In the chess game of life, the pawns are those pieces “greatly afflicted”

Updated: Jan 30

In the story we read today from 1 Samuel, where the Israelites went to him and asked God to give them a king … to be like other nations … we see how God granted their wish.


From the ancient Chinese proverb that Judge Ito used to quote during the O.J. trial: “Be careful what you wish for … you just might get it.”


Judge Ito

God gave Samuel a “laundry list” of commands, which focuses on what serving a human king entailed for the Israelites.


By then, none of the Israelites had ever breathed the air of a nation ruled by sovereign power … such as that surrounding the Pharaoh of Egypt.


Egypt was one of those “other nations” that the Israelites wanted to be like.


God told Samuel to tell the regular Israelites what they could expect was sacrifice:


You must sacrifice your sons, so they will be on the front lines of any danger surrounding the king.


military-caskets

You must sacrifice your able body to plow the king’s fields and reap his harvest – then do the same for your own field.


white house slaves

You must use precious metals to make weapons, leaving little ores left over to make the implements that make rustic, farm life easier.


weapons of mass destruction

You must sacrifice your daughters to do all the household chores of maintaining the king’s home.


servants

You must sacrifice the best of what you possess, just so the king can impress foreign visitors.


free food

You must sacrifice 1/10th of your farm animals.


meat locker

You must sacrifice yourself to be a slave to the king.


rat race

To put that in chess pieces terms: You become a pawn – to be sacrificed when need be, and when sacrificed, then seen as little lost.


pawn

There is a saying many Americans say, from time to time: “God, Family, & Country.”


Based on what God told Samuel, choosing to let a human leader command your allegiance would place “Family” last on that list.


What a human king would invariably do is place “God” after “Country,” because the human king equates to “Country,” and after all – the celebration held by the Israelites at Gilgal, when Saul was made King of Israel, meant Saul had replaced God.


That is why God’s first response to Samuel was, “They have rejected me from being king over them.”


Once the people start making major decisions, all hell breaks loose.

Once the people start making major decisions, all hell breaks loose.


But, the problem the Israelites saw was not having a king, because in their minds a nation was identified by its leader.  Without a visible king over them, that absence only invited people to see their land as open territory to squat on.


Think about that for a moment.


Envision the whole world as a large map where individuals are standing in the places where each nation is. Imagine how each individual represents the leader of that nation.


Imagine how a tall individual reflects how the size and power the nation is greater.  Some are giants.  Some are like elves.  But, places without representation appear to be vacant lots, land where expansion can take place.


With that image in mind, see then how “The Promised Land of Canaan,” which was filled with many people of different roots, in addition to those Israelites who had divided out segments of Canaan to its twelve tribes … they had no human king that represented the whole of that one place.


That place would appear to have no one standing in place, because God is invisible and God was their King.


The Israelites wanted the world to see they had a ruler, as a physical warning for others to beware.


And, even though God had been their ruler, and even though God had secured their Promised Land for them, and even though God had sent them Judges and Prophets to rescue them from all the squatters who came thinking their land was unsettled, with God giving the Israelites an instrument of power that no other nation possessed – the Ark …

… the Israelites wanted a king to be responsible for their lives and safety.


Of course, God warned the Israelites that a day would eventually come, when they would “cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you on that day.”


tooter turtle

No rescues anymore, Tutor Turtle.


That is a heavy warning.


But, the Israelites saw it like their Father saying the reason you cannot have “an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-range-shot model air rifle” is because, “you’ll shoot your eye out kid.”


Once they woke up the day after the sacrificial offering made at Gilgal and found they had the gift they wanted so much, “The Israelites rejoiced greatly.”  They got their wish.


Don't shoot your eye out kid!

Don’t shoot your eye out kid!


Now, Gilgal was where Joshua led the Israelites into Canaan, after Moses died.  Joshua then circumcising the Israelite men there, with circumcision being a symbol of marriage to God.  That act was concluded by Joshua placing stones in a circle – the meaning of the name Gilgal.  Joshua did that as he stated, “God had rolled away the reproach of Egypt,” where the reproach came from the “king” of Egypt.


The symbolism meant that the people were no longer bound to the Pharaoh.  They were instead bound to God.


God was their king, and all the Israelite males agreed to be circumcised as a way of saying, “I do” to God.


Samuel took the Israelites to that same place, once the elders of the Israelites chose a human king instead of God.  Gilgal then served as the place for the divorce decree AND the new marriage agreement between the Israelites and their human king, Saul.


What we do not see in what we read today is how NOTHING that was agreed upon when Moses came down from the mountain, how NONE of the laws that bound the Israelites to God FOREVER as His chosen people, had become part of that divorce decree.


