Day 87: 2 Samuel 1-3; Israel in Transition

Today we are in transition.  If 1 Samuel could be called something else, it would likely be labeled “The Book of King Saul.”  That would mean that if we could label 2 Samuel something different, it would would be labeled “The Book of King David.”  We read about Saul’s death, and that of his sons at their own hands, despite the questionably different report from the unfortunate Amalekite who David puts to death for killing the king.  I am not really sure why that man would have given a false report.  Perhaps it was to win favor with the man who would be the King of Israel.  Perhaps he was trying to show that he helped Saul die honorably.  In any case, his report doesn’t sit well with David, who has spared Saul’s life twice, and David has him put to death.

It is interesting to see David’s reaction to Saul’s death.  There is a whole song recorded for us here which David sings to mourn Saul and Jonathan.  I am struck by the depth of the words and the passion that he feels for the death of his king, even after being pursued by Saul all the time that he had been.  He mourns deeply for his enemy and all his men see this and do the same.  After this he also blesses those who went and buried Saul and his sons’ bodied, honoring them with a proper burial rather than let them be left on display by the Philistines.  What an amazing display of love, honor, and respect that David has for “God’s anointed one.”  I can’t say that I would have been that full of grief if a man who had spent the last several years driving me from my home and keeping me on the run, trying his utmost to kill me had died… no matter what his rank or position.  Yet David understands that God appointed him to the throne and respects that despite his hardships.  He continues to trust in the Lord and in God’s perfect timing.

What comes next in today’s narratives is not something that I was ever taught in Sunday School.  To be honest, I didn’t know that there was a long time of transition and civil war in Israel after Saul’s death.  Needless to say, I was intrigued by all that happened here and I am still processing quite  a bit of it.  I wonder… what was your reaction to this civil war?  Did you know about it?  Were you familiar with Abner or Ish-bosheth?  What do you see in these narratives?  Where do you see God in them?  I would love your comments and feedback as I have very little to offer at the moment!

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As I think about this more, later in the morning, I’ve been considering the fact that even in this story we see God’s faithfulness to the people of Israel, His covenant people.  If I were to ask myself where I see God in this story, I would see him providing for, strengthening, and being faithful to both His promise to the people of Israel and to Daivd, God’s anointed one.



Day 86: 1 Samuel 28-31; The End of Saul

As we have talked about in these last few days, the reign of King Saul and the legacy that he leaves behind is not one that I think anyone would want to claim for his own.  He starts of reluctant and humble, thrust into a position of power, but quickly forgets where the true power and authority of his position comes from.  God had made Saul king over Israel and yet at the end of the day, Saul doesn’t remember the ways of the Lord and constantly takes things into his own hands, leading to his rejection and his death as we read today.

The narrative leading up to Saul’s death is unique in that it brings up some interesting perspectives on Saul’s reign and some questions about the nature of the afterlife.  We are told that at sometime in Saul’s reign, all those that practiced different “spiritual arts” were put out of the nation of Israel.  When this happened we cannot say.  To be honest, that would be a gold star in the otherwise beaten and scared record of Saul’s reign.  Yet as he goes into battle for what will be his last time, he again forgets where the true power of the nation of Israel comes from.  After God gives him no answer, which for him should have been a bad sign, he turns to the very evil that he cast out of the land.  What’s worse?  He does it deceitfully!

This short narrative of Saul talking to the spirit of Samuel raises some interesting questions about a great many things.  Afterlife?  Spirits?  Is any of this real?  What are we to do with this?  Unfortunately I don’t have the answers to these questions.  So I have sought the help of several commentaries in order to come up with something to write about here, much of which is very interesting, even if it yields little answers… What we see here, once again, is a a wide array of contrasts between Saul and those around him.  Saul is the anointed king of Israel, given authority to rule by God himself, and living in complete and utter terror, with little confidence in God.  The Witch, or medium which he seeks out performs her craft with a great deal of confidence and the one in which she finds here power, even if it is evil, shows up with little effort at all.

Saul, we read, comes in a disguise which is revealed almost immediately upon his arrival.  “Samuel” also comes with a hood on, and it is clear that Saul never actually realizes his true identity, at least according the Matthew Henry’s commentary.  Henry points out that there is a reference to the medium lady seeing “gods coming out of the ground.”  In that day and age all angles and spiritual messengers would be referred to as “gods” in some way shape or form.  Generally speaking, the “gods” or Angels that came from God were that ones that came from the sky (remember Jacob’s ladder?), where as the “gods” that came from the ground would be more properly understood as demons or evil.  Matthew Henry also points to the facts of Satan as a master of lies who “masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14)  Henry goes on to say that all the things that the “false Samuel” or “Satan” says are intended to weaken Saul and drive him to despair which will ultimately lead to Saul’s death.

There are some other view points on exactly what is happening here.  Most agree that this is not the spirit of Samuel that is actually talking to Saul.  If I was to infuse a bit of my own thoughts into this conversation, I would point out that a passage like this is not one meant to explain the nature of the afterlife, but rather is intended, at least on some level, to be a warning to those who would dabble in the darker side of spirituality.  If we learn something from this narrative is that there is an evil side to the spiritual realm and it ultimately leads to ruin and destruction.  Henry points out that there is no way of telling what would have happened here had Saul persevered in seeking after God.  I have to imagine that it would have been better than this outcome though.

In other news, this whole story is juxtaposed with more successes of David as he goes to rescue his family and an entire city from the Amalekites who seem to have taken advantage of the conflict between Israel and the Philistines.  We read that “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”  However this looked, it is clear that, unlike Saul, David seeks first the will of God and once again finds strength in Him.  God has not let him down yet and this is no exception.  David goes after the Amalekites and brings back everything that was lost to them plus all that was taken from other cities, which he returns to them in good faith.  Once again we see the faithfulness of God in the exploits of David, even while living in exile from his homeland, and how God provides protection and even vengeance for the people of Judah through David, the man seeking God in all things.



