TRUST DURING A TIME OF TROUBLE

Saul doubted and feared. David trusted and listened. Which one are you like?

1 Samuel 22:3-23

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The Bible calls David a man after God’s own heart. We have already seen why on several occasions. He trusted the Lord to do battle with Goliath. Later he gave Goliath’s sword to the priests, because he saw it as God’s victory, not his own. David ran not to his family, but to the Lord when he was in trouble. His orientation was toward God, and all his hope and trust were in the Lord.

But this does not mean that David was perfect. Most of probably know about his major sins in connection with Bathsheba and her husband. But that wasn’t the only time he screwed up, and it certainly wasn’t the first. Two weeks ago we looked at 1 Samuel chapter 21, and saw that even though David ran to the Lord when he was in trouble, he gave in to fear and lied to the priest Ahimelech. Now in chapter 22, we see the horrible results of that lie.

Before we get to that, however, I want to point out some unrelated positive things. At this point, David was in the cave with some of his relatives, and number of other desperate men. It is unclear whether his parents had also joined him there or not. In any case, he knew his parents were likely to be in danger from Saul, and he could not expose them to the kind of harsh conditions that he would have to bear for the foreseeable future. So he took his parents to the kingdom of Moab.

There are two special things about this action. First, is the relationship David’s family had with the Kingdom of Moab. The book of Ruth is a short history (four chapters) of David’s great-grandmother Ruth. She was the grandmother of David’s father, Jesse, and it is possible that she was alive during the first part of Jesse’s life. It is a sweet story about a family that went through hard times, but still trusted in the Lord. It shows us that David came from a family of people who had a heart for God. But the important thing here is that Ruth was originally from Moab. So David did not just randomly dump his parents on the first foreign dignity he could find. He took them to people who were actually relatives, albeit distant ones.

Second, this highlights something we don’t talk about much in modern western society. Both Old and New Testaments are clear that we have a responsibility to take care of our families, and even particularly, the elderly members.

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn to fulfill their duty toward their own household and so repay their parents what is owed them. For this is what pleases God. (1Tim 5:4, NET)

If any believing woman has widows in her family, she should help them, and the church should not be burdened, so that it can help those who are genuinely widows. (1Tim 5:16, HCSB)

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1Tim 5:8, ESV)

David took his responsibility to his family seriously. He could have said, “Look Ma and Pa, I’m just really busy these days. I’m trying not to get killed, I have this band of men to lead, I am God’s chosen instrument in this generation, and oh, by the way, I have a kingdom to win.” Those things might have easily been more pressing than taking care of his parents. But he didn’t feel right doing anything else until he knew that they were safe and well cared for. We sometimes forget that both retirement and social security are relatively new developments. In all of history until about 50 years ago, elderly people did not have these. Instead, they had children. Where I grew up in Papua New Guinea, it is still that way. When someone gets too old or infirm to provide for themselves, their family takes care of them. It may have to be that way again in America before too long. That isn’t the end of the world. It worked pretty well for most of human history. And David managed it, even in his precarious situation. I hope my kids are reading this.

When David leaves his parents there, his words to the king of Moab are very humble: “Please let my father and my mother stay with you, until I know what God will do with me.” He is not arrogant. Even though he knows Samuel anointed him as God’s chosen instrument, and to be the next king, David does not presume upon God. He humbly admits that he is in a pretty uncertain situation. I think this is also important because sometimes we read the Bible and we think faith was easy for the people that we read about. But this shows that David felt he had no guarantee of how his life would turn out, or even if he would survive the next few weeks. It is easy in hindsight to see how powerfully God worked in his life. It seems inevitable to us, reading it three thousand years later. But when David lived it, he had no more reason to trust God than you and I do today. He had no special guarantee. This should help us to have confidence that God is still working in our lives, even when we, like David, can’t be sure how things will turn out.

Now, it appears that he stayed there in Moab for a time. In fact, it says that David himself took care of his parents (they lived with him) while he was “in the stronghold.” Then the prophet Gad (this is the first time we’ve heard of him) says, “Don’t stay in the stronghold, but return to Judah.” It can be confusing, but obviously then, the “stronghold” doesn’t mean the cave, but rather, the stronghold of the king of Moab. “Judah” means the area belonging to the tribe of Judah in southern Israel.

