Hearing from God: I Samuel 28-31

listen

Today’s reading: I Samuel 28-31.

We have all wished we could hear more directly from God. But ask yourself, what extra responsibility would you bear if you had such a revelation? Continuing I Samuel’s theme of contrasting personalities, we can see that David and Saul had greatly differing experiences with hearing God’s voice. At the end of his life, Saul found himself in desperate fear, longing to hear a word from God, and unable to do so.

The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all the Israelites and set up camp at Gilboa. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the LORD, but the LORD did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets. Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her.” I Samuel 28:4-7

Saul’s failure to hear God began with his loss of faith in God. Remember the time he couldn’t wait on Samuel because the Philistines were closing in? His distance from God grew greater as he openly rebelled against God by failing to completely eradicate the Amalekites. Along the way he tried to kill David and his own son and annihilated a village of priests whom he mistrusted. All of these actions were grievous, but the biggest mistake of all was that he never repented of them. It’s no surprise then, that when he called on God he found God unwilling to answer. He was crying for help, but he wasn’t asking for forgiveness.

David also found himself in a desperate situation. He returned home to find his village burned and all the people taken away captive by the Amalekites (whom Saul had failed to eliminate). His men threatened to kill him, but rather than shrinking in terror David call on the LORD.

David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the LORD his God. Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” Abiathar brought it to him, and David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.” I Samuel 30:6-8

David called on the LORD and received an answer. Unlike Saul, he made it a habit to seek God when questions arose.  The Psalms illustrate how much he prayed to God, both in times of trouble and on occasions of triumph. David also confessed and fell on his face before God when confronted with his sin.

The only voice Saul heard was the voice of a spirit called up by an occult medium. Was it really Samuel? I doubt it. It was more likely a voice from Satan himself designed to weaken and discourage Saul, and it worked. Saul went into battle a broken man, and died by his own hand. David heard from God and was strengthened, and went on to victory.

  • David made it a habit to seek God’s will.
  • David put himself under God’s authority and obeyed.
  • When confronted, David confessed his mistakes.
  • David lived by faith in God.

When you seek God’s voice and will, remember that today we almost always hear his words through the Bible, prayer, the counsel of wise Christians, and the providential circumstances which God uses to guide us.

Image by Steven Shorrock on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

 

Advertisements

100th day of Bible blogging

lossy-page1-590px--However_pressing_his_duties_STM2-c_James_Lee_Frazer_always_finds_time_to_read_a_few_chapters_from_his_Bible_each_day._I_-_NARA_-_520675.tif

One hundred posts into the Bible in a Year project. Three thousand years of Bible history explored. Time to take a breath and look back at what I’ve learned so far.

God is a promise keeper. God is a covenant-making promise keeper. He began with Noah, but continued with Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and eventually the entire nation of Israel. Some of his covenants are unconditional (no more floods) but others were agreements between God and his people that required their obedience. Though God is eternally faithful to his word, our spiritual ancestors were not. We need another type of covenant.

God gifts us with talents that make us greater. God enabled Noah to build a huge boat and fill it with a zoo of animals. He gave Joseph great wisdom to interpret dreams and save Egypt from starvation. He gave stuttering Moses the power to lead a million people. Joshua became a mighty military commander. Deborah inspired the people to throw off their oppressors. Samson received tremendous strength. David felled Goliath. In each case God’s spirit indwelled these men and women and gave them supernatural ability.

From a man to a family to a nation. In the beginning God appeared to an individual man or woman from time to time, but over time God dealt with the whole family of Jacob, then the whole tribe of Jacob’s descendants, and finally the entire nation of Israel. Once his presence was sporadic, but after he delivered them from Egypt God stayed with them at all times.

Don’t forget to remember. God wants us to remember all his mighty works so our faith will remain strong. He ordained the Sabbath so we would rest and reflect on his goodness. He established a calendar of holy days so that the people would reenact his provision and deliverance every year. He told them to set up stones of remembrance as visual reminders of what he had done. He had Moses write down the Law. He had them build the tabernacle as his permanent dwelling place among them.

