one of our pastors has been preaching a series of sermons based on readings from first and second samuel. one of these, based on a passage from 1 samuel 15-16, focused on the anointing of david to succeed saul as king of israel. in the course of the sermon, the preacher reviewed the reason that saul had been rejected by God: his failure to massacre all of the amalekites, who, according to 1 samuel 15, deserved death because in samuel's words that he reports came directly from God, "they [the amalekites] waylaid them as they came up from Egypt."
i was troubled that our preacher failed to address this part of the story. how can we accept the message of the scripture that an entire city-state, all of its people--rulers, men, women, children--and even their animals are to be annihilated because of something that their ancestors had done? is this the God that we worship when we come together each sunday? saul could have been faulted for saving the best of the livestock, perhaps to satisfy his own greed or the demand of his soldiers for the spoils of their victory, and sparing the ruler of the amalekites. there were many other acts that saul could have been condemned for: his increasing insanity, his consulting a soothsayer, his building of a monument to himself at carmel after his defeat of the amalekites. but why would he be rejected by God for sparing the lives of some of the amalekites?
another sermon in the series, based on 2 samuel 6, had to do with david's intention to bring the ark of the covenant to jerusalem. the message of the sermon was david's seeming inappropriate behavior as he danced before all the people in the procession in celebration "before the Lord," an action that was condemned by his wife michal, saul's daughter. earlier in the scripture lesson, in the early stages of the move of the ark, one of those watching the transport of the ark on a cart, a man named uzzah whose father abinadab had cared for the ark in his home, reached out to steady the ark and was struck dead because he had dared to touch the ark. again i was troubled that there was no questioning of why God would strike uzzah dead as he was performing a good deed. in what the scripture suggests was a spontaneous response to the stumbling of the oxen pulling the cart God murdered uzzah. is that act consistent with a God of love and mercy?
i understand that the preacher was focusing on the anointing of david to be the future king in the first sermon and on david's exuberance in worshiping God in the second sermon, and my intention is not to criticize. rather, i wonder why we so often ignore passages that give attributes to God that are not consistent with a God who loves that which God created. why don't we question the "divine inspiration" of such verses? do others sit through church services and think, "why are we afraid to challenge these teachings that don't make sense to us? how can we ignore such content in the bible?"
may we not be timid about questioning that which is unreasonable. may we seek a faith that takes us from blind acceptance to using the mind that God has given us. may we not attribute a capricious cruelty to God on the basis of a book that is neither "divine" nor, in many instances, "inspired." shalom.