|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 Samuel|
PART Three: Period of the Head and Shoulders King
Meditations in 1 Samuel 21. Proving through Trials
1 Sam 11:4-7 When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and reported these terms to the people, they all wept aloud. Just then Saul was returning from the fields, behind his oxen, and he asked, "What is wrong with the people? Why are they weeping?" Then they repeated to him what the men of Jabesh had said. When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger.
In the world in which we live today, Kings and Queens tend to be figureheads with little real power but in the days of three thousand years ago, say, kings were the ‘top dogs' the toughest and the meanest, men who got other men to do their bidding by being bigger and meaner and tougher. That is how it is in the world but in the kingdom of God leadership is quite different, leadership is spiritual but spiritual that has outworkings in the material world. In the days in which they lived the Judges had been both spiritual and material warriors; they had to be, it was a day in which strong nations took advantage of smaller weaker nations (what has changed we might ask as we look at the twenty-first century panorama of the world).
In the period that we are considering the leadership had apparently been that of the priest Eli, that gave way to the leadership of the prophet Samuel. Although the book is named after him, we really don't see a tremendous amount of his activity. He clearly goes round the country settling disputes and he is clearly God's mouthpiece and does God's bidding. We have recently observed him first anointing Sal and then overseeing the process of drawing lots to bring Saul to the public's attention.
So Saul is king, but apart from Samuel's warning about what a king will do, nobody (including Saul) has much of an idea what that is really going to entail and how it is going to work out. Today we would have a big ceremony crowing the new monarch (it makes good TV!) but for them there was nothing like that. Spiritual watchers might have been looking to see how God was going to move to elevate this new king and bring him into his own. So what is God going to do. God appears not to be doing anything, but the enemy is!
We have already briefly referred to this but we need to look at it more fully now. The Ammonites lived to the east of Israel and Jabesh Gilead is a town to the east of the Jordon river in the tribal area of Manasseh. The Israelites living there are, if you like, a little out on the periphery and thus somewhat vulnerable. Nahash is an Ammonite leader and turns up with a force of men obviously more powerful than the men of Jabesh and lays siege to the city. His demand is utterly primitive: we gouge out the right eye of every one of you or we destroy you. Gouging out an eye would both humiliate the people and render it impossible for any of them to become an archer in the army. Now in the parley, the elders of Jabesh ask for a week to see if they might receive help from the rest of Israel . This is a surprising thing to ask but ask they do, and Nahash, obviously believing help will not come, agrees. He's happy to wait it oput.
Thus the first thing that happens since Saul has been publicly recognized as king, is that this plaintive tale of woe spreads through the land. So far, we noted, God has been silent since Saul's promotion but now we read, “When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger.” Saul is now a man who is open to the Lord and has had dealings with the Lord as we noted previously, and so now when the news comes, the Holy Spirit falls on him in power and he rises up in anger and goes forth to deliver Jabesh Gilead with the help of men from all over the nation. The outcome is clear: “The next day Saul separated his men into three divisions; during the last watch of the night they broke into the camp of the Ammonites and slaughtered them until the heat of the day” (1 Sam 11:11)
How is a king going to be recognized, how is he going to be proved? By rising up and dealing with his enemies. How can Saul do that? With the enabling off the Holy Spirit! Again and again in Scripture we see that when the Holy Spirit comes, He comes with power to bring change. When does He come? Whenever there is a crisis.
See how it worked in Judges: “The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. But when they cried out to the LORD, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him , so that he became Israel 's judge and went to war. The LORD gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him.” (Jud 3:8-10) It's the same old cycle. Israel turned from God, God gave them into the hands of their enemies. They cried out to the Lord who sent them a deliverer. How did the deliverer get raised up? By the power of the Spirit coming on him! We also see it with Gideon in Judges 6:34 and with Jephthah in Judges 11:29 and with Samson in Judges 13:25, 14:6, 14:19 and 15:14. In every case we read “the Spirit of the Lord came on him in power” and in every case it was in answer to a crisis.
In the New Testament we find the same thing. When did the Holy Spirit get poured out on the church? In the crisis days after Jesus had left them and they were alone in the face of the might of Rome and of the Judaist authorities. We also see it when Peter is confronted by those authorities (Acts 4:8) and after the church prayed in the face of persecution (Acts 4:31). God delights to pour out His Spirit when we are in need. How do you recognize a ministry? When that ministry confronts the world and Satan and declares the kingdom and is accredited by the power of the Holy Spirit. Do we perhaps sometimes wonder why we see so little of the Spirit's power? Is it perhaps that we are sheltering from the world and not confronting it and are not in crisis, the crisis of kingdom clashes?