The presence of this prophet is interesting. Samuel the prophet was Saul’s advisor for a time, but Saul never really listened to him. Finally, they parted ways forever. At this point Samuel is very elderly indeed, and would have been unable to live the hard life David was living. So the Lord sent David another prophet – this man named Gad. Fittingly enough, Gad appears to have been one of those original desperate, in-debt malcontented men that joined David. But the Lord has gifted him to speak prophetically into David’s life. And unlike Saul, David listened and immediately responded to the Lord. This wasn’t necessarily an easy choice to make. The Lord was telling David to go back to Israel, where he would be in danger from Saul. David wasn’t going to fight Saul or any Israelites, yet he was supposed to go there and remain in danger. Even so, David didn’t hesitate.

Meanwhile, we get a glimpse into what is happening with Saul. Saul has completely given himself over to hatred and jealousy of David. He verbally abuses his own son Jonathan, as well as his men, accusing them of conspiring against him. He thinks David has bribed them with promises of land and military commands. You can see that Saul has moved from insecurity to almost full blown paranoia.

It is at this time, through Saul, that David’s lie to the priest brings forth its terrible fruit. Doeg, the man from the region of Edom (not a true Israelite) speaks up. He tells Saul what he saw and heard when David came to the sanctuary at Nob. He mentions that not only did David get bread, and the sword of Goliath, but Ahimelech the priest “inquired of the Lord” for David. “Inquiring of the Lord” at the very least meant a brief worship service and then use of the Urim and Thummim (– the “holy dice,” so to speak). It may have included a more thorough time of worship, and a sacrifice. So here is our proof that David went there not only for physical help, but to hear from God and worship in his presence.

Saul summons Ahimelech (the high priest) and all the priests of Nob. He confronts Ahimelech, who protests his innocence. He knew nothing of the rift between David and Saul, because David had lied to him. It may well be that he would have helped David anyway, but David never gave him the chance to do so honestly. Ahimelech freely admits that helped David, and reminds Saul that David has always faithfully served the king – indeed he has been Saul’s most faithful and potent warrior. In a way, I think when Ahimelech confronted Saul with the truth that Saul is being unjust to both David and to himself, he sealed his own fate.

Saul rages, and orders his bodyguards to kill Ahimelech and all the high priests. They balk. This is an abomination. Even Saul’s faithful followers know that he is ordering a horrible murder. I picture Saul screaming and raging, and then Doeg, who is not an Israelite, and who is cunning and ambitious, does the deed. He murders 85 priests that day. He continues on afterwards, and directs the murder of all of their families and the destruction of the village at Nob. With eighty-five men, plus their wives and children Saul, through Doeg and Doeg’s men, murdered two-hundred people or more.

However, they missed one. Abiathar, son of Ahimelech escaped, and he took his priestly garment (called an “ephod”) with him. He fled to David and told him what happened.

Then David said to Abiathar, “I knew that Doeg the Edomite was there that day and that he was sure to report to Saul. I myself am responsible for the lives of everyone in your father’s family. (1Sam 22:22, HCSB)

David’s response is remarkable. Saul is the one who ordered the murder of the priests. Doeg is the one who carried it out and did the actual killing, probably assisted by some underlings. But David says, “this was my fault. I am responsible for the loss of those lives.”

You see David had a heart that God loved. It wasn’t because David was perfect. He lied when he was running from Saul. But he was open, willing, humble and even repentant. When Samuel confronted Saul about the sins he committed, Saul’s response was always something like: well I had to do it. Circumstances demanded it. I was losing men.” David could easily have said, “I had to lie to save my life.” He might have said, “It was an extreme situation, calling for extreme measure. Besides, I’m not the one who killed them. But instead, his response is: “I was responsible for this great tragedy.”

This is not to say that David was blind to the evil of Saul and Doeg. At this time he wrote Psalm 52, in which he castigates the evil of Doeg, and by implication, Saul. In David’s eyes, their biggest sin is this:

Here is the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, taking refuge in his destructive behavior. (Psalm 52:7)

What is even more amazing is what David wrote next. Remember he is still hiding in fear of his life. Remember, he had no more reason to trust the Lord than you and I do.

But I am like a flourishing olive tree in the house of God; I trust God’s faithful love forever.

