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An Early Morning Insight

 

Groggily stirring from a deep sleep this morning, the Haftorah reading for the week came to mind. (Not being a Torah scholar, I was surprised and perplexed.) I had read it over the day before and thought that it was pretty straightforward. But as I lay in bed, I realized there was a prescient message that spoke to the present times. I wanted to share that with you.

I Samuel, 15:2-34 was about G-d telling the prophet Samuel to instruct King Saul to defeat King Agag and the Amalekites, destroying all the people and all of their animals. (The Amalekites had viciously attacked the Hebrews previously.) Saul was not the brightest bulb and decided that he’d just slightly adjust the commands from G-d. So when he defeated the Amalekites, he kept the King alive (probably figuring, what could he do now without an army to support him) and also saved many of the best animals, figuring they could be used for sacrifices. Hey, you can never have too many sacrificial animals.

Samuel, to whom G-d had expressed his anger and disappointment, confronted Saul, who tried to make excuses for himself, but Samuel would have none of it:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As much as in obedience to the Lord’s command?
Surely, obedience is better than sacrifice,
Compliance than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
Defiance, like the iniquity of teraphim.
Because you rejected the Lord’s command,
He has rejected you as king.”

Saul begged for forgiveness, but Samuel rejected his pleas and killed King Agag himself.

On first reading, there were obvious messages I could glean. When we receive direction from G-d, we step up. We just do it. G-d wanted King Agag destroyed so there would be no vestiges of that idol worshipping civilization. And He called for the potential sacrificial animals destroyed for the same reason. Using one of those animals from an unholy people as a sacrifice was just not kosher. Everything had to be destroyed, so there was nothing to tempt the Hebrews to idol worship and separate them from G-d. Another message was that sacrifices were a way for Jews to connect with G-d. But Samuel, in his words above, pointed out that obeying G-d is most important. And why? This is where the story relates to our own times.

Today we see people worldwide who think they have the power, intelligence, and authority of G-d.

In our own politics, we have people who not only don’t believe in G-d, but defy everything G-d stands for: humility, knowing our limitations, remembering that everyone is created in G-d’s image. Instead, we have a political wave of people who believe they are entitled to their power, to forcing it on others because they have a mission to save all of us, a belief that they know what is best for everyone, and a certainty that they are superior to all of us. They have made themselves into gods.

My hope is that they will be trapped in the miasma of their own arrogance.

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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There are 18 comments.

  1. Member

    The importance of a belief in G-d cannot be overstated even for those, like me, who are agnostic. As stated in the OP, if mankind does not believe in G-d, they arrogate the powers of G-d unto themselves. Many atheists reject G-d because they ask how can there be a G-d and yet such evil and sorrow exists? But arrogating the powers of G-d to man is the source of evil. It matters not whether there is universal agreement on the nature and details of G-d. It matters a great deal that man believe in the possibility of G-d.

    • #1
    • March 14, 2019 at 7:33 am
    • 6 likes
  2. Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Rodin (View Comment):
    Many atheists reject G-d because they ask how can their be a G-d and yet such evil and sorrow exists?

    Beautifully said, @rodin. I shake my head when people say these things. G-d does not exist to make our lives perfect, nor to protect us from ourselves. With our free will, we are able to cause much sorrow and evil, and usually have ourselves to blame.

    • #2
    • March 14, 2019 at 7:41 am
    • 5 likes
  3. Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    I do want to add a couple of things, too. If anyone wants to comment on my interpretation, including correcting or disagreeing, I’m fine with that. Also, I would say some of the actions of the Left can be described as evil. An evil act can also be committed by people who mean well, or so they say. We only need to look at the monsters of our modern history.

    • #3
    • March 14, 2019 at 7:44 am
    • 5 likes
  4. Member

    Self-deification is big in the prosperous, comfy West — a byproduct of our success. It predominates on the Left, but you see it on the Right, too. I think your interpretation is correct, Susan, as far as it goes. 

    Obedience and humility are necessary to maintain civil society, and I notice that the US held out longer than the rest of the West due to its religiosity until recently. The “Nones” (no religious affiliation) are a rapidly growing demographic. I agree with Dennis Prager, secularism is the bane of the modern West. It will be the end of us. 

    However, I think we have to go a step further because evil (suffering) comes in two forms — human and natural. Godlessness helps explain the former, but not the latter. 

    In my own life (two seriously ill children), the Catholic theology of redemptive suffering has been my lifeline. No person caused this evil. God allowed it. Why?

    That can only be answered in faith. He knows what we need to become the people He made us to be. We would not reach our potential (and contribute our small part to the bringing forth of His kingdom) were it not for the struggle. 

    I believe one of the greatest plagues in the modern world is the aversion to suffering (struggle). We are increasingly becoming morally and intellectually flabby without it.