Day 85: 1 Samuel 25-27; David's Continuing Exploits

Again today we find David out in the wilderness.  He did not return to his home or a normal life after his last brush with Saul even though Saul returned home and stopped hunting him.  Scripture doesn’t tell us why, but does continue to communicate to us the narratives of David’s exploits and God continues to shape and form in in the wilderness of his life.

Interestingly, we see something that is seemingly brash about David in chapter 25.  He sends men to talk to Nabal, which interestingly means “fool” in Hebrew, and is rejected in a rather rude way.  David, apparently, is quite perturbed by this and goes to kill Nabal and all of Nabal’s house for the mistreatment.  One thing I noticed in this narrative is that David doesn’t ask God what to do, but just goes to do it.  Fortunately for David, Abigail is on the scene and, though she knows she has a foolish husband, sets David straight before he does something regrettable.  Her speech to David is very beautiful and it makes David think.  She is clearly speaking the words that God would have told him had he consulted him in the first place.  As has been David’s practice, his ears are open and he recognizes God’s voice even in this woman.  While it is hard to know what would have happened, or even if David was justified in his actions (I think he wasn’t), what we do know is that God dealt with Nabal accordingly in the coming days and David is free from the guilt he might have attained for himself had he actually killed Nabal himself.  In the end, because they listened to the Lord, David is guilt free with an honorable woman to call his wife, and Abigail is no longer joined to a fool but now has a good man as her husband.

We read after this that, for what seems like no reason at all, Saul comes after David again.  As we discussed yesterday, Saul has gotten himself nothing but failure in his pursuit of David while it seems like David has gained everything in his pursuit of God.  Here, again, is no exception to this rule.  Saul is once again given into David’s hands through the work of the Lord and once again David spares his life.  I think it very honorable that David spares Saul’s life, recognizing him as the Lord’s anointed one and the ruler of Israel, even when David knows his true destiny as king-to-be.  I wonder, sometimes, if we should take some cues from David in this regard.  Whether Democrat or Republican, we should honor our public officials, even if we don’t like them.  Romans 13:1 says,

“For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

Finally, today we read that David, even after a promise from Saul that no more pursuit will take place, goes and seeks refuge with the Philistines, from which he is given his own city.  Interestingly though, David does not simply sit and do nothing, waiting for Saul to die, but attacks Israel’s enemies while telling one of the philistine kings that he is attacking Israel.  In this, David has been provided with refuge from Saul and is yet still being used by God for the greater good of the people of Israel.  This is yet another example of what we spoke of yesterday in the contrasts between David and Saul.  We see that Saul ultimately fails in his attempt to kill David within his own nation, and David, while seeking the will of God, is given refuge in a foreign land and is being used by God to do great things for the nation that he has been exiled from.  In this we see, once again, that God continues to be faithful to those who seek after him with their whole hearts and follow His Law.

An interesting side-note to all of this:

During this time, the Philistines were the technological superpower of their day.  They had mastered the art of working with Iron, creating stronger and better weapons than the nations around them.  Israel, we read several chapters ago in 1 Samuel 13, really only had plows and pitchforks for weapons, with few (if any) swords among them.  This gave the philistines a very distinct advantage in the region.  As we work our way out of 1 Samuel and into 2 Samuel, you will notice that this advantage seems to disappear.  Many scholars believe that it was in this time, while David lived among the Philistines, that he discovered the secrets of Iron-working, and brought it back to Israel with him and implemented it with his kingship.  This too is a very interesting way in which God used the circumstances of the day to provide in huge ways for His people yet again.



Day 84: 1 Samuel 21-24; Saul Pursues David

There is nothing better, at least in my mind, than a good strategy game, movie, or sporting event.  I love to watch players and teams play many different moves, take up different positions, and try to bluff each other until one gains the advantage.  I also really love an underdog, a team or player that is not at all expected to win and yet out maneuvers or out thinks an opponent.  There is a great deal of that going on in the NCAA basketball tournament in these weeks of “March Madness,” and there is quite a bit of that going here.  David leaves alone trying to stay one step ahead of Saul, basically in survival mode.  Yet Saul, with the resources of the country at his disposal, is completely unable to catch David.  He is out maneuvered at every turn until the best move is made, David spares Saul’s life and them reveals it to him in public.  Well played David… well played.

There are some other interesting things that we see happening in this passage that I would like to draw your attention to today.  This whole narrative, the reading that we have to day, and basically the whole story of David vs. Saul points to a fundamental truth about the nature of God in the lives of these two people, and that of our lives as well.  This whole time David is on the run, but always seeking after God and is thus always taken care of.  Every move David makes he inquires of the Lord for a yes or a no.  When David is in a place, he is listening for the Lord to tell him what his next move should be.  David may not be living in the lap of luxury, but everything he needs is provided for.

In contrast to this, we see Saul who is always one step behind David (sometimes more) inquiring after humans as to his adversary’s whereabouts.  Saul leaves a path of destruction and death behind him, haphazardly going after David in the wilderness.  He is completely unsuccessful in his ventures and even thwarted by God and the attacks of other nations on the land.  In the end, Saul has the whole kingdom, anything he wants, and is humiliated by his opponent and convicted of his sins, finally giving up and going home.

Lets look at some of the contrasts here:

  • David starts his journey alone, petitioning a priest for some bread.  He goes to God in his time of need and is fed from the Lords table.  
  • Saul, in his time of need did his own thing, offered his own sacrifices, and was thus rejected by God.  (1 Saumel 13)
  • David, while always following after God, seeks the help of other nations for physical protection and is kept safe from his enemy
  • Saul, while never following after God, seeks the help from his own people with very little actual assistance and ends up killing almost 100 of his own people because of it.
  • David, while on the run, inquires of God and goes to rescue a city under the attack of the Philistines with great success, and is then protected when Saul comes to capture him.
  • Saul, when he is about to catch David is drawn away by the Philistines, and when he returns is placed in David’s hands, and spared by the mercy of his adversary.
  • David is loving the Lord with everything that he is, following the words of the “Shema” at every turn.
  • Saul… well Saul seems to be loving himself and going after what he wants at every turn… and its not working out for him so well.