I will praise you forever for what you have don. In the presence of your faithful people, I will put my hope in your name, for it is good. (Psalm 52:8)

As always, the Lord brings some good out of every terrible situation. David is his chosen servant. Now David has both a prophet and a priest to worship with him, and give him godly counsel. And unlike Saul, David humbly and willingly receives what God says through them.

Now what does all this mean for us today?

Maybe you need to hear the specific practical advice that you should take care of your family, and even your parents when they are unable to take care of themselves.

Perhaps you face the temptation that Saul had, to let your insecurity rule you. Do your fears drive away the people you love, or cause them harm? I doubt anyone reading this has committed murder on the scale that Saul perpetrated that day. Even so, the difference between faith and doubt is huge, and matters a great deal. Without trust in the Lord, if we trust only in ourselves, like Saul, we are doomed to hurt those around us. See how much better it is to be like David and put your trust in the Lord alone.

Like David with Gad and Abiathar, do you have godly spiritual advisors who listen to the Lord and have permission to speak honestly into your life? If not, ask the Lord to send you a few.

There is one last thing. Last time we talked about the concept that in the Old Testament we find people or events that remind us of Jesus, or show us what Jesus is like, or what following him is like. There is another one this week. More than two hundred people lost their lives for helping David. So today and throughout all history, people around the world have been persecuted and killed for following Jesus. It is a reminder that we should pray for those who are persecuted today, and also that we should be ready to make a choice between our own life and our obedience to Jesus.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you about all this right now.

THE HEART OF THE MATTER

God is not concerned with your appearance or religious activities. He wants your heart.

1 SAMUEL #14

 

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To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

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I mentioned last time how we need to understand the Old Testament in the light of the New Testament. It contains the first two acts of a three-act play. It won’t make sense until you also see the end. It is all about Jesus. If we just read the Old Testament alone, we get a message that seems to contain a lot about following rules and a mean, incomprehensible God. But every once in a while we get a hint that this is a set up for something more to come – the more that was fully explained and fulfilled in Jesus. In 1 Samuel 16, we get another of these hints.

Saul struggled with insecurity. In his fears he did not turn to God for mercy and grace – instead, he tried to control and manipulate God through religion. He did not want a relationship of trust in the Almighty – he just wanted an Almighty who would do what he (Saul) wanted him to. When it came right down to it, Saul wanted God to serve him, not the reverse. Ultimately, he rejected God, and so God let him go his own way.

The prophet Samuel grieved over this turn of events, and even over Saul personally. This shows us something of the man Samuel was. He knew it was wrong for the people to want a king. He knew that Saul was insecure and not a true follower of the Lord. But Samuel hated to see him fail, hated that he had turned away from God. He knew that because of Saul’s own choices, God could not do anything more with him, but even so, he was sad for Saul.

The Lord told Samuel to go anoint the one who would be the next king of Israel. It is interesting to note that Samuel, for all his care for Saul, had no illusions about what kind of man he was. He thought Saul would have him killed if he found out he was anointing another person to be king. Even so, he obeyed and went to the home of Jesse, a descendant of Judah who lived in Bethlehem.

He had Jesse bring his sons with him to a sacrifice that they offered to the Lord. When Samuel saw Jesse’s oldest son, he was impressed.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:6-7, ESV)

This one of those times when the curtain is drawn back, the Old Testament shows plainly what God is after. It may be one of the most important verses in the Old Testament. God looks at the heart. The word for “heart” is a form of the Hebrew word “leb.” This is a word with a rich meaning, just as “heart” is in English. In German leben – a very similar sounding word – means life. In Hebrew this word means innermost being, intellect, the center of a person or thing.

Writer Brent Curtis points out how important the heart is:

We describe a person without compassion as “heartless,” and we urge him or her to “have a heart.” Our deepest hurts we call “heartaches.” Jilted lovers are “brokenhearted.” Courageous soldiers are “bravehearted.” The truly evil are ‘black-hearted” and saints have “hearts of gold.” If we need to speak at the most intimate level we ask for a “heart-to-heart” talk. “Lighthearted” is how we feel on vacation. And when we love someone as truly as we may, we love “with all our heart.” But when we lose our passion for life, when a deadness sets in which we cannot seem to shake, we confess, “My heart’s just not in it.”

