Saturday 30 August 2008

The theology of Harvey Dent

We have just started studying the book of 1 Samuel in our mid-week group meetings.

As with most Old Testament books, I am tempted to look for the hero. But at each turn of events, the main character soon becomes a let-down.

The book opens with Eli as high priest at Shiloh. His two sons are described as worthless (ESV) - not knowing the Lord, whom they supposedly serve. The boys skim from the sacrifices, taking the meat offered at the temple for their own supper, by force if necessary. Though Eli warns his sons of the consequences, a prophecy foretelling judgement on his family reveals that he, too, may have been exploiting his position for personal gain.

In contrast, the boy Samuel grows with unassuming humility and stature. God speaks to him directly. After the ark is captured, and God's punishment erases all traces of the ministry of the previous high priest though the death of Eli and his sons, and even Shiloh as the centre of worship, Samuel's leadership as prophet and judge is recognised. He leads the people in repentance. Israel forsakes her idols. The ark is back. The Philistine towns are captured. Everything is better.

Until chapter 8. Samuel appoints his two sons as judges. They turn out to be rotten eggs - taking bribes, "perverting justice". It sounds all too familiar. The elders confront Samuel with a request for a king.

Unless you are over 35 and were stranded on a desert island, you would have at least heard about the hype over the recent Batman movie. "The Dark Knight" features two of Batman's infamous villians, the Joker and Harvey "Two-Face" Dent.

Harvey Dent, in a scene from the movie, says to Bruce Wayne*:
You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

*(if you don't know who Bruce is, then this quote won't make much sense either. Also I don't think I'm giving away any plotlines, this scene is also in the promo trailer.)

This seems to be the pattern with Eli, Samuel, and eventually even Saul, David and Solomon. So much promise and hope over the new guy. Maybe he'll really make a difference. I hope he isn't like the last guy.

With enough time though, each one lets us down.

I once heard in a sermon that the book of 1 Samuel is about leadership. If so, it is set against backdrop of corruption, greed and pride. The leadership of man is a let-down. Still, God uses not just our fallen leadership, but our desires and hopes in man's leadership to point to something greater.

God's leadership as king is the underlying thread of the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. God's rule which is established through the judges and kings, which is rejected and scorned by the people as they look solely to the judges and kings.

Ultimately, God's rule and leadership will be through his appointed servant. A man who will not establish his authority with dynamic leadership or spectacular displays of power, but through sustained and complete obedience to his Father in heaven, weakness and humility, rejection and death.

At the cross, Jesus is sentenced to die the death of a criminal, and lives victoriously as our King and Saviour.

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