These are some interesting contrasts that come up in this reading and others as well.  David is given wild success by the Lord when it seems impossible, because of his faith and trust in God.  Saul on the other hand kills his own people and fails at pretty much every turn despite his advantage.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying “well played David” but instead should be saying “Well played, God.”

Finally, for today, there is another crucial part to this story that we often read right over because it is not something that is very prominently pointed out.  We are once again encountering a wilderness motif here.  Did you notice it?  David is living in the wilderness, hiding in caves and traveling in desolate places to escape his enemy.  This is not something that would have gone unnoticed by the Hebrew people.  The wilderness is something that they were very familiar with.  David, like Israel after the Exodus, is on a journey through the wilderness right now.  Like Israel, he is being stripped of an old identity and being found anew in the Lord.  Before they entered the wilderness, Israel was group of Hebrew slaves.  When they entered into Canaan, they were a nation, THE nation of God.  David entered this wilderness journey a boy with a promise from God.  He will exit this journey a warrior, a survivor, and most of all a man in a deep relationship with his Lord.

The wilderness is a motif that we relate to LENT as well, the time that we have been in but that is coming rapidly to a close this week.  At this writing, we are entering into Holy Week, the last legs of our 40+ day wilderness journey.  We have given up things, put aside things, and sought to inquire after the Lord.  In Lent we are called to a drastic and dramatic reshaping of our minds and our identity as we seek to find ourselves not in possessions, status, jobs, or anything else, but in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  Sometimes we find ourselves hiding in the caves of life, fearing our adversary will overtake us.  Trust in the Lord and call out to him and you will not be put to shame.

In this week of weeks, as we journey to the cross, let us find our identity in Christ and remember the great sacrifice that He gave for our sins, that we may not be left in the wilderness of life.



Day 83: 1 Samuel 18-20; Friendship and Rivalry

Today’s reading is a narrative of contrasts: love and hate, trust and mistrust, friendship and rivalry.  It is also another microcosm of the results of following the covenant, the Law of God, and what happens to those that do and to those that don’t.  As you reflect on the reading for today, I would encourage you to think of a couple things:

  1. What is Saul’s perspective?
  2. What is Jonathan’s perspective?
  3. What is David’s perspective?
  4. Where is God and how is God at work in each of these people?

Saul has shown his lack of faith in God and his unwillingness to follow the Law.  We have read just recently that God regretted making Saul king and rejected him and his family as rulers of Israel.  The result?  Saul is afflicted by an evil spirit, and horrible anger management issues, and has resorted to brute force and fear to get his way.

Jonathan has shown his faith in God, but is the unfortunate victim of familial relations.  Though he believes in the Lord and follows God, his family has been rejected by God for the royal line of Israel.  Yet, in spite of this, Jonathan still shows his faith in God and his loyalty toward his friendship with David.  We read that both Saul and Jonathan saw that God was with David, and Jonathan all but switches his loyalties to David’s camp.  No matter what his father says, he loves David and seeks to protect his friendship with him.  Jonathan is a living example of the commandment of Leviticus 19, “love your neighbor as yourself.”  He consistently puts his life on the line for David, a boy of a small family who has no real cultural or social rite hanging out with the son of the king.  I think Jonathan understanding a couple of things:  David is the anointed one of God and David is a man of Israel, a chosen child of God just like himself.  Before God we are all of the same stature, and there really is no difference between classes or any other social construct in God’s eyes.

David has been anointed by God to be king of Israel.  Technically he has the rite to raise a coup and kill the current king.  This has happened often in the history of the world, yet David doesn’t even take advantage of the influence that he is gaining or the success that the Lord is giving him.  He still plays the lyre for king Saul, even in the midst of Saul fury toward him, and still leads the military faithfully under the command of Saul.  We don’t see David lording it over Saul that he is better.  In fact, he even goes above and beyond Saul’s request for a “bride price,” killing philistines in the name of king Saul.  David also maintains his friendship with Jonathan, despite all that Jonathan’s father is doing against him.  He honors Jonathan for the position that he is in and doesn’t use him to exploit Saul.  Neither does he exploit the daughter of Saul, his wife.  David does what is right in the eyes of the Lord and is blessed and protected for it.

So where is God here?  I think it is obvious that we can say God is with David and Jonathan.  But, as we have always recognized, God is continuing to be faithful to the Covenant relationship that He has made with Israel.  Though Israel’s king is unfaithful, God is still faithful in providing for the people of Israel.  As we saw in the book of Ruth, despite what was going on around them, when people are faithful, God’s blessings abound.  David is considered “a man after God’s own heart,” and in his grace, humility, loyalty, and love he demonstrates exactly why he has been given that title.  And God continues in His faithfulness to David, and to us, in all things, at all times, and in all places.



Day 82: 1 Samuel 16-17; The Anointing of David

The reading for today, the narrative of David and Goliath, is markedly similar to our reading from yesterday.  But before we get into that, we need to first recognize the beginning of the story of King David.  Here we see what is the “beginning” of the royal family of Israel which will also be the line from which Jesus comes.  I place the word beginning in quotation marks because it really isn’t the beginning, this family has been growing and active for over 500 years already, if you just think back to Judah the son of Jacob.  Remember back with me a bit.  We had Judah, who had an inappropriate relationship with Tamar which produced Perez and Zerah, back in Genesis 38.  Later on, we meet the prostitute Rahab, who was spared from Jericho in Judges 6.  In Matthew 1 we read that Rahab marries a man named Salmon and has a son named Boaz who later marries Ruth.  The son of Boaz and Ruth is Obed who is the father of Jesse the father of David.  So, while David is the most well known in this line (until Jesus), God has been at work in this family for generations!

