Tuesday, June 18, 2013

One thing leads to another

3 Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul's father, were lost. So Kish said to Saul his son, “Take one of the young men with you, and arise, go and look for the donkeys.” 4 And he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then they passed through the land of Benjamin, but did not find them.

5 When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant who was with him, “Come, let us go back, lest my father cease to care about the donkeys and become anxious about us.” 6 But he said to him, “Behold, there is a man of God in this city, and he is a man who is held in honor; all that he says comes true. So now let us go there. Perhaps he can tell us the way we should go.” 7 Then Saul said to his servant, “But if we go, what can we bring the man? For the bread in our sacks is gone, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What do we have?” 8 The servant answered Saul again, “Here, I have with me a quarter of a shekel of silver, and I will give it to the man of God to tell us our way.” 9 (Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he said, “Come, let us go to the seer,” for today's “prophet” was formerly called a seer.) 10 And Saul said to his servant, “Well said; come, let us go.” So they went to the city where the man of God was.

11 As they went up the hill to the city, they met young women coming out to draw water and said to them, “Is the seer here?” 12 They answered, “He is; behold, he is just ahead of you. Hurry. He has come just now to the city, because the people have a sacrifice today on the high place. 13 As soon as you enter the city you will find him, before he goes up to the high place to eat. For the people will not eat till he comes, since he must bless the sacrifice; afterward those who are invited will eat. Now go up, for you will meet him immediately.” 14 So they went up to the city. As they were entering the city, they saw Samuel coming out toward them on his way up to the high place.

15 Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed to Samuel: 16 “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come to me.” 17 When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you! He it is who shall restrain my people” (1 Sam 9:3-17).

Systematic theology traditionally distinguishes between providence and miracle. However, there’s a type of miracle that overlaps the two categories: a coincidence miracle.

We have a good example in 1 Sam 9:3-10:5. That recounts a series of seemingly random, causally disconnected events. Although there’s nothing overtly miraculous about these events, there’s a subtle means-ends pattern which the reader can detect after the fact.

Saul’s father loses some donkeys. Saul goes in search of the lost donkeys. He can’t find them, but his search happens takes him in the vicinity of Samuel, so he consults Samuel.

However, Samuel was expecting his arrival. This was prearranged by God. Samuel then gives Saul three signs:

And this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage. 2 When you depart from me today, you will meet two men by Rachel's tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah, and they will say to you, ‘The donkeys that you went to seek are found, and now your father has ceased to care about the donkeys and is anxious about you, saying, “What shall I do about my son?”’ 3 Then you shall go on from there farther and come to the oak of Tabor. Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there, one carrying three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a skin of wine. 4 And they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you shall accept from their hand. 5 After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, where there is a garrison of the Philistines. And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying (10:1-5).

Again, these are ordinary events. What is extraordinary is their conjunction. What are the odds that Saul would be in just the right place at just the right time for these encounters to happen? Moreover, what are the odds that Samuel could anticipate these meetings?

To an outside observer, each individual incident in this story would seem utterly mundane, requiring no special explanation. It’s only as you look back over the series of events, with the benefit of some inside information, that you can discern the goal-oriented nature of the process–an outcome imperceptibly guided by a hidden hand. Most of the participants would be oblivious to their ulterior role in the process.

Unbelievers often complain about the absence of miracles in the modern world. There are, of course, books which document well-attested miracles in the modern world.

However, unbelievers don’t know what to look for. They have a preconception of what constitutes a miracle which blinds them to miracles that may be occurring right under their nose. Coincidence miracles can be happening all around us, but a coincidence miracle is only recognizable to the concerned party. It has a private significance. It meets a need which only the concerned party is in a position to appreciate. 

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