Watercolor painting by E. J. Kirsch

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Feb 11, 2018

“God’s Reckonings” 2-11-18

Mark 9:2-8, II Samuel 15
February 11, 2018

This is the last Sunday before Lent, and our two passages seem to have very little to do with each other.  The last Sunday before lent is the day the Churches are encouraged to honor the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Our first lesson from Mark describes that event and we honored Jesus by reading it.  The Transfiguration was significant to the Apostles because it was the first time three of them saw visible evidence of the divinity of Jesus.  For us this great event is properly overshadowed by the Resurrection of Jesus and his Ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  Nonetheless, it is a day when we do honor our Lord by remembering the way in which Jesus displayed his divinity to the inner circle of the Apostles.
Our second lesson describes an event from a much earlier period, about 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus.  And, while it has brutal evidences of a more primitive culture, there are still some important lessons in it for those of us who proclaim to follow Jesus.
In the early 1990s there was a film made about the exploits of Wyatt Earp entitled “Tombstone”.  It starred Kurt Russel and Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer in probably his best role and Doc Holiday.
In the movie, after Earp’s brothers are shot and one of them killed, some of his friends are commenting to Doc about Wyatt’s need for vengeance.  Doc said, “Oh, it isn’t vengeance he’s after, it’s a reckoning.”
We are all on quests for reckonings, justice to be brought on individuals, governments, nations and so on.  And we are often disappointed because we do not see such reckonings.  Sometimes we feel that God has failed us.
But, I think this passage from long ago might help us understand some things about how God does his reckonings.
In the beginning of Chapter 15, God sent his prophet Samuel to Saul the king of Israel with a command.  Saul was to attack the Amalekites and destroy them in retribution for their attack against the Israelites when they were just out of Egypt on their way to Mt Sinai. 
These attacks of the Amalekites were especially grievous because they were related to the Israelites, being the descendants of Amalek who was the grandson of Esau, the brother of Jacob.
So, according to the word of God through Samuel Saul was, a few years before 1000 BC, to destroy the Amalekites for an attack that took place during the Exodus, which occurred 250 to 450 years earlier. 
The idea that God held back his punishments against the descendants of Amalek for hundreds of years and in effect punished the descendants of the original perpetrators might help us understand some things that are happening in our own time.
We wonder why God has not punished certain groups of people for what they have done to others.  Certain nations and certain leaders seem in our eyes, to be ripe for God’s judgments.
Now of course, God does not see things with our eyes, so he might never punish some whom we think need to be punished.
But, even if we are correct in our assessments of the guilt of other nations and leaders, this passage tells us that God does his punishments in his own time, sometimes waiting hundreds of years.
That ought to allow us to be patient as we wait for what we think are God’s righteous judgments of others.
But, while God was about to destroy an entire ethnic group, He was just in not punishing people who had become attached to the descendants of Amalek.
There were a group of people who were called the Kenites who had always been friendly to the Israelites.  At one point Moses’ father in law was said to be a Kenite.  Jael of the Tent-peg-through-the-head-of Sisera fame was a Kenite.
Before Saul attacked the Amalekites, he somehow managed to warn the Kenites to leave the vicinity of the Amalekites, so he would not destroy them also.
It was God’s intent that the Amalekites be destroyed because of their attacks against his people who were related to them.  All of their possessions were also to be destroyed; the Israelite soldiers were not to enrich themselves with the plunder from those who were under Gods Judgments.  The name and posterity of Amalek was to be erased from the roles of humanity.
But Saul did not obey.  He did destroy the Amalekites, he did destroy most of their belongings, but he allowed the people to keep the best of the animals.
And, in his vanity, he kept the King of the Amalekites alive, to keep him as a souvenir of his victory.  But God wanted the king dead. 
So, when Samuel came to celebrate the victory in a religious service, he first had to correct Saul’s mistakes.  Saul was not easily corrected.  He lied twice, stating that the people had kept the best of the Amalekites animals to offer them as sacrifices to God,  And Samuel reminded him twice that God had commanded that all be destroyed, and had not mentioned sacrifices.  And out of this comes a very important phrase.  He said that it was better to obey God than to offer him great sacrifices.  God is more pleased with obedience than abundant and valuable sacrifices.
It was, among the Jews, a difficult concept.  Sacrifices were offered for different purposes.  Sacrifices were offered as Thank offerings, when one was grateful to God.  Sacrifices were offered as fellowship offerings, as a token that one was a friend of God.  And Sacrifices were offered as Sin offerings, to atone for sin.  The problem with Sin offerings was that sometimes it seemed easier and more pleasant in the long run to disobey God and offer a sacrifice for it than to obey God in the first place.
Israel did not easily learn the lesson that God valued obedience as being more important than offering sacrifices after the fact.  In fact, in verse 23 Samuel elaborates, saying that rebellion against God is as bad as divination, a practice of witches, and stubbornness against God’s will is as bad as Idol Worship, a violation of the second commandment.
Christians have also from the beginning had a problem understanding the importance of obedience.  In His Epistle to the Romans the Apostle Paul addressed an early outbreak of the problem.  Some of the Christians at Rome argued that since Jesus died for their sins, in continuing to do sinful things they were actually increasing the value of His sacrifice by sinning more.  Which, of course was a rationalization for their desire to disobey God.
Paul addressed the issue in Romans chapter 6 in 6:1&2 he wrote, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!”
King Saul paid a price for his disobedience.  His disobedience was made worse by his position as leader; his disobedience encouraged the people in their disobedience.
So Samuel did two things.
1) He announced that God had rejected Saul from being the king of Israel.  He would eventually be removed from the throne, and none of his sons would inherit his throne. 
There is an interesting little vignette that played out in prophetic manner regarding this.  Saul implored Samuel to go with him to the worship service that would celebrate the victory and give his blessing to the king in front of the people.  Samuel refused and walked away.  Saul reached out to grab him to compel him to come, and got a hold of his cloak, pulled it and tore it. 
Samuel announced that that was a sign that God had torn the kingdom from Saul.
Samuel did later accompany Saul to the service to keep Saul from losing status in the eyes of the people.
2) Samuel called for the king of the Amalekites, whom God had ordered to be destroyed and Saul had kept as a trophy.  When the king was brought, Samuel hacked him into pieces, as the king and his ancestors had done to others.
On this day when we join the world wide church in honoring the transfiguration of Jesus, and affirming his divinity, this passage may have a word for us.  We believe that Jesus, the divine son of God died for our sins.  Therefore we need to honor him by obeying God in all things.  God prefers obedience to sacrifice.
Disobedience as bad as practicing witchcraft and Rebellion against God is as bad as worshiping idols.
Jesus, the divine son of God died for you.  You are to honor him by obeying God in all things.

Pastor David Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906