    • #4
    • March 14, 2019 at 8:19 am
    • 7 likes
  5. Moderator

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    I do want to add a couple of things, too. If anyone wants to comment on my interpretation, including correcting or disagreeing, I’m fine with that. Also, I would say some of the actions of the Left can be described as evil. An evil act can also be committed by people who mean well, or so they say. We only need to look at the monsters of our modern history.

    CS Lewis is always apropos here:

    Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.

     

    • #5
    • March 14, 2019 at 9:12 am
    • 5 likes
  6. Moderator

    I’m also reminded of Psalm 51 (which is read in a great many Orthodox services):

    Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    The God of my salvation,
    And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.
     O Lord, open my lips,
    And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
     For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
    You do not delight in burnt offering.
     The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
    A broken and a contrite heart—
    These, O God, You will not despise.

     Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion;
    Build the walls of Jerusalem.
     Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness,
    With burnt offering and whole burnt offering;
    Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

    • #6
    • March 14, 2019 at 9:27 am
    • 6 likes
  7. Member

    Susan, I happened to be listening to the same part of 1 Samuel last night. Quite a coincidence.

    The story of Saul and the Amalekites is exceptionally harsh. It is the sort of instruction to genocide that Sam Harris often uses to argue that the God of the Bible is an immoral monster. I do not take this view.

    It is certainly a highly intolerant command. Perhaps tolerance is not such a virtue, after all.

    My hope is that our modern opponents will see the error of their ways, and repent. But if they won’t, I do pray that God will deal with them accordingly, harsh as that may seem.

    • #7
    • March 14, 2019 at 9:39 am
    • 2 likes
  8. Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    That can only be answered in faith. He knows what we need to become the people He made us to be. We would not reach our potential (and contribute our small part to the bringing forth of His kingdom) were it not for the struggle. 

    I think I see struggle differently than you do, @westernchauvinist. Do you think G-d wants us to struggle, or puts struggles on our path? I don’t think G-d intervenes with our lives much at all. He expects us to learn from the struggles we encounter, to be willing to take them on and work through them, and emerge resolutely. But a lot of times (I’m not at all referring to your sick children) we are responsible for our own suffering, or there is simply no human explanation for them. And I know if struggle itself makes us better, or if our willingness to take it on is what truly matters. What do you think?

    • #8
    • March 14, 2019 at 11:26 am
    • 1 like
  9. Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    SkipSul (View Comment):

    I’m also reminded of Psalm 51 (which is read in a great many Orthodox services):

    Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    The God of my salvation,
    And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.
    O Lord, open my lips,
    And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
    For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
    You do not delight in burnt offering.
    The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
    A broken and a contrite heart—
    These, O God, You will not despise.

    Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion;
    Build the walls of Jerusalem.
    Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness,
    With burnt offering and whole burnt offering;
    Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.

    Both quotes are so special, @skipsul. And so true. Thanks.

    • #9
    • March 14, 2019 at 11:29 am
    • 2 likes
  10. Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):

    Susan, I happened to be listening to the same part of 1 Samuel last night. Quite a coincidence.

    The story of Saul and the Amalekites is exceptionally harsh. It is the sort of instruction to genocide that Sam Harris often uses to argue that the God of the Bible is an immoral monster. I do not take this view.

    It is certainly a highly intolerant command. Perhaps tolerance is not such a virtue, after all.

    My hope is that our modern opponents will see the error of their ways, and repent. But if they won’t, I do pray that God will deal with them accordingly, harsh as that may seem.

    Thanks, @arizonapatriot. I think when we judge these actions in terms of our own modernism, we cheat ourselves of a clear understanding. I, too, hope that G-d will “deal with them accordingly”; I see no injustice in that.

    • #10
    • March 14, 2019 at 11:31 am
    • Like
  11. Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    That can only be answered in faith. He knows what we need to become the people He made us to be. We would not reach our potential (and contribute our small part to the bringing forth of His kingdom) were it not for the struggle.

    I think I see struggle differently than you do, @westernchauvinist. Do you think G-d wants us to struggle, or puts struggles on our path? I don’t think G-d intervenes with our lives much at all. He expects us to learn from the struggles we encounter, to be willing to take them on and work through them, and emerge resolutely. But a lot of times (I’m not at all referring to your sick children) we are responsible for our own suffering, or there is simply no human explanation for them. And I know if struggle itself makes us better, or if our willingness to take it on is what truly matters. What do you think?

    My (Catholic) theology says God has no part in creating evil (suffering). Evil is a lack of good (God). That’s why I said He “allows” it, not that He causes it. So on that, we agree. 

    But, Susan, there are millions of people who have suffered through no fault of their own. Think of the tsunami, wildfire, and earthquake victims. The horrible diseases that plague people. This world is not heaven, and I often think God allows us to suffer so that we don’t get too attached to it.