In this narrative about David’s anointing by Samuel we also come to a familiar verse.  God tells Samuel,

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

In many ways this had become a verse to motivate leaders and give hope to the downtrodden alike.  God is showing Samuel what truly matters.  Saul was a man that stood a whole head above everyone else.  He was strong and handsome, or so we are told, and was the oldest of the sons of his father.  So when people look at him, they see a true leader.  Yet no one would suspect the youngest son, a shepherd, to be God’s chosen for the kingship of Israel.  (Sense some foreshadowing here?)  Yet God anoints David to be King because God knows Davids heart, his innermost being and sees that David is who God needs him to be.  It doesn’t have anything to do with his worldly status, but had everything to do with how God sees him.  Interesting how David became the most influential Kings of Israel, the last of 8 sons… and his offspring Jesus is the Savior of the world, born in a lowly manger.

Finally, we return to the narrative of David and Goliath.  Did you notice the similarities between yesterday’s narrative of Jonathan trusting God and slaying the philistines and David’s trust in God?  Where is Saul (and the people of Israel for that matter) in all of this?  Cowering once again, unwilling to go out because fear has gripped him (or them).  Perhaps this is a testament to effective, or rather ineffective leadership.  When David offers to go, Saul gives him the royal armor to wear (as if that would help him at all against someone as big as Goliath).  But David says no and instead goes out on faith, doing what he knows he can do.  I have tried to imagine the speech that David gives to Goliath… what a rousing testament to David’s faith:

“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel,  and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”

What confidence from a “youth.”  Perhaps this is what it means to hat “the faith of a child?”  That’s just speculation, but the truth of the matter here is that David believes and trusts in the power of God.  He is unwavering in his conviction: God is real, God is powerful, and God is with him.  And indeed God is with David and a great victory is won against the philistines that day.

Sometimes, as I’m sitting in church, I wonder if we have the same convictions about the reality of God’s presence as David does.  He, like Jonathan, took a risk and faced death in the face on the faith that God was real and God was with them.  I heard a statistic once that over 50% of pastors don’t actually believe what they preach.  How sad… and how scary to face a reality in which God is not active and in control!  Its no wonder Saul was hiding in his tent…  I wonder, if when push comes to shove, we are Davids… or Sauls?

“Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”  Mark 9:24



Day 81: 1 Samuel 14-15; Saul's Legacy

So continues the battle with the Philistines, a conflict that continues for all the days of Saul’s reign as king.  But what we do see here is Saul taking the reigns of his Kingship, making decisions and rallying the people.  While it is good to see the king living into the role to which he has been called, it is interesting to see the his style as a ruler and his faith in God juxtaposed against that of his son, Jonathan and all of what happens after it.

There are really two different narratives that happen here, one in chapter 14 and the other in chapter 15.  In chapter 14 we see the actions of Jonathan dangerously venturing out with only his armor bearer to help protect him.  He goes out across the battle lines and up to the philistine garrison.  Rather than setting his own plan, he just says that he is going to stand up and trust that God will reveal to them what it is that they should do.  The sign is given, Jonathan obeys, and the garrison is defeated and the philistines panic and scatter.  Only then does Saul and the men with him come out of hiding.  Then Saul commands his military that they are to pursue the philistines and not take any food until they are defeated.  To me, this seems like an odd command in general, but for Saul, I think it betrays his feelings of who he trusts in.  Saul seems to be jumping on this fortunate turn of events and doesn’t want the opportunity to be lost because his soldiers stop to do something like eat food.

What happens?  Jonathan stops and eats some food.  Some people from the army warn him of what his father commanded to which Jonathan replies something akin to, “well that’s just dumb.”  We see here, very clearly where the faith of Jonathan lies:  in the power of God.  Saul is making bad decisions in the moment to take advantage of the confusion of the philistines.  He is relying on the strength of his army.  Jonathan knows exactly why this has happened.  He knows that it is the Lord that has given the philistines into the hands of Israel and that they should not rely on their own strength, but trust that as God has already worked, He will continue to do so.

This lack of faith and lack of following God is emphasized at the end of chapter 14 when we read that there was fighting all the days of Saul.  This is a direct reference to the covenant, where it says that there would be peace in the land if the people followed God and God’s law and there would be conflict should they fail to do so.  Saul’s lack of faith is then accented by his actions in the following chapter, not heeding the command of God and taking the best plunder for himself.  All this culminates in the rejection of Saul as king.  We read that the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king.

I think that this brings up a rather interesting thing to think about here.  We’ve read something like this a couple of times.  Back in Genesis 6 we read, “And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”  Later, in Exodus 32, with the Golden Calf, the Lord is so angry about the people’s rebellion that He wants to destroy them, but Moses talks God out of it.  This raises the question though, if we believe that God is immutable (does not change) but we read here that God changes His mind or regrets something that He is already done, do not those things stand in contrast with each other?

The immutability of God here is really a statement of the nature of God’s character, something about who He is in His very being.  We know that God is Holy, and that He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  We know that God is wholly opposed to sin.  We also know that God is faithful to His people, loving them even in the midst of rebellion.  So what does that say to us here about God?  That He is, as always, true to His character.  God can never act in a way that is contrary to God’s character.  So we see that God is grieved to have made Saul the king, which is a result of Saul’s continuing sin against the Lord.  What we aren’t reading here is that God was wrong in doing so, but that He regretted His decision.  In any case, God is still acting in the way that God always acts, working against sin, upholding the covenant He made with Israel, and still bringing about His will in the world.



Day 80: 1 Samuel 11-13; Saul, Israel's First King

Yesterday, as we read about the anointing of Saul, the reading ended with Saul returning home and going back to the work of a normal person.  Today the narrative picks up there as well.  As the Ammonites are attacking the people of Israel, Saul is out plowing with some oxen.  Seems a rather common thing for the King of Israel to be doing.  However, when he hears of the trouble that is taking place in Israel, the Spirit of the Lord “rushes upon him” and he gets super angry.  He sends out a call to arms and over 300,000 men rally to the cause.  For anyone that has been keeping track, this is the most significant fighting force assembled from the people of Israel since the time of the conquest of Canaan.  It is clear that this is the human leader that the people of Israel were looking for, and they decimate the Ammonites.  After this, the people of Israel make Saul their king “officially.”

