Saturday, December 31, 2016

Saturday - 1 Samuel 13 - Saul’s First Error

This passage (among many others) emphasizes the importance of doing right no matter how inconvenient it may be.  King Saul certainly found himself in circumstances that were not convenient.  He had a standing army of a few thousand, but they had no weapons.  And, his people were terrified of their enemies, the Philistines. The Philistine's army was massive and they were very well equipped. Saul's people were scarce, scattered and running scared (I Samuel 13:6).  Even the few that were following him were useless militarily (I Samuel 13:7). And, on top of all of that, the prophet Samuel was late to the appointed time of sacrifice. Saul desperately needed something to happen to unify his followers and to rejuvenate their confidence.  So, he finally took matters into his own hands.  I Samuel 13:9 tells us the sad news. Saul did something that he was not qualified to do.  He was not a priest... but he acted like he was. He offered the sacrifice himself.

Isn't it bitterly ironic that Saul had no sooner finished the sacrifice when Samuel showed up. If only he had waited a little longer, right? But no, if he hadn't failed then and there, he would have failed in another way somewhere else. His heart was drifting from God already... this just happened to be the way that his character flaw was manifested. If you examine Saul's response to Samuel, you'll discover that Saul had a hard time admitting his faults and failures even when he was caught red-handed. Anyway, Saul's kingdom was doomed. While he did still have 38 years remaining to rule as king, God had already picked his replacement (I Samuel 13:14).

Friday, December 30, 2016

Friday - 1 Samuel 12 - A Miraculous Storm

Samuel's ministry was not over. He saw that his responsibilities were winding down though. And so, in his goodbye speech to the nation, Samuel asked the people if he had wronged them in any way as their judge. He knew that he hadn't. And, they knew that he hadn't. So, Samuel ended his political ministry with a clear conscience.

He still had a significant amount of spiritual duties remaining though. Even in this oration Samuel was preaching righteousness to his people. Despite their sin in seeking for a human king (to take God's place) as their leader, Samuel promised that God would bless them if they would simply obey Him from then on (I Samuel 12:14). Samuel even called for God's verification of his words. He called for God to send rain on that day. It was a time in the summer when it never rained in that region. The Mediterranean climate there in the Holy Land has a winter rainy season offset by hot, dry summers. But, at the word of Samuel, God sent a mighty rain storm that day which brought great fear into the hearts of the people. Not that the storm was scary, but the people feared God and Samuel because of their obvious command over the forces of nature.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thursday - 1 Samuel 11 - King Saul

God allowed the Ammonites to rise against a section of the nation of Israel in order to solidify Saul's position as the chosen leader in Israel. The Ammonites threatened the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead (an area that had been previously wiped out in the civil war involving mainly the tribe of Benjamin). So, when Saul heard about the threats against the men of Jabeshgilead, he took that proverbial bull by the horns and called passionately for the whole nation to come out in defense of that small group. Clearly his new heart was used by the Spirit of God to cause him to take his leadership responsibilities seriously.

Soon Saul had an army of 330,000 Jewish soldiers to stand in defense of the people of Jabeshgilead. And, Hallelujah, they were victorious. The Ammonites were soundly defeated and scattered. Naturally, on the heels of that victory the people were happily eager to crown Saul as their king and to follow him continually. Up to this point things were going well (in the institution of their new form of government). That would change soon enough though.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Wednesday - 1 Samuel 10 - Introducing Saul (part 2)

Samuel anointed Saul as king before it was time for his inauguration. At the point of his ordination Samuel made a series of minor prophecies aimed at validating his claim about Saul. Some donkeys that Saul had been looking for were to be found, certain events were supposed to occur during Saul's forthcoming journey and Saul was to end up prophesying like Samuel. These signs were meant to prove that Saul would indeed become king. And, every prediction came to be. Not only did those prognostications occur, on that same day God changed Saul's perspective on life (I Samuel 10:9).

So... God, Samuel and Saul knew that Saul was going to become Israel's king... but the people did not know. So, Samuel went through a "random" drawing (which was an accepted method of discovering God's will in those days). With the general population present, Samuel did this, not to discover God's plan, but to reveal it; to show that God had chosen Saul the son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin to be their king.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Tuesday - 1 Samuel 9 - Introducing... Saul (part 1)

It is amazing that Saul's father was a mighty man of power (I Samuel 9:1). He was from the tribe of Benjamin. Remember, Benjamin had been reduced to a mere 600 men only a few generations prior to this chapter. Regardless, Saul (of the tribe of Benjamin) was a young, tall, handsome aristocrat and was destined to be the first king of Israel. At the point in his life when we are first introduced to him, it appears that he was a decent man. He was obedient to his father and was living a simple life doing his duties. It seems like he was conscientious and considerate (I Samuel 9:5). He was even wise enough to seek out a man of God (known as a seer or a prophet) to help him with a minor dilemma he was in (I Samuel 9:6) and humble enough to take an offering with him when he went to see that man of God (I Samuel 9:7).