    • #11
    • March 14, 2019 at 11:49 am
    • 5 likes
  12. Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    But, Susan, there are millions of people who have suffered through no fault of their own. Think of the tsunami, wildfire, and earthquake victims. The horrible diseases that plague people. This world is not heaven, and I often think God allows us to suffer so that we don’t get too attached to it.

    I agree! I think when people expect G-d to make sure there is no suffering that they are not people of faith. I think, too, that G-d wants us to know our own power to find our way through our suffering. We may do it reluctantly, angrily, sorrowfully, but G-d trusts we can do it. I think when people think they are entitled to be helped just because they were put on this earth, they are doomed to helplessness and unhappiness.

    • #12
    • March 14, 2019 at 11:53 am
    • 1 like
  13. Member

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):

    Susan, I happened to be listening to the same part of 1 Samuel last night. Quite a coincidence.

    The story of Saul and the Amalekites is exceptionally harsh. It is the sort of instruction to genocide that Sam Harris often uses to argue that the God of the Bible is an immoral monster. I do not take this view.

    It is certainly a highly intolerant command. Perhaps tolerance is not such a virtue, after all.

     

    I find the objections of most modern skeptics and atheists on this point dishonest almost to the point of being laughable. If the divine command were a modern equivalent aimed at what for them is the most dangerous group of enemies they have- conservatives, Trump supporters, Christian Fundamentalists, Reaganites, Thachterites, et alia- they’d be at the front of the line with their newly-issued AK-47s to join gleefully in the bloodletting I am quite sure (I read their comments about us in the online newspapers and blogs I follow). An element of the account you quite rightly note is that this group had attacked Israel in the past- an existential threat- and would tempt Israel into idol worship, which would jeopardize their role as a light to the gentiles in the future. Another aspect that gets overlooked is that the one being in the universe who would be qualified to give such an order would be the Creator who knew the intentions, plans and thoughts of the people whom he order ancient Israel to kill. God knew absolutely everything to know about Agag and the Amelikites and ordered them wiped out. It’s not an order given in every case. 

    • #13
    • March 14, 2019 at 12:14 pm
    • 6 likes
  14. Thatcher

    Susan Quinn:

    Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices

    As much as in obedience to the Lord’s command?

    Surely, obedience is better than sacrifice,

    Compliance than the fat of rams.

    For rebellion is like the sin of divination,

    Defiance, like the iniquity of teraphim.

    Because you rejected the Lord’s command,

    He has rejected you as king.

    Interestingly, if I recall properly, the word here translated as “obey” can be translated as “listen”, as in:

    Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    As in listening to the voice of the Lord?
    Behold, to listen is better than sacrifice,
    And to heed than the fat of rams.

    King Saul’s trouble wasn’t just that he decided to play fast and loose with the request, it was that G-d speaks, and he heard what he wanted to hear.

    • #14
    • March 14, 2019 at 12:44 pm
    • 4 likes
  15. Member

    I will add, these scriptures are meant to teach a moral lesson as well as give us a history. And what is the lesson when God orders the Israelites to put the ban on their enemies? — You cannot compromise with evil. Bishop Barron says, “We have to fight evil all the way down.” Especially the evil in our own hearts.

    • #15
    • March 14, 2019 at 12:56 pm
    • 5 likes
  16. Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    C. U. Douglas (View Comment):
    King Saul’s trouble wasn’t just that he decided to play fast and loose with the request, it was that G-d speaks, and he heard what he wanted to hear.

    Thanks, @cudouglas. I believe the world L’shmoa (as in the Shema prayer) can be translated either way. After all, G-d also didn’t expect him only to listen, but to hear and obey. You are also right–he heard it the way he wanted to hear it!

    • #16
    • March 14, 2019 at 1:13 pm
    • Like
  17. Coolidge

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    You cannot compromise with evil

    People do not yet recognize Islam as evil and that is the biggest problem that confronts us today. But there is an even bigger problem down the road or maybe already with us: a refusal to acknowledge that evil exists.

    • #17
    • March 18, 2019 at 4:56 am
    • 3 likes
  18. Contributor
    Susan Quinn Post author

    Yehoshua Ben-Eliyahu (View Comment):

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):
    You cannot compromise with evil

    People do not yet recognize Islam as evil and that is the biggest problem that confronts us today. But there is an even bigger problem down the road or maybe already with us: a refusal to acknowledge that evil exists.

    You are so right, Yehoshua. And I don’t know what we can do about it. With the lack of religiosity, people throw the word evil around when they don’t like a person. There’s little to no recognition that evil behavior is more than annoyance; it bodes the erosion of societal norms.

    • #18
    • March 18, 2019 at 5:40 am
    • 3 likes