Even with a human king, the people were still expected to maintain that Covenant – at all times – AND the king was expected to keep all those laws on the books, so they continually governed the nation of Israel.


You can choose your kings, but you cannot opt out of your commitment to religion.

You can choose your kings, but you cannot opt out of your commitment to your God.


God’s warning came true – of course – and the people cried out because of their king; but the LORD did not answer.


The Israelites lost their nation – their precious land and standing in the world – because the kings they approved kept breaking the laws, ignoring the Prophets, and mixing and mingling with all the people “of other nations,” whose gods had different concepts of law.


It was the realization that they had messed up with this king thing, so bad that they had slacked off greatly on the Covenant part, which led to the law having a renewed importance to the Jews in captivity in Babylon.


They re-recorded all the scrolls of the Torah, the Psalms and the books of the Prophets, and “laid down the law” to all who would seek to regain the LORD’s favor.


By the time they had been granted their freedom and returned to the lands their ancestors had once called home, they had no king of their own and no nation of their own …


But, they agreed to be slaves to whoever ruled over their lost lands … the Babylonians, the Persians, the Herodians, and then the Romans.


They agreed to be slaves to those overseers, as long as it was understood that their religion and their dedication to the laws of Moses meant they were primarily God’s servants, as He was their supreme ruler.


Now, in the laws the Jews followed they were expected to stay away from those who did not have a Covenant with God … as much as possible.


That meant they lived in clusters of their own people, so when they were supposed to “love their neighbor,” it was understood that “their neighbor” meant a fellow Jew – not just anybody, or everybody.


We read this not long ago, where Peter, the Jewish Apostle, explained that to Cornelius, the Roman centurion, saying, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation.”


In the big city where I was raised, there was a known “Jewish neighborhood.”  If one’s travels happened to take one through that part of town on the Jewish Sabbath, you would see lines of them walking down the sidewalks leading to the synagogue.


Observing the Law, separate from ordinary laws.

Observing the Law, separate from ordinary laws.


The Jews of that city made up only a small percentage of the total population, but they made it a point of obeying their law and not place themselves openly among the Gentiles, those who do not know or understand their laws.


You have to realize that the law AND the Jews being compliant to that particular law was a result of kings telling their ancestors, “It is okay to live among people with different religious values and experience what they call important.”


They had lost everything because of not following the letter of their pact with God.


The renewal of the Temple of Jerusalem – only for the Jews, and no one else – brought about the rise of lawmen … the policemen of all the sacred texts: the Temple priests & scribes; and the Pharisees & Rabbis.


Not only did the Jews have to stay to themselves, but they also had to learn all the laws and scriptures.  They could not be allowed to lose the only thing the Jews hoped to regain … the favor of God.


It was within that setting that we find Jesus and his disciples today, as read in the Gospel of Mark.


At that time, Jesus had only recently begun his ministry.  Jesus officially chose the twelve who would follow him throughout his travels just before this story told by Mark.  The twelve disciples had followed Jesus into a home in Galilee, for the purpose of having dinner.


Prior to that, Jesus had healed a man of his withered hand, having performed that miracle on the Sabbath and in front of witnesses.


That particular act had two consequences: 1.) Crowds began following Jesus wherever he went; and 2.) The lawmen were alarmed that healing on the Sabbath was breaking the law.


At this point, it becomes important to see that EVERYONE in the story told today – Jesus, his disciples, the crowd following Jesus, the people saying Jesus has gone out of his mind, the scribes who came down from Jerusalem, and Jesus’ mother and brothers – they were ALL Jews.


While in a land of mixed-faith people, this gathering took place in a setting that excluded Romans, Samaritans, Greeks, Arabs, Parthians, and anyone else not Jewish.


In that way, when we read how Jesus’ “family heard [the commotion of the crowd following Jesus], they went out to restrain him,” this “family” was more than simply mom and his siblings.


The Jews are a “family” because they keep themselves separate from those who are not part of the “family” of Jews.


The Jews are considered to be both the followers of a specific religion AND a race of people, where “race” means “a group of people of common ancestry” – a “family.”


In this way, that family was divided into two parts: those who believed Jesus was special; and those who feared Jesus was possessed.


The scene plays out like an intervention, where someone’s family member has joined a cult and has disassociated one’s self from his relatives and neighbors, which has caused the relatives and neighbors to attempt a rescue.


As such, the family and neighbors wanted to save Jesus from himself.  Rather than being under the influence of a guru or charismatic cult leader, they saw him possessed by evil spirits, causing him to go against his family.  They saw Jesus as the news has projected Jim Jones and David Koresh, as becoming a dangerous cult leader.


