“The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.'” (1 Samuel 16:1)
King Saul turned out to be a big disappointment. Rather than following God’s instructions, he made up his own rules. God decided to start over, selecting the next king from another family. It’s time for Samuel to take the road to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse.
Saul knows what’s going on. He knows he’s blown it. If Saul found out what Samuel was up to, he would definitely stop him (1 Samuel 16:2-3). It’s trachery! So Samuel has to make it look like he’s going to Bethlehem to offer up a sacrifice. Once there he’ll be able to meet with Jesse and select the next king.
Yes, we are talking about religion and politics. Succession from one ruler to the next in the bible is often messy and violent. Politicians were making back room deals 1,500 years before Jesus was born. And then when Jesus was born, Herod sent soldiers down the road to Bethlehem to kill the children, among whom he hoped would be the king of the Jews.
Imagine being Jesse. You’ve been invited to a clandestine occasion with the prophet Samuel. He wants you to bring your sons, too. Suddenly you’re part of a plot against the throne! Samuel anoints your youngest son, David, as the next king. If Saul finds out, you’re going to be on the hit list, too.
Years later Jesus would tell his disciples that they would be brought before kings and governors because of their allegiance to Jesus (Luke 21:12). Their own families would turn them in (Luke 21:16). They would find themselves between a rock and a hard place, wedged between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God.
Isn’t that exactly where Joseph and Mary found themselves? Her child would inherit the throne of his father David (Luke 1:32). But they would be on their way to Bethlehem because of a decree from Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1).
It’s a tension that always has and always will tug at the loyalties of God’s people. We know that the governing authorities are God’s gift to us to keep the peace and protect us. We also know that we must obey God rather than men. A life of faith often walks a tightrope between the two. Just like Jesus, who paid his taxes and stood trial before the Roman governor. Just like Jesus who submitted to the will of his father and fulfilled the law for us. Just like the apostles who were imprisoned for talking about Jesus. Just like the apostles who were compelled to speak about what they had seen and heard about Jesus.
Are you struggling to navigate a path between religions and politics? You’re in good company with the faithful of old and of today.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of governing authorities. Thank you for being my Lord. Guide me through the tension between these two kingdoms until that day when every knee bows to you. Amen.