Now, the whole setup that we find here leads to a divinely ordered meeting between Saul and Samuel.  They ate together and talked at some length... as Samuel was used by God to prepare Saul for the surprise of his life. God was giving Israel a king, just as they had requested. And, apparently if Saul was willing to trust God, then He was willing to use him for Israel's good... despite the somewhat less than favorable circumstances that had brought the whole situation into being.  So, Samuel began grooming Saul for the throne of Israel. Samuel had been opposed to the idea, but once God gave him the task to anoint Saul... he willingly complied.

Monday - 1 Samuel 8 - Switching Boots in Midstream

The nation of Israel had a valid complaint. Samuel attempted to set his sons up as the 15th and 16th judges in Israel, but they were unworthy of their office. Now, watch this carefully. Samuel's poor judgment occasioned an uprising among the people. In other words, his fault and the faults of his sons gave the people the excuses they needed to fuss and to cause a big political and spiritual ruckus. However, they jumped from a legitimate beef to an illegitimate solution. The failures of Samuel's family were used by Israel to reject God's authority over them and to ask for a human king " all the other nations had" - it was not a logical or a wise direction for them.

Notice that God did NOT rebuke Samuel, NOR did He refuse to grant Israel their request. It is reasonable to conclude that the rebellion of the people was punishment enough for Samuel (Jeremiah 2:19) who should have known better than to put his wicked sons in charge of the nation. Unfortunately, sometimes family loyalties eclipse the wisdom of men who would otherwise know better. And, although the people were seeking for a human king at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons, God granted them their petition. This is frightening. At times God gives people what they want even when He knows it isn't what they need (Romans 1:24, 26, 27 & 28).

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Saturday - I Samuel 7 - God Thundered for Israel...

You need to make a mental note of the fact that the Ark of God was in Kirjathjearim. It would remain there until King David moved it toward (and eventually into) Jerusalem. But, there was a lot of history to be written before that day would come.

In this chapter, we find the people of God finally moving toward Him. They had not enjoyed His blessings, or the success that accompanies His blessings, in a long time. Thankfully, they had a circuit riding preacher, prophet and judge who could lead them in the way in which God was drawing them. I Samuel 7:2 tells us that the people lamented after the Lord. In response to their grief, Samuel instructed them to turn from their idols to Jehovah if they wanted to be delivered. So, they did their part. And, God did His part.

As the people were worshiping God and confessing their sins in Mizpeh, the Philistines came to them to fight against them. And, in response to their humility, and to Samuel’s prayers, God " ...thundered... upon the Philistines..." so that they were defeated on that day. It was the beginning of an era of national success in Israel.  Samuel named a stone Ebenezer or "stone of help" because God had helped them in their difficulty and had given them victory.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Friday - 1 Samuel 6 - The Curse Continues

Here we have the return of the glory of the Lord... that is if you believe the judgment of Ichabod's dying mother.  I am speaking about the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Israel from the Philistines.  But was this the return of God's glory? Was this a great blessing upon them? The truth is this; the Jews in Bethshemesh were cursed even more harshly than the Philistines had been. Bethshemesh lost over 50,000 from their local population because of the presence of the Ark. So, they were as eager to send it on its way as the Philistines had been.

What strikes me in this chapter is the willingness of God to give the wicked and unbelieving Philistines a sign of His power and presence. After enduring God's plagues for 7 months, the Philistines sent the Ark up the road on a cart drawn by 2 mamma cows which should have been neither able nor willing to pull that cart. On the cart, they sent 10 golden jewels representing the plagues that they had suffered. And, per I Samuel 6:9, they looked for a sign that they had proceeded acceptably in sending the Ark away. As a test of God's involvement in all of this, they named the place where the cart would end up: Bethshemesh. Now, the cows should have refused to go at all. Or if they went anywhere they should have turned back to their calves or simply wandered into a field. But, they went to their specified destination, and stopped when they got there. So, in that way, God proved His power and presence to the Philistines and confirmed for them that they were no longer under the curse of the Ark.

