Matters of the heart: I Samuel 15-17


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

What do you think was the source of David’s godly heart? What attitudes caused the heart failures in Saul’s life?

Saul boasts to Samuel of his obedience. Thus sinners think, by justifying themselves, to escape being judged of the Lord. The noise the cattle made, like the rust of the silver, James 5:3, witnessed against him. Many boast of obedience to the command of God; but what means then their indulgence of the flesh, their love of the world, their angry and unkind spirit, and their neglect of holy duties, which witness against them? See of what evil covetousness is the root; and see what is the sinfulness of sin, and notice that in it which above any thing else makes it evil in the sight of the Lord; it is disobedience: “Thou didst not obey the voice of the Lord.” Carnal, deceitful hearts, like Saul, think to excuse themselves from God’s commandments by what pleases themselves. It is hard to convince the children of disobedience. But humble, sincere, and conscientious obedience to the will of God, is more pleasing and acceptable to him than all burnt-offering and sacrifices. – Matthew Henry

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The Panic Button

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“What do I do when I’m afraid? I don’t want to panic.”

Panic causes people to do crazy things. Maybe it’s that old fight or flight response. The adrenaline kicks in and you react without thinking. Perhaps that explains what happened to Saul when he found himself outnumbered by the Philistines. He had been ordered to wait for Samuel to arrive before offering the sacrifice that would precede his attack on the enemy.

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. 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. I Samuel 13:6-9

Samuel arrived soon after Saul’s action, and he called the king’s offering foolish and condemned him for it. Saul acted disobediently, and fear motivated his failure. He was afraid to wait, afraid to let God handle the problem, and afraid to obey the word of God in the face of trouble.

Don’t be afraid to wait. Sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing. Sometimes obedience requires waiting. Waiting leaves room for God. Fear, however, pushes us to act now to try to escape the threatening situation. “But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:25)  

Don’t be afraid to let God act. Like waiting, withholding action can be hard to do under the pressure of anxiety. We want to do something. Action makes us feel better, as it distracts us and gives a sometimes false assurance that we have the power to change the situation. If only God has the ability to solve the problem, we need to wait for him to work. His timing is best, though it often feels like he makes us wait until the desired outcome seems impossible. Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today…The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:13,14)

Don’t be afraid to obey the word of God in a difficult situation. Samuel had commanded Saul to wait for his arrival to offer the sacrifice. Yet Saul rationalized that the danger his men faced allowed him to disregard the word of God. His fear led to disobedience, and Samuel condemned him for it. His action showed that his fear was greater than his faith and his respect for God’s word. “I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” (Psalm 130:5)

(Saul) feared the human consequences of obedience more than he feared the divine consequences of sin. He feared the displeasure of the people more than the displeasure of God. And that is a great insult to God. Samuel had said twice to Saul and the people in (1 Samuel) 12:14 and 24, “Fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart.” But now the leader himself has feared man and turned away from following God. – John Piper

Sometimes in this life of faith God will remove his blessings from you. But remember that he knows how and when to replace them, either through the ministry of others or by himself. – François de Salignac de La Mothe-Fénelon

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference. –  Reinhold Niebuhr

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My timing or God’s? I Samuel 13


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.”

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Who is the king? I Samuel 12


Today’s reading: I Samuel 9-12.

It’s hard for us to imagine why anyone would want to be ruled by a king. We cherish our freedom and associate kings with despots who abuse their power. The Israelites, however, cried out for a king, perhaps because they had grown weary of the endless conflicts with the Canaanite nations around them and thought that a king would have the power to bring them peace. In a watershed moment God gives them what they ask for, at the same time warning them of the trouble it will bring and chastising them for rejecting his authority.

“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.” I Samuel 12:12-13

You have to wonder why God gave them something that was not his primary plan for them. Perhaps he was making the best of something they were bound to do on their own. Maybe it was his own form of discipline and instruction to burden them with a king. In the years to come all of Samuel’s warnings about the dangers of kings would come true. The kings would tax the people heavily and take away their children for royal or military service. The best of their lands and livestock would be taken away and given to the kings, who would treat them like slaves. Out of all the men that would take the throne over the next four hundred years or so, only a handful of Judah’s kings and none of the northern kingdom of Israel’s kings would be considered good.