Saul is revealed as the new king in reality, not merely by the ballot box but because he did what no one else could do: he rose up and called the nation to rise up, and then lead them to victory. When the early church stood as an alternative to godless paganism, the apostle Peter wrote to them, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed . If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you .” (1 Pet 4:12-14) Can it be said that the Spirit of God's glory rests on us ? How effective are we in opposing godless paganism of the twenty-first century? Perhaps a sign of effectiveness is opposition but when opposition comes, watch for the Holy Spirit to come as well to vindicate His people.
Meditations in 1 Samuel 22. Check me out
1 Sam 12:1-3 Samuel said to all Israel , "I have listened to everything you said to me and have set a king over you. Now you have a king as your leader. As for me, I am old and gray, and my sons are here with you. I have been your leader from my youth until this day. Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the LORD and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these, I will make it right."
Saul had had his first triumph and then we read, “ Then Samuel said to the people, "Come, let us go to Gilgal and there reaffirm the kingship." So all the people went to Gilgal and confirmed Saul as king in the presence of the LORD. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the LORD, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration “ (1 Sam 11:14,15) There is a distinct sense that the old order is rapidly passing away and the new is coming. Saul has been chosen by lot, approved in battle and now confirmed by a celebration in the presence of the Lord with all the trappings of sacrifices and offerings. It is a good time. It is in this climate that Samuel speaks out as we see in our verses above.
Personal integrity is an important things and it is often in short supply. Now if we took these verses right out of context we might simply say this is Samuel handing the reins over to Saul and as he steps away he just wants to make sure the slate is clean and he can go with a clear conscience, for that is what he seems to do in these verses. He simply says, check me out. I want you to realise I have never let you down as God's representative. I want you to confirm that on this special day. If you have any complaint, make it now. Now he says all this with an ulterior motive which we will come to in a moment, for this is not merely a matter of personal integrity.
See what follows: “ You have not cheated or oppressed us," they replied. "You have not taken anything from anyone's hand." Samuel said to them, "The LORD is witness against you, and also his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand." "He is witness," they said.” (v.4,5) Very well, they have no complaint, they cannot say anything against him or the way he has represented the Lord, so now he has something of great importance to convey to them: “Then Samuel said to the people, "It is the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your forefathers up out of Egypt . Now then, stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your fathers.” (v.6,7)
Hullo? What is coming? He is testifying on behalf of the Lord now, not merely on his own behalf. He continues: “After Jacob entered Egypt , they cried to the LORD for help, and the LORD sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your forefathers out of Egypt and settled them in this place.” (v.8) Yes, right, but why are you reminding us of our history? He continues. “But they forgot the LORD their God.” (v.9) Whoops! He then proceeds to remind them how the Lord had had to discipline them and then send them deliverers. And then he confronts them with what has recently happened: “But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, `No, we want a king to rule over us'-- even though the LORD your God was your king . Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the LORD has set a king over you.” (v.12,13) i.e. remember this king was your choice, this was you rejecting God.
And so he concludes, “If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God--good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers.” (v.14,15) i.e. you have a history of disobedience, remember it and be warned.
But he hasn't finished: “Now then, stand still and see this great thing the LORD is about to do before your eyes! Is it not wheat harvest now? I will call upon the LORD to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the LORD when you asked for a king." Then Samuel called upon the LORD, and that same day the LORD sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the LORD and of Samuel.” (v.15-18) It is almost as if the Lord is smacking their wrist, we might say, a short sharp painful reminder that what has happened was not good. The Lord's objective again and again with Israel is to confront them with the truth, make them acknowledge the truth. Their response is good: “The people all said to Samuel, "Pray to the LORD your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king." (v.19)
Because they acknowledge the truth about their sin, Samuel reassures them: “Do not be afraid," Samuel replied. "You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own. As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.” (v.20-23)
Lessons? First, face the truth about your life, about your behaviour, about your words. When we do confess and repent the Lord is always forgiving (1 Jn 1:9) Second, the call is to remain righteous and go on being righteous. Acknowledging our failure doesn't mean we are allowed to continue in it. Change is called for. We'll ponder this some more in the next study.
Meditations in 1 Samuel 23. The Same Requirements
1 Sam 12:14,15 If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God--good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers
I often find myself making the same comment about Scripture: we so often take it for granted as we read it. We concluded the previous meditation making the comment that the call is to remain righteous and go on being righteous and so acknowledging our failure doesn't mean we are allowed to continue in it. Change is called for. Working through the passage where Samuel challenges the nation we did in fact note the above verses but only made a very brief comment about them.
Now these verses above show two very clear paths and so clear are they that there can be no doubt about them, and Israel in the years to come can make no excuses if they fail to abide by them. The first path speaks about fearing, serving, and obeying the Lord. Fearing is about having a strong respect and awe for who God is. He is the Lord, the Creator and Sustainer of all things. He is all powerful, all-knowing and all-wise. He knows best about everything. Serving here means not so much focusing on doing things for God as honouring Him in the way we live and thus obeying simply challenges us to live the way He designates.
