A Word from Joel 6/5/24

Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.”
1 Samuel 3:11-12

How can human beings be trusted with power? What do we do when leaders become
misleaders, and our heroes turn out to be antiheroes? What do we do when we are the
problem? These questions must be faced anew by every generation. This summer we
will be reading through the stories of Saul, David, and Solomon—the so-called great
kings of Israel. What we will see is that those we think they are heroes are often less than
virtuous. We will see that the leader we need is not the one we want.

The story of Israel’s kings begins with God reimagining the priesthood. Priesthood in the
Old Testament was a family business passed down from father to son through the
descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron. They were known as the tribe of Levi, and God
promised that they would be priests forever. But shockingly with Eli’s family, God says
enough is enough. Eli’s sons had misused their power and authority. They used their
office for their own personal financial gain and for sexual exploits. God takes these sins
so seriously that he tells young Samuel, “I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of
Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” Some actions are so
heinous that they are disqualifying from leadership.

God takes the integrity of leadership so seriously that God will reimagine the structures
of leadership if it’s necessary. What actions are so heinous that God would undo God’s
promise to Eli and install an entirely new priesthood? Corruption—misusing power for
one’s own gain at the expense of those you’ve been called to serve. Out of love for the
people, God undoes a divine promise and gives it to someone else, namely the boy
Samuel who wasn’t a Levite but from the tribe of Ephraim. It’s a shocking judgment and
a warning to all who would lead.

It’s true that power corrupts, but as Robert Caro observed power also reveals. It reveals
the character of those who lead. God will not stand by forever and allow injustice to
prosper. In this year of election, may we remember that God isn’t a rubber stamp for our
own agenda, for our preferred party, or even for our country. We dare not assume that
God is on our side but instead seek to join God in uplifting the weak and honoring the
vulnerable. That is where God promises to be.

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