Proper 9, Year One[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 1, 2, 3 (morning) // 4, 7 (evening)
1 Samuel 15:1-3, 7-23
Our first reading this morning includes some of the most brutal words ever attributed to God, filtered through a prophet, and delivered to a king. These words call for the utter, purely vengeful destruction of a community called the Amalekites: “do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” Like some contemporary methods of warfare, this war against the Amalekites will not discriminate based on gender, age, or species. All are fair targets. But, believe it or not, there’s a form of war that this passage condemns as even worse.
King Saul disobeys the military strategy delivered to him by the prophet Samuel. Instead of destroying indiscriminately, Saul and his men think they have a better plan: wipe out the people and property they consider worthless, but set aside anything valuable for themselves. As the Scripture tells us, “Saul and the people spared . . . the best of the sheep and of the cattle and of the fatlings, and the lambs.” When Samuel hears the bleating of these sheep and the lowing of the cattle, he knows that the plan has gone wrong. According to the original plan, these animals should not have survived the attack.
What were they doing with the spoils of war? The Lord has this to say, through Samuel: “Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” Saul claims that the goods his army set aside was just being saved up as a sacrifice to the Lord, but the Lord seems to know better. This war went wrong because Saul and his army set aside spoils for themselves.
While most of this Scripture passage is very remote from the God I have come to know, love, and serve in the person of Christ, we can still, very faintly, hear God crying out through this text against taking the spoils of war. We’re accustomed now to finding profit-motives and profiteers instigating and accompanying so many of the world’s violent conflicts. But, when it comes to the battles of this world, there should be nothing in it for us but justice and peace.
Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.