Going through the motions of scripture reading and story telling, believers often overlook the gravity of scenarios presented in the Bible. Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son Issac. We often take his willingness to do so for granted. But when we stop to think about it, can we even contemplate obeying such a command?
The new ABC television drama Of Kings and Prophets, loosely based on the biblical account of Israel’s kings Saul and David, vividly confronts viewers with a similar dilemma. The prophet Samuel relays a command from God to Saul, ordering the destruction of the Amalekites, a warrior tribe who had previously assailed the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt. God’s command is that “every man, woman, and child” be destroyed. This is genocide, and God intends it sincerely.
When this story is considered from the relatively sanitary presentation of scripture, Saul’s eventual disobedience is immediately recognized as sinful, and his condemnation by God as just. However, Of Kings and Prophets presents a less sanitary perspective. It asks us to imagine how we might respond if tasked by God to kill women and children. As we witness Saul look his victims in the eye, his disobedience is seen in a new light. Was he right to question God? Was he right to doubt the authority of the prophet?
These questions have significance today as we wrestle with modern religious violence. Few modern followers of Judaism or Christianity would condone killing in the name of God. Yet our scriptures clearly document such killing and present it as virtuous. How do we reconcile that? Of Kings and Prophets provokes us to ask.