Curtis adds, “it is in our heart that we first hear the voice of God and it is in the heart that we come to know him and live in his love…For above all else, the Christian life is a love affair of the heart.”

Brent Curtis & John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance

Continue reading “THE HEART OF THE MATTER”

MAKE A MOVE OR SIT STILL?

1 Samuel #10. Faith (1 Samuel Chapter 14:1-23)

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Please read 1 Samuel 14 in order to understand what we will talk about here.

Last time we saw what came out of Saul when he was pressured. In that particular situation, what the Lord wanted him to do was wait in faith. He did not want Saul to try and save himself. He did not want Saul to just do something to hold things together. But Saul tried to make something happen on his own.

In chapter 14, Saul and his son Jonathan and the rest of the army are still basically in the same situation. The Philistines have almost cut the nation of Israel in half. The ordinary people in the region of the invasion have gone into hiding. Saul started out with 3,000 professional soldiers, but now he is left with only 600. In other words the only difference between the situation recorded here in chapter 14, and that in chapter 13, is that now, Saul has lost two thirds of his men to desertion. All his efforts to do something on his own have achieved nothing. Some might have thought of Saul’s actions as bold leadership. He offered the sacrifice. He made a move. He didn’t just sit there. But that didn’t stop a large majority of people from deserting anyway.

Now, we might conclude from this that when great pressure is upon us, the Lord wants us to sit still and wait for him, and do nothing. That could indeed be true. But we can’t make a law out of it. Sometimes he may want us to wait, even when things seem to be falling apart. But at other times, in almost the exact same situation, he may want us to act. The key to understanding whether you should act, or whether you should sit still, is to cultivate your relationship with the Lord. The Bible is an indispensable tool in doing that. If we treated it as only a rule-book, we wouldn’t need God at all. We could just follow the book. But actually, “the book” is all about helping us follow God, not a pre-determined set of rules covering all possible eventualities.

Saul’s son Jonathan, is NOT a chip off the old block. He appears to be a man of great faith. Even though he saw that his father had made a mistake, Jonathan did not, from that, assume that it meant things were the same for him and he should sit still and do nothing. He seems to have had a genuine faith relationship with God. He is willing to act, but he is also willing to not act. He knew the point was to ask this question: “Lord, what do you want to do in this situation?”

We see Jonathan’s faith first in his remarks to his armor bearer, his assistant in battle.

Jonathan said to his armor bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the LORD will intervene for us. Nothing can prevent the LORD from delivering, whether by many or by a few.” (1 Samuel 14:6)

He has it on his heart to do something. He assumes that the Lord is working through that. In addition, see how he is motivated not by fear, but by faith. In chapter 13, Saul acted out of fear. He thought, “I am outnumbered already, and now I am losing men. I just need to do something.” Jonathan thinks the opposite: “It doesn’t matter how many men we have. What matters is whether or not God wants us to do something. If he does, the two of us are enough.” Jonathan’s action is prompted not by fear, but by faith. It proceeds from the relationship he has with God.

Notice that Jonathan doesn’t leave it there. He is prompted by faith. He trusts that God doesn’t need 3,000 or even 600 men to defeat the Philistines. But he does want God to confirm that he is leading Jonathan to do this. So when they get closer, Jonathan gives the Lord a chance to show him, one way or another, what He wants him to do.

8 Jonathan replied, “All right! We’ll go over to these men and fight them. 9 If they say to us, ‘Stay put until we approach you,’ we will stay right there and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up against us,’ we will go up. For in that case the LORD has given them into our hand – it will be a sign to us.”

Jonathan is not following a rule book. He is following the living God. And so he opens up to letting the Lord interact with him, and show him what to do. As it happens, what the Lord wants Jonathan to do is opposite of what he wanted Saul to do just a short time earlier. The Philistines taunt him. Basically, they say, “Hey, c’mere. We want to show you something.” It’s a sadistic joke. If he climbs up to their position, they’ll kill him. But this is the sign that Jonathan asked for, so he and his armor-bearer climb up to them.

The Philistines had assumed they were just trading taunts. They didn’t really expect two people to be crazy enough to attack uphill against overwhelming numerical superiority. They didn’t count on a warrior like Jonathan, and they didn’t count on God. Jonathan and his assistant killed twenty Philistines in a short span of time and within a pretty small area.

