By James Cornwell

A Reading from Sirach 46:11-20

11 The judges also, with their respective names,
whose hearts did not fall into idolatry
and who did not turn away from the Lord —
may their memory be blessed!
12 May their bones send forth new life from where they lie,
and may the names of those who have been honored
live again in their children!

13 Samuel was beloved by his Lord;
a prophet of the Lord, he established the kingdom
and anointed rulers over his people.
14 By the law of the Lord he judged the congregation,
and the Lord watched over Jacob.
15 By his faithfulness he was proved to be a prophet,
and by his words he became known as a trustworthy seer.
16 He called upon the Lord, the Mighty One,
when his enemies pressed him on every side,
and he offered in sacrifice a sucking-lamb.
17 Then the Lord thundered from heaven,
and made his voice heard with a mighty sound;
18 he subdued the leaders of the enemy
and all the rulers of the Philistines.
19 Before the time of his eternal sleep,
Samuel bore witness before the Lord and his anointed:
“No property, not so much as a pair of shoes,
have I taken from anyone!”
And no one accused him.
20 Even after he had fallen asleep, he prophesied
and made known to the king his death,
and lifted up his voice from the ground
in prophecy, to blot out the wickedness of the people.

Meditation

Today’s reading follows the work of the judges in Israel’s history, focusing on the prophet Samuel. Remarkably, the passage reveals as much in what it doesn’t say as in what it does.

1 and 2 Samuel center on the political drama surrounding the house of Saul, Israel’s first king, marking Israel’s transformation from the judges to the kings. While today’s reading references the same historical period as the books of Samuel, the king is only mentioned once, and not even by name: we are only reminded of how Samuel prophesied a king’s downfall from beyond the grave. From the perspective of the future, the king — who seemed all-important at the time — fades into the background of history.

This passage anticipates the new kingdom established under Christ the King, of which we are citizens. As Oliver O’Donovan has written, the rulers of earth are still given the important role of exercising judgment over right and wrong for now, but victory and the Promised Land belong to Christ, and he and they await us in the eschatological future. Our need for earthly kings is merely provisional, and thus our attentiveness to them should be equally provisional.

A Presbyterian pastor I know once said that while reading the book of Hebrews he counted the number of references to earthly politics versus the heavenly kingdom to come and found that the latter outnumbered the former by a factor of approximately 150. He therefore said that in his house, they are only allowed to talk about earthly politics after talking about Christ’s kingdom 150 times. This is one way to live into our eschatological future, in which the infinite glories of Christ drown out the finite pretensions of nameless kings.

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their six children.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Northern Indiana
The Church of Nigeria