As with all other major occasions, especially those of renewal and of worship, the history of the people of Israel is recalled and remembered.  Often times this manifests itself in a recitation of the Law and in many ways, this occasion of the “Renewal of the Kingdom” is no different.  However, Samuel takes a rather different approach, expanding on his warning about having a king and not trusting in God as their king.  He says this, as He remembers the history of Israel and the commands to follow the Lord:

“The Lord is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt.  Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers.  When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place.  But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them.  And they cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’  And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety.  And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king.  And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you.  If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well.  But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.”

This is, really, a recounting of the Law.  You can see elements of the “shema” in here.  Samuel impresses upon them to “Love the Lord with all your heart.”  There are also elements of the Covenant in here, talking about how the Lord has been faithful to the people and what would happen if they obeyed or turned from Him as well.  This all ends with Samuel imploring the people of Israel and their new king to follow after God, that the hand of the Lord would be with them and it would “be well” with them.

Not surprisingly though, we see right after this, what Saul does… and its not in line with Samuel’s speech.  In chapter 13, we see Saul trying to do his kingly duty by getting rid of the Philistines.  His actions are something akin to swinging a stick at a bee-hive.  He defeated the some of the bees on the outside, but the whole hive came out in response.  In response, the people of Israel flee and hide and while Saul is rallying the troops and waiting for Samuel to come and intercede for them before God, the duty of the priest/prophet, he gets impatient and does something completely unlawful by offering the sacrifice by himself.

While this seems rather harmless by our eyes, it betrays Saul’s true feelings in his heart.  He does not trust in God or in God’s timing by waiting for Samuel.  He does not trust in how God has set things up for him.  He does not follow the Law… right after Samuel urged him, and all of Israel, to follow the Law.  This is the beginning of the end of Saul’s reign.  The brevity of it belies the true heart of the people of Israel, trying to do their own thing and trusting in their own ways rather than following the Law.  It is clear here that the the Law of God was not on His heart as our Deuteronomy 17 (laws concerning Israel’s king) passage commanded.  We read nowhere that Saul has gotten a copy of the Law that He is studying.  Whether power has gone to his head, or worry has overcome his thoughts, He has committed a capital offense against God, one from which He will not recover.

Yet even in this, God continues to be faithful to the people of Israel.  We will see this in our reading tomorrow.  The narrative today ends on a strange note, talking about iron and swords in the land of Israel.  This will be continued tomorrow… stay tuned!



Day 79: 1 Samuel 8-10; Israel's Last Judge and First King

Well, it was bound to happen eventually.  Israel has been living like the people they failed to remove from the land of Canaan on and off since they first settled there.  They have followed the gods of other nations, forsaking their God and breaking the Covenant often.  It seems only natural then that the people would demand a king like those of the nations surrounding them as well.  We read that this saddens Samuel and that he takes it offensively.  Yet God clears this up for Samuel, pointing out that it is indeed not Samuel’s leadership that they are rejecting, but rather God’s.  The people don’t want God to be king over them anymore, they want something, or rather someone, that is more tangible, visible… perhaps, maybe even real?  Who knows what was going through their heads at the time, but it seems as though they are just worshiping whatever, whenever… it is not difficult to make the leap that if people are just doing whatever they want whenever they want to what or whomever they want for worship, perhaps the gods are not real.  I’m sure that the stories of what happened in Egypt… maybe even in the conquest of Canaan have passed into legend by this time.  How sad that everything has become so… sad.

Israel is a nation that has the hope and promise of God as part of their very nature.  They were not only to live as God’s people, but were also meant to be a blessing to the whole world.  Yet they have forsaken all of this, following after worldly things… and now they want a king to rule, judge, and direct them.  Perhaps they hope that an earthly ruler would direct them towards a heavenly one.  This is certainly what the King should be doing, serving almost as an Icon, ever pointing towards the Lord.  This takes us back all the way to Deuteronomy 17, God lays out rules for the coming kings of Israel.  Even though the people want a king like other nations have a king, the Law clearly states that the king of Israel wasn’t to be like any other king.  Deuteronomy says that the King is not supposed to “acquire many horses” or wives, wealth, etc., but was to get a copy of the Law which he would read day after day, night after night… that He would follow “the Shema” to the letter and be an example to the people of Israel what it means to truly follow after God.

I encourage you to read the post “Beggar” by Cody Raak, a good friend of mine.  At first it may seem to be going in a different direction, but I think that it gets at the idea that the Laws for the king were getting at.  Our strength is not to be set in our own wealth, knowledge, or military might, but rather in our relationship with God which is made stronger the more we spend time in His Word, as Psalm 1 readily points out.

At the end of the day, it is interesting to see Israel’s thinly veiled rejection of God and easy to ask why they would do such a thing.  Sure, their leadership wasn’t looking so great (why is it that the sons of religious leaders seem to always go bad?), but wouldn’t that just be more of an encouragement to turn toward the God that got them there in the first place?  We can sit on this end of the words and think, “how could they possibly do this?”  Yet I wonder if the situations in many churches today are not dissimilar to this.  Pastors are being removed at an alarming rate by their congregations.  While I believe that sometimes this can be necessary (things like abuse, heresy, and pedophilia), too often this simply happens because the pastor isn’t telling the congregation what they want to here.  We would rather have pastors that sooth our ears with the messages of moralistic living and the love of God rather than those that contain in them some element of sin that makes us uncomfortable.  Are we too, like the people of Israel, demanding a leader that words for us rather than turning to God in our times of “spiritual dryness” or lack of leadership?  I wonder…

In the end though, we see that God is willing to allow this.  He is not discouraged or put-out by it.  He doesn’t up and leave when the people make this poor decision.  Instead He becomes intimately involved in the selection process, again working His will for the right person to come forward, even if he is hiding amongst the baggage (clearly he didn’t hide well enough).  God is not moved, shaken, or ever surprised by our mistakes, poor choices, or lack of vision outside ourselves… He knows that we will make the wrong decision.  He knew it from before time began… yet He still maintains His covenant relationship with Israel, and with us, and He still sent His Son to die for us, “even when we were dead in our transgressions and sins.”  Praise God!



