Day 354: Hebrews 11-13; By Faith (Israel's Hall of Fame)

Keeping in mind that the whole of this book was written as an encouragement to those believers who were facing persecution, especially from the Jews, and to those who were believers but may have been backsliding into Judaism.  With that in mind, there isn’t much else to say that isn’t eloquently spoken about in chapters 11 and 12.  So, I encourage you to read them again and remember all that we have covered over the last year.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people of old received their commendation.  By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.  And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.  By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau.  By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff.  By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.  By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.  By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.  By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.  By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of GideonBarakSamsonJephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,  quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”



Day 315: John 18-19; The Glorification of Jesus

We come to it again, for the forth and final time in our journey through the Gospels: the Crucifixion of Jesus.  For John though, this is more than just a recount of Jesus awful suffering and death.  It is, as we have talked about, the glorification of Jesus, the pinnacle of all He came to do one earth!  If the first chapter of John was a Theological high point from which we look down on the rest of the book, as we said on that day, then this would be the other high point, perhaps equal too or second only to that first chapter.  It is at this point in John’s writing, like in Luke, where we see John appealing to the Scriptures in a more intentional way, showing how the actions of Jesus in this narrative of His death are fulfilling what had been said about Him throughout the Bible.  John also makes careful work of mentioning how Jesus is fulfilling the things that He said of Himself as well.

Because we have already read through the crucifixion narrative of Jesus, I don’t feel like there is as much to say today as there otherwise would be.  It is a lot easier to write about things that we haven’t talked about, like the I AM statements and the Farewell Discourse of Jesus, things that are unique to John.  So in light of that, I think that I just want to mention a few things that are unique to this narrative and then encourage you to take some time to reflect on the book of John, or perhaps the whole story of Jesus as it has been presented in the Gospels over this past month or so.

The firs thing that is rather unique about this particular narrative is that of the questioning of the high priests.  It is mentioned here that they Annas, the father-in-law of the priest who ‘prophesied’ that one man would die for the whole nation of Israel.  I’m sure he didn’t know that he was talking about Jesus, but all the same, these things have taken place and we have seen the work that Jesus did for us on the cross.  I thought it was kind of interesting how Jesus, during His questioning, never seems to raise His voice or lose His temper.  Though struck unjustly, Jesus maintains His cool and lays out a simple question for why it happened.  I noticed that He didn’t get struck again… at least not in this narrative.

I think the conversation between Jesus and Pilate is also interesting:
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”  Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”  Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

What a strange place to end the conversation!  Yet I think that John is trying to make a point here.  There is a much higher and greater purpose that is taking place in this whole narrative that only Jesus can see.  They all think that they are caught up in some earthly drama that is about to be ended with the killing of a mere man, yet Jesus is pointing out very clearly that there are things much greater and more significant that are going on here and Pilate simply doesn’t understand.  John signifies this by ending the conversation with Pilate’s question, “What is truth?

Finally, and I think this is of incredible importance because it shows once again, how the people of Israel have turned from God so much that they are blind to all that is going on.  All of what has taken place was foretold in Scripture and these religious leaders were in the right places at the right times to recognize this.  Yet they did not and we see this most clearly in Pilate’s final attempt to free Jesus:
From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”  So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha.  Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”  They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”  So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

We have no king but Caesar… wow… just wow… remember all the way back to the time when the Israelites cried out for a King to Samuel?  Moses had written to them in the law about how kings would lead them away from God and that they should be a people that have no king except God (the King of the Universe?)  It was then that they cried “give us a king!”  No the King of the Universe, God Himself sits before them (which they don’t see obviously) and they cry to His face “We have no king but Caesar!”  Fortunately for us there is a greater power at work in all of this, that even though there are those that don’t see or know Truth, God’s will is still alive and well…  This is true for us at all times as well.  Even in the darkest of hours, God is still alive and well!  And as the stone is rolled in front of the tomb once again today, we know that there is a bright hope for tomorrow!



Day 197: Isaiah 1-3; Introduction to the Prophets

Yesterday we closed out the section of the Bible known as the Wisdom literature.  In that time we had taken a step back from the overall story of Israel and had jumped into a wholly different genre of Biblical literature.  Even though these were different, and not necessarily all directly connected to the grand narrative of redemptive history, we did find that they were certainly well linked with it.  Today we begin the final section of the Old Testament: The Prophets.  In this section we will jump back into the story of Israel, though the people we will be reading lived at different times within the history of Israel from roughly the time the Kingdom split up to and even during the time of Exile for Judah.  The books are not necessarily in chronological order and it is fair to say that some of these prophets were likely working at the same time, perhaps even in the same places.

