Waiting for David

I read the story of King David’s anointing in the Bible with the kids this evening.  It’s amazing how reading in a new format (i.e. a children’s bible) can give you new ways to think about the stories.

I realized something: it was a long time from David’s anointing until the time that he stepped onto the public stage and starting fulfilling his God-given role as King of Israel.  What did he do during that time? He chased sheep.

David was specifically called by God to do something, and was then placed right back into his everyday life.  How many times do you think he wondered (while tending those dumb, smelly little animals) whether God had really called him?

Of course, with hindsight, we can see that God was training David.  He was giving him the chance to learn leadership; to learn how to shepherd God’s people.  God was training his hands for war: sending bears and lions to teach David to fight, protect and kill.  But it must have all seemed like drudgery at the time.  It probably felt as if God had never called him.

Have you ever been called by God to do something, then dropped back into your everyday life?  Do you ever wonder, “Was God really asking me to do that?” Do you wonder why nothing’s changed?  Could it be because God is preparing you, making you ready for the day you’ll fulfill your destiny? Might he be using small, everyday tasks to build character, to shape your skills?

If you feel that God spoke to you at some point in your life, sit down and think about it.  Write down as much as you remember and pray for direction.  It could be that God’s not finished with that call yet.

Sarah: A picture of grace

In slowly reading through the Bible again, I’ve come across the story of Abraham and Sarah (or Abram and Sarai, as they started).  I’ve always pictured Sarah as a graceful figure, since she’s both the wife of the great Abraham and the mother of a nation.  But a different picture of her has emerged as I’ve been reading.

Almost every mention of Sarah’s name is coupled with an example of bad judgement.  First, there’s the Egyptian deception in Genesis 12 (admittedly not her idea, but she was definitely involved).  Next, in Genesis 16, she brings her servant, Hagar, to Abraham for use as a sex-slave.  Hagar’s desires are never mentioned or considered.  Then, when her plan works and Hagar’s expecting a baby, Sarah’s jealousy drives her to cruelty.  This cruelty is so extreme that pregnant Hagar leaves the community and flees into the desert in an act of near-suicide.

Yet in Genesis 17:15-16, God give Abraham great promises for Sarah.  He changes her name from Sarai, which means something like ‘my princess’ or possibly ‘quarrelsome’, to Sarah, which means ‘princess’.  God promises to bless her and give her a son. She also receives the female version of Abraham’s blessing: that she’ll be the mother of many nations.  God goes even further than he had with Abraham, and promises that kings will descend from her line.  Noticeably absent from the text is the reason God is blessing her.  In Abraham’s case, his faith has already been credited to him as righteousness.  In Sarah’s case, her account was surely overdrawn.  God is clearly not blessing her because she’s great, but because God is great.  He’s showing her unmerited favor, blessings she clearly doesn’t deserve.

So Sarah emerges for me not as an illustration of gracefulness, but as an illustration of grace.  If God looks at people like Sarah and decides to bless them, how can I not wish blessings for the undeserving?  Am I to place myself above God and wish ill of anyone? In the end, God’s blessings, when they’re seen in the light of their undeserved-ness, serve to glorify Him, not Sarah.  The blessings may have been for her, but they’re still God’s blessings.

Why tell the Shepherds? An Alternate Theory.

I read the Christmas story to Liam a lot these days, and I’ve been thinking about the shepherds.  Why did God choose to send his angelic army-choir to an obscure hillside where a bunch of blue-collar Joes were working the night shift?  We don’t know anything about these particular shepherds, but we can assume that, like today’s fast-food workers, they wouldn’t be working such an ignominious job if they were skilled, educated, or of good family reputation.

The commonly-accepted theory is that God sent the angels to announce the birth of the Messiah to these shepherds because God cares about the lowly, the poor, and those without power or position.  There may also be a reference to Jesus’ future role as shepherd of the church, the Good Shepherd, who would lay down his life for his sheep.  It’s also interesting to note that King David, a central figure in first-century Hebrew identity, also started his working life tending sheep.

I’d like to throw out an alternate theory.  I wonder if God sent his angelic choir-army to tell the shepherds about Jesus’ birth because he knew no one would listen to them.  In this scenario, God’s having a tough time keeping the news to himself.  He has to tell someone, but he can’t prematurely risk the life of Jesus by letting word get out amongst the powerful, who would tell the ruling elite.  As it is, Joseph has to flee with his family to Egypt for two years to avoid having Jesus killed by King Herod after the three Magi inadvertently let the news slip.

The book of Luke (the only Gospel to record the angelic visit) says that everyone who heard the tale of the baby in the feeding trough was amazed.  But who were those people that heard?  Other shepherds? The families of shepherds?  Think about who the shepherds would tell. They probably spread the news at the local watering hole, not in the synagogue.  They were more likely to talk about it at the sheep auctions than in the halls of power.  In other words, the shepherds were safe precisely because they weren’t connected to power.

There’s another piece of evidence for this, though it’s an argument from silence.  If the angelic announcement had been to more savory or well-born folk, Jesus would have been watched, famous his whole life.  He wouldn’t have exploded onto the scene as if from nowhere at the beginning of his ministry 30 years later.  People in the synagogue in Nazareth wouldn’t have said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Why is he teaching with such authority, unlike our priests and teachers of the law?”  They wouldn’t have expected so little of him because he would already have had a reputation. A visit from a warrior of light, after all, is hard to forget.

Leave a comment to let me know what you think.