The Law: teaching us that we need a savior. The Mosaic Law was an agreement between God and the Israelites that promised unending blessings if they obeyed it and unavoidable curses if they failed to keep it. Though the stipulations may seem strange to us (food laws, clean and unclean things), the people agreed to them, they marked the Israelites as distinct and separate from all other people, and in the end they proved to the people how sinful and unholy they were. Something more would be needed to save man.

The kinsman-redeemer. If there is a superhero in the Bible, he is it. The kinsman-redeemer avenged his family if they suffered any attack, but most importantly he rescued them if they experienced deprivation or hardship. Boaz rescuing Ruth is the best example we’ve seen so far, but he only foreshadows Jesus who must become our human kin so that he can redeem us from our oppression by Satan.

Leave room for God. We want things done now, and often we take matters into our own hands if it isn’t happening soon enough to please us. But some things can only be done by God, and sometimes we must wait for him to act. “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience he stands waiting, with exactness grinds he all.” Longfellow

Wait for the end of the story. God has a very long timeframe for his actions, and a longer memory. Sometimes it seems like his promises go unfulfilled, but keep reading and the predicted outcome will eventually happen. We need to read the whole Bible, “the whole counsel of God,” to see this in action. The strange case of Balaam is just one example of how the story is revealed piece by piece throughout the Bible.

The God of the Old Testament is still a God of love. We’ve heard it so often. “The Old Testament God is not like God of the New Testament. He’s a god of hatred and judgment.” But the Bible says otherwise. God declares that he chose Israel because he loves them.

The Promised Land is a strange place. The land of milk and honey was also full of danger and difficulty. It was mountainous and without perennial streams. There would be no easy cultivation as in Egypt. The people would be totally dependent on the spring and autumn rains. God was teaching them to depend on his grace rather than their own power.

Grace will overcome. The downward spiral of Judges and the faithlessness of Israel could make us pessimistic cynics, but the story of Ruth shows that hope is not lost. Our redeemer lives.

The King is coming. Even though Samuel leads the nation valiantly, the people cry out for a king so they can be like all the other nations. They aren’t rejecting Samuel but the LORD. God gives them a king, and through the failings of their human kings the Israelites will eventually learn that the only worthy king is the LORD.

 

 

A woman’s wisdom: I Samuel 25

3496817076_3832b24dd3_z

Today’s reading: I Samuel 25-27.

Blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus proclaimed it, but a woman named Abigail proved it one thousand years before Jesus walked the earth. When her foolish husband incurred David’s wrath, she knew exactly what to do to bring an end to a potentially deadly conflict.

David’s band of exiles had been helping protect the flocks of a wealthy man of Judah named Nabal. During the bounty of the shearing time David had his men ask Nabal for some provisions, but all they received were insults. David flew into a rage when he heard it. He had spared the life of the man who wanted to kill him, but now he wanted to kill a man who had only insulted him.

Fortunately for David, Abigail heard of the problem before David could act. She intercepted him on the way to kill her husband and calmed his anger through her diplomacy and gifts of bread, wine, and fruit.

David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. Otherwise, as surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.” I Samuel 25:32-34

Abigail might have been tempted to let her husband meet his fate at David’s hands. She called him wicked, the writer of Samuel called him surly and mean, and even his servants thought he lived up to his “foolish” name. But she wisely saw that violence should be avoided if possible. Once his anger softened, David agreed with her.

  • He accepted that his intended vengeance would not have honored the LORD.
  • He saw this bloodshed would have brought guilt upon him.
  • He learned that he needed to leave this matter in God’s hands, not his.

As I wrote previously, we need to leave margin in our lives for God to act. Abigail made this possible. Within a short time Nabal’s heart failed him and the LORD took him away. David married Abigail, and very likely became the owner of all of Nabal’s wealth. All because a wise woman knew to avoid violence and let God control the outcome.

Image by Ian Britton on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

Life on the run: I Samuel 23

2286581930_3661f51885_z

Today’s reading: I Samuel 21-24.

