Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Despised

My relationship with my brothers was always a bit awkward. I was so much younger, that they looked down on me anyway, but there were other differences too. It went back to the time when I was still a boy, the day when the old man came to our house and asked to see us all. Not that I was home when he got there, but since it was the talk of the family for weeks after, I heard every detail many times repeated.

He said that he came to make a sacrifice, that was odd in itself, but strange and mysterious are the ways of prophets, as strange as the ways of God Himself. He called my father to come and bring his sons to the sacrifice. Then followed a strange scene, even know I remember the unease of my brothers as they retold it. One by one they had to come before the prophet, one by one they were told that they were not the one the Lord had chosen. (Chosen for what? That was the unspoken question). That was when they sent for me, and that is the point where my own memory takes over. I walked in as summoned, fresh from the fields with no idea what was happening (but who did, apart from Samuel?), and was called to stand before this stranger. He looked at me, and I knew it was not my face he was seeing, but the hidden-most parts of my soul. And then, without a word of explanation, he took his horn of oil, anointed me, and when the sacrifice was complete, departed. My brothers had no idea what to make of it, so they joked about me to hide their discomfort.

Time passed. I was still the youngest brother, but there was an edge to their gibes that had not been there before. They had obviously decided that I was getting above myself and must be put back in my inferior position.

Then the Philistines attacked. My three oldest brothers went off to join the army, and I was kept busy going back and forth, filling in everything else that had to be done. Eventually I was sent up to the battle lines, to take food to my brothers. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Who did that that monstrous Philistine think he was, standing there insulting our people and our God? How dare he blaspheme the Holy One? And why was no one challenging him? Didn’t they know that they need not fear when their cause was God’s honour?

That was my mindset when my brothers found me; imagine my shock when they judged me with anger and scorn. They treated me like a naughty boy who had run away from his chores, they told me that I was conceited and had a wicked heart. In that moment I realised just how deeply they despised me: the younger brother who was different. And there was never a moment when it mattered less to me – my heart was on fire for a righteous cause.

The rest of that story is history: the sequence of events that led to the defeat of Goliath. It was victory pure and clean, I was fighting for God’s glory, not my own, and I didn’t care what anyone else thought, because I knew I was walking in obedience to the only one who mattered.

How different it is now: how bitterly, horribly different. Now, when I am their king, and they serve me gladly, now their words come back and hold up a mirror to my soul. Because now it is the truth, and I despise myself more than they ever despised me then. What was I thinking? How could I do such a thing ? Yet such indignation with myself is a falsehood in a sense. My sin, my dreadful sin against Bathsheba, against Uriah, above all against my God who forbade adultery and murder, is not some silly mistake I drifted into, it comes from the very core of who I am, conceited, self-indulgent, more concerned with gratifying the good pleasure of David than with surrendering to the good pleasure of God. What I did is the revelation of who I am, and how shall I live with that horror? Can even the sacrifices cleanse me? How can God still receive me? Can God Himself, altogether perfect, make peace with the despicable?

I can bring Him no more than my broken heart. Everything else I do is just an expression of what is inside. And yet I know that God receives me. How can that be? Unless .. unless .. somewhere beyond my understanding there is a place where a perfect sacrifice is made, a place where God Himself can meet with sinners, can even – is such a thing possible? – be the sacrifice Himself, despised and rejected, the scapegoat in the wilderness, that all His broken children might be the despised no longer, but, somehow, the ransomed of His love?

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