of sheep, and the lowing of cattle? Where is it coming from, if you did as you were told?"

The King fumbled for an answer. "Well, it's the soldiers, they spared the best of the livestock from slaughter. But they did it to make a sacrifice to your God. Believe me! They totally destroyed everything else."

"Stop!" said the Man of God. "Stop lying to me! Let me tell you what the Most High told me last night."

The King glanced around, folded his arms, and nervously kicked a pebble at his feet. "G-go ahead."

The Man of God took a deep breath. "Before, you considered yourself nothing. But the Master of Men elevated you to a high position of honor and authority, making you King over His chosen people. He gave you a mission, clear-cut and simple: 'Destroy the Enemy, those wicked people. Make war on them and destroy every living thing, man and woman, child and beast. Leave nothing alive, down to the smallest lamb. Wipe them out.' Why did you not obey His command? Why did you greedily scoop up plunder for yourselves, doing evil in the sight of the All-Seeing One?"

The King took a step forward. "But I did keep the word of the Holy One. I wiped out the Enemy, and captured the Enemy's Ruler. My warriors spared the best livestock to sacrifice them as a burnt offering before your God."

The Man of God lost his composure. "Does the Most High prefer the blood of animals to the obedience of men? Would he rather have the burnt carcasses of rams, instead of His chosen people heeding His commands? Absolutely not! Obedience is better than rituals and sacrifices. To disobey the word of God, to reject His commands, is like turning to another god for instruction, or consulting the spirits of the dead for guidance."

The King's fists clenched, but his mouth was silent, his jaw tight, his lips forming a thin white line.

Samuel lifted his hand and pointed in the face of the King. "Because you have rejected the Almighty One as Lord, He has rejected you as King!"

The King flinched. After a moment, he unclenched his fists and held out open hands before the Man of God. "I have sinned. I disobeyed God's command and your clear instructions. I was afraid of the men turning against me, so I gave in to their demands. I beg you, please forgive my cowardice. Come back to camp with me. Let's worship the Faithful One together."

The Man of God shook his head. "I will not return with you. I will not worship with you. You are rejected by God as King." He turned to walk away.

Whether in a fit of anger or desperation, the King reached out and grabbed hold of the Man of God's robe, tearing it. As soon as he saw what he had done, the King gasped, then let go of the robe and took at step back. The Man of God turned back to the King, with fire in his eyes. "The Most High One has torn this kingdom from your hands! He has taken it from you and given it to one of your neighbors, a man after His own heart, a man better than you. This is certain, and will come to pass. He who is the Glory of His People does not lie or change His mind, as a man does."

The King grew more desperate and pleaded with the prophet. "I have wronged you. But please honor me before my people; come back with me. Worship your God with me." The Man of God considered, and relented. They went back together, and the King worshipped God.

When they had returned, the Man of God said, "Bring me the Enemy Ruler." The Enemy Ruler was brought before him. The man stood before the prophet confidently, thinking he would not be executed. But the prophet drew a sword and said, "Because you have made so many women childless, so shall your mother be childless." Then the Man of God struck down and killed the Enemy Ruler, in front of the Most High and the entire camp.

After that, the man of God left the camp for another place, but the King returned to his hometown. Until the day he died, the Man of God never spoke with the King (though the prophet did speak to the King once from beyond the grave), but he mourned for the King every day of his life.

The Holy One mourned also, that He had made such a man King over His people, even if it was at their own request.


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