The Scriptures are counter-cultural, even counter-human. They cut right across the human grain, and violate our most personal feelings, aspirations and celebrations.
When Saul was initially inaugurated as Israel’s first king, it wasn’t exactly a celebratory event. Israel had sinned in demanding a king in favor of Samuel, the Judge of Israel. Many opposed Saul, and Saul himself tried to duck out of his own installation.
Anti-climatically, Saul even returned to his ox and plow after being “crowned,” but this would soon change. The terrified Israelites of Jabesh-Gilead, besieged by the powerful king of the Ammonites, Nahash, agreed to submit. However, this was not good enough for Nahash:
- Nahash the Ammonite replied, "I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel." (1 Samuel 11:2)
Surprisingly, the Gileadites agreed to this if only Nahash would give them a week to see if anyone would come to their rescue. They sent tearful messengers to the plowman Saul, imploring him to come. Upon hearing this request, the Holy Spirit came upon Saul. He was deeply moved, hastily raised an army and smashed the Ammonites.
Jubilation followed. There was such excitement about the new King of Israel that they determined to re-inaugurate Saul, but this time with all the fanfare that he now had earned.
Finally, it was the man of God’s turn of to speak at this glorious event. Samuel, in one of the greatest shows of insensitivity, especially in light of Israel’s plight and joyous celebration, threw a wet towel on the entire ceremony. Without a word of congratulations to King Saul or recognition of the great deliverance that he had just wrought by the hand of the Lord, Samuel chastened Israel for their sins and warned against any future rebellion:
- “But if you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers. Now then, stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes! Is it not wheat harvest now? I will call upon the Lord to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the Lord when you asked for a king." Then Samuel called upon the Lord, and that same day the Lord sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the Lord and of Samuel. (1 Samuel 12:15-18)
Samuel’s timing, at least from a human perspective, couldn’t have been worse. In the midst of Israel’s jubilation, he called upon the Lord to destroy their wheat crop.
Israel’s God (and His Scriptures) has always proved counter-cultural. King Saul disobeyed God on one account, and, consequently, he would soon be history. Samuel was late, and the sacrifice to the Lord, imploring Him to bless their engagement against the Philistines, was imperative. Meanwhile, Saul’s army was wondering off. Therefore, Saul made the sacrifice. But man’s ways, however justifiable they might seem, aren’t God’s ways. Indeed, the Scriptures show little respect for our inclinations – our way of doing things.
Long before this episode, after Joshua led the children of Israel through the Jordan River into the Promised Land and just prior to their conquest of Jericho, Joshua had a divine encounter. A divine Being holding a sword stood before Joshua. At this fearsome sight, Joshua understandably inquired, “Are you for us or for our enemies?" (Joshua 5:13).
Instead of answering that He was there to help Joshua, he answered: "Neither…but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come."
However, He clearly was there to give Israel victory, but not according to Joshua’s understanding. While Joshua saw himself as the “commander of the army of the Lord,” he was no more than the junior partner. Nor was it a matter of this mysterious Person being “for us.” Instead, it was a matter of whether or not Joshua was for God!
While we have a tendency to expect God to be either for or against us, the more important question – and this question is consistently at the heart of Scripture – is whether or not we are for God. Becoming a true man of God is not a matter of whether we can get God to endorse our plans but rather our readiness to endorse His plans.
Jesus presented a model prayer to His disciples. In line with the rest of the Scriptures, it was completely God-centered:
- "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-10)
It is God’s plans and Person that must be honored, not ours; it is His will that must prevail, and not our will. How contrary to our human religions containing their human heroes! Joshua got the right message from his divine Visitor:
- Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?"
Enigmatically, His only message was that He had to honor the profound distinction between man and His God:
- The commander of the Lord's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:15)
We tend to choose our religion according to how well it fits into our tastes, agendas, and lifestyles. I had been “seeking God” for years. However, He had to conform to my specifications. Consequently, I was finding nothing more than my own aloneness in this universe.
There are no heroes in the Bible – just men and woman who either trusted God or didn’t. Our Patriarchs of the Faith – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – were anything but heroes in their own right. Rather, in many ways, they were losers! However, their God was “able to make them stand” (Romans 14:4)!
In contrast, human religions make their Patriarchs into heroes. The Jewish Talmud sanitizes the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to explain away anything that might appear to be a moral blemish.
We demand heroes, but Scripture gives us only One Hero. In this, Scripture is so different from human religions, which celebrate the achievements of their heroes. Consequently, in Scripture we find no prescribed holidays that celebrate human achievement. There is no “Victory over Jericho Day,” no “Victory over the Philistines Day,” and there is no “Victory over Nahash Day!” Only God’s achievements are to be celebrated! How utterly counter-human of the Scriptures! How utterly uncharacteristic of what we humans would write! Scripture could only be the invention of a divine mind.
However, it is this divine perspective that we so desperately need. Samuel might not have been the quintessence of political correctness. However, Israel acknowledged the needfulness of his words:
- The people all said to Samuel, "Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king." (1 Samuel 12:19)
The God of Scripture has fallen into great disdain in the West. He fails to coincide with our culture. However, He is the only God available. We cannot expect Him to conform to our agenda. We must, as little children, conform to His and pray, “hallowed be Your name” (Matthew 6:9).