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Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Waste of Perfectly Good Water, if You Ask Me (Which You Didn't)

Woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld
The king was sheltered near his hometown during a battle. Thirsty, he mentioned casually that he missed the waters from the well near the city's gate.  Three of his most trusted warriors left more or less immediately, broke through enemy lines, drew water from the well, and returned with it. When they presented it to the king, he rewarded them handsomely and drank deeply from the container before offering them a drink as well.

That would make sense, except that's not the way it happened, at least in the case of King David of Israel. Only the second king, he was battling the ever-stubborn Philistines at the time, holed up in a cave outside Bethlehem, his old stomping ground. According to the New International Version of the Bible in 2 Samuel 23:15, David longed for water and said, "Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!"

David had Mighty Men, around thirty of them, the strongest and bravest among the strong and brave. But there were also The Three, whose exploits were phenomenal. The Three (or some grouping of three, at any rate) heard David, left the cave without telling their plan (apparently) and as soon as possible, returned with the water for their king. And David poured it out on the ground.


"Far be it from me, LORD, to do this!" he said. "Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?" And David would not drink it (verse 17).

Sermons...a lot of sermons...have been given, dripping with the awe and majesty of noble gesture, of treating the sacred as sacred. You can find them online. You've probably heard a few. You can also find academic works comparing this "legend" with the history of Alexander the Great- oddly, although Alexander lived long after David, one scholar I read decided that Alexander's story somehow disproved the biblical account, instead of the other way around, or the notion that two kings might come up with the same response to a similar situation.

My question is, what was going through the minds of The Three? And what is my take-away? Apparently God went to the trouble of making sure the story was preserved for thousands of years, and apparently there would be a reason for this.

David was a poet, a musician, a man of emotion and passion. I understand that he was so moved by the sacrificial plan of his men that he was overwhelmed. I get that. It would have been humbling for others to risk their lives on a chance comment. But if I were one of the men, I think I would have preferred that he say, "Wow! Thanks, guys!" and taken a nice long gulp before offering me a sip after all the work, but that's just me.

The Old Testament can get tedious. Maybe the New Testament has some light to shed.  This is Jesus speaking, from Luke 12:
   35“Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit.36“Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks.37“Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.38“Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

On the other hand, here is this from Luke 17:
 7“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’?8“But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’?9“He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?10“So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”

Huh? I thought I said Jesus' words would help. 

They do, if what we take away is the fact that God doesn't always do things the same way. And he almost never acts the way I would, or you would. That is comforting to me. Critics of Christianity (and they are Legion, often with good reason) say we have created an object of worship in our own image. Au contraire! If I were conjuring up a god to worship, he would be more consistent, more attentive to my personal preferences. The fact that God IS so dadblame hard to figure out, frequently doing things differently than I think is appropriate, gives me more confidence that while he is God, I am not. It's my pleasure to receive life from him, and blessing, and forgiveness, and guidance, and grace, but he is the one who has it all to give.

Paul wrote this, in I Corinthians I:

18For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
20Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.22For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom;23but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness,24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.25Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
    26For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,28and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,29so that no man may boast before God.30But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,31so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTSBOAST IN THE LORD.”

There's a lot there, but in a nutshell: God pretty much operates opposite to our natural thinking. We try to put him in a box of Right and Wrong, and he comes from way out in left field with something Right that we've always thought was Wrong. Or points out that something we had so prided as Right is actually, for this time and for his purpose Wrong. Or we're convinced he acts in order to gain glory and then allows a catastrophe that has people complaining about him more than ever. Or he just pisses us off one day, and we have to laugh at the notion of our little picayune minds being pissed off at the creator of universes upon universes. And then he convinces us that for all our picayune thinking, for all our stupid deeds or selfish thoughts or sinful plans, he loves us still.

Was David right to pour out the water? Was he being over dramatic? Ungrateful? Honorable? All in one's interpretation. But he was the king, and he could do whatever the hell he wanted to. There is no indication that the men pouted, or rebelled, or jumped on him and shoved his face in the damp earth of the cave, or even worshipped God for their wonderful king.

God acts, or doesn't. That's what is important. Not our response, or the opinions of people. We can save ourselves a lot of trouble if we get to the point where we say, "Oh. Okay. Odd, but...okay. Now what?" We overthink things. Overspiritualize. No real good comes of this, in my opinion.