Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Fall of Saul: The Betrayal

Saul was a slave to fear. It was easy for him to wallow in its torment. In 1 Samuel 13:12, panicking at the sight of the Philistine army assembled at Micmash, he was forced to illegally offer the burnt sacrifice only the Prophet Samuel was authorized to offer up to God. It was then on known as the triumph of fear, changing the course of Saul’s life forever. From that point, God merely tolerated Saul as king. The Prophet Samuel was very clear that the next king of Israel would not come from any of Saul’s family.

“You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure, the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

What looks like a coincidental pile of rocks to us today is actually what God prescribed to anyone building a monument in Biblical times, particularly in His Name. It could also be similar to the one Saul build in his honor.

At that point, Saul no longer saw any future for him or his posterity to rule the people of God. Saul’s attitude changed from then on. Stripped away of God’s favor, he was left with his pride, his lust for power, and a frightening inability to discipline his vehemence that toggled between fear and rage. As a man who saw no future as God’s former anointed, we can now understand why he had no qualms in disobeying His orders to “totally destroy” the Amalekites (15:3). We can also understand the monument he had set up in his own honor in verse 12. A few years after him, Absalom, a son and usurper to King David’s throne would likewise erect his own monument, officially name it after himself and explain, “I have no son to carry on the memory of my name” (2 Samuel 18:18).

Saul knew what he was doing when he decided to disobey and set up his monument in his honor, and in 1 Samuel 15:15 and 20 to 21, he was ready to defend it before the Prophet Samuel. Saul understood that God was behind his action, a dilemma which could be solved with the sacrifice of some pretty fat sheep and livestock. Through disobedience, Saul snatched back the control of his life from the hands of God. He believed that his survival, most especially his kingship, depended no longer in God, but in himself. That night, the Lord came to confide His grief with the Prophet Samuel: “Saul…has turned away from me” (verse 10). “Turned away” in a word meant “betrayed.”

Judas Iscariot

One person who saw no future in an immediate governing authority was Judas Iscariot. Being an apostle of Jesus Christ, he was under the immediate governing authority of the Messiah Himself. And being an apostle, he was among the core of Twelve, out of the multitude, that placed their faith that Jesus was the Christ; and in the event that a falling away would occur due to disbelief that He was the Son of God, the Twelve was expected to remain, such as what happened in John 6:66 to 69.

All of Israel during the oppressive Roman period were desperately anticipating the descent of the Messiah who would finally take His place on David’s throne (Psalm 45:6-7), rule the world with peace (Isaiah 9:6-7), bring in everlasting righteousness (Daniel 9:24), introduce the new covenant between God and Israel (Jeremiah 31:31-34), bring Israel to its rightful place of world power (Isaiah 61:1-2). But when Jesus began teaching about His death (Matthew 16:21, 24-28; 20:17-19; 26:11-12; Mark 8:31; 10:33-34; 14:7-8; Luke 9:22; 18:31-33; John 12:7-8, 23, 28, 35-36), Judas’ anticipation for a glorified Israel systematically crumbled. As a matter of fact, the time when Jesus rebuked Judas for disputing the “waste of perfume” (Mark 14:6) was during one of His teachings about His death:

“She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial” (verse 8).

Jesus’ reprimand was a slap to Judas’ face. Yet Jesus never meant to embarrass His erring disciple. Though the story in John 12:4-5 holds that Judas instigated the issue of the “wasted perfume,” the version in Mark 14 notes “some of those who were present” agreeing with Judas to the point of rebuking the woman anointing Jesus with particular harshness. Jesus was not about to have the woman get verbally ripped apart by misguided opinion, so He protects her:

“Leave her alone…. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mark 14:6).

Jesus’ counterattack did not single out Judas, but was meant to stop the entire group from castigating the anointing woman, who in John 12:3 was identified as Mary, sister of Lazarus. For Judas, however, it was all personal. Verses 10 to 12 of Mark 14 reveal the weakness of Judas’ personality. In contrast to Simon Peter’s character, Judas was a weakling. Simon Peter received worse rebukes from Jesus in the past—like in Matthew 16:23 where Jesus, looking straight at his face, rebukes away Satan as if the disciple was Satan-possessed with him knowing about it—but, except for the denials on the night of Jesus’ arrest, Simon Peter never sent Jesus to His demise.

Fine Art Photographic Library/Corbis
The night at Bethany where He was anointed with the woman’s oil, was a crucial juncture for both Jesus and Judas. In Mark 14:10, Judas was recounted going to the chief priests “to betray Jesus to them.” The chief priests offered him money (verse 11) upon the consummation of the plot, and Judas joined the team that sought for an opportunity to hand them the Christ (verse 12).

Except in the parts of the gospels where Jesus’ disciples were introduced, Judas’ name was largely associated with money. In a Holy Week teaching entitled “School of the Cross,” Reverend David E. Sumrall of the Cathedral of Praise in Manila, the Philippines, asserted that a betrayal is born out of a perceived need of self-development.

[Just when you thought you've heard the last of ol' Saulster! And there's more! ]

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