God owed those heathens nothing. They were not His followers. They were His enemies. Yet, He took heed to their prescription and acted accordingly. This is amazing. To me it demonstrates the heart desire of God to reveal Himself to His creation.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Thursday - 1 Samuel 5 - Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

Just because Israel got into trouble and lost the Ark of the Covenant, that doesn't mean the Philistines weren't in trouble for taking it. There are many other cases like this in the Bible... where there was not a good side versus a bad side... there were just 2 bad sides. In this setting both groups displeased God. The Jews AND the Philistines found themselves in opposition to Him. And, it didn't take too long for the Philistines to start suffering calamitous consequences.

Throughout human history men have been worshipping anything and everything except the true God of heaven. In this chapter we find a microcosm of why such idolatry is ridiculous. When the Philistines put the Ark of the Covenant into their temple for their god Dagon, 2 nights in a row God miraculously caused the graven image of Dagon to fall on its face before the Ark. But, that wasn't all that God did to show His disapproval. God caused all the men who lived in the region around the temple of Dagon to become very ill with a physical ailment. When the Ark was sent to other areas in Philistia (Gath and then Ekron), the judgment of God became increasingly severe against them all. What they expected to be a good luck charm of sorts, for them became a horrific curse.

Someone might look at this whole situation in retrospect and ask why the Philistines got into so much trouble. After all, they didn't know any better, right? And, they were truly being used by God to expose the evils of the Hebrews. So, shouldn't they have been given a pass? The answer is: evidently not! Not for them, and not for us. When we head out to "set someone else straight" we would do well to remember that we are obligated to avoid becoming crooked ourselves in the process. God may use us to help or even to discipline another one of His children, but if we are not careful we will earn for ourselves an equally hard spiritual spanking in the process.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Tuesday - 1 Samuel 4 - Ichabod

Some transitions are exciting and celebratory. Others are painful and frightening. This one was the latter... very painful. The nation of Israel was fighting with the Philistines. And, because the battle was not going well, they superstitiously sent for the Ark of God to be brought into their soldiers' camp. They supposed (incorrectly) that they couldn't lose with that sacred object among them. Well, they were wrong. Not only did the Ark's presence not help them, it made matters worse. God didn't approve of their move and didn't help them. And their enemies fought so much more vehemently because the Jews had the Ark with them. In the end the whole matter was a miserable failure... well, from man's perspective anyway.

God would have called this sequence of events a success though. He had purposed to dispose of Eli and his sons and to set up Samuel as His principal in Israel, so in this manner His plan was brought to fruition. But, the transition from Eli (old, fat, blind and weak) to Samuel (young, strong, devoted and powerful) was anything but painless. The Ark was taken by the Philistines, Hophni and Phinehas were killed, the armies of Israel were put to flight, Eli died in shock and his grandson, Ichabod, was born.

Now, here's the thing. Ichabod was a name that meant "the glory is departed" - but was it? God had Israel on an upward climb, not a downward slide. True, they didn't know it yet, but the end of 3 centuries of chaos was approaching. Samuel the prophet and David the king were the next 2 figures in God's plan for Israel. They still had some lessons to learn on their way to the top (think, Saul), but at least the cycle of defeat from the period of the judges was ending. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Monday - 1 Samuel 3 - The Benefit of Vision

If you compare the first 2 verses of I Samuel 3 with the last 3 verses of this same chapter, you should see that a bleak era in Israel's history was ending. God was about to do great things that He hadn't done before.   And, it all began with His Word!

The sins of Israel, of Eli and of his sons, had caused God to shut His mouth completely. Devine communication had ceased. Yet, Samuel's life and ministry marked God's open and active return to the scene. Isn't this what we need today? There was a GREAT emphasis on the Word of God. THAT is what America needs. We don't need more money, better politicians, more education, better medical care, greater technology, yadda yadda, yadda... we need to hear from God. If there is not a dominance of the mind of God over the mind of men... we are doomed. We might go out comfortable and civilized, but we will go out nonetheless. Oh! To hear a man of God stand on the national scene and declare fearlessly, "Thus saith the Lord!"

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Saturday - 1 Samuel 2 - Praise, Pollution & Prophecy

This chapter begins with the grateful prayer of a happy mother. Hannah, Samuel's mother, had prayed previously with deep sadness and with a heavy burden.  Now, to her credit, she did not neglect to return to God again with praise and adoration. And for sure, she was good at glorying in God. I Samuel 2:2 reads like the words of the great psalmist David.

