1 Samuel 15:22-23: And Samuel said [to King Saul], "Has the LORD as great delight in ... sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king."
This devotion pairs with this weekend's Lutheran Hour sermon, which can be found at lutheranhour.org.
Our daughter was seven when she got her first pair of earrings. One week later, her right ear got badly infected. The earring had been enveloped by her earlobe, now red, and puffy, and filled with puss. So, we rush her to the doctor, and four nurses hold her down on the operating table. And my wife is holding our daughter's head, telling her, "It's okay ... I love you ... it's going to be okay," while the doctor uses a pair of needle-nose pliers to dig in and remove the infection at its source. All the while, our daughter is screaming at her mother (who's holding her head): "Stop it! I don't like you! Get away from me!" And all my wife could do was sit there and take it.
The Bible tells a story about God's battle against an infection. The Bible calls this infection "idolatry," as we heard in the reading. Idolatry is putting our trust in created things rather than the Creator. The Bible tells the story of the Creator's surgical intervention to remove the infection, to heal His creation through His chosen people and, ultimately, through their crucified, risen, ruling and returning King, Jesus.
But, when you're hearing the individual episodes of the Bible, it can be hard to keep that bigger story in mind. This can lead to misunderstandings, because if you don't know the whole story, you might misinterpret the episode. For example, what if I told you the story about my daughter like this? "Several adults held down a little girl against her will. One of them used a pair of pliers to cause her great pain, while she pleaded with them to stop." You see, without the whole story, you have to fill in the gaps.
Thankfully, God doesn't call us to fill in the gaps. He's given us the rest of the story in Jesus. We need to remember that when we read episodes like 1 Samuel 15, ones that are mostly about God's awful judgment. God's judgment, in the moment, may look cruel, it may look merciless, even unnecessary. You might feel like screaming at God, "Get away from me! I don't like You!" But, like that doctor who was caring for our daughter, God's goal isn't to harm, but to help. That's why He sent His Son, Jesus, to be Israel's King, to do what King Saul couldn't. Jesus took the infection; He took the judgment into Himself, and He died with it. Now, He is risen from the dead, so that all who turn from their idols to trust in Him will be healed, eternally.
Our daughter did end up getting another pair of earrings a few years after the first set. My wife went with her, held her hand and, like the first time, she told her it was going to be okay. And that she loved her. You and I experience God's judgment in this life. At times, it feels like being at the doctor's office, held down against our will. In the moment, we don't have the privileged perspective of the loving parent behind the pain. You and I are the child on the operating table. And sometimes all you can do is cry out. So, cry to Jesus. He will take it.
THE PRAYER: Dear Jesus, only You can heal me. I am in Your care. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour.
1. Can you think of an example of someone helping, but it looked like they were doing harm?
2. Read all of 1 Samuel 15. What in this chapter "gets" you, challenges or raises questions for you?
3. How would you explain to someone why we need to read passages like this in light of Jesus?
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