He knows how we best ‘work' as human beings. He has designed and we are foolish if we disregard this. Now, says Samuel, if both you and this king now do these things that is good…but! The ‘but' is the second path, the path to be avoided, the path of disobedience and rebellion. Disobedience speaks of the acts of doing wrong, rebellion speaks of the heart or will that purposes against God. Now if you follow the second path you need to realise, he goes on, that God will be against you; you will be opposing the Creator of the Universe, the Lord of all things.
Now put like that the second path is clearly a path of folly. Life can be summed up this simply: You either acknowledge and obey God or you don't. Now the fact was that Israel had the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible written by Moses, the Law as the Jews call it, and if they were wise this law would have been taught throughout the land. Now whether Samuel did this we don't know but there are some indicators that he did. If he did then part of that would have included conveying the blessings and curses of Deut 28. They are quite remarkable in their clarity.
For instance they start, “ If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God.” (Deut 28:1,2) There then follow a long list of ways God will bless them and do good for them. However there is also the following: “However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” (v.15) The curses are things will go wrong and they are long and detailed. The warnings are absolutely clear.
Indeed earlier in Deuteronomy when Moses was giving his last instructions to Israel on the plains before entering the Promised Land he said, “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe th em carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people." What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deut 4:5-8) The way they kept this wisdom from God would reveal Him to the rest of the world; that was what was on the line here, that is how important it is – and yet again and again the sinfulness of mankind as revealed in Israel meant they turned away and messed up!
It doesn't matter whether it was priest, judge, prophet or king it was still the same calling throughout the life and existence of Israel . It all boils down, as we said above, to whether we will believe that God is, that He is Creator of all things and therefore knows best – and that we follow Him. Now when we come to the New Testament, although we are no longer a nation like Israel was in a special land, we are still God's people and this still applies to us. The New Testament is full of teaching and revelation and it is a foolish person who says, oh this isn't for me, I can live my own way.
Let's put it another way: God has designed us to work best in a particular way and if we reject that way, we start to ‘break down' and things go wrong. It doesn't matter what sort of church you belong to, this still applies. Different churches exist simply to express their worship in different ways; the fundamentals are still the same. Without God we are lost and all we have left are rituals without meaning, rituals that do not satisfy. We need the salvation that God has brought, through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross and the subsequent work of His Holy Spirit in our lives. He still leaves us with free will and we can choose to accept and follow that, or reject it and do our own thing. The latter brings spiritual death and the former brings life. Nothing has changed!
Samuel's call to Israel is the same call every godly leader has brought before and since: God knows best, follow Him and reject Him at your peril. It IS that simple.
Meditations in 1 Samuel 24. Wrong Moves
1 Sam 13:7-10 Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul's men began to scatter. So he said, "Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings." And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.
We have observed the Lord doing all He can to help and encourage Saul become king, as desired by the people, but sometimes the Lord's help and encouragement is simply not enough. I have observed many people in my life, both in the Bible and in everyday life, and at the end of it all, I still find it a mystery why some people can be all-out for God and others – despite the Lord's help and encouragement – just appear spiritually obtuse. Every single one of us without exception is tainted by Sin, even more we are not merely tainted by it, it is a predisposition within us whereby we turn to self-centred godlessness rather than the opposite. So why is it we are going to run across a young man who is described as a man after God's own heart, in contrast to Saul who is characterised by being head and shoulders above the rest, all human wisdom and human strength? It is a mystery, but it is a fact.
Now things appear to be happening very quickly. Back in chapter 10 we read, “ "Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do." (1 Sam 10:8) Now it would appear that considerably more than seven days have passed since Samuel first met Saul and the events at Gilgal. What is more likely is that we have a word of knowledge or a prophetic word in which Samuel is saying, “After a whole lot of other things will happen you will end up in Gilgal. When you get there, wait there for me for seven days and I will come and offer the offerings required of the Lord.”
Now when he said that Saul no doubt did not realise the significance of it because he was just taken up with all the things that were happening at that moment. Often when the Lord gives us a prophetic instruction that appears some distance off, I have noticed that we tend to diminish its importance which gets diluted by the events before it. That is error.
So Saul becomes king, calls out Israel against their enemies and triumphs over them. He no doubt feels good about that. He and his son Jonathan divide the fighting men up between them and Jonathan goes out and confronts the Philistine enemy so that they rise up and come against Israel in power and it does not look good: “When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead .” (1 Sam 13:6,7). Saul meanwhile is at Gilgal but has no doubt forgotten Samuel's word to him. He needs some support, he needs Samuel and he knows Samuel has said he will come and meet him at Gilgal. He waits and he waits. Six days pass and still no sign of Samuel. The seventh day comes and still no sign of Samuel. Saul is starting to feel desperate, he needs support, he needs the support of the spiritual head of Israel , he needs God's support, but it does not appear forthcoming.