Except for the refreshing words about Hannah and Samuel, the middle of this chapter is rather depressing. The biggest problem was Eli. He did a poor job rearing his 2 sons. They were gluttonous, violent and promiscuous. Yet, although he rebuked them, he refused to put force behind his words and even benefitted personally from their habits (I Samuel 2:29).  I Samuel 2:25 tells us that they refused to be adjusted BECAUSE God had already determined to do away them. Somewhere along the way in their rebellion, they had crossed a line that God was unwilling ignore. Only God can deliver us from wandering that far from Him!  And, He has (I Sam. 2:35-36, I Chron. 29:22, & Heb. 7:11-17).

Friday - I Samuel 1 - Another Sam

Just like in the last 2 books that we have examined (Judges and Ruth), currently there was no real leader in Israel. The last judge to have risen in Israel had been the longhaired Nazarite named Sam; Samson. This chapter introduces to us the next (and last) judge who would also be a longhaired Nazarite named Sam; Samuel - see I Samuel 1:11. Samuel wasn't just a judge though. Samuel would also become a great prophet of God and would be the one to anoint the first 2 kings of Israel (Saul and David).

This is the story of Samuel's conception and dedication. Samuel's father had 2 wives. Prior to Samuel's birth, his mother had been childless. And, his step mother had been cruel in her mockery of Samuel's mother-to-be. It's easy to see why Samuel, in writing this book, called his stepmother the "adversary" of his own mother. My, what a dysfunctional home he would have had to endure if he hadn't been reared at the tabernacle of God.

Now, perhaps you have noticed the great emphasis on Mount Ephraim in the Bible in the passages leading up to this point. This was Samuel's hometown area. If Samuel was the author/editor of Judges, Ruth and the 2 books bearing his own name, then (from a human standpoint) the emphasis on the events of that region would certainly make a lot of sense. That and many other elements of this chapter seem incidental, unless you are familiar with the overall context of this little story. Something very significant was indeed happening. God was preparing the nation for a developmental mountain peak in their history... a political and spiritual climax that they would never forget.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Thursday - Ruth 4 - Success

Ruth 4:18-22 covers the timeline from Exodus all the way to I Samuel. It is a genealogical listing of the descendants of Judah down to king David. But, before we get to that point, we must examine the romantic efforts of Boaz.

The matter required an official agreement. Boaz wouldn't proceed to take Ruth to be his wife until it was clear that the other kinsman wouldn't or couldn't do it. Likewise, Christ came in the fullness of time after it had been fully demonstrated that the Law couldn't and wouldn't ever succeed in making Israel fruitful. No man who is a real man would be satisfied to share the love of his life with another man. So too, God is jealous over His own. And, part of the process of redemption is the elimination of other interests. This explains to me much about the apparent delays that seem to occur repeatedly in God's program. His timing is impeccably perfect.

Now, the nearer kinsman (Moses) was well interested in the land, but not in the Moabite (us). So, he refused to lift even a finger to help Ruth. Surely that was something of a great relief to Boaz. Boaz wanted to pour his love upon her. So, Boaz took one of his kinsman's shoes (which was the custom of that day) and went his way to take Ruth to be his wife.  God blessed that union and gave them a son who was taken into the arms of Naomi and grew up to be Obed, king David's paternal grandfather. If such a great result came from the simple and honorable decisions of 2 obscure individuals during the days of the Judges, what might we anticipate from the grand union between Christ and His church.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tuesday - Ruth 3 - A Demonstration of Diligence

Ruth 3:18 records a very high estimation of the Boaz's character.  I can't quite express the emotion that this verse stirs up in me. Read it. In the context of Ruth asking Boaz to marry her, Naomi said, "Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he has finished the thing this day."   This is a good time to bring the typology of this book into our study.  Commonly, and I believe correctly, it is taught that Boaz foreshadows Christ.  As the "kinsman redeemer" of Ruth, he had the heart, position and power to do exactly what needed to be done in order for her to be a fruitful and honored mother in Israel. And, when he saw his opportunity to step in and help, he did indeed act in accordance with Naomi's judgment of him. He was very diligent and pushed urgently for the transaction to be made; for Naomi's land to be purchased and Ruth's hand to be had. It reflects the attitude of the Son of God in the story of our redemption.

There are 2 other meaningful symbolic sections in this chapter.  First, Ruth's willingness to ask for Boaz to accept her is telling. Let us always remember that there is no automaticity when it comes to our salvation. "Whosoever WILL, let him take the water of life freely" (Revelation 22:17). Boaz had the power and the wealth... but Ruth had the freedom to ask him to take her.  Second, Ruth 3:12 says that there was another kinsman that had "first dibs" on Ruth. The other kinsman represents the The Law of Moses, which is weak in that it can't do for us what we need. Only our Boaz is willing and able to purchase our redemption. Jesus is our Boaz.