|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 Samuel|
PART TWO: Prophet to King
Meditations in 1 Samuel 10. Growth of a ministry
1 Sam 3:19-21 The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh , and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word
I realise that I ran out of space in the previous meditation and there really was so much more to be said. For instance, how do you know it is God, is the most familiar question I get asked. First, if it runs contrary to the Bible, it is most unlikely to be God, although on one occasion when we were planning a summer mission for Scripture Union in Wales without any accommodation for a team of seventeen young people I think it was, the Lord spoke to me while walking to work through the streets of the City of London and said, “In my Father's house are many mansions. I have prepared a place for you.” In my temerity as a young Christian I answered, “Lord, your word says, “I go to prepare a place for you,” (as if the Lord needed telling what His word said.) With grace He replied, “Son, I have said what I have said.” On the basis of that word, we asked the team, of young people scattered around the country, to tell their parents what the situation was but we felt God had said to go and so we at least would be going. Bless them, they all said they were coming. My wife and I drove to Wales the day before the start of the mission and although the local Citizens Advice Bureau had told us beforehand that all holiday accommodation in the entire area was booked out in these two peak weeks of the holiday, by the time the team arrived at midday on the Saturday we had accommodation for them all, and that mostly all together in a place we then used for the following six years of that Mission.
Samuel we read, “let none of his words fall to the ground” i.e. he held on to every word God spoke. Perhaps that is a key feature of any ministry: we listen to God and hold on to everything He says! Also note the words, “as he grew up” . A ministry takes time to develop, our Christian lives take time to develop. It is not an overnight job; the Lord has to bring changes in us. Maturity is the result of a process, a growing up process. When speaking of God-given ministries to the church, Paul says they are given “ to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature.” (Eph 4:12,13) It is clear that those words speak of a process that has an end product.
As Samuel exercised his prophetic gifting gradually the people of Israel came to recognize who and what he was. That is an order that follows whether it is in respect of the Eph 4 ministries or of elders or deacons. The individual starts doing what God puts on their heart to do and enables them to do, and the people of God recognize what is already under way. Appointing people to church leadership before they show all the signs of God on their lives, their character and their service, is premature and foolish. This is nothing to do with man-created exams and qualifications, this is all about the working of God in this person's life. It is something which comes about, something that grows and develops and is recognized. This is what was happening with Samuel.
It is also an ongoing relational thing, a thing with the Lord: “The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh , and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” The Lord continued to interact with Samuel and share His heart with him and it came in the form of Samuel hearing ‘a word' from the Lord. Thus we then read, “And Samuel's word came to all Israel .” (1 Sam 4:1) and that is the last we hear of Samuel for a moment while other things happen, but it is a significant verse for it tells us that Samuel's renown spread and spread so it wasn't just in the area of Shiloh but across the whole land that he was known as a prophet of the Lord.
Now I emphasise that and this growth of ministry aspect because Israel are about to do something foolish and they get into it without asking the Lord, which is silly because He has given them His mouthpiece, Samuel. It sometimes takes the people of God a while to recognize the channel to heaven that He has given in the local church in the form of a gifting or ministry, and if that is you, be patient, you don't have to promote yourself, the Lord will do it in due season.
We find this same thing in the New Testament. Of John the Baptist we read, “And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel .” (Lk 1:80) Again a process until the time was right for his ministry to be fully revealed in the land. Even more we find it was true of Jesus: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Lk 2:52) The Son of God restricted himself to a human body and therefore had to wait until that developed and grew. It wasn't until he was about thirty that he moved into public ministry. The Son of God was not frustrated by his waiting period because he knew that there was a time planned for it to all come about.
In your own life, work and pray to grow in the Lord, in gifting and in ministry, but let Him lead the way and open doors and guide you into what He has for you. Remember Jesus is the head of the body and he is the one who directs the body and all of its members. Rest in him, do what he gives you to do, change as he challenges you to change, and let it all come about as his Holy Spirit works in and through you.
Meditations in 1 Samuel 11. Trying to Use God
1 Sam 4:2,3 The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel , and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, "Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD's covenant from Shiloh , so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies."
Because what I call the Jacob mentality is in the background of most people's lives, the old life in the case of Christians, just lurking there waiting to reappear if we give it half a chance, the temptation to try to use God for our own purposes is always there. When I speak of ‘the Jacob mentality' you remember Jacob on the Old Testament, whose name means twister and for whom most of his life he sought to scheme and plan and worm his way to the top. It's what self-centred, godless people (i.e. sinners) do.
Do you remember the time when Jacob had a dream seeing angels coming down from heaven, and then God spoke to Him and promised him blessing, Jacob's response was still that if a schemer: “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” (Gen 28:20-22) i.e. OK, God, if you look after me I'll pay you off with 10% and you can be my God.
For Israel in our present verses in 1 Samuel they are living in a time when they are having trouble with the Philistines. Now we aren't told this, but if this is typical of the times of the judges then we are probably going through the down time of the cycle that was as follows: i) Israel blessed by God, ii) Israel drift away from God, iii) the Lord lifts off His hand of protection from Israel, iv) Israel's enemies attack and overcome Israel, v) Israel repent and cry out to the Lord, vi) the Lord sends a deliverer. That was the usual cycle that is repeated again and again in Judges, but it isn't quite the same now because the Lord has inserted His prophet into the equation. So they are probably at the third to fourth part of that usual cycle and without good spiritual leadership have drifted from the Lord as a people and the Lord has lifted off His hand of protection so Israel 's old enemy, the Philistines are attacking – and winning!
So what do Israel do? They think – wrongly! Well God lives on the Tabernacle with the ark so if we take the ark to battle God will have to come with it and with us and will have to protect it and beat the Philistines! Wrong! The ark is just a box. Yes, the Lord had used it to help Israel focus on His presence but that was all it was. You can't use God! He is God not some weak person to be manipulated! Now we'll go on in later meditations to see the folly of all this and its terrible outworkings and how the Lord doesn't need looking after, but for the moment we'll simply stick with the folly of trying to use God.
The atheist does it when on his death bed he faces death with fear and cries, “God if you save me I will believe in you”. We do it when we pray, “God if you heal me I will believe in you.” We don't actually say those words but that is what we so often mean when we pray. I'm not sure if you are there but if you turn up and bless me I will believe.
I believe the truth is that many of us Christians are so unsure of God's love that we do things to impress Him, to get Him on our side, to get Him to love us and bless us. We pray to do this, we go to church to do this, we fast to do this. We are out to impress Him and get Him to change in respect of us by what we say and do. I have shared this in other series' of these meditations but it bears repeating.
A number of years ago I had the opportunity to go on ministry trips to Malaysia with an apostolic leader. One of the conditions of going was that we would fast for 7-10 days before going. After several of these trips I had the opportunity to take a small team myself on such a trip. Some time before the trip the Lord said to me, “Son, you will not fast on this trip.” Now I couldn't believe that it was the Lord so pushed it aside and ignored it. I came to the time I had set aside to fast and simply missed breakfast and put the day aside to pray. Now understand that I had done a number of such fasts, even before I had gone aboard in ministry and I never had a problem with them. Yes, you got hungry, yes you got weak, but you passed through that stage and it was all right. On this occasion by midmorning of that first day, I was rolling around on the floor (literally) in agony crying out to the Lord. The word of the Lord came immediately to me loud and clear, “Son I told you, you are not to fast. Get up and eat.” I did. Now here's the thing: the Lord blessed me doubly on that trip and the one the following year and I came to realise He wanted to bless me because He loved me. I didn't have to try and make Him. In fact since then – for me – NOT fasting has been a confirmation of my assurance of His love.
I don't know what you do in the spiritual realm but enjoy it for what it is, not because you are trying to impress Him. I sometimes hear people giving testimonies, people who go up and down like a yo-yo and I can't help feeling that on their ‘up' they are testifying so loudly almost as if to ward off the next ‘down'. We don't have to go up and down, just rest in His love. He loves YOU. If I crisis happens in your life, assuming it was an accident or something outside your control, it wasn't God pulling the sky down on you, it was just one of the downsides of living in a fallen world where things go wrong. If the Lord allowed it, it is not because He doesn't love you, it is because He does love you and has got something good coming out of it. I don't write these mediations to get God on my side – He is and I enjoy doing it. Whatever you do, do it knowing He loves you and enjoy it. If things are going badly, thank the Lord that He is with you and He is working to bring good for you out of it (Rom 8:28). Yes, maybe He wants you to learn things through going through this, and the main thing is HE LOVES YOU, IS WITH YOU, AND IS THERE FOR YOU! Rejoice in that. Listen out, He may have other things to say but they will all be expressions of His love for you. Hallelujah!
Meditations in 1 Samuel 12. Catastrophic Judgment
1 Sam 4:10,11 So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured, and Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
Within the Bible, because ultimately it is one long narrative, even though it is made up of 66 books and lots of writers, everything we see comes in a context, a bigger picture than just the events in front of us. The bigger picture here, that we started observing in the previous meditation, is that spiritually Israel are not in a good place, with a spiritually weak and corrupt leadership, headed by an old man who can hardly see and who has lost control of his sons. Into this situation the Lord has spoken prophetically through a young prophet and through Samuel.
This part of the narrative starts out, “ Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines.” (1 Sam 4:1) Now in Judges (the previous book leading on historically to this one) the Philistines were mentioned over 30 times but this is the first time in 1 Samuel. They were constantly a thorn in Israel 's side and so Israel now go out to do battle with them. There seems no divine instruction to do this; it just seems the natural thing to have to do, to ward off this enemy in a defensive action. The battle does not go well for Israel : “ Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield.” (v.2) This raises questions in the people of God: “When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines?” ( v.3) They still see themselves in the context of being the people of God.
Now if they had learned anything about history (and they clearly haven't) they would remember a previous occasion in their history when Israel were taking the land under Joshua, and had successfully destroyed Jericho but were then defeated at Ai. The response of the leaders should have provided a long-term lesson for Israel : “ Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the LORD, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads.” (Josh 7:6) Joshua cried out to the Lord why this had happened and the Lord replied with great clarity, “ Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.” (Josh 7:11,12)
The big difference between that previous time and the present events, is that then Israel had a wise leadership who sought the Lord and could hear the Lord and then did something about it. Eli has heard the Lord and failed to do something about it and Israel is still in a poor spiritual state. It is then that, revealing this state even more, they decide to bring the ark of the Lord to the battle front. But, as we have observed previously, the Lord will not be manipulated. Yet what we are seeing is a specific working out of the Lord's will because when Eli had tried to remonstrate with his sons we found, “His sons, however, did not listen to their father's rebuke, for it was the LORD's will to put them to death.” (1 Sam 2:25b) What I take this to mean is that often when leadership speaks truth to correct a wrong situation, the Holy Spirit adds His weight to their words and brings conviction.