Something else I have observed over the years is that often the enemy seems to press in on us and make us think it is a critical situation where something must be done. We feel under particular pressure, it seems a critical situation, particularly fraught, and it is in such times that self digs in. It may be in opposing others, holding on to a particular viewpoint, or something else where we feel we MUST hold our position. Saul is in such a position and so reasons that if Samuel is not there he himself must act, so he starts presenting the offering and just then Samuel arrives. The big issue is that Saul is not the spiritual head of the nation, Samuel is. Saul has no right to go plowing in and trying to make God act on his behalf. This is human folly.
Look at Saul's words when Samuel challenges him: “When I saw ….I thought…. so I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering." (v.11,12) He looked at the situation with his eyes, reasoned with his mind and acted – wrongly! Samuel responds: “You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command." (v.13,14) Samuel speaks prophetically as he chastises Saul. The Law decrees priests or spiritual leaders are the only ones to offer sacrifices to the Lord and that does not include you, so you have disobeyed God, you thought you knew better, and you have shown that you have a wrong heart and so the Lord has chosen another man to eventually replace you, a man who has a right heart. We'll see more of this in the next meditation.
Meditations in 1 Samuel 25. God's Alternative
1 Sam 13:13-14 "You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command.”
It's all about the heart. No, not the valve pumping blood round the body, but that central feature of a person where emotions and will interact with intellect and direct the person. Pharaoh who opposed Moses was known to be ‘hard-hearted', utterly fixed in his pride. As we said in the previous meditation, what makes one person strong-hearted and another person weak-hearted is a mystery. We may suggest that there are some elements of it that are inherited while there are others that are learned but, nevertheless, we sometimes find identical twins who turn out utterly differently and people who go through similar life circumstances but turn out completely differently. It is a mystery.
Samuel has discerned Saul's heart as foolish and godless. He has received help and more help from God but when the pressure comes he doesn't turn to God, he seeks to use Him. Samuel's discernment has to be God's judgment or assessment of Saul. This isn't just a one-off failure, this is what Saul is like.
Now when you put it like that we wonder again about God's providence that we considered earlier in respect of Samuel himself. Samuel's sons had not provided hope for a good future in the nation and so the people took the opportunity to reject judges and demand a king – just to be like everyone else. The Lord had warned them what a king would be like but when they insisted He gave them exactly the sort of man they wanted and yet very soon he showed that he was not the sort of man that God wanted, a man who would turn to Him, rely upon Him, seek His wisdom and counsel and generally let the Lord of the universe be the leader of this special people.
It was almost as if the Lord was saying to us, “Very well, I will give you a lesson in people and a lesson in choices. You can work on human wisdom or godly wisdom; you can survive by human endeavour or godly provision. The choice is yours. I'll give you a man who looks good, a man you might think is big and strong and therefore you (wrongly) think will be a good leader and I'll do everything I can to encourage him, but watch him and you'll see that this isn't enough to lead my people. You need a man who will turn to me, seek me out, seek my wisdom and my counsel, and be a channel for me to pour my goodness into the life of this nation. For me to be able to do that, you need a person who understands my heart, who realises human frailty but also realises that I love you and am for you and desire to lead and bless you so you become strong, a man who shares my heart, a man after my own heart.”
If we could have heard, I believe that is what we would have heard in this situation. Now look at what the Lord says through Samuel and note the tenses of each of the verbs: “ the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people.” Did you see that? “has sought out” and “appointed.” It's already happened. Now one of the things about 1 Samuel is that it shows us in a most remarkable way the way the Lord works. Eli had been given opportunity after opportunity to repent and correct his wrong family situation, but didn't and so died. Samuel is raised up as the first prophet after Moses to lead this people and that he does somewhat uneventfully. It is all slow and ponderous change, it seems. Then the people demand a king and are given one to match their desires. When he fails to live up to the requirements of this job as the spiritual leader of this special people, the Lord chooses someone else who will be more suited to the task – but it is going to be many years before this chosen king steps into this role and that is what the rest of the book is all about, about all of the things that will happen until the way is eventually opened for that to happen. It will be a slow business.
Now one of the strange things is that Samuel does not immediately ‘demote' Saul and take him out of kingship. He knows (from his prophetic words) that God has got someone else for the job but he also knows not to rush the situation; he has learnt only to move as God moves and for the time being the Lord will just let the circumstances unravel. The big motivating factor, the thing that will bring change, is the existence of the enemy on their south western borders, the Philistines, who we read (1 Sam 13:17) send out raiding parties against Israel . What makes it worse is that Israel have virtually no weapons (1 Sam 13:22) because the Philistines had systematically wiped out all the blacksmiths so there was no one in Israel to forge weapons. Thus at this point only Saul and Jonathan had swords. What a situation.
