Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pride and Prejudice (Based on I Samuel 1-3)

My heart exults in the LORD;
My horn is exalted in the LORD,
My mouth speaks boldly against my enemies,
Because I rejoice in Your salvation.
There is no one holy like the LORD,
Indeed, there is no one besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.
Boast no more so very proudly,
Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth;
For the LORD is a God of knowledge,
And with Him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are shattered,
But the feeble gird on strength.
Those who were full hire themselves out for bread,
But those who were hungry cease to hunger.
Even the barren gives birth to seven,
But she who has many children languishes.
The LORD kills and makes alive;
He brings down to Sheol and raises up.
The LORD makes poor and rich;
He brings low, He also exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust,
He lifts the needy from the ash heap
To make them sit with nobles,
And inherit a seat of honor;
For the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S,
And He set the world on them.
He keeps the feet of His godly ones,
But the wicked ones are silenced in darkness;
For not by might shall a man prevail.
Ancient Hebrew Song, otherwise known as I Samuel 2:1-9

Eli and Samuel, two ancients, have a heart-to-heart.  For an ancient, Samuel is pretty young, about ten.  Eli, though, is pretty old and tottery.  Eli is the priest in charge of the tabernacle, the center of prayer to Yahweh, the God of the twelve tribes of Israel.  Samuel is his adopted son and assistant.

Eli: Samuel, my son, come to your old man and let’s have a talk.

Samuel: Is this another one of those serious talks?

Eli: Well, yes, it really is.

Samuel: (sighs) How many of these will we have?  C’mon, can’t I figure out something by myself?  Hey… you aren’t going to tell me about the locusts and the bees, are you?  You know that Phinehas already let me know about that.

Eli: Yes, I’m sure he has.  Probably more than he should, too.

Samuel: I don’t know, I’m still curious…

Eli: (Interrupting) Yes, of course you are, son.  But I want to talk to you about other matters.

Samuel: Okay, shoot.

Eli: As you know, someday you will be judging Israel

Samuel: You mean, telling everyone how they suck?

Eli: No, that’s what Hophni and Phinehas often do…

Samuel: Oh, you mean standing before people and telling them what they should do.  Oooo!  I can’t wait!  Can I tell Hophni what to do?  He’s bossy…

Eli: No, son.  The people come to us from all over the twelve tribes in order to worship Yahweh and to request from Him guidance.  We are the only ones who hold onto God’s law, and so we receive of their meat and then we declare the law of God to them about their difficulties.

Samuel: Don’t they have people who can give them wisdom in their own towns?

Eli: Yes.  But only we are keepers of God’s law.  We hold the true wisdom, the word of God.  So while human wisdom can be gained anywhere, we are the ones who hold God’s wisdom, how Yahweh founded the nation.

Samuel: So do Hophni and Phinehas have the law memorized?

Eli: By no means.  I am still studying it daily.

Samuel: Then why don’t they ever look at it?

Eli: (Sighs) I don’t know, son.  I wish they did.  Perhaps then their judgments would be just instead of… idiotic.

Samuel: Is that why you have me read it every day?

Eli: Yes.  I have failed in so many ways with my other sons.  I thought that they would naturally follow in my ways.  Perhaps I forgot how much discipline was given to me from my father.  But Yahweh has given me one more chance in my old age with you, son of Elkanah and Hannah. 

Samuel: (Gasping) What, you mean I’m adopted?

Eli: (Irritated) As you know well…

Samuel: (Chagrined) I was just joking…

Eli: When your mother put you under Yahweh’s charge, she gave you to me, charging me to keep you for Yahweh’s service.  Then she recited the oddest poem.  I have spent much time considering it.

Samuel: Really, what did it say?

Eli: I have set the text of it on your table.  I wrote it out for you just last night.  But I would like to speak to you about it.  It concerns the lords of our land and the poor.

Samuel: You mean the Ignorant Dirty Savages?  Who come just so they could bathe once a year?

Eli: Did you learn that from Hophni?

Samuel: I thought that’s what everyone called the poor?

Eli: Do you think that’s what the poor call themselves?

Samuel: Probably not.

Eli: Then not “everyone” calls them that.

Samuel: But the poor don’t really count.  I mean, they aren’t like real people.

Eli: Who are “real people”?

Samuel: You know, the people we are friends with.  Who come to dinner and talk about important things.  The poor are just lazy buffoons.

Eli: Ah, another way in which I’ve failed my sons.  Perhaps we should have more common folk to dinner sometimes… nevertheless.  Hear me, my son, the poor are just as real, if not more real than we are.  If nothing else, there are far more of them than there are of us.

Samuel: But they don’t plan the path of the tribes, do they?  They do not talk to Egyptians or Philistines or other important nations.

Eli: And what makes them important?

Samuel: For one, they have kings and we do not.

Eli: Never say that!  We have a king—Yahweh, the king of the universe.  Our king is one that cannot be seen, but He is more powerful than any human king anywhere!  Do not degrade our God like that!

Samuel: (Ashamed) I am sorry, lord.  Please forgive me.

Eli: (Waving his hand) Of course, of course.  I don’t mean to show you my temper, my son.  You are learning so much from my sons whom I have failed many times over.  This is why we have these talks, my son.  Now, the poor…

Samuel: The Ignorant Dirty Savages?

Eli: Yes, them.  You understand that your mother was one of them, right?

