A Cautionary Tale: Scripture for June 10

1 Samuel 8

When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to 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. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” Samuel then said to the people of Israel, “Each of you return home.”

The people of Israel, after settling in the Promised Land, lived as a loose confederation of tribes with no central government. In times of crisis or threat, charismatic individuals, known as “judges” would lead the people . . . but with no expectation of ongoing authority. (Incidentally, one of the greatest judges was a woman named Deborah.) In this passage from I Samuel, however, the people come to Samuel (a judge) and ask him to appoint a king over them so that they can be like the rest of the nations. Samuel takes this request to God, who interprets the request as a turning away from divine authority toward human authority. In the end, God relents, and Samuel names Saul as the first King of Israel. Saul, in turn, is succeeded by David (Israel’s greatest king) and Solomon. We should remember that Israel was a theocratic society, so we need to be careful about making a too-easy application to modern politics.

What are the sources of divine authority? Human authority? How do the two relate to one another?

In a secular state/society, what role is there for God?

Why do people so readily give up authority to others?

James GertmenianJim Gertmenian
Senior Minister

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2 Responses to A Cautionary Tale: Scripture for June 10

  1. Joan Smiley says:

    Sources of Divine Authority: Old Testament Prophets; Scripture Old and New Testament; Church Tradition ( authority within a specific denomination); Catholic tradition (dogma); members of some evangelic churches seem to give this to esteemed individual ministers.

    Sources of Human Authority: Congress, legislators make laws our state and nation; Police in matters of public safety; Parents in providing guidance to children; Teachers in the classroom; Scholars could be viewed as probable authority figures in their areas of study.

    Divine and Human Authority Sources can be viewed as connected when individuals seek to make rationale and ethical decisions. Totalitarian States are apt to try to imply divine authority to support man made rules and lifestyle choices.

    The role of God in a secular state is what the significance (and meaning) God has for individual and collective people. In our country it is often the practice of our President and other government leaders to call upon the protection and guidance of God in the affairs of government and the lives of individuals, citizens and others within our boundaries.

    Why do people (so readily) give up individual authority to the authority of others? I’m not so sure that this is a common practice in the US. The important people in my life seem to have an individual sense of authority and correctness in the manner they live their lives. I have discovered that my adult children have each claimed individual authority in making choices, honoring their commitments and responsibilites. As a daughter of parents who were teachers I have found that I value the insights and perspectives of educators and otlher professionals whom I have learned to trust. I might put aside my decision making and individual preferences in order to give another time (and space) to share wisdom and more informed ways of relating with others.

  2. Paul Price says:

    What a set of questions for Saturday morning. I will bite.

    What are the sources of divine authority? Human authority? How do the two relate to one another?

    The source for divine and human “authority” is the human body, composed of the brain and every aspect of its corporeal container. Within that entity is what feels like an infinity of nuance, perception, visualizations, all riding on a fear of death. The Buddha said something like, ‘all things fear death.’ That entity “creates” the “world,” organic and inorganic, “natural” and “unnatural,” “man-made,” upon all of which we layer “explanations” or modes of prevailing or not prevailing “authority.” These are then construed by those with authority to act as projectors of authority, or attempts to contest that authority, e.g., the temple on the hill, the expensive car, the pedigree of ancestry, “social” position in its carefully tended to varieties, the building of a hospital that renders care without first being concerned about profits and collections, the “voluntary” coming together of people who want/need/defiantly desire to project a contesting vision of authority . . .

    What is authority? An effort to explain? Why explain? To impose order (a cosmology) on a world that in its statistical insignificance in the scale of the universe (or even more bedeviling the possibility of multiple universes) can cause its sentient beings to sometimes feel something they term infinity. An effort to control, resist and battle with a “teeming” world of forms (organic and inorganic, “man made,” etc.) that may as likely invade our bodies and kill us as cause us ecstasy and bedazzlement, or perhaps even more cherished, simple contentment and peace for even a few hours-a not growling, sick feeling belly, dry clothing (however constituted), friends and family at peace for awhile. What is authority? The power to convince of, or coerce an explanation of–or both–‘how things work,’ that seems to provide a sufficient level of desired results to make a sufficient number of gathered humans adhere to its explanatory power. Current authority also has the power to suppress consideration of and explain away its failures and gaps. Those who momentarily wield explanatory power often control the resources that fill the stomach, heat the dwelling, control the levers of selection that may render our offspring more competitive in their survival and dominance position than others . . . decide who is cared for by the dedication of the “best resources,” . . . .

    (Report of a psychology experiment during my undergraduate years. Two groups of rats were bred to be “smart” or “dumb” at scurrying through and solving mazes. Simply placed in a maze, the group members fulfilled the expectations of their bred in destiny. When a control group of dumb rats was given extra attention, i.e., held and petted more, cooed over, etc., their maze performance levels closely approached the levels of the smart rats.)

    How do I explain (create communicable senses of order-“authority”-to myself or others) that for a few years the grasses are green and the little streams flow, my family and flocks grow, and then the rains stop for years or human marauders flow in and destroy everything and I, along with a surviving child, are hiding in the rocks, quietly picking our way to the other side of the range of hills. On the other side, I might scheme about controlling the streams, and/or decide to band and train with others to rid the countryside of marauders . . . and build irrigation ditches . . . and schools to train irrigation engineers. . . and marauder stoppers . . . or with subterfuge, invite the marauders to a festival to eat, drink and “make nice,” and . . . and language schools to learn the marauders’ language and cultural systems to try to negotiate with them (if the marauding stops . . .) or assimilate them . . . or I, myself, may have been where the little streams flow because I and my fellow marauders drove away others . . .I am sure there are stories like these in the Hebrew Bible and many other “literatures” . . .

    In a secular state/society, what role is there for God?

    Since both are, in my opinion, attempts at rendering a cosmology, it depends on the explanatory power and charisma of the secular or “religious” “speaker” as an individual, movement, organization, community . . .

    Why do people so readily give up authority to others?

    See Stanley Milgram, Philip Zimbardo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment), political philosophy, neoro-psychology, Citizens United, hairless primates increasing their odds of survival on the savannah by grouping together and assigning (however that is arrived at) tasks, my roving band is bigger than yours, humility, the hard and time consuming task of carefully testing premises is endangering to one’s survival in the currently constituted group (“free will” is a difficult to attain and nurture skill). Sometimes it is efficient. I remember reading about ardent, democracy inspired bands of citizen soldiers who early on during the American Revolution found that discussing and taking a vote on battlefield tactics while the British were advancing on their position was not efficient. Educational and family systems, within social and cultural conglomerations, arising from a fear of death and that can control or contest the infinitely varied “resources” that mitigate that fear, that allow time to wonder and be bedazzled, or sit with contentment with family and friends for just a little while, no matter the gender . . . and life burgeons on, with us-all of us- “trying” to ride its wave.

    I see “us humans” as “responsible,” making what we call imperfect choices, striving towards God, whom I can’t explain in its infinitude of manifestations, with no part of the universes, however perceived or experienced, beyond its compass, and no ultimate guarantees.

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