Day 78: 1 Samuel 4-7: The Ark of the Covenant

Today’s reading is all about two things: the importance of the Ark of the Covenant and, more importantly, God’s power over other gods.

Yesterday we read about the vision of Samuel, calling him to ministry, and also the promise of God to cut off Eli from the priesthood because of his sons, Hophni and Phinehas.  We see this word from the Lord come true in 1 Samuel 4 & 5.  True to form, God always keeps His promises.

But this is not really the main part of the narrative we have read today.  There is a lot of action that happens around the Ark of the Covenant.  Remember with me all the way back to the time that Israel was at Mount Sinai, when they first created the Tabernacle.  This is recorded in Exodus 25.  The Ark was created as the dwelling place of God, the “Mercy Seat” as it is often called.  The very presence of God sat enthroned on the Cherubim that were on top of the of Ark.  It was the most sacred item in the Tabernacle, so much so we read that those that even looked on it were punished by death.  Israel’s decision to bring the Ark out of the Tabernacle and into battle without the direction of God is a testimony to their depravity at this time.  They were not trusting in God, they were trusting in this golden box on some sticks.  One could say that they had become so used to worshiping idols that they made the symbol of the presence of God an idol.

The Ark of the Covenant

Interestingly, this is one of the reasons that the Church, especially the Western Church.  Icons are artistic pictures, representations of Saints, scenes, and things of the Church’s past.  If you ever visit church’s of Orthodox belief, you will notice many of these.  They are pieces of art that can be used in worship, or in daily life to help direct our attention to God.  This is the important point of both the Ark and icons in general, they are not themselves to be worshiped, but serve to point us, our minds and hearts, to the living God.  These were removed from many churches because of the fear that the icons themselves would be worshiped, a type of “graven image” which would be in direct violation of Commandment #2.  The following is a more modern version of an Icon of Samuel from salliesART.

Samuel Icon

Finally, the most important question that we ask about these Narratives is, as always, “where is God in this narrative?”  Sometimes this is more difficult to answer than others.  However, today it is very clear to see that God is present and powerful, even when His “throne” is in the hand of the enemy.  The people of Israel associated the present of God with the Ark of the Covenant.  So, when the Ark is taken, the people are shaken to their core because they believe that somehow the Philistines have taken God away from them (which is odd being that they are worshiping idols all over the place anyway).  But God is still at work, showing Himself to be more powerful that Dagon, or any of the other Philistine gods and the people as well.  And while the Ark may indeed be the physical seat of God’s presence on earth, it is clear that He is working in Israel and in Philistia all at the same time and he makes it clear to the leaders of Israel’s enemies where He and the Ark belongs.

What do we learn from this?  Well… don’t ever take the Ark of the Covenant into battle with you.  Or perhaps the presence of a Bible at official and unofficial functions doesn’t not guarantee the presence of God at that place?  Maybe we are being shown that it isn’t about having the right religious trinkets, shirts, books, etc. that connect us to God, but rather we need to be steeped in His Word, keeping it on our hearts every day to truly hear Him and be connected to Him?  I think that one thing that God is showing Israel here is that He is neither limited by our bad actions or disobedience, nor is He limited by any distance, space, or other god that might be present.  He again shows that He is more powerful than any other god, and even has control of “untamed” animals that bring the Ark home.  God is all powerful, all knowing, and always working His will in all situations, no matter how grave they might seem.



Day 77: 1 Samuel 1-3; The Call of Samuel

As we begin our transition from the time of the Judges to the time of the kings, we walk through the books of first and second Samuel, the narratives of God’s working through the man Samuel to bring about His purposes and will, ultimately establishing the royal house of King David from which the Messiah, Jesus Christ would be born.  This is marked largely by God’s declaration to Samuel in Chapter 3:

“Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.”

It isn’t as if God was trying one this before this and found out that it wasn’t going to work so He scrapped it and moved on to like, plan C or D or whatever it would be now.  God has always been at work in the people of Israel and in the world, bringing about Restoration to the created order after the Fall.  Through Abraham and his offspring God has entered into this covenant relationship and is continuing to work out the fulfillment of His promise from Genesis 12 in which all the nations of the Earth will be blessed.  What God is doing is revealing what the next phase of this restoration project is doing and how it will take on a different shape as before.  All this is laid before us in stark contrast with the words we see earlier in Chapter 3, “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”

With that in mind, God appears, “standing before Samuel” telling Samuel that He is moving and that things are about to change!  What awesome news for Samuel, even with it positioned around the death of his mentor’s family.

Though I won’t say a great deal about it, I do want to direct your attention to the song of Hannah that she sings after Samuel is born.  It is very similar to the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise when she finds out she will be carrying the Son of God, recorded in Luke 1.

One thing that is interesting to me is how I react to this story now when I think about how it was presented to me as a child.  My Sunday School teachers would always tell us about how we needed to make sure that we were listening to the voice of the Lord and that we were ready to respond to Him.  I think that even at some point one of the criticized Samuel in our class for thinking that the voice of God was actually his mentor Eli.  While I think that this is a good lesson to keep in mind, I’m not entirely sure that the message of this narrative is solely based on that.  Here we find God coming to the one that He has appointed to lead Israel calling to Him and revealing Himself to him.  In much the same way that God called Abraham or Isaiah, God here is calling Samuel to a particular ministry in a particular place at a particular time when God is moving in especially obvious ways.  Its not to say that God hasn’t been working, of course He has.  We’ve seen it  through out the book of Judges and throughout Ruth as well.  God is always at work, always moving, always bringing about His perfect will.  Yet here, God is moving in a new way, a profoundly visible way, and He has appointed Samuel to lead the people through that.  I wonder, thinking about it from that context, if we God speaks to us in the same way.  Perhaps we’ve been doing things pretty much the same for a while.  Maybe we’re just doing church because its church.  Maybe we just get up every day and do what we have to do because that is our lot in life.  I wonder if you have ever had a profound experience like Samuel where God swoops in and says, “Behold, I am about to do a (new) thing in your life at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.”