Samuel: (Furious)  Never!  My mother is a noblewoman, wife of the great Elkanah, master of Ramathiam-zohim!  No one in the region is greater than he! 

Eli: Just listen to me, for a moment.  She was not born the wife of Elkanah, was she?

Samuel: No, of course not.

Eli: And where did she come from?

Samuel: Well, I don’t know.  I suppose I thought that my father and she were cousins as was Pininnah, the other wife.

Eli: Not at all.  Rather, she came from the tribe of Manasseh, of a small, poor village.  Your father was passing through there and fell in love with a young peasant girl.  And his love for her grew every day.  But she was nothing, her father was nothing.  He was blessed to have sired a child, to be able to feed her, let alone to have her marry such a powerful man as your father.

Samuel: My father relates to the poor?  Phinehas says that he only talks to them because he has to in order to judge them.

Eli: Yes, your father does.  Perhaps not often, but often enough to know their plight and to have compassion on them.  Your father is a great man, as I’m sure you know.  But his greatness is not that of wealth and fame—although he has much of that.  Rather, your father is great because his heart can take in all people, servant and master, powerful and poor, weak and mighty.  Your mother, however, is greater than he…

Samuel: How can that be?

Eli: Because of her vision.  She is, in some way, the caretaker of the heart of God in a greater way than we are here in Shiloh, keepers of the tent of Yahweh.  We can read God’s law every day and not understand what she knows.

Samuel: What is this wisdom?  Please, for I know it is my heritage.  Please tell me.

Eli: That the poor are the power of the world.

Samuel: Wow.  I can’t believe… (He is silent for a moment).  Eli?

Eli: Yes, son.

Samuel: That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.  And that is my inheritance?  My mother’s background has addled her head…

Eli: Don’t say such things…

Samuel: But really!  How can the poor be the power, when it is the non-poor that make the decisions!  The poor are powerless, that is the truth of the world.  The poor are not blessed by God, as shown by their poverty, so they don’t deserve to be powerful.  The poor are ignorant, as shown by this belief of my mother’s…

Eli: (Sharply) Be silent!  Now!  (Calming his voice some, but still angry) You are failing to understand the wisdom of your mother.  Listen to me for a moment.  Yahweh is the great judge, and He is no respecter of persons.  He does not hold one person over another based on their social status or power or race.  And yet, in this world, the poor are separated from justice.  They do not get heard as others do, for the powerful pay attention to the powerful.  And, as shown by your own attitude, the poor are seen as ignorant, and so they are ignored.  And those who are heard do not get justice.  But the poor are  heard by one person—Yahweh, judge of the universe.  No one else may pay attention to them, but Yahweh will hear their cry and will give them justice.  Even in harsh ways, such as destroying oppressors.

Samuel: Then why are not the poor wealthy?  Why does not Yahweh grant them all things they desire?

Eli: Most poor do not cry out to Yahweh, as your mother did.  She was barren and abused by others because of her poverty.  Yes, your father loved her, but still she was poor in the sight of all else.  So she came to Yahweh—she came here, in fact, before this very tent, and prayed to Yahweh.  I could hear that she was an ignorant poor person and so I rebuked her for her drunkenness.

Samuel: And rightly so.  Poor people are often drunk.  Not my mother, of course.

Eli: And why shouldn’t they be drunk?  How else can they forget the sorrow of their oppression?21  In any case, I had wronged your mother.  And when she had explained her situation, I was ashamed and begged Yahweh to listen to her cry.  But my prayers were unnecessary.  For Yahweh heard her cry to Him and granted her a noble son—you, my boy. 

Samuel: And even though she gave me up to Yahweh, she has many more children now.

Eli: And so Yahweh raised her up from poverty to nobility.

Samuel: I see.  So Yahweh is the protector of the poor.

Eli: Yes, absolutely.  But more than that.  Yahweh knows the power of the poor.   You claim the poor are ignorant.  But, don’t you see, the poor know one thing the powerful do not know—they know what it means to be poor.  And this is a benefit in all things.  To know what it means to be poor is to know how most people live.  We powerful are, by definition, unjust because we do not know how most people live.  We do not understand oppression, so how can we battle it?  By being ignorant of oppression, we end up creating conditions in which oppression thrives!  But the poor, their knowledge is greater than ours.  And so in the end, Yahweh will cause us to fail…

Samuel: He will take our positions away from us?

Eli: Surely.  My sons, as you know, they are already targeted for death by Yahweh for their injustice, their oppression of the poor.  But you, my son, you have hope.

Samuel: But how can I?  How can I, raised as a mighty one, be the hope of the poor?

Eli: You are the son of the poor.  And knowing this, you can change how justice is done in the tribes.

Samuel:  But I have so much.  I am not poor.  I have not the knowledge.

Eli: I will make sure you do know the poor.  And from now on, when you listen to my sons judgments, pay attention to the cries of the poor.  Understand their perspective.  Because they will be our rulers.  They will rule the whole world.

Samuel: How can this be? 

Eli: One day, Yahweh will hear the cries of the poor and set us aside, and place them as rulers over us.  You will see that in your mother’s vision.  The powerful crushed and the lowly become the powerful.  And the poor will reign forever.

Samuel: So there is no hope for us?

Eli: There is hope if we would change and listen to the cries of the poor, as Yahweh does.  If we would give them justice, on their level, then it will happen.  Listen to me, my son, can you do this?  Yahweh has promised, you will be the great judge of Israel.  Can you do so justly?

Samuel: I… I don’t know.

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