Who will speak for justice?

Design by Doug Puller/Bread for the World.

By Rev. Andrew Warner

In 1 Samuel 8 the Prophet Samuel spoke against the request of the elders of Israel for a king.  This debate between Samuel and the elders is what can inform our understanding of our political situation today.

The Prophet Samuel lived through the tumultuous transition of the people of Israel from a collection of loosely organized tribes led by occasional charismatic leaders into a nation state governed by a monarchy.  Samuel began as an apprentice to the Prophet Eli.  Eli had several sons he hoped would follow him as prophets to the people of Israel; but God saw the corruption of Eli’s sons, so Samuel took over from Eli.  Now the situation appeared ready to repeat itself with the sons of Samuel. The elders of Israel came to him upset with the situation.  They said to Samuel, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.”

Samuel complained to God and the elders about the request for king.  At the heart of Samuel’s critique was the charge, spoken by God, that the request for a king displaced God.  Samuel presented himself as someone aggrieved by the elders’ suggestion. God told Samuel to listen to what the people said.  Instead, Samuel tried to dissuade them by cataloguing all the ways a king would abuse them. The king would conscript their sons into battles, redistribute wealth, and tax the people.  His words reverberated with the word take.  “The king,” Samuel warned, “will take and take and take and take until you are all slaves.” His strong warning fell on deaf ears. The elders remained adamant, “we want a king to fight our battles.” Samuel and the elders were locked into a partisan battle. Both seemed to talk past each other.

Samuel and the elders do not line up with our political parties today.  But there debate feels familiar.   We’re increasingly locked in partisan debates in our country; but do we miss some truth in what the other is saying just as Samuel and the elders missed what was true because of the intensity of their argument? Lost in their debate was the real question of justice.  Who would protect the poor from corrupt judges?   Who would protect people from the seizure of their property?   Who would protect workers from mistreatment?  Who would keep the sons and daughters from conscription in foreign wars?

Every election matters.  It mattered for the people of Israel that the elders convinced Samuel to appoint Saul king.  It matters who wins.  But regardless of who rules, we need people who will speak up for justice. Vote for the candidate you trust to speak for and take action on behalf of those who have the least in society. Not those who have the most.

Rev. Andrew Warner is senior pastor at Plymouth Church of United Church of Christ in Milwaukee, Wis. This is an adaptation of one of his sermons. It first appeared on the United Church of Christ’s Our Faith Our Vote website.

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