The difference was that the family and neighbors were the ones caught up in cult worship, with Jesus and his followers being the ones led by the true light of God …


And … that turns the focus back on who truly is one’s king … who does one serve?

The king of Jesus is God.


The king of the scribes who came up from Jerusalem was the law, which their leaders had deemed meant, “No healing shall be done on the Sabbath.”


The scribes could hold up a scroll for all to see.  “Look here!  This is God’s word!”


Behold

Jesus could not hold up anything visible that proved he was the Son of God … of the “family” of God the Father.


Paul wrote to the Christians of Corinth – Jews and Gentiles who believed in Jesus as Christ, as those who were filled with the Holy Spirit of God – saying, “We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”


The mother and brothers of Jesus believed in God.  They believed in the Law of Moses.  They saw the need for lawmen to police the people.  Because of that need being seen, they feared not having leaders who would act like kings, to rule the people and make them obey the laws sent by God.  And actual delivery of THE Messiah … they feared that too, as that represented another human king.


Jesus also believed in God; but his belief … his faith … was not because he could see a scroll.  His faith would not force anyone physically to do what is right.  He believed in the Law because it was written on his heart, where it could not be seen by anyone.  It could only be felt by Jesus.  As such, Jesus was himself the lawman of the nation of Jesus, who’s King was God.  Thus, THE Messiah was not one human king, but a duplication of one nation into many individuals whose total allegiance was to One God.


But none of that could be seen.


When this presence within Jesus brought about the accusation that he was filled with “an unclean spirit,” he told those surrounding him, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”


When Jesus was told his mother and brothers were trembling outside the house he was in, afraid that the lawmen of Jerusalem would use the scrolls to condemn Jesus – all while knowing Jesus was of holy origin – Jesus said, “Here [surrounding me] are my mother and my brothers!”


The family of Jesus encircled him like the stones of Gilgal … those married to God through the symbolic act of circumcision.


altar at Gilgal

Your true “family” is composed of those who seek guidance how to find God, they are those who readily receive the Holy Spirit, and they are those who encourage others to seek and maintain God as their only King.


“Whoever does the will of God is my family,” said Jesus.


The moral of these stories today is that WE are no different than the Jews were during the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry.


We live in a land of mixed-faiths.  We have elected rulers, to whom we willingly commit ourselves, as their slaves.  We hold up legal documents that we allow lawmen to enforce.  We tremble with fear whenever one of our own is found breaking those laws.


If the lawmen judge that we must eat the food of idols or respect the rights of those who have no religious beliefs – those who serve no gods at all – then we submit to that will, rather than be persecuted for separating ourselves from that influence.  We sell our souls for membership in a national family, rather than stay with Christ – no matter how many shout, “Come out and go home with us.  Stop acting like you’re not just like us!”


Today, anyone who speaks the truth of sin to others, inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak publicly, they are called “out of their minds” and “possessed with an unclean spirit.”  They may see Christians as legally being in need of government intervention.


protests

gay rights
religion protest

prayer protests

Today, we stand two thousand years and half a globe away from where Jesus stood and we think we know it all.  If anyone comes to us, as one of us – one within the “family” of Christians – and tells us, “You have it all wrong!  You are going the wrong way!” …


Do we not disown them?


Is Facebook and other social media nothing more than the playground of those who tell us what we want to hear … or we “unfollow” what they say?


Have you ever stopped seeing the religious posts of “friends and family,” simply because those messages weigh on your conscience?


Do we not stand in fear and shake like leaves in a strong wind, when one of our own is letting the Holy Spirit speak, leading us to call out for that dear one to “please stop embarrassing us!”


God does not walk about the population looking like God.


God is unseen …


God does not make himself appear as a human king, president, prime minister, pope, or cult leader.


God can only be seen as looking like us, when we have God within, when we let God’s presence be known to others by our acting as Jesus did.


How often have you seen God and thought, “Well, there is another fanatic”?


In the reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul quoted Scripture, saying, “I believed, and so I spoke.”


That “Scripture” is actually Psalm 116:10, which states, “I trusted in the LORD when I said, “I am greatly afflicted.”


That means one’s faith comes when one realizes, “I am greatly afflicted,” and not when one thinks, “Man, I am so loved by the LORD because I have this and that and a bunch of those.”


In this Ordinary season, when the priests of Christ serve God by showing their belief by speaking so others can hear, think about how your present life fits into the scenes projected today.


Can you see how you might need to admit, “I am greatly afflicted,” before you can begin your own ministry?<