In contrast God’s rule stands out as wise, loving, and just. That may be the most important lesson of Israel’s experiment with kings, learning the true value of letting the LORD rule in our lives. But what does it mean to let him rule?

  • It means we trust his direction, even when we can’t see where he is taking us.
  • It means we trust him to provide for our physical needs and to protect us, even in times of distress.
  • It means we obey his word rather than doing what we want to do.

Learning to live under the king’s rule is a very practical lesson for all of us, for “the king is coming.” He has come, bringing salvation by his death and resurrection. He will come again to reign over the earth. Even now his kingdom of heaven is enthroned wherever believers bow down to worship him.

“He has consented to your request, though it was a foolish one.” Remember, brethren, it is not every answer to prayer that is a token of God’s favor. If our prayers are very foolish, and even if there is sin in them, God may sometimes give us what we ask in order to show us our folly, and make us smart for having offered such a prayer. Though, under God’s government, they had been most highly privileged, they must needs have a king, like the nations which were not so favored. – Charles Spurgeon

The kingship of Israel — the fact that Israel had kings — was owing to sin. It was a spectacular sin for the people of God to say to their Maker and Redeemer, “We want to be like the nations. We do not want you to be our king. We want a human king.” That is a spectacular sin. Samuel calls it, in verse 17, a great wickedness. Nevertheless, if Israel had had no kingship, Jesus Christ would not have come as the king of Israel and the Son of David and King of kings. But Christ’s kingship over Israel and over the world is not an afterthought in the mind of God. It was not an unplanned response to the sin of Israel. It was part of his plan. – John Piper

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Religion vs. Relationship: I Samuel 4


Today’s reading: I Samuel 4-8.

Religion looks at the externals, what we can see and touch, rituals and practices that are outside us and separate from us, and treats God as an object that can be manipulated. True faith enters into a relationship with God that brings his spirit into our lives, changing us, and making us subject to his will. True faith may use rituals to deepen and express devotion. Mere religion has no internal life but consists only of the external activity. As the Israelites battle the Philistines, the true color of their religion shows.

The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.” I Samuel 4:2-3

The Israelites thought the ark of the covenant, not God, would save them. In their false presumption they believed that God was an object which could be used to accomplish their desires. In their blindness they did not see that they had no relationship with God, and therefore no power from God. The ark had power; the deadly experience of the Philistines with the ark proved it. But the power of the ark went out according to God’s will, not that of the Israelite’s. When the ark was captured, Eli’s daughter-in-law cried out as she died in childbirth, “the glory of the LORD has departed.” It had departed, but not with the ark. God’s glory had left the people when they abandoned his covenant with them.

Twenty years passed. The ark had been returned to the Israelites quickly by the Philistines because it cursed them, but twenty years passed before Samuel was able to bring revival to the nation. In contrast to the external show of religion which had no power, Samuel brought inner change and true devotion.

  • The people put away their idols and served the LORD.
  • They fasted and confessed their sins.
  • They performed an outward ritual of pouring out precious water as an offering, but it reflected the inner devotion of pouring out their hearts to God.

This time when the Philistines attacked (and true worship can stimulate the enemy to afflict us) God defended the Israelites and delivered them.

Think about your own religious practices. Are you letting God come into your mind, will, and emotions to change you, or do you keep him at a distance? Do you treat him as LORD, or do you try to use him like an object? Do you relate to him as a father, or is he only someone you dial up when you need help? Let your faith be of the inward, spiritual kind rather than the external ritual alone, and see how God delivers you.

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The good, the bad, and the church: I Samuel 2


Today’s reading: I Samuel 1-3.

It seems that nothing hurts the world’s view of Christians as much as the bad behavior of some of those who profess to believe. It’s an active topic of discussion, even among bloggers. Apparently the problem was just as bad in Old Testament times. The priest, Eli’s, sons were taking advantage of their religious position for personal gain and sexual exploitation.

 Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD’s people.” I Samuel 2: 22-24

They were behaving wickedly. All the people were talking about it, and the news was spreading. There’s no doubt that their bad example hindered the worship of the LORD. One only wonders how people in positions of spiritual leadership could so abuse their privilege. There are no excuses, only questions.