Oh that we would listen to the voice of God and heed the call to this new thing, whatever it may be, that the ears of everyone who hears it will tingle… to the praise of His glorious name!



Day 76: Ruth 1-4; The Kinsmen Redeemer

The story of Ruth is a beautiful story of the way the people of Israel were supposed to be living according to the Law that was given to Moses.  In our Biblical Cannon, it has a very interesting juxtaposition, following the last words of the book of Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” and the book of Samuel and the beginning of the story of the kings of Israel.  Amidst the chaos of the time of the judges, an apt description of the cycle of brokenness that Israel finds itself participating in and the time when Israel demands a human king to rule over them instead of God, we find this book of peace, love, and a Shalom like following of the Law and providence of God.  If the book of Judges was an example of the curses that would come when the people didn’t follow the law, the book of Ruth is a prime example of the blessings that come when people did follow the Law and live as God called them to.

The laws about the “Kinsmen Redeemer,” a phrase not specifically used in the ESV as far as I have seen, but one  that summarizes well the duties of family members to each other, come from Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 25 in which God lays out laws for the people of Israel regarding the care of those who are vulnerable.  Generally speaking, it would be common, because of the patriarchal society, for a woman who was widowed to end up poor and destitute because she would not be able to have a (legitimate) job and, if she didn’t have grown children, would end up not being cared for.  Women in this situation would find themselves alone and in need.  Sometimes they would be sold into slavery to pay their debts.  Sometimes they would prostitute themselves to make money.  It was a difficult, especially in a society that didn’t really care about the poor and downtrodden.  Not so for God or for Israel.  The Law says that the next closest kinsmen is to take her as a wife to perpetuate the husbands name through him.  In this way, she would not be left to herself, but would be cared for.

In some cases this would not work out either, which is where things like “gleaning” come into play.  Ruth goes and gleans what the harvesters don’t pick up, or some of the crop on the side of the field.  This comes from Leviticus 19 and Leviticus 23.  The people weren’t supposed to reap right up to the edge of the field, and if they dropped something, they were not allowed to pick it up.  These were left for the poor and the sojourner and in this way the poor would not be left starving but would be provided for.

This is such a beautiful picture of the peace and reconciliation that God is working toward in creation.  It is also a beautiful picture of how God cares for all those that we would consider the “least, last, and lost.”  How often do we just cast these people out, even in our minds, so that we don’t have to think so much about those difficult things.  We find it uncomfortable that there could be suffering in the world, even in our own backyards, so we don’t think about it.  God doesn’t turn a blind eye to them.  In fact, there is a special place for the “least of these” in God’s heart to which Jesus remarks “whatever you did for the least of these my brothers, you did for me.”

The truth is though, that as we are all marred with sin, we are all the “least of these” in the sight of God.  We truly are the Ruth’s of the world, just hoping to get a piece of something that drops from the Harvester and not be turned away.  And yet, like Boaz who is a Christ figure in the Bible (foreshadowing if you will), Jesus Christ spots us gleaning what we can and says “who is that?”  He points out to His harvesters that we will never be sustained doing that, in fact we won’t even get enough to feed ourselves for that day.  He walks across the proverbial field as offers us something we could never get on our own… Himself… the Bread of Life.  Moreover, He doesn’t just give us Spiritual food, He says to each and every one of us, “I want to take you into my house.  I want to redeem you.  I want you to become my bride!  You are mine to claim as my own NO MATTER WHO ELSE would seek to claim you.  All you need to do is accept this free gift of grace, the salvation I offer you, by believing in me.”

 



Day 75: Judges 19-21; Ending the Judges, continuing the Cycle.

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

That line is really the essence of the last 5 chapters of the book of Judges… or maybe the whole darn book.  We didn’t talk about the other stories that were contained in yesterday’s reading, and they go right along with today’s reading.  All are a bit strange, somewhat difficult to think about.  What do we do with some of this information.  Some folks set up an idol as their god and then it gets taken and set up in a city and stuff.  What do we even do with that?

A guy allows his already unfaithful concubine to get raped to death by the leaders of an Israelite town and then cuts her to pieces and sends her to all the different tribes of Israel?  The result of which winds up with a conflict resulting in the death of over 65,000 Israelites and then bringing about a peace in which the remaining people of Benjamin are allowed to choose their wives by kidnapping them from a festival?  What the heck?

Seriously… what do we do about passages in Scripture like this?

Honestly, I think that we often try to put things uncomfortable passages out of our minds.  These are not things we hear in sermons in church.  I certainly didn’t hear these stories in Sunday School as a child.  And yet, they are still a part of the Bible.  Which makes us ask the question, why?  What can we learn from this?  How do even read this?

Maybe the point isn’t to draw out some sort of moralistic teaching that makes us feel better.  We don’t have to just say, “well, don’t do these things and you’ll be a better person/Christian or something.”  We are quick to glean some sort of “try harder,” moral living lesson as a way of coping with our own uncomfortableness.

Perhaps narratives like this are simply meant to point us toward the fact that the world is still a very broken place.  We see this cycle time and again of disobedience leading to disaster leading to repentance leading to rest and then back to disobedience… and we realize that, though God is working towards restoration, sin is still present in the world.  It is a painful, uncomfortable reality, one that we don’t often want to face.  But in light of it, we also see, plainly illuminated before us, the work of God in the world!  Like the mercy that the people have on the decimated tribe of Benjamin, God provides for His creation working and restoring all that He has made.  There is hope at the end of this, even in the midst of the people of God just doing what they want.  It is clear, even in this strange way of kidnapping a girl to be their wife, that God is faithfully providing for the tribe of Benjamin, a people that is just as much a part of God’s promise as the rest of Israel.  He will not abandon them because of their sin, however horrid and awful it may be.  Because God is not one who is quick to condemn or quick to destroy, but is always gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding is steadfast love, faithfulness and forgiveness.