This is the background upon which the book now proceeds. Israel are weak in terms of weapons and they are weak in leadership. Their king has been rejected by God and somewhere God has another man who will eventually replace Saul. Watch this space!
How, we might ask, has this any relevance to our lives today? Well, consider the United Kingdom for instance. We have a few nuclear submarines, a limited army and navy which, if larger nations such as say Russia or China attacked us, would be totally inadequate. Financially we are weak, in debt to other nations, and we have a largely godless leadership of the nation. The leaders in the main denominations seem largely voiceless and the Lord appears to have hardly any voice into the nation. Prophecy has come into parts of the church but had not yet stirred and armed the church to be a tool for righteousness in the land. We await a David, a person or people after the Lord's own heart. Just what that means appears crucial to the coming studies. As we said, watch this space!
Meditations in 1 Samuel 26. Extending Faith
1 Sam 14:6 Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, "Come, let's go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few."
Sometimes in the Bible there are people who are not the main players but who nevertheless convey a powerful testimony. Saul's son Jonathan is one such person. In the last meditation we noted how Israel were short of weapons so that only Saul and Jonathan had swords (others would have had spears no doubt and other non-metallic weapons). We have seen how, when the Spirit of God came on Saul, he rose up, called out Israel and vanquished an enemy persecuting a part of Israel to the east of the Jordan, but mostly he was fairly cautious when left to himself. Jonathan however exhibits all the brashness and courage of a young man. Already we have read, “ Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it.” (1 Sam 13:3) Give Jonathan some soldiers and he'll go and sort the enemy out!
The start of the incident recorded in our verse above reads, “One day Jonathan son of Saul said to the young man bearing his armor, "Come, let's go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side." But he did not tell his father.” (1 Sam 14:1) So here he is frustrated at the inaction and so, accompanied by a young armour bearer, decides to go and prod the Philistines again – but doesn't tell his father. In that we see a distinction between he and his father. His father is on the side of carefulness; Jonathan is on the side of …. well, we'll see in a moment.
The scene is set for us: “On each side of the pass that Jonathan intended to cross to reach the Philistine outpost was a cliff; one was called Bozez, and the other Seneh. One cliff stood to the north toward Micmash, the other to the south toward Geba.” (1 Sam 14:4,5) Before these two young men there is a ravine with steep cliffs and on the other side from them at the top of the cliff the Philistines have set up a lookout post.
Jonathan reveals what is on his heart: “Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, "Come, let's go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” (v.6) Wow! Look at the faith level in this young man. A number of chapters on we'll find another young man expressing similar thoughts: God is on our side so what can stop him sorting out the enemy, let's give this a go, who knows what He will do. I find this incident one of my favourites in the Old Testament for it reveals a level of faith that is challenging, stirring and exciting.
I like the young armour bearer's response: “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul." Jonathan certainly knows how to choose his servants! A young man of like heart. Excellent! But now see Jonathan's wisdom: “Jonathan said, "Come, then; we will cross over toward the men and let them see us. If they say to us, `Wait there until we come to you,' we will stay where we are and not go up to them. But if they say, `Come up to us,' we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the LORD has given them into our hands." (v.8-10) Now naturally it would have been the other way round – if they come down from their high secure position, we can take them on the level but if we have to exhaust ourselves climbing the cliff we won't be in such a good state to fight. But, no, he says the opposite. If it looks hard, God is in it and it will mean these guards at the top are complacent, and we can take them. And that is what happens. In fact these two young men kill twenty of the Philistines and panic from the Lord sets in throughout the Philistines camp. When Saul and his men eventually turn up “They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords.” (v.20) It is a total victory, all because two young men trusted in the Lord and stepped out in faith against the enemy. Unfortunately there is a downside to all this because of Saul's folly but we'll leave that until the next meditation.
What sort of church do we belong to? Is it a church that is comfortable and complacent that prefers peace and quiet to reaching out in faith to do the Lord's bidding? Do we create an environment where faith is praised and young people (particularly – with their energy) are encouraged to step out for God? For us today the enemy is godless unrighteousness in the world around us, shown in unbelief and self-centred living. Complacency is the primes enemy to be challenged. Unbelief is the prime enemy to be challenged. Religiosity is the prime enemy to be challenged. Faith – listening to God and stepping out on His word – is to be encouraged. Where are the Jonathan's today who are willing to go and confront the enemy and see what God will do?
Meditations in 1 Samuel 27. Misplaced Religiosity?
1 Sam 14:24 Now the men of Israel were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, "Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!" So none of the troops tasted food
We have just seen young Jonathan stretching his faith and setting the Philistines in disarray and then in defeat before the Israelites who quickly jump on Jonathan's bandwagon. It was a great victory as we saw: “ Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. Those Hebrews who had previously been with the Philistines and had gone up with them to their camp went over to the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. When all the Israelites who had hidden in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were on the run, they joined the battle in hot pursuit. So the LORD rescued Israel that day, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven.” (1 Sam 14:20-23) All the Israelites rose up against the Philistines and triumphed over them. Note that the recording scribe ascribes the victory to the Lord!