Bible Timeline Photo Credit: www.relevancy22.blogspot.com

Bible Timeline
Photo Credit: www.relevancy22.blogspot.com

Most of the writings of the prophets are focused on calling the people back from their sins, to repent and return to God.  The office of prophet, instituted by Samuel, the last of Israel’s judges, is one that serves in a similar way to the priest, but is also very different.  The prophet serves, in many ways, as the mediator between God and the people.  Some would say that the prophet functions as the mouth of God.  Where as the priest would make intercession between the people and God, the direction of this being primarily upward, the prophet was in many ways the mediator between God and people, a primarily downward direction.  Some prophets, like Isaiah, served in both rolls, both prophet and priest as it is very likely that Isaiah himself was the high priest in the Temple.

Even as we read these chapters today we can see that the message of Isaiah is not necessarily one that would make him a super popular guy among the general populace.  Their messages tend to emphasize the negative, the sinful disobedience of Israel.  While people, even today, like to hear messages about God’s love and forgiveness, when those messages are made in the same thought as the judgment that God was going to pour out on the people if they don’t repent, the overall tone of the message is seen as negative.  And that is the thing about the prophets, this is what tended to happen.  Again, you can see this already modeled in the first three chapters.  What do you remember from reading it?  Likely it is that you remember the negative things, the judgment and destruction, not the love of God or the piece on the mountain of the Lord being established.

However, like the Lament Psalms that we encountered a couple weeks ago, there isn’t a single prophet in the Bible that ever speaks of judgment without hope.  There isn’t any prophet that speaks of the wrath of God without talking about God’s love and holiness.  These things that were destined to happen if the people didn’t repent were always trumped by the hope that was also there both in repentance and in what God was going to do after judgment came.  What the prophets are saying is that there is a time when God’s patience would run out and they would be punished for their sins.  What these same prophets are not saying is that once that time comes they no longer have hope.  Indeed there is a great thing to hope for, and it was testified and prophesied about throughout the period of the Old Testament, and that was the coming of the Messiah.  Isaiah testifies to it here in Isaiah 2, and He and most of the other prophets will indeed bring good news of a coming savior that would make things as they should be.  Though none that heard Isaiah’s words would have lived to see their true fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the hope of the coming Kingdom of God would have been well in their minds, even if they chose to focus more on the negatives of the coming judgment.  We will be with Isaiah for the next three weeks or so, and then on the Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the rest.  The section of the prophets is the one of the longest section in the Bible, contains the most information about the coming Messiah prior to the New Testament, and in many ways helps us to better understand what God is up to in redemptive history, His true Holiness and wrath against sin, and His true and unconditional love for His people.



Day 120: 1 Chronicles 17-20; David's Many Victories

King David Stained Glass Photo Credit: www.creationrevolution.com

King David Stained Glass
Photo Credit: www.creationrevolution.com

Today’s reading may seem a bit familiar to you as you read through it.  If you recognized that, its because most of these battles and victories were talked about in the book of 2 Samuel.  If you didn’t remember these stories, its ok!  We talked about them on March 30, and many of them are pieced together from different parts of 2 Samuel and come as additions to parts of other stories.  Interestingly though, the writer of the Chronicles chose not to talk about a couple of narratives that we read through in 2 Samuel about the less desirable moments of David’s reign.  Remember David and Bathsheba?  David’s son Absalom (who was not even included in the list of his sons a couple chapters ago)?  Yes, indeed there are a great many things that are left out in this account of David’s reign.

Why is that?  Would this imply that the Bible is lying through omission?  By No Means!

We believe that the Bible is Truth, the inspired Word of God written down by human hands.  We also believe that the Bible is authoritative for our lives and that it communicates truth to us, all the Truth that we need to know God and to see His ways.  And I do not believe that this is challenged here at all.

One of the points of stating this is to point out that the Bible was indeed written by human hands.  The pages did not simply fall out of the sky into the laps of some wise Hebrews that knew what to do with them, these writers were Inspired by God through the Holy Spirit to write the things that they wrote.  Yet even in this inspiration there is context… and what is the context here?  Exile… or rather, the return from Exile.  The writer, presumably Ezra, is recording the history of the Kingdom of Judah for the people that have just returned from Exile.  They are looking back, specifically through the lens of the line of Davidic Kings.

King David Photo Credit: http://www.bible-topten.com/David.htm

King David
Photo Credit: www.bible-topten.com

And again, they have just returned from Exile.  What does this mean?  It means they have seen what happens when you don’t follow in the ways of the Lord.  This is, for all intents and purposes, the main thrust of the story of David and Bathsheba and the resulting story of David’s son Absalom.  They are text book examples of what happens when one turns away from God.  But the people of Israel knew that.  They were just returning from 70 or so years of being punished for not following God.  What they are getting here is the history of how things used to be and how they could be again if they did follow God’s ways and follow His Laws.  The story of David and Bathsheba would have been very well known to them, as would the story of David and Absalom.  Yet the writer is making some Theological moves here as well, pointing the people, and us, to the blessings of God that are found in covenant fidelity.  He isn’t saying that bad things don’t happen, or won’t happen, or we should just not think about them… but what He is pointing to, once again, is finding out who they are as a people by linking them to the past which brings them closer, in their view, to God.  This is seen most clearly today in chapter 17 of today’s reading as God makes an everlasting covenant with David that establishes him as having the throne of Israel forever.

Interestingly, we as Christians also relate ourselves and who we are to the past, linking ourselves to Jesus.  We are who we are because of Christ, who is who He is in part due to this covenant… which is what it is because of the previous covenants… which bring us back to Abraham, Noah, Adam… and God.



Day 117: 1 Chronicles 8-10; King Saul

With the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles being written primarily to the people of Judah that have returned from the exile, it is not surprising to find the section on King Saul to be rather short.  The Kingdom of Judah, and Israel divided, identified completely with the house and line of King David.  They were the only ones that stayed loyal to the the King that was after God’s own heart, he who was promised to have a royal line forever.  For them, and really for all of Israel, Saul was the example of what would happen if there was a bad king in Israel.  Though he wasn’t as bad as many of the kings to come after him, he followed after the wrong things and didn’t trust the Lord, thus provoking Him to anger and causing Him to remove the family of Saul from the Royal line.

Saul Tries to Kill David Photo Credit: http://biblicalgenealogy.kavonrueter.com/Pictures-David_InSaulsService.htm

Saul Tries to Kill David
Photo Credit: http://biblicalgenealogy.kavonrueter.com

However, Saul was an integral part of the history of the people of God and his name bore mentioning in the Chronicles of Judah.  Interestingly, we don’t get much here about Saul’s exploits in trying to kill David or anything about the sins that he commits.  Whether this wasn’t so important to the writer here or it was assumed that the people would know these stories I cannot say, however the fact is that in relation to what is to come in the narratives of King David, Saul is just a blip on the page.

That being said, I think it is important for us to remember together the stories of Saul from the book of 1 Samuel.  He was anointed by God, but reluctant to rule until he was thrust into power by a “national crisis.”  From there Saul assumes power, but makes several key mistakes, revealing his lack of trust in God.  The narrative continues for quite some time juxtaposing his son Jonathan and David the son of Jesse against Saul when it comes to covenant fidelity and following God.  Saul continuously makes mistakes and is incredibly hate filled when it comes to dealing with David, whom God has anointed to be the next king.  Yet even in all of this, David does no wrong to Saul, even gently correcting him in his errors.  In the end though, Saul’s lack of faith, trust, and obedience to God result in the death of most of his family and the eventually his own death at the hand of his enemies, the philistines.

David Spares Saul's Life Photo Credit: http://www.workersforjesus.com/1samuel22-24.htm

David Spares Saul’s Life
Photo Credit: http://www.workersforjesus.com

As I look back on this narrative of the life of Saul, I am forced to recognize and wonder about its relationship to the greater narrative of the people of Israel (and by Israel I mean the united Kingdom and both portions of the Divided Kingdom as well).  There are striking similarities between the life of Saul and the life of Israel in general.  Things many start out all peachy, but it doesn’t take long for them to go south.  Throughout the lives of both Saul and Israel there are warning signs and even some course corrections.  Yet their continued propensity to sin inevitably leads them a place in which God removes them from the place to which they have been appointed.  Saul’s life, I must admit, is a foreshadowing of what is to come as Israel progresses down the path of having a king.  Samuel warns them about this in 1 Samuel 8 and it indeed comes to pass several hundred years later.



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 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!