Day 74: Judges 16-18; Sampson (part 2)

So we come to the most well known story of the Judges: Sampson and Delilah.  Generally speaking, if you were in Sunday School or some sort of religious education, you probably heard this story at least once, perhaps many times.  Teachers that I had often told this story and sifted it down into some lessons about being tempted and not continually putting yourself in situations like Sampson.  As I read this story now, my mind is drawn to these lessons and I do think that there is something to them.

I ask myself often when I hear the story of Sampson, why did he stay in that situation.  If I was him, knowing exactly where my power came from and why it was that I was able to do the things that I do, I certainly wouldn’t hang around anyone that trying to figure that out in order to harm me.  I mean, maybe the first time it makes sense.  He tells her something that obviously doesn’t work and she tries it.  Duh!  Get out of there quick!  This isn’t necessarily temptation as we know it, but she requests kind of present themselves in the same way.  Sampson has taken a sacred vow, an oath to be set apart for the Lord.  He has been given obvious power and the Spirit of the Lord has been with him in all that he does, even in those questionable things.  I wonder why he didn’t bolt out of there at the first sign of trouble.

Some would say it was because of love (or infatuation).  Others might say it was strictly arrogance.  Perhaps Sampson had become too self-reliant or was testing the limits of God’s willingness to be with him.  It might very well have been a combination of those three.  One thing that we have seen to this point is that Sampson has a weakness: women. Especially foreign women.  Scripture doesn’t come out and tell us that either of these women are Philistine women, but the implication is there based on the locations.  Like all attacks from an enemy, once you expose a weakness you will exploit it.  So it is with Sampson.  And so it is with us as well.

When the tempter comes into our lives he doesn’t go after the things we are very strong in, that would be quite foolish like Delilah taking on Sampson in a physical altercation.  Instead, our weaknesses are exploited, broken down, and demolished as a way of getting at our strengths.  We read that Delilah asks again and again, pressing Sampson until he can stand it no longer and gives in.  It is only then that his strength is attacked and easily overpowered.  I wonder if the right question to this narrative is “what is your weakness?”  I’m sure that you know those places in which you are vulnerable to attacks, those things that the enemy exploits to get at you.

Yet, like all stories, we need also be wondering where God is in all of this.  What is God’s location in this narrative?  Unfortunately for us, there isn’t a great deal of direct comment about where God is here, but what we can see is that even in the times of temptation, Sampson’s strength is still very much present.  Yesterday, as we read, every time Sampson needed strength “the Spirit of the Lord was upon him.”  So we can see in all of the times that Sampson is “imprisoned,” God is still present helping empowering him.  I guess the next logical question in this follows well here, “is God then absent when Sampson’s strength leaves him?”  It certainly seems that way, and yet I wouldn’t ever dare to say that God is completely absent from the scene.

Like Israel and the covenant in the Judges Cycle, Sampson goes through a time of disobedience in which he is weakened and forced into captivity.  However, like with Israel, this doesn’t mean that God has abandoned them either and we see this as we read of the death of Sampson.  There is a comment about his hair starting to grow back and we assume that there is at least some amount of time that has passed between his capture and this final scene.  I can only imagine the thoughts and prayers of Sampson working at the grindstone.  We hear but one of them, to grant him the strength one last time to avenge “his two eyes.”  And God honors his request, giving him the strength to strike down more philistines than all the rest of his life combined.

As we talked about a couple days ago, the cycle of the judges is often our cycle as well.  We find ourselves in times of disobedience and even disaster as a result of our disobedience.  Too often we say that there is no way that God would want us back after what we have done.  We feel guilt and shame for the sins that we’ve committed.  And yet even here we see that God does not condemn Sampson and abandon him, but is ready and waiting once again to empower him.  So it is with us, God does not abandon us in our sinfulness, but continually calls us back to himself, time and again drawing us into His arms to receive us, to heal us, and to empower us once again for the work of His Kingdom.



Day 73: Judges 12-15; Sampson (part 1)

After some a rather turbulent story continuing from yesterday’s adventures with Jephthah, we are brought to what I would consider to be the most well known, and longest story of the judges, Sampson.  Reading about the birth of Sampson, I was struck by some of the familiarity between the foretelling of His birth and the foretelling of Jesus’ birth.  An angel of the Lord appears to Sampson’s mother, and then later to His father.  They don’t necessarily understand what is going on, but they are willing to serve the Lord.  One thing that the angel says about Sampson is that he is to be a Nazirite.  This label and the promise that comes along with it takes us back to Numbers 6 with the explanation of the Nazirite vow.

The angel does a pretty good job of explaining all that comes along with this, but the gist of it is that anyone who takes the Nazirite vow cannot drink any wine, vinegar, or anything from grapes, the Nazirite cannot cut his hair, and he cannot go anywhere near dead body.  This vow is largely a part of the Holiness codes that were talked about in Leviticus and Numbers.  He is to be set apart for the Lord, in a way totally different from the people of Israel.

So as we walk through the story of Sampson we read that the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him at many times to do the will of God and perform miraculous wonders.  God always seems to be with him, giving him great strength and abilities.  What is interesting though, as we read about Sampson is the path that He takes… He is arguably the most controversial judge as well.

As a Nazirite he is not supposed to go near a dead body.  Yet Sampson kills thousands.  He even eats the honey out of a honeycomb found in the carcass of a lion that he killed.  And God was still with him…

As an Israelite he married a Philistine, an outsider forbidden by the Law.  And God was still with him…  God still cares for and provides for him!  His Spirit stays with Sampson and His will is worked through Sampson.

All of these narratives speak to the nature of God, and tell us things about His character.  What do you think this says about God?