It is then that we come to our verse above and we see how the whole thing is soured by Saul's folly. To make soldiers fast before they have to fight is the most gross folly and clearest exhibition of misplaced religiosity. ‘Religious people' like to fast. They see it as a way of getting God on their side, of twisting His arm if you like, but you only fast when the Lord puts it on your heart and it is most unlikely to be at a time when you are going to have expend great physical energy. As we have noted before, God will not be manipulated by us.
Note also Saul self-centredness in it: “ before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” Three times there he focuses it on himself; he did not see it as a battle for the honor of the Lord and the security of the Lord's people. Contrast Saul with Jonathan who had the Lord before him at all times, e.g. “Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few." (14:6) and “Come up to us,' we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the LORD has given them into our hands." (14:10) and “So Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, "Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel ." (14:12) Jonathan is God-orientated, Saul is not!
Having seen this foolish curse that Saul has imposed on his army, now see the consequences: “That day, after the Israelites had struck down the Philistines from Micmash to Aijalon, they were exhausted. They pounced on the plunder and, taking sheep, cattle and calves, they butchered them on the ground and ate them, together with the blood. Then someone said to Saul, "Look, the men are sinning against the LORD by eating meat that has blood in it." (14:31-33) Eating meat with the blood still in it was, of course, prohibited by the Law, hence the comment about them sinning. This necessitated some hasty action to offer some burnt offerings again according to the Law (v.33b-35)
But there is an even bigger problem arising out of Paul's foolish edict. Jonathan had not known about it and had therefore eaten honey in the woods on his way back (see 14:25-27). When a soldier warned him about Saul's edict he responded, “My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?" (14:29,30) Of course, as we have seen, this turned out to be a prediction for the troops did plunder the enemy but in such a way that they ended up sinning.
After offering sacrifices, (presumably by the priest – see 14:3) the priest suggests it might be an idea to see what the Lord thinks of Saul's plans but the Lord remains silent (14:36,37). Perhaps Saul learnt as a child about the incidents involving Ai when Israel first entered the Land (see Josh 7& 8) and realised that all was not well if the Lord remained silent, and so he took steps to see who was in the wrong, only to find that it was Jonathan who had flouted his curse (see 14:37-44), and so he wants to kill him but was stopped by his men.
At every turn in this incident Saul does not do well. He is a head and shoulders man of the world and not a man of God and so plans and reasons with human thinking, which involves trying to use religion and use God. Folly from all angles!
But how often do Christians today seek to manipulate God, to get Him on their side by reading the Bible, by praying, by going to church and so on? We don't have to do anything to get Him on our side, He already is! We need to acknowledge that that is what we are doing if we have even a glimmer of a thought that we might be pleasing God by doing any of these things, for we are on the edge of seeking to manipulate Him. We don't need to. All these things are simply the outworking of our relationship with Him, good in themselves but not good as means to impress Him!!!! Saul is yet to be a further example to us of how not to lead people and how not to impress God!
Meditations in 1 Samuel 28. Nevertheless….
1 Sam 14:47,48 After Saul had assumed rule over Israel , he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab , the Ammonites, Edom , the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them
There is a natural tendency when we see something going wrong to overstate the case. I think that is true in the case of Saul. Without doubt he got it wrong and I believe everything we have said thus far about him has been true, but then I come across verses like the ones above and I find I have cause to pause and reflect. Not everything about him is bad. In those days when you had enemies you either overcame them or they overcame you and the records of the Old Testament show again and again nations round about Israel trying to destroy them. It is the same today in respect of Israel . Now we have seen through the book of judges that the Lord used these enemies to discipline Israel and make them rely upon Him, but merely because He was using them to discipline Israel that didn't mean Israel could not do anything about it – and Saul was doing just that.
Now we could have read, “ After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he sat back and enjoyed his position,” but we don't; it says, “he fought against their enemies,” he was doing something about them, Moreover he was doing it all round – “ he fought against their enemies on every side ,” and then the recorder gives us a list of five nations he was dealing with. That is quite impressive. Indeed he adds, “ Wherever he turned….” meaning that whoever he went to sort out received the punishment due for their hostility. Even more we are told “he fought valiantly.” Wow, he really put his heart into the job!
Now you may be wondering why I am bothering to go down this route. Well, very simply it is this: so often in life we come across people – and they may be in our own family even – who we look at and write off because they seem to be making such a mess of life. Look for the bit of them that is good. They are still made in the image of God and there may yet be hope. Now of course we know that Saul goes on to make an even bigger mess of it, but that isn't always so; God is a God of second chances and merely because at the moment this person before you is messing up that does not necessarily mean they always will – they may, but keep an open heart to them in case they are going to come good.