  • Were they wolves masquerading as sheep, dressed as spiritual leaders but having no heart for God? The answer to this question is yes, for the Bible says “they had no regard for the LORD.”
  • Why would their father allow them to continue serving? Why would God allow them to continue? Eli did warn them, but God condemns him for failing to restrain them. God planned to administer capital punishment to them, but he was waiting for the proper time.

At the same time that Eli’s sons were profaning their spiritual service, God was raising up a devoted spiritual leader named Samuel. His mother had dedicated him to God’s service before his birth. He grew up serving in the tabernacle alongside Eli, but his actions were righteous in contrast to the wickedness of his elders. Samuel heard God speaking, demonstrating his close relationship with God. In contrast to Eli’s wicked sons, Samuel clung to God’s words “so that none of them fell to the ground.” As he grew in years he also grew in favor with God and men, a phrase mirrored in the life of Jesus, and became Israel’s prophet, priest, and leader.

The church still struggles today under the terrible example of leaders and members who behave badly. It also thrives under the servant leadership of pastors and members who devote themselves to the LORD. What makes the difference between these good and bad “Christians?” The verses of today’s reading reveal some reasons, but this list is not complete:

  • Samuel’s mother dedicated him to God and saw the process through. Eli abandoned his sons to their wickedness until it was too late.
  • Samuel devoted himself to God’s word. Eli’s sons devoted themselves to personal gain and pleasure.
  • Samuel knew the LORD so well that he heard him. Eli’s sons had no regard for the LORD or his word. They were not godly, and many who call themselves Christian today are not born again, have not received the Holy Spirit, do not know God’s word and do not practice God’s ways.

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The triumph of grace: Ruth 1-4


Today’s reading: Ruth 1-4.

All things work together for good, for those who love the LORD (Romans 8). We usually think about the principle of that key verse applying to our personal circumstances. Today I want you to consider how God worked all things together for good through the history of the Jewish people, even through the life of a widowed Moabite woman named Ruth.

Ruth returned to the area around Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi, after all the men in the family died. She pledged to follow Naomi’s God all her days, and her faithfulness caught the eye of Boaz, one of Naomi’s close relatives. Boaz took care of Ruth as she gleaned in the fields. Romance bloomed between the two, and Boaz committed to marry her. One obstacle stood in the way: another closer relative held the right and responsibility of kinsman-redeemer.

The kinsman-redeemer rescued family members from calamity. If a woman’s husband died, the brother married her in order to save her from destitution. The sons of this new marriage would carry on the name of the dead brother. If poverty caused loss of property, the kinsman-redeemer stepped in to buy back the lost land for the family.

In the case of Naomi and Ruth, whoever acted as the kinsman-redeemer needed to do two things: buy back a piece of land that Naomi’s husband sold before moving away, and marry Ruth. Boaz presented this opportunity to the closer relative. He wanted the land, but backed away when he learned it would mean marrying Ruth. He gave up his obligation (because he feared it would lessen his children’s’ inheritance) but Boaz gladly fulfilled it. In time Boaz and Ruth had a son, Obed, whose grandson, David, became king of Israel.

God used the law of the kinsman-redeemer to accomplish several things:

  • He rescued Naomi from her bitterness by providing someone to care for her and to carry on her husband’s name. She also received a grandchild to love and adore.
  • He rescued Ruth and provided her a loving husband and child.
  • He continued the family line that produced King David and eventually Jesus Christ.
  • He gave a wonderful example, and more than that laid down the legal foundation, of how Jesus would one day redeem those who believed in him. Pastor Chuck Smith explains it well:

Even as Boaz was the kinsman redeemer, fulfilled the law, redeemed the property in order to get the bride, so Jesus Christ is our kinsman redeemer. He became a man in order that He might be next of kin to man, in order that He could redeem man. It was necessary for Him in order to be the kinsman redeemer, the goel, to become a man. That was an essential. That is why the incarnation, so that as a man He could be a kinsman redeemer to redeem man, because the earth had been sold by Adam to Satan.

We read in Matthew 13, “The kingdom is like unto a man going through a field, discovering a treasure, who for the joy thereof immediately goes out and sells all that he had in order that he might buy the field, and obtain the treasure.” Boaz bought the field so that he could obtain the treasure of Ruth. Jesus paid the ultimate price to buy back this sinful world so that he could obtain the treasure of his redeemed church.

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