David was God’s chosen man, a man after God’s own heart. Yet for ten years he lived on the run as Saul constantly sought him in order to kill him. David was forced to send his parents into exile, and anyone who had dealings with David, no matter how innocent, was in danger of execution by King Saul.

Now David and his men were in the Desert of Maon, in the Arabah south of Jeshimon. Saul and his men began the search, and when David was told about it, he went down to the rock and stayed in the Desert of Maon. When Saul heard this, he went into the Desert of Maon in pursuit of David. Saul was going along one side of the mountain, and David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.” Then Saul broke off his pursuit of David and went to meet the Philistines. I Samuel 23:24-28

Though it may seem strange to Americans who have enjoyed religious freedom, David’s experience is not unusual. The Bible is full of reminders that the life devoted to God is often a life full of conflict and persecution. It may be that the American experience is the exception rather than the rule. Believers suffer conflict because:

  • We are in the world but not of the world (John 15:19). Jesus said the world hated his followers because they did not follow the ways of the world. Our rejection of the world’s values brings the world’s hatred.
  • The world for now is under the rule of Satan (John 12:31). Paul said that Satan’s spirit is at work in those who live in opposition to God (Eph 2:2).
  • God uses our afflictions to teach us perseverance, in order that we may be complete and lack nothing (James 1:2-4).

I’m encouraged to see that David continued to live a godly life despite his suffering. In contrast to Saul’s hatred and destruction, David kept on doing the right things:

  • He sought God’s will whenever he made important decisions.
  • He rescued people that were in trouble, even though he lived in constant danger himself.
  • He respected God’s authority. Though Saul hated him and threatened his life, David spared Saul’s life more than once because he knew God had put Saul on the throne.

Each of us deal with hardships in our lives. Sometimes we bring it on ourselves; sometimes it happens because we live in a fallen world. If it does happen because of persecution, remember David’s example and continue to live a godly life. And remember that the persecution is not aimed at you but at the LORD you are following.

Image by  Hilde Skjølberg on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

 

Friendship greather than kinship: I Samuel 20

9604195611_040b1ca840

Today’s reading: I Samuel 18-20.

Reading the account of Jonathan and David’s friendship, one can’t help but wonder what kind of king Jonathan would have been. His loyalty and integrity were undeniable. His selflessness was outstanding. His courage was battle-proven. Unfortunately, his father’s disobedience and faithlessness removed any chance Jonathan had of becoming king. Jonathan knew it, and he still remained faithful to his friend, David. He demonstrated that friendship can be greater than kinship.

Saul’s hatred for David grows greater as Saul falls further away from the LORD. At first Jonathan doubts that his father wants David dead. But when put to the test, Jonathan learns that David is right and that David must leave if he is to survive. The two friends have to say goodbye.

“May the LORD be with you as he has been with my father. But show me unfailing kindness like that of the LORD as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family–not even when the LORD has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.” So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the LORD call David’s enemies to account.” And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself. I Samuel 20:13-17

Jonathan and David modeled a friendship that is an example to all of us, giving us a flesh and blood example of the proverb which says, “there is a friend that is closer than a brother.”

  • They showed mutual respect for each other.
  • They based their devotion on the character of their friend.
  • Jonathan remained loyal to David even though David was considered an enemy of his father.
  • Jonathan remained faithful to David even though it endangered himself.   
  • They kept their words confidential when their friend’s welfare required it.
  • They would sacrifice personally for the sake of their friend.

As Jesus said, “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for a friend.” Jonathan and David shared that kind of powerful friendship, greater than any family tie. Their devotion showed that, even in a nation built on families, there could be a greater relationship based on love.

Image by Celestine Chua on Flickr, CC by 2.0

Matters of the heart: I Samuel 15-17

4425705900_5c8ed6a693

Today’s reading: I Samuel 15-17.

Contrasting personalities are the lifeblood coursing through the book of I Samuel, and today the differences between Saul and David come into sharp focus. Their heart attitudes are key, driving them down very distinct paths and bringing very different reactions from God.