I often have found myself writing about people with feet of clay. I believe that applies to all of us; we all have vulnerable areas where we are weak and have not yet been fully sanctified in daily behaviour, but for the vast majority of the time we are probably doing all right. I recently had the joy of bringing a word of encouragement to a couple who were adoptive parents and who were struggling a bit: “The Lord says you are doing all right.” Very simple but encouraging, and we all need that sort of thing because although most of the time we are doing well, there are still areas in which we struggle.
Now the case I am speaking about is the opposite of that: this person is mostly getting it wrong but actually look carefully and you will see signs of hope, things they are doing well. Here's a husband (or partner) who treats his wife badly, gets drunk and abusive, and yet would walk over glass to help his daughter. Yes, he is utterly wrong in his drinking and in his abuse of his wife, but he is still made in the image of God and he still has sparks of care and compassion for his young daughter. We may write him off, but pray that God can reach him through that gateway of care and compassion. She may have had three abortions and be an addict but watch her carefully and she is actually there for some of the weaker girls in her community. She looks a lost cause but there is no such thing with Jesus.
Saul is not good on the spiritual side but he is working on being a good protective king and we read, “ All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines, and whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he took him into his service.” (1 Sam 14:52) He knows an army doesn't just consist of him and so he is a good recruiter, and that is going to come into play later on in respect of David. Moreover we are going to see Saul messing up again and again and being on the bad end of God's discipline but every now and then we will also so him acknowledge the truth about himself and about the current situation. You can get it wrong but still do right and until your time comes to depart this planet, there is always hope.
The truth is that Saul could have repented any time up to his death, but he didn't. There are some who say that once God writes you off – and He does seem to have done that with Saul – there is no hope for you, but the facts challenge that. Again and again Saul is going to be presented with opportunities to face up to the truth and genuinely repent; the Lord would not have given these if he was a genuine write-off. Yes, there are times, such as in the case of the Pharaoh with Moses where the Lord knew that he would never repent and would therefore be destroyed, and similarly with Eli's sons, but only the Lord knows this. The person we focus on in our circumstances may be such a person but we cannot say that until they die cursing God. Until then there is hope; look for the good bits in them and pray for them.
Meditations in 1 Samuel 29. A Further Opportunity Blown
1 Sam 15:1-3 Samuel said to Saul, "I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel ; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: `I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt . Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.' "
From our two-faced perspective of the twenty-first century we may find these words of instruction by Samuel on God's behalf a little disturbing. It is not so much the bit about going to fight an enemy but wiping them out completely, men, women and children. I say our two faced perspective because on one hand I find righteous indignation arising at such an edict and yet within the past century we have had two major world wars in which there was little or no regard for the safety and wellbeing of so-called civilians, which included women and children who were exterminated by shelling or bombing. Carpet bombing of Dresden and Coventry followed later of the utter devastation of Japan by H-bombs says in war all things are possible. The fact that as a world we do little to save the civilian population in the Middle East that is being ravaged by war, only adds to my feelings in this respect.
For Israel at that time, such an edict was understandable. The future of the name of the Lord was at stake here. One of the things that the enemy has sought to do again and again is wipe out the people of God and in that respect nothing has changed and it is the same today. For them in that time the husband was literally the bread winner and a family without a husband/father was literally at threat of death anyway. The very fact of ongoing wars meant life for families was very fragile. An even bigger issue was that any remnants of a defeated people could rebuild and rise up again and be a thorn in your side, so total extinction was in fact a very common practice. That is not to say that it was good and acceptable but it is one of the unpleasant facts of living in this sinful Fallen World with an enemy in the background egging on those who would oppose God and His people.
Thus Samuel gives Saul, what was for those days a reasonable instruction. There is to be nothing left of this people – including their cattle or sheep etc. – so that there is no link with them in the future. The instructions were quite clear, which for Saul was a shame because he had no excuse when it came to him disobeying these instructions. We read, “ Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt . He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs--everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.” (1 Sam 15:7-9) Yes, Saul destroyed all the people yet spared Agag the king and took the best of the sheep, cattle etc. This was the first time that Saul had encountered an enemy king and I suspect there was something of “us kings must stick together” about it; he relished being able to talk king to king, and show off his position. When it came to sparing the cattle, as they took only the best, there must be an element of greed here. Both these things meant that Saul disobeyed God.
We see His response: “Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel: "I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions." Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.” (1 Sam 15:11) This is one of those occasions where we have to remember that the Lord operates both out of time and within time. We find this again and again in Scripture. Out of time the Lord knows everything that happens and will happen. However He also chooses to operate within time and experience it as we do and thus when things happen He responds to them as affecting Him then and there in the present. So although He must have known that this would happen He is nevertheless grieved when it does. What affects the Lord, affects His prophet similarly and Samuel is grieved and cries out to the Lord for the whole night.