There are times when this does not happen however. Only yesterday I heard of a couple who were committing adultery and were confronted by their church leadership. The man was convicted and fully repented and put himself in the hands of the leadership and did everything right. The women made excuses, left the church and went to another church. Why I wondered? In the course of hearing the account of what had happened she was described as being a woman of very strong personality. She would not hear and so the Lord allowed her to go off unrepentant. There will come a time when He will deal with her, and particularly over her ‘strong personality' (another way of saying she is proud and hard hearted), and then He will convict of the present sin. In the case of Eli's sons, the Lord had given them opportunity after opportunity to repent but they were set in their sinful ways. I have commented before that death is the last resort that the Lord uses and is the last thing He wants but He will bring it in the last resort.
Why hadn't the Lord just killed the two sons Himself earlier? I suspect (because we aren't told) the answer is that He preferred it to be seen that when you set yourself on a path of blatant sin, you bring destruction on yourself. The priesthood have not taught Israel correctly and so get dragged into the fray when superstitious Israel want the ark to be brought as a good luck charm to the battle front. But nothing changes. If anything it makes the Philistines more determined to overcome and so as we read above, “ The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured, and Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.”
But is doesn't stop there. When the news is brought back we read, “ Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man and heavy.” (1 Sam 4:18) The priestly family have gone in one day. It was left to Eli's daughter-in-law, dying in childbirth, to understand the situation with her final pronouncement: “ She named the boy Ichabod, (which means ‘no glory') saying, "The glory has departed from Israel "--because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. She said, "The glory has departed from Israel , for the ark of God has been captured.” (v.21,22)
There are times when you look at historical events and you are left wondering. How could men have been so stupid? How could this have come about? I have for the last year or so been reading about the outbreak of the First World War. Again and again I have asked those two questions and the answer is that godless men yearned for battle, failed to understand the dynamics of what was happening and entered into something that could not be resolved until millions and millions of men had died in the most foolish of battles (e.g. mounted cavalry, still in existence, being mown down by machine guns). How could men have been so blind to the clash of the historic past with the technology of the future? The answer is pride and willful folly. The answer is also, I am convinced, because it was the judgment of God. The Lord lifted off His hand of restraint and allowed foolish mankind to enter what one historian has described as an utter catastrophe. Look at such situations and ask why and learn profound but simple lessons.
Meditations in 1 Samuel 13. God doesn't need defending
1 Sam 5:1-3 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod . Then they carried the ark into Dagon's temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD!
I'm afraid that I find this next part of 1 Samuel one of the most humorous parts of the Bible. The Philistines have triumphed over Israel – including their god, as they no doubt see it – and so take this gold covered box to the temple of their God, Dagon, and to be fair to them, set it alongside Dagon. I mean, you should keep the gods together shouldn't you. In Canaanite mythology Dagon was the son (or brother) of El and the father of Baal. He was the principal god of the Philistines.
So they put the ark next to Dagon and next morning when they enter the temple, there is Dagon lying face down before the ark of the Lord. Not just lying anywhere, but like he was bowing before the ark. Nice touch! It gets funnier. “They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained.” (v.3,4) After they set Dagon upright again and left him there over night, when they come in next morning, there he is again prostrate before the ark but, even worse, he had been decapitated and his head and hands were lying by the entrance, almost as if God had done this to him, gone to walk out and just casually dropped the head and hands by the door as if to say, I have no use for these, they might as well stay here, and then left. Excellent! The living God versus an idol? No competition!
The message comes over loud and clear doesn't it. God has no competitors and even more, God can look after Himself. How foolish we are sometimes when crusading atheists come out with a lot of shallow claptrap based in inadequate knowledge of the Bible and personal prejudice, and we feel we have to leap to the Lord's defense. Or you find yourself at a party or some other gathering and there is some loud mouth launching off about a make-believe God and so on, and our hackles rise and we launch in to defend God. Chill out! Yes that person is foolish and yes it is important to take opportunities to present the truth but we never have to do it to defend the Lord.
We live in an ignorant world very sadly. My wife teaches religious philosophy to six formers which is a brilliant subject for talking about the Lord and what the Bible teaches but what is so sad today is that so often the majority of her students come with virtually no knowledge of the Bible or its teaching. We have moved on from the older generation who had been to Sunday School when they were children. The present generation mostly (in Britain at least) have been nowhere near church or Sunday School and are therefore ignorant. I came across a statistic the other day that said that about 25% of the population believe that Jesus never existed. Come on! Even skeptical scholars all agree today that he is an historical figure!
The lesson here in Samuel could not be clearer. God is real, God is alive, God is powerful and none of those descriptions can apply to idols. Idol worship is superstitious folly and the world is full of it, but God is alive, the all-powerful Creator of all things, the One who sustains all things. We may think we don't worship idols in this country or in the West generally but an idol is anything we revere or exalt and put in the place of God, and we have lots of such things.
Jeremiah brought God's word that was applicable to this: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jer 2:13) It is what so many in the West are doing, having rejected God they try to create means of their own making for making meaning in life, resources that give a sense of fulfillment and so on, but they fail! If we see how we look, our appearance, as the all important issue in life, and a new diet as the means that we are going to deal with this rotund figure and be transformed into a slim dream, then the diet is about to become an idol. We are putting our trust in a particular way of living and not in God. That is an idol and that form of idol is as bad and as foolish as if we made a wooden effigy.
As much as it is true that we don't have to defend God, we also don't have to defend His will, His plans, His salvation. People deride Christian salvation but look at the fruits of it and you cannot find anything, any philosophy, any political view, and other way of life that brings such good life transformation that has impacted societies in the say way that Christianity has done. You do not find hundreds of atheists plotting to create soup kitchens in the poor places of the world. Churches are the prime suppliers of food banks. Creating schools, establishing health provision, establishing unions to care for workers, working to abolish slavery, these are all historically observed works of Christians which so often are taken for granted, forgotten or just not known.
The world may shout that God doesn't exist until they come to the end of their ‘three score years and ten', and then will come an accounting. Shouting against it is shouting against the colossal mound of evidence that says these things are true. Jesus prophesied that in the last days love would grow cold, and that includes love for God and so don't be surprised that so many are cold in respect of God, but just remember that He is still here and He still works in the hearts of any who just might be open, so keep your eyes open to see what he is doing. He is alive and He is still working, which is more than can be said for all the substitutes that people foolishly put in His place. Watch them fall down and worship Him, watch them have their heads (area for reasoning) cut off and be shown to be valueless. Watch their hands be cut off (that part that looks for a while as if it is doing something) and be shown to be powerless. He alone is the Lord!
Meditations in 1 Samuel 14. Even Unbelievers get the Message
1 Sam 6:1-2 When the ark of the LORD had been in Philistine territory seven months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, "What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us how we should send it back to its place."
The ‘useful' thing about unbelievers is that they are superstitious. In other words, they are often more alert than believers for ‘signs', things that point to a deeper meaning for what is going on. We see this a number of times in the Bible. We find it, for example in the case of Pharaoh and Abram when Abram has passed off Sarai as his wife and we read, “ But the LORD inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram's wife Sarai. So Pharaoh summoned Abram. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife?” (Gen 12:17,18) There is no indication of how long it took Pharaoh to work out what was going on, but he does! There was a later repeat of this situation but with Abimelech but he at least was open to hearing God in a dream: “But God came to Abimelech in a dream one night and said to him, "You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman." (Gen 20:3)
In the bringing of the plagues in Egypt the magicians came to their senses faster than Pharaoh who refused to listen to Moses: “ The magicians said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." (Ex 8:19). Yes, it had taken then several plagues to get it but get it they eventually did!
When it comes to our present situation it takes a while for the Philistine leaders to get to the point where they realised they were the losers: “ When the ark of the LORD had been in Philistine territory seven months.” In that time the ark had first been taken to Dagon's temple at Ashdod with disastrous effect that we have already noted (1 Sam 5:1-5). The Lord had then afflicted them with tumours and it hadn't taken them too long to realise they needed to get rid of the ark, so they sent it to Gath (1 Sam 5:6-8). But then tumours had broken out there and they quickly put two and two together and panicked (v.9,10) so they quickly sent it to Ekron, but the people there had already worked out that having this ‘god' in their town was seriously bad news: “So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, "Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people." For death had filled the city with panic; God's hand was very heavy upon it.” (v.11)
It is then that we read it had been there seven months and “the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, "What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us how we should send it back to its place." (6:1) Now I commented about the world coming to their senses faster than believers because the evidence of the New Testament shows that: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor 11:29-32) This follows after the apostle Paul has chided them for their bad attitudes and bad behaviour as they came to Communion.
Something had been happening and they (unlike their unbelieving worldly counterparts, the Philistines) had not noted what was happening and certainly the link between it and their behavior. Look at that devastating verse 30: “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” People in the church are dying because of their bad attitudes and their bad behaviour – and the rest don't realise what is going on! Paul tells them that with these bad attitudes and behaviour each one of them, “eats and drinks judgment on himself.” You are being judged by God, is what he is saying, and you don't realise it! Be under no false illusion about this; look at the language Paul keeps on using: “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment ,” (v.31)
The death of Christians in Corinth was specifically the judgment of God on them for their abuses of each other and of the name of the Lord. And they didn't realise what was going on! This rises the bigger question, do we realise when God is disciplining us? The writer to the Hebrew understood this: “the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 13:6) Oh but, you say, we're Christians; surely Jesus has taken all of our punishment for our sins? Yes, he has but that is the bigger context of your salvation; here we are talking about your sanctification, the process of change that God is working in us to deliver us from the ways of ‘the old life' and to make us more like Jesus, free from all bad attitudes, bad thoughts, bad speech and bad behaviour.
If you hang on to any of these things, then expect the Lord in His love for you to discipline you, and be under no illusions. First realise that, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness, “ (Heb 12:10) and second, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:11) The purpose of discipline is to train us and that means to change us so that when we learn from it and come through it, righteousness will be a primary characteristics of our lives, together with peace.
This is what God was doing through the people we observed earlier, Pharaoh with Abram, Abimelech with Abraham, and the Philistines with the ark. All of these were remarkable examples of discipline not destruction. When we think of the ‘judgment of God' it can be disciplinary or destructive depending on God's intent. Ezekiel reveals to us three times that God does not want to bring death but would far rather see repentance and change and ongoing life (Ezek 18:23,31,32 & 33:11): “ Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (18:23) As we've also seen recently, the New Testament equivalent is, “ The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)
So how about the Corinthian church? They already have salvation (as did Ananias and Sapphira – Acts 5.) so for them it is a case of being called home prematurely so that the rest of the church will change and grow. If we believe in heaven and the wonder of it (and we do!) then being ‘called home' is not a bad thing. Maybe we need to adjust our viewpoint and perspective and grow to mature understanding. May it be so!
Meditations in 1 Samuel 15. Faithless response
1 Sam 6:20,21 the men of Beth Shemesh asked, "Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?" Then they sent messengers to the people of Kiriath Jearim, saying, "The Philistines have returned the ark of the LORD. Come down and take it up to your place.”
I believe the phrase “passing the buck” originated with card games where a counter, the buck, was placed in front of the dealer or person (say in poker) whose turn it was to play. When the turn of dealer moved on the buck was passed to the next person, eventually becoming synonymous with the meaning passing on responsibility. Well that is what we find when the Ark of the Covenant is returned to Israel by the Philistines. Now it had certainly seemed to be accompanied by bad news wherever it went among the Philistines but now it is back with God's people and so we might hope that it would receive a warm reception having ‘come home'.
However the account is not a happy one! “ But God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them, and the men of Beth Shemesh asked, "Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?” (1 Sam 6:19,20)
Clearly, if we backtrack, when the ark returned on a cart drawn by two cows the Israelites had responded well initially, “Now the people of Beth Shemesh were harvesting their wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced at the sight. The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and there it stopped beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. The Levites took down the ark of the LORD, together with the chest containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. On that day the people of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the LORD.” (1 Sam 6:13-15) Initially their response had been good and appropriate; they used the wood of the cart to create a fire and they sacrificed the cows as an offering to the Lord. That speaks of reverence. Good! Well, good so far!
But we've just seen, unfortunately it did not stay like that. Having got over their initial reaction, they find themselves left with this Ark and curiosity arose within them. Just what is the Ark really? What is in it? So they looked inside it. They treated it merely as an item of curiosity, and by the fact that some seventy men were involved, it appears it became somewhat of a tourist attraction – but you don't treat God as a tourist attraction, He is the Lord, and thus His judgment falls on them and the seventy die. At which point they panic and decide to pass the buck and send to the people of Kiriath Jearim and basically say, ‘The ark has come back, would you like to have it?'
Now what should have been their response when the ark returned. Well, reverence is the first thing that comes to mind. This Ark has been identified with the presence of God in the Tabernacle from the outset so it should be treated with awe. Second, its home was within the Tabernacle at Shiloh and so it should have been returned there straight away.
The trouble is that the spiritual state of Israel is somewhat in a state of flux. The priest and his two sons are dead and Samuel is only growing in his ministry. There is no clear religious structure, we might say. These people at the first place the ark comes to in Israel on its return are not clear in their thinking about the Ark. They have the privilege of being the first ones to encounter the Ark on its return but they neither treat it with respect nor send it back to Shiloh . Instead they pass the buck and it is sent to Kiriath Jearim where it stays for the next twenty years under the care of Eleazar, the son of Abinadab whose house it resides in.
As we pause at this point, we might ask ourselves what relevance this passage might have to us today, what we might learn from it. Assuredly the key issue is reverence for the Lord and for the things of the Lord. Accompanying that might be the absence of spiritual leadership which should have taught Israel and created a better environment for the return of the Ark. The instructions to Aaron and thus the priesthood had originally been as follows: “Then the LORD said to Aaron….. You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses.” (Lev 10:8-11) Part of the role of the priesthood was to teach the Israelites what it meant to be the people of God so that they would stand out from the rest of the world, and part of that teaching would include understanding the relationship they had with the Lord, the fact that He was holy and they were holy. That was what was absent in Israel at that time and it all goes back to the leadership which just wasn't there. The question therefore we have to ask is, does today's leadership in the church teach these same things, i.e. what it means to be the people of God so that we stand out from the rest of the world, including understanding the relationship we have with the Lord, the fact that He is holy and we are holy? Everything else follows.
Meditations in 1 Samuel 16. About Turn
1 Sam 7:2-4 It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD . And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel , "If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines." So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only.
So often, I conclude, there are things in Scripture that we take for granted and to which we give little thought. The fact of repeated acts of repentance by Israel is one such thing. I have to confess that until I came to the verses above, I tended to take for granted the process we observe again and again in Judges: Israel at ease with the Lord – time passes and Israel drift away from the Lord – the Lord withdraws His hands of protection over Israel and so neighbours start invading them – time passes and eventually Israel under the pressure of the invading neighbours cry out to the Lord – the Lord sends a deliverer and Israel are delivered out of the hand of their enemies.
It is that stage of Israel crying out to the Lord which I think we take for granted. Now in our verses above we note that twenty years have passed since the Ark was returned and by the end of that time we find that “ all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD.” Why? I mean, what is it that prompted them after twenty years to turn back to the Lord. As we see later in those verses above they had fallen into idolatry and in the previous meditation we noted that it was largely because of the spiritual leadership vacuum, if we may call it that. The priest Eli, and his family had gone, and only Samuel the young prophet is at the helm – if there was a helm! What provoked Israel to start coming to their senses and cry out of the Lord?
Well we can only speculate because we are not told the causes. It may be that they remembered their past, more glorious than the present. It maybe they were fed up with fighting their enemies. It may be that it just took them that long to realise that they were fed up with being a third-rate nation going nowhere, despite a glorious history, who were constantly being badgered by their enemies. It may also be that the Lord spoke these truths into their hearts. I believe God speaks to every single person on the earth – even though the vast majority don't realise what is happening – and so I believe it is quite probable that He would speak by His Spirit into the minds of the Israelites. Why twenty years passing? Perhaps that was how long it took this group of people to hear Him, to take in what he was saying and to respond to it. In Judges the periods between the discipline coming (the invaders) and their coming to repentance and crying out to the Lord vary. Maybe it depends on the people there at the time, maybe it depends on other things that happen in their lives, but eventually the turn and call out to the Lord. Two meditations back we considered how sometimes the people of God are slower at coming to their senses and realizing what is going on than the surrounding world. Perhaps these people were just slow on the uptake!
But another question arises when we ponder on people coming to repentance. How does what goes on here fit in with the teaching in Hebrews 6? There we read, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age , if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance,” (Heb 6:4-6) And then there is the example of Israel not being allowed to repent and enter the Promised Land: “not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times-- not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers.” (Num 14:22,23) How is it that Israel now come to repentance after twenty years of apostasy? How do these two sets of verses relate to their situation?
The answer, I believe, is to do with revelation. I have highlighted in bold the things that pertain to Christians who turn from God and the Israelites who refused to enter the Promised Land. Both sets of verses reveal a people who have had amazing revelation and now refuse it. The more revelation you have the harder it is to repent after you have turned away. In the case of Israel now, in the period of Samuel, I suggest that the Lord knows time has passed and memories have dulled and in fact they are second, third or fourth generation Israelites who have only heard second hand.
In the case of Christians moving into apostasy, the realities of their spiritual experiences have been THEIR experiences, and (even though they may have been becoming dull) that in recent months or years. There really is no excuse.
In the case of the Israelites in the desert approaching the Promised Land they have all been part of the community who experienced the plagues and the deliverance from Egypt, and Pharaoh's death, and then received all the Lord's goodness in their desert travels, and then encountered Him at Sinai, and had then gone through a series of times of discipline in the desert on the way from Sinai to the Promised Land. That people really had no excuse; they had such testimonies about the Lord!
So now we come to a new generation of Israelites who, after twenty years, now come to the point where they recognize their plight and recognize their need – the Lord! It has taken a while but they are here. In the next meditation we will see what also is required for them to move on.
Meditations in 1 Samuel 17. What is needed
1 Sam 7:2-4 It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD. And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel , " If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines." So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only.
In the previous meditation we observed the fact that it is possible to bring to repentance those who have drifted away from the Lord, but for those who have set their hearts from him, despite having had amazing revelation, it is different. The more revelation there has been the more difficult it becomes to bring repentance to a person who has moved away from God. Those were considerations about the turning heart, the heart that realises it is away from God and needs to find Him.
Before we move on I think it is necessary to clarify that when we have been speaking of those who turn away from the Lord we are not talking about those who have simply stumbled and fallen in a particular way, or even those who have come into a place of confusion but those who have purposefully moved into a place of apostasy, a place of actively living in opposition to God. The apostle John recognised that all of us are prone to getting it wrong sometimes when he wrote, “ My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) Sin is not to be the norm in our lives but if we stumble then repentance is the quick way back, and that is very different from the person who has purposefully moved away from the Lord.
And that brings us on to the thrust of our verses above. How, you might be asking, do we identify that person who has moved right away from God? Well it won't be just because they stop going to church, it will be because the whole moral and spiritual tone of their life changes. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus laid this out: “ Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them . Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them .” (Mt 7:15-20) Yes, he was speaking about false prophets but the general principles apply more widely. Some people can look good on the outside (in sheep's clothing) but on the inside they may be completely different. So, he went on, look at the fruit of their lives, the things you can see coming from them. Do you see, twice there he says you will recognize what they are really like by their fruit.
John the Baptist said it so clearly: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Lk 3:8) so applying that to the verses we now find in 1 Samuel, Samuel said it is not just heart change but actions are needed for change to be meaningful. Look, he says, if you are saying you want the Lord, then get rid of all these idols you have had in the land. Do you see the logic of what we emphasised in those verses: “ " If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you.” IF your repentance is genuine THEN you will get rid of all these other things you have relying upon to the exclusion of the Lord. But heart change doesn't mean just saying nice words and getting rid of your idols, it also means you totally commit yourself to the Lord to serve Him only and then you will receive the deliverance you yearn for.
Some of us yearn for something different but it's more like changing from one diet to another or from one self-help practice to another. If you say you want God, mean it, and IF you mean it then you will give up all those things you know deep down grieve Him. Don't make excuses, don't say you aren't strong enough to let go these things, that just means you aren't desperate enough yet. When you are really convinced about your state of life THEN you WILL repent fully and that not only means saying sorry, but it will also mean a complete rededication of your life to Him. If you want to hold on to bits of your life then Jesus cannot be your Lord. I don't mean he refuses to be your Lord, I mean you aren't letting him be Lord. He is either Lord of all your life or he's not Lord at all. Repentance means change. True repentance means true change. You will commit yourself to it and He will enable it to come about.
If Israel were to go on with the Lord then they had to get rid of their idols, they had to stop relying superstitiously on them and rely on the Lord. This they did. Hallelujah! Will you?
Meditations in 1 Samuel 18. We want change
1 Sam 8:1-5 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel . The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba . But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have."
Reasons and excuses are not the same thing. Reasons are the “actually why we do things” while excuses are the reasons we make public but which, in fact, may not be the real, genuine reason why we do something. We say this by way of introduction as we come to observe what went on in Israel at this time in 1 Samuel, and we will see that some of the ‘reasons' that are given for a course of action are in fact excuses. Let's see what was going on.
Our verses tell us that time has passed and Samuel has grown old. He has sons and he unwisely appoints his sons to be judges over Israel . You can be a prophet and still not be wise sometimes! You can be a prophet and forget to go to God for wisdom. I say this because the record in the verses above tells us that “his sons did not walk in his ways.” That simply means they were not the godly people that Samuel was. But more than that, “They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.” i.e. they used their position to make money and were not too concerned about truth, honesty and integrity. Now those are the basic facts of the situation and which confront Israel at this time.
Now there are clearly elders of Israel and we find, “ So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.” (v.4) They have obviously discussed this and they have come to the conclusion that they need to go and talk with Samuel who is still seen as the most senior spiritual figure in Israel. “They said to him, "You are old.” Now that's a bit in your face. I'm a bit touchy about that sort of thing. I may be older than Samuel was at that time (I'm not certain) and I confess I don't like people saying that sort of thing in a derogatory sort of way. Hey, have a bit of respect for us old guys. We've been there and done stuff, you owe us a little respect at least!
But it may be that they are saying, “Look, Samuel, we recognize that you are getting on a bit and won't always be with us, and so we've looked at what will happen when you go, and we're not too happy about the possible future. Again, if it was like that, I'm a bit touchy about this sort of thing. We were with some good longstanding friends not long back and she nodding at me, said to my wife, “Will you be able to cope when he's gone.” When he's gone????? Come on, I'm good for a long time yet! Now I say it like that because it strikes me that actually they were not coming with a ‘beyond reproach attitude' and I'll explain why in a moment, which raises a question mark over all that is happening.
So they continue, “your sons do not walk in your ways.” The implication now is that when you're gone these sons of yours aren't going to do a good job looking after Israel . Now the tricky thing about all this is that it is all true. Samuel is old, he won't last for ever and these sons of his aren't doing a good job! So now we come to their conclusion: “now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have .” Wow! What is behind that? What are they saying? We want to be like everyone else, all the surrounding nations, we want to have a king at the top of the pile, a figurehead that people and other nations will respect, someone who will take responsibility for the nation – someone we can see!
Now do you see what we have seen so far. They come with good valid reasons why they should have a king. We've just been through them: Samuel is old, he may not be around much longer, and his sons aren't good candidates to carry on in leadership of the nation. You can't really fault that; it's all true. But are those reasons or excuses? For the answer to that we need to see what God thinks about it.
So we next see that “this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD.” Good man! We don't know if he was displeased because of personal feelings as I've expressed above or whether he sensed the reality of this. Anyway, he gets an answer: “the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” (v.7) THIS is the truth behind their request and they are using Samuel and his family as excuses. The Lord confirms this: “As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.” (v.8) It's the same old thing, self-centred godlessness, that we call Sin. We'll look at how the Lord deals with this in the next meditation but for now just hold onto this distinction between excuses and reasons. We put up excuses as reasons to cover our lack of spirituality. “God is unfair so I'm not going to follow and obey Him.” Well, no, actually He's not. Don't make excuses that are not true. Your problem is your self-centred godless tendency, that Sin that resides in you that you have never confronted! Deal with the Sin by coming to the Cross and then everything else will fall into place. Enough!
Meditations in 1 Samuel 19. Head and Shoulders King
1 Sam 9:1-2 There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. He had a son named Saul, an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites--a head taller than any of the others.
The elders of Israel , we have seen, approach Samuel and ask for a king. The Lord tells Samuel that it is not he, Samuel, they are rejecting but the Lord Himself. Now what is amazing about this account and all that follows, is that the Lord does not get angry with them, threaten to destroy them or do anything else, but instead allows them what they want. In the back part of Romans 1 we see a principle that Paul shows us, whereby sometimes the Lord lifts off His hand of restraint and allows sinful mankind to do what they want without hindrance, so that they will reap the fruits of their folly and hopefully, some at least will come to their senses and turn back to the Lord. The awful truth is that sometimes the Lord gives us what we want, even when it is not the best thing for us at the moment, but He gives it so that it will act as discipline in our lives in the days ahead and bring eventual change to our lives.
So after the Lord has spoken to Samuel as we've seen, He adds, “ Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do." (1 Sam 8:9) Samuel conveys this to the people and then gives them a long warning of how kings take and use people in their service, service which can be harsh and demanding and costly (1 Sam 8:10-17). At the end of it he warns them, “When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day." (v.18) You want to go down the path of having a king? This is what kings do, so be warned! “But the people refused to listen to Samuel. "No!" they said. "We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles." (v.19,20) Yes, you clowns, he will fight your battles but you will be his soldiers doing the fighting!!! Conclusion? “When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. The LORD answered, "Listen to them and give them a king." (v.21,22)
Now intriguingly Samuel does not take any immediate action in choosing a king for them but simply sends them all home with the (presumed) assumption that he will get around to this in due time. It is then that we come to our verses above when we are introduced to Saul who is described as “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites – a head taller than any of the others.”
Now many years ago, in the 1970's I believe it was, an American preacher by the name of Ern Baxter preached a powerful series of messages at a Bible Week in the north of England about two different sorts of approach to church – head and shoulders versus heart man. We use the expression that someone is “head and shoulders” above the rest, meaning they were outstanding. Well, put aside the shoulders bit and this is how Saul was – a tall young man who stood out from the rest. Now Ern Baxter wonderfully contrasted him with David who followed. Not only was Saul taller than most but, he said, the head represents human wisdom and shoulders represent human strength and that is what Saul brought to the kingdom and everything he did was characterized by human wisdom and human strength. David by contrast, we will come to see, was described as a man after God's own heart. We'll talk about that no doubt in a later meditation.
But Saul was everything the people could hope for when they wanted a king to beat up the surrounding nations and fight for them. He was tall and impressive. Have you ever heard little boys competing: “My dad can beat up your dad”. That was what Israel wanted: “Our king can beat up your king”. They wanted someone who looked good and would look like a leader, someone big, someone taller than the rest. (The only trouble is that there is always someone bigger, as we'll see when we come to the story of the giant called Goliath).