God looks on the heart. The key words from today’s reading come as God admonishes Samuel to do as he does and focus on the most important part of a person: his inner character and attitudes. Samuel has been looking for Saul’s successor, but looking at all the wrong qualifications.

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7

We look at the externals. Is a person attractive, do they dress well, do they speak well, do they stand tall, are they well off? God says,  pay attention to what is most important: their character as revealed by their actions, their devotion to the LORD, their faith, and their integrity.

Saul had a rebellious heart. Previously Saul failed to wait on God, showing his lack of faith. When instructed to completely destroy the Amalekites, Saul carried out the assignment almost entirely, but then spared the Amalekite king and the best of the flocks and herds.

But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” I Samuel 15:22-23

Saul’s disobedience, his rebellion against God, caused God to take back his choice of Saul as king. Though it would be years before Saul lost his life and the throne, God moved quickly to ordain his replacement.

David had a heart for God. God chose David, a young and smallish shepherd, to replace Saul. God saw in David’s heart what all Israel soon saw displayed on the battlefield when he faced Goliath.

David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s” I Samuel 17:45-47

In the brief encounter with Goliath David revealed the traits that would cause God to call him “a man after my own heart.”

  • He lifted up the LORD’s name
  • He hungered for the LORD’s honor
  • He believed God would empower him and acted accordingly
  • He understood that the battle was spiritual and that God determined the outcome

If you’d like to see more reasons why David was God’s choice, check this blog by Ron Edmondson. What do you think was the source of David’s godly heart? What attitudes caused the heart failures in Saul’s life?

Image by Jay8085 on Flickr, CC by 2.0

My timing or God’s? I Samuel 13

3492741957_441d20dbe6_z

Today’s reading: I Samuel 13-14.

Patience is one of the lessons God most wants to teach us, and one we are slow to learn. We prefer to act. Waiting takes faith. Circumstances pressure us to act rather than wait. Waiting seems unproductive, but in God’s economy it is the best action we can take if we are waiting on him. King Saul faced a major test of his patience and faith as he began a war with the Philistines. Saul and his men were greatly outnumbered, and the situation grew worse each day, but Saul had agreed to wait on Samuel to make an offering to God before going out to fight.

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. “What have you done?” asked Samuel. I Samuel 13:8-11

Saul failed to wait, and he presumptuously took on the priest’s role. He showed by his action that he didn’t trust God to protect his men until Samuel arrived. He lacked patience because he lacked faith. Israel didn’t lose the battle because of Saul’s misguided action, but his mistake cost him personally: Samuel declared that his family would not continue on the throne of Israel.

Saul’s son, Jonathan, demonstrated the faith that his father lacked. Jonathan and his armor-bearer decided to approach a Philistine outpost on their own. Jonathan didn’t rush in without leaving room for God to act, however. He let God decide if it was the right time.

 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.” I Samuel 14:8-10

Jonathan trusted God to direct his way. He didn’t put out a fleece like Gideon; he was determined to attack but would hold back  if God directed him to stay put. He was willing to wait for God’s time.

There are times to wait, and then there are times to act. Sometimes we have all the authority or approval we need to proceed. Then waiting becomes foolish procrastination or faithless doubting. As the battle heated up Saul hesitated. He couldn’t decide whether to join the fight or wait for a clear word from God. He even called for a priest to help him decide, but then waved the priest away as the tumult of the conflict made action unavoidable. Saul had no sense of God’s timing.

We should live our lives with margin for God, room around the edges where he can act. That may mean leaving time for God to work when only he can do what needs to be done. It may mean leaving time and energy for you to act when opportunity presents to serve God. It may mean leaving money in the bank that you can put to use quickly when a need arises to help someone or go on a mission trip. It’s faithful living that says, ” God, if you say wait, I’ll wait. If you say go, I’m going to make sure I’ve got the resources of time, energy, or money to go.”

Image by DesheBoard on Flickr, CC by 2.0