But it gets worse: “Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, "Saul has gone to Carmel . There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal." (v.12) A monument in his own honour? And then “When Samuel reached him, Saul said, "The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD's instructions." (v.13) Excuses or lies??? He then blames the people for taking the livestock. (v.14,15) He then continues in the following verses to make excuses and shift the blame. Samuel chastises him and concludes, “Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king." (v.23b)
We then see apparent repentance: “Then Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned. I violated the LORD's command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD." (v.24,25) but Samuel sees this as Saul simply manipulating the situation and trying to get his own way and replies, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel !" (v.26) and then we find, “As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. Samuel said to him, "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors--to one better than you. He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind." (v.27-29) The die is cast; the Lord knows the reality of the situation and will not change His mind. He only does that when there is genuine repentance, not manipulating contrition! The lesson is don't mess with the Lord, don't try and outplay Him, don't try and kid Him. He only works with genuine repentance, whole hearted repentance.
Samuel executes Agag to bring an end to this sorry situation and we then read, “Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel .” (v.35) Note that this was not a cold-hearted parting. Samuel mourned that Saul had not risen to the task and that Israel and the Lord's name was poorer for it.
Meditations in 1 Samuel 30. Enough!
1 Sam 16:1 The LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel ? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem . I have chosen one of his sons to be king."
We have seen the Lord encourage and help Saul in every way possible and we have seen Saul blow it. First of all we saw him pretend to be the spiritual leader and manipulate God by bringing offerings when he shouldn't, and then he failed obey the command to wipe out an enemy. Now we may not think that these are particularly severe things but that simply suggests that we have adopted the appeasement mentality of the twenty-first century West. What I mean by that is that so often, because we have abandoned the foundation for all ethics or morality (the Lord) we get into a state where we don't want to upset anyone by disagreeing and so we seek to calm and pacify by being half-hearted about ethical issues, especially ones to do with relationships. When it comes to the Bible we find the principle that to him who has been trusted with much, much is required. When you are given a position of leadership the standards are particularly tight. Saul has shown his heart is not directed towards God and the Lord comes to the point where He says, “Enough!”
The word is not there in the text but that is what He is saying when He comes to Samuel and says how long will you mourn over Saul? Samuel this is especially not on because I have rejected him. I have come to the point of saying, enough is enough. I have given Saul every bit of help I can to show him the way but he has refused to learn from all I have said and done, so I am drawing a line under his reign and setting up a new king. You will find my new choice to the family of Jesse in Bethlehem .
Now note various things about this. In His grace the Lord is not immediately removing Saul from the throne. He could have struck him down then and there but He doesn't do that. He allows Saul to carry on as king, but He will not bless him in it, as we'll see. Indeed quite some time will pass before Saul is removed from the scene. Second, the Lord does not immediately bring His new man into the public domain as a challenger. He will anoint him for the task but basically most people will not know about it and his new man will carry on as usual in his life for some time and before he takes the throne he is going to go through some very tough times when he may even question the reality of having been anointed.
Now we need to learn some significant lessons here. Lesson number one is that the Lord often allows the less than perfect to carry on while He is working out His purposes. Jesus once told a parable as follows: “ Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mt 13:47-50) Note that the sorting out doesn't come until the end of the world. i.e. life carries on with a mixture of good and bad people; bad people continue to be bad.
Jesus told a similar parable: “Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. "The owner's servants came to him and said, `Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' " `An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, `Do you want us to go and pull them up?' " `No,' he answered, `because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.” (Mt 13:24-30 with an explanation in 13:36-43) We live in a world where God tolerates wrong people, giving them every opportunity to repent (see 2 Pet 3:9). Now there are times, especially in the church where we are to confront obvious sin and stop its continuance and in life generally we are to report crimes, but this does not stop bad people continuing.
The second lesson is in respect of what is about to happen that we have referred to already. God's word (prophecy) is going to be spoken over this new man but it will be a long time before it is fulfilled in reality. He will be king in God's eyes immediately but not in the eyes of everyone else for some time. Understand that God can speak a promise into your life now but it may take quite a long time to be fulfilled. It may be that there are a whole lot of circumstances surrounding your life that have got to be changed before the promise can be fulfilled and often those circumstances take time to change. Also the fulfillment of the promise may involve you being changed. For example, when the Lord promises a future role in leadership, as in fact is about to happen here, before that leadership can be taken hold of, the recipient (you?) has to be changed to be equipped and able to take it. Very often the process of change in us is as important as the end objective and the end objective cannot come about until the process of change has been worked through. If God appears to be delaying fulfilling a promise it is almost certainly for one of these two reasons, so be patient and persevere. Watch this as it is rolled out before us in the coming chapters.