King Saul’s Downfall Stemmed from His Transactional Approach to Serving God

March 15 2019

In 1Samuel 15, read in synagogues tomorrow, King Saul leads the Israelite army into victorious battle with the Amalekites at the behest of the prophet Samuel. But rather than destroy their enemies’ livestock, as God had commanded, the hungry Israelite soldiers plunder it for food. For this act of disobedience, as well as for failing to slay the Amalekite king, Saul is rejected by God. Shlomo Zuckier explains the mistaken attitude that lies behind Saul’s actions:

[Saul insists to Samuel] that he did follow God’s word, and that the people took the animals, adding the qualification that the animals were meant for sacrifices. As God did not request any such sacrifices, this line might best be read as Saul’s attempt at bribing God. Utilizing a transactional logic, he effectively [declares], “I made a mistake, God, but surely You’ll be happy if I give you these offerings? I’ll give you a cut of the spoils!” Thus, not only in not following the divine command properly, but even in responding to [Samuel’s rebuke], Saul disregards God’s will, . . . trying to pay God off instead of coming to terms with his failure. . . . Samuel responds that God desires not sacrifices but heeding the divine word; one can influence God neither with magic nor with bribes. . . .

[Saul] sees God as an obstacle to be navigated around. . . . As he learns all too well, what God really expects is that His will be followed; no bribe can be efficacious, and there is no divine workaround.

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More about: Hebrew Bible, King Saul, Religion & Holidays, Sacrifice, Samuel

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey