I was watching national political news the other day and I started thinking about the Old Testament prophet Samuel. I realize this is not a reaction common among news viewers, so let me explain.
There are two books in the Old Testament devoted to Samuel. That alone should be an indication of his importance. He was not only a prophet, but one of the judges who led Israel before they had a king.
In those days, judges heard directly from God, and based on this divine instruction, they guided the Israelite people. It seems like a pretty efficient and effective form of government. It was under what is called in the Bible a covenant, or an agreement. In this biblical covenant, God says “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Alrighty then. Or should I say, Almighty then.
The Bible includes more than a few stories of other nations fearing Israel because of their powerful and benevolent God. But in spite of this, under Samuel the people grew weary of the arrangement. They start to whine that they want a king. They wanted to be like other nations, as if being God’s chosen people were not good enough.
So Samuel gives them a king. They get Saul, who was a mighty warrior. But he also proves to be paranoid and power hungry. If given the opportunity, he would have fit into Washington D.C. without anyone doing a double take. Except maybe his loin cloth. That and the sword would seem odd. But otherwise, as national leaders go, the lust for power and constant fear of opponents is textbook.
After Saul there were other kings. Some good, some bad to the point of wicked. Eventually Israel split into two kingdoms, and then was conquered and the people dispersed. Well, they wanted a king, to be like earthly nations. The expression “be careful what you wish for” may have come from this era.
So, that’s why I was thinking about an Old Testament character while watching some 2013 characters recently. I know not everyone in these United States is a person of faith. But many are. And much of the partisan bickering includes invocations of God, even as people whine like childish ancient Israelites.
Politicians are pathologically possessed with power and their own position. One wonders if they consider at all their humble responsibility to lead and serve the people.
The pundits have replaced the prophets. They speak with a feigned divine authority and expect the people to take their word as sovereign.
Then there are the people—that’s us—who clamor for our modern day Sauls to do our work for us, to go into battle to slay the Philistines of our times, namely the other party.
People on either side of any argument hold high the constitution. This is important as our basis for national governance. But it is a document by and between mere humans. It refers to God (early drafts did so more explicitly) but is not from God. In other words, it pales in comparison to the covenant.
But so many of us, in spite of our faith, look to politics and government as the solution to every trouble we the people experience. We favor programs and policies over prayer and personal involvement.
I know not everyone is like this. There are many I have met who do not wait for Washington or lobby Lansing. They take simple, loving acts to address our society’s problems. Such people do not participate in million-man marches to get the attention of government, but do the will of God by walking alone or in small groups to serve one person in prison, in a hospital, or home alone. They do not think of what others can do, but what we should do.
Republican? Democrat? These are trivial concerns. Our passions and loyalties are misplaced. We will get what we wish for if we put all our focus on political parties.
God wants to be our God. We should be His people.
A book of Tim Penning’s Tribune columns, “Thoughts on Thursdays”, is available at the Bookman in Grand Haven or from Schuler Books in Grand Rapids or online.