A Lust For Scapegoats

1 Samuel 14:45 Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the Lord lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die. 46 Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place. 

So eager was Saul to set himself in the right and gain God’s favor that he determined to put Jonathan to death. Ironically, without Jonathan’s heroics, there would have been no victory, and the rank and file, who had by their silence protected Jonathan, now take matters into their own hands and saved the one who had wrought salvation for the nation, in Hebrew he had wrought yĕšûʿâ, that day. He has wrought with God, they say, acknowledging that the whole episode had been a divine rather than a human deliverance.

The curse of a king, like every other royal utterance, is ultimately the word of a human being and mired in the frailties of creatureliness and the fall. It is not absolute. And we see here the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates, for the royal curse is countermanded by nameless “men” (v. 45) who said “Far from it!” to the king’s demand that Jonathan die. The men thus “ransomed” the king’s son, from the king. Let the hearer understand, the authority and power of earthly kings is limited and bound. It is not absolute. “Shall Jonathan die…as the LORD lives…” The people use the same oath that Saul used in v. 39. They obviously think God spoke much more clearly in Jonathan’s victory than in Saul’s rash oath 

Jonathan’s faith and boldness brought about the defeat of two enemies of Yahweh’s purposes – one external, the Philistines, and one internal, a misguided Israelite king. After Saul was rebuffed by his soldiers, he ended the battle and let the remaining Philistines get away. Though Israel had won a victory on that day, Saul—and consequently kingship—had suffered a humbling defeat

Ultimately, though, this story is about more than human thrones. Saul was chosen king by casting lots, an echo of story about Achan. The process of determining a king and a thief is the same. The other time Israel used the casting of lots, was on the day of atonement to identify the Scapegoat in Leviticus 16. The priest was to cast lots for two goats. One of them was sacrificed for a sin offering while the other was driven out of the camp after the priest laid hands on it, confessing over it the sins of Israel. 

The motif of a creature chosen by God to carry the sins of the people out of an inhabited place to face God’s judgment in the wilderness, reappears several times in the NT, though the image of the scapegoat is never directly applied to Jesus. Jesus is called the sacrifice for our sins (Heb 10:1–18). John the Baptist calls Jesus the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). And in Hebrews 13:12–13 the point is stressed that Jesus was crucified outside the city. 

Again, the disposal of sin is considered as an almost physical process: sin is loaded onto Jesus; he is driven out of town and given over to God’s curse.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” –  so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith”(Galatians 3:13–14)

Jesus is more explicit when applying Psalm 118 to himself. Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? (Matthew 21:42). This verse points to the expulsion of a single victim and the later reversal that turns the expelled victim into the keystone of the entire community. 

Jesus is the great Scapegoat. The desire of fallen man’s heart. We see this symbolism in Jesus’ Passion.

“But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation” (John 11:49–52).

Pilate’s offer of Jesus and Barabbas was meant to appease the mob, because the shrewd Pilate knew they wanted someone’s blood. Pilate’s trial of Jesus was a kind of casting lots for a scapegoat. And in this we come to the ultimate struggle of our hearts. Saul desired the complete destruction of the Philistines. In this he was denied. Saul desired Israel to deny its identity and not eat, even the honey flowing in God’s promised land, until Saul had vengeance upon Saul’s enemies. In this he was denied. Saul wanted a word from God. In this he was denied. Saul wanted someone to pay for all of this, under the guise of atoning for sins, he wants a scapegoat. He wants blood. And in this he was denied.

You desire and do not have, so you murder” (James 4:2).

When we can’t murder the one who is withholding our desires we turn to others. To scapegoats. As philosopher Rene Girard wrote,

“The kick the employee doesn’t dare give his boss, he will give his dog when he returns home in the evening. Or maybe he will mistreat his wife and his children, without fully realizing that he is mistreating them as “Scapegoats.” Victims substituted for the real target are the equivalent of sacrificial victims in distant times. In talking about this kind of phenomena, we spontaneously utilize the expression “scapegoat.” The real source of victim substitutions is the appetite for violence that awakens in people when anger seizes them and when the true object of their anger is untouchable. The range of objects capable of satisfying the appetite for violence enlarges proportionally to the intensity of the anger.”

This is called the principle of transference. But this rarely leads to acts of physical violence, it does lead to Psychological violence that is easy to camouflage. “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). Hate is emotional and psychological. Jesus told us that we can commit violence toward one another within our hearts.

Desire is the source of sin; whose wage is death (Romans 6:23). Our fallen desires lead to death. They require death. There will be blood. But whose blood? The injustices we commit, our quarrels and our conflicts are a matter of the heart, and unchecked they lead to homicide. And all homicide is actually deicide, for man is the image of God. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6). When our desires are unfilled who is ultimately thwarting us? But we can’t kick God, can we? Like Saul, our desires are unsatisfied and this leads for a lust for a scapegoat, someone who will pay. Saul could get his hands-on innocent Jonathan, but who was his hate and rage really directed toward?

Ultimately, we want God to pay for his will, his providence, his autonomous sovereignty. Who bestows on us our body type? Our quantity of children? Our vocations? Our temperaments? But we can’t get our hands on Him, so we murder those to whom he erroneously bestowed his gifts instead of us. Our bodies deteriorate. Our bodies can’t carry babies to full term. We aren’t what we want to be.  Life is harder than it should be. We are broken and so we want to break. But God’s neck is too big to fit our hands around. So, we go to work on one another.  And then God descended from heaven amongst us. And what did we do to Him? What we do to one another every day. We murdered him. Our utmost desires grew up to maturity and when God came in the flesh, within our grasp, we went to work on Him.  And like Jonathan, Jesus said “Here I am, I will die.” 

Our desire for this violence, this punishment for our unmet desires is death – our eternal death and until that desire is satisfied, man will remain in his sins, dead. This is a simple truth, which once accepted, sets us free. Jesus fulfills the deepest desire of our heart to murder God for what he has denied us and what he has done to us. For that thing we want and can’t get – an apple, a slim waistline, a promotion, sex, respect, more children, tenderness. For His telling us no. For his silence in the face of our desire. For this, He will pay. And so, He did. And thereby secured our freedom from these desires. 

We no longer have need to murder one another, the mere image of God, for we have murdered God Himself. There is no one left to blame, there is no one left to punish. Be free. When you covet or lie, or your anger breaks forth, when we fear man more than God, when we lust and unsatisfied, loathe. When we steal and bow down over idols to whore with them. We know the filthy desire of our hearts. We must confess it. We must Cry out to God that murder lies in our hearts. 

And from this, our only hope is to look upon his Son on the cross and be satisfied. There is no one left to murder. The Lord Jesus has fulfilled the one desire at the center of our hearts that keeps us from Him. Because His will is greater than ours. He rose up form what we did to him that we might be free for new desires, holy desires, that we might be his today, forever.

Author: Michael Kloss

There is a Sunday conscience, as well as a Sunday coat; and those who make religion a secondary concern put the coat and conscience carefully by to put on only once a week. - Charles Dickens

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