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

War with Iran Isn’t on the Horizon. So Why All the Arguments against It?

As the U.S. has responded to Iranian provocations in the Persian Gulf, various observers in the press have argued that National Security Advisor John Bolton somehow seeks to drag President Trump into a war with Iran against his will. Matthew Continetti points out the absurdities of this argument, and its origins:

Never mind that President Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, and Bolton have not said a single word about a preemptive strike, much less a full-scale war, against Iran. Never mind that the president’s reluctance for overseas intervention is well known. The “anti-war” cries are not about context, and they are certainly not about deterring Iran. Their goal is saving President Obama’s nuclear deal by manipulating Trump into firing Bolton and extending a lifeline to the regime.

It’s a storyline that originated in Iran. Toward the end of April, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif showed up in New York and gave an interview to Reuters where he said, “I don’t think [Trump] wants war,” but “that doesn’t exclude him basically being lured into one” by Bolton. . . . And now this regime talking point is everywhere. “It’s John Bolton’s world. Trump is just living in it,” write two former Obama officials in the Los Angeles Times. “John Bolton is Donald Trump’s war whisperer,” writes Peter Bergen on CNN.com. . . .

Recall Obama’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes’s admission to the New York Times Magazine in 2016 [that] “We created an echo chamber” to attack the Iran deal’s opponents through leaks and tips to the D.C. press. . . . Members of the echo chamber aren’t for attacking Iran, but they are all for slandering its American opponents. The latest target is Bolton. . . .

The Iranians are in a box. U.S. sanctions are crushing the economy, but if they leave the agreement with Europe they will be back to square one. To escape the box you try to punch your way out. That’s why Iran has assumed a threatening posture: provoking an American attack could bolster waning domestic support for the regime and divide the Western alliance.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Javad Zarif, John Bolton, U.S. Foreign policy