Now when you follow the story through, circumstances conspire to get Saul to encounter Samuel (see 1 Sam 9:3-14) but before he arrives, the Lord tells Samuel, “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin . Anoint him leader over my people Israel ; he will deliver my people from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked upon my people, for their cry has reached me.” (1 Sam 9:16) The story is revealed in the following verses that you can read, with the Lord confirming this is Israel's new king (v.17) and going on until Samuel anoints him as the new king (1 Sam 10:1) and also telling him various things that will come to pass – which do – by way of confirmation that God is with him. The way is set.
Now we'll pause it there and continue in the next meditation. As the story unfolds we'll see that Saul does a reasonable job as far as fighting is concerned but is a spiritual nightmare. Now here is the thing: God knows the future, so God must have known it would pan out like this, so why did He let it happen (or bring it about) in this way?
The answer has to be what we said earlier: Israel are rejecting Him but no one will ever be able to say He didn't give them a chance to make this new-style leadership work. He will use this time to show that their way is foolish and their style of king is not up to the job of looking after this unique nation. It needs a spiritual dimension to interact with a spiritual God, if we may put it like that. We may think we know best about the physical side of our lives – who we will marry, what career we will follow, how we will overcome troubles and difficulties, but at the end of your life you will have to acknowledge the folly of that approach. All of those things work well when you are related to God and allow Him to lead you. Without Him, watch out for problems and failures. It IS that simple. Saul will show us that.
Meditations in 1 Samuel 20. Life Transformation Blessing
1 Sam 10:1 Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul's head and kissed him, saying, "Has not the LORD anointed you leader over his inheritance?
In concluding the previous meditation we noted that in respect of God, ‘ no one will ever be able to say He didn't give them a chance to make this new-style leadership work.' Israel have asked for a king and the Lord is going to give them a king and, by their standards at least, Saul will be just what they want, a strong young man, head and shoulders above anyone else. Our verse above indicates the sign of God's Holy Spirit being poured on someone to enable them to do their new job. Oil is often the picture of the Spirit and so the physical act is symbolic of that will be happening spiritually.
This act by Samuel would have really stayed in Saul's mind, being anointed by God's prophet, the leader of the nation, God's mouthpiece. But that wasn't all. As we noted previously Samuel then told Saul three things that would happen on the way home, (1 Sam 10:2-6) and each of them happened. The last one had a particularly strong spiritual dimension to it. Samuel explained, “ After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, tambourines, flutes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. ” (v.5,6) He concluded with a word of encouragement: “Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you .” (v.7) Wow! What further encouragement could you ask for! And so we read, “As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul's heart , and all these signs were fulfilled that day.” (v.9)
Now that is interesting because note the order – Saul goes to leave – God changes his heart – then the three things happen. From that moment on, Saul was different. However it was not until the last one occurs that the Spirit comes on him: “When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying.” (v.10) This makes it even more interesting: God changes His heart and then later the Spirit comes on him to enable him to prophesy. The changing of Saul's heart and then later empowering may correspond to how some typify the work of God in Christians – they are born again and are then filled with the Spirit. The Spirit enters us to change us (we are born again) but when He comes in power we are released to operate in the gifts of the Spirit. Ideally this should all happen at the same time but more often there is a gap between the two, even as there was with Saul.
As far as Saul is concerned, however we view these things for today, God changes Saul and comes upon him with power and releases him into a new spiritual dimension. Saul has had a touch of heaven. He is no longer just a head and shoulders man, he is someone who has had a real encounter with God and is different because of it. He now knows by experience another dimension in life. Surely he would have been taught as a child all about Israel 's history with God, but now he has encountered the Lord in the most personal way possible. He knows!
What we then find is an interesting way of drawing lots to see who will be the new king that the people want (they don't know what has been going on yet). And then ….surprise, surprise, Saul is chosen by lot! (1 Sam 10:20,21) Now we'll look at what follows in more detail in the next meditation but while we are looking at how the Lord encouraged and equipped Saul, we need to note an incident that followed shortly. The Ammonites threatened a group in Israel and “When Saul heard their words , the Spirit of God came upon him in power , and he burned with anger. He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel , proclaiming, "This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel." Then the terror of the LORD fell on the people, and they turned out as one man.” (1 Sam 11:6,7) God's power came upon Saul again but this time to go out and lead the people and as he does that the Lord backs him up yet again by bringing a fear to all the people so they would follow Saul.
So, to recap, the Lord has Samuel anoint Saul, He changes Saul's heart, He gives him words of knowledge that are fulfilled to encourage his belief, He sends His Spirit on him in power to release him in prophecy, He reveals him as king through the drawing lots process, and He comes upon him by His Spirit to stir him to rise up to lead His people, and He sends fear on the people to encourage them to rise up and obey Saul. In SEVEN ways the Lord is there for Saul to equip him and enable him to be the king the people want. As we said previously, no one cold say that the Lord hadn't helped Saul. Seven is the number of perfection and so we might say that the Lord has done everything he could to establish Saul. It is now up to Saul to rely upon the Lord and Samuel to be the king that the Lord might want. The crucial issue is that after all this, does Saul trust Samuel and the Lord? We'll see.
But here is the challenge: look at your life and see the works of God in it. See the things the Lord has done for you. See how He has blessed you. All these things should work to establish trust in you. Faith is about doing, trust is about believing. Faith is about responding to God while trust is being confident in God. When we are confident in God He can then speak to us and we can launch out on His words to us; that is faith, but we have to start with trust. All the good things that the Lord has done for you are intended to help build your trust in God and once you have that foundation, you can step out in faith to do the works of God. Saul hasn't learnt that and so is doomed to failure and that is tragic. May we not be people who the Lord has blessed in abundance but who fail to learn to trust Him and so live in our own strength and with our own wisdom.