This threw the garrison into panic and confusion. Perhaps they sensed something supernatural in the ferocity and deadliness of Jonathan’s attack. Their panic spread to the other Philistine soldiers as they fled. Apparently, God timed an earthquake to coincide with the assault, only increasing the confusion and fear.

Soldiers talk about the “fog of war.” In the midst of battle things are very hectic and often happen very fast and confusion develops in a hurry. The Philistines had no radios, no overhead airplanes or other modern conveniences to offset the fog of war. Things got worse for them and soon there was a general panic.

Saul, encamped some distance away with his army noticed the stir in the Philistine positions. Just a few days (at the most, weeks) earlier, Saul had been ready to do something – anything – to try and make something happen and show himself a leader. If he had listened to God, he would have heard that at that point in time, that was the wrong course. But Saul still hasn’t learned his lesson. Now is the time to act. If he would just pray and listen for God’s response, he would know it. But Saul does not have that kind of relationship with God. Samuel told him that it was wrong to act, last time. So now, when he should be following up on Jonathan’s bold blow, Saul hesitates.

He sends for the priest and the Ark of the Covenant. Saul doesn’t have the confidence that Jonathan has, the confidence that God will lead him. So Saul needs to have the priest perform a religious ceremony to tell him what to do. Even so, as the ceremony begins, the confusion among the Philistines increases even more, and Saul basically says to the priest, “forget it. Let’s just go.”

So you see he wasn’t really serious about hearing from God. He just wasn’t sure at first if the battle would go his way. When things got to a point where it was obvious that the Philistines could be defeated, he dropped his attempt to hear from God, and joined in. As before in his life, Saul just looks at God as a means to an end. He only wants to connect with God in situations where God can do something for him.

The battle became a rout. Remember, the Philistines were led by five kings, from five different Philistine cities. So, many of the professional warriors on the battlefield did not know each other. It is highly unlikely that there were any kind of regular Philistine uniforms. There would have been many different war banners, designating different leaders and army units. Now, during the initial assault, the first garrison of Philistines were faced with only two warriors. They lost a lot of men, and quickly fled. It is likely that they ran headlong toward other Philistine positions to get away. But the other Philistine units may not have recognized them. They may have looked for enemies, and seen no one other than the mob running toward them. After all, there were only two real enemies on the field. So scripture records that they began fighting each other. They weren’t crazy, they were just unfamiliar with their own allies, and confused. The retreat of the unit that Jonathan attacked was probably considered an attack by the unit that they fled toward. This kind of confusion spread rapidly. By the time Saul and the rest of his 600 men joined in it was easy. The Israelites who had been hiding realized the Philistines were fleeing, and they came out to help also. Apparently some Israelites had joined the Philistines, or been conscripted by them. They turned on their Philistine masters. Now the victory was really on.

When I was at Oregon State University, I took a course in botany. I was given a “key” to the flora of Western Oregon. It was a book, about as thick as a bible, that could help me figure out the species of virtually any plant I was likely to see in that area. The way it worked was to present with me with a possible choice, and, depending on what I chose, send me to another page with another set of choices, until my choices narrowed down to the correct answer. So I might start by deciding if I was dealing with an evergreen or deciduous plant. Say I chose deciduous. Then it would ask me to choose whether the leaves were lobed or not. Say I chose lobed. Next I might choose whether the leaves were directly opposite each other, or if they were staggered, or if they were in clumps. And so in one case I proceeded through each step, covering every possible plant I might encounter, until I narrowed it down to find out I was holding poison oak, which I could have found out just by waiting a few days for the rash to appear.

Sometimes, we are tempted to treat the Bible or religion like a “key” to life. We expect that we should find specific instructions for every possible scenario. And we assume that if the answer was “X” one time, than the next time we encounter a similar scenario, the answer will still be “X.” But that isn’t really what the Bible is for. The Bible is to help us to get to know God. The answer is always in relationship with the Lord. And if we start treating the Bible or religion as an answer key instead of as a means to get close to God, we will miss the point. The idea is this: The Bible helps us get to know the Lord – and then the Lord tells us what he wants us to know or do. It won’t contradict the Bible. But if you have the Bible and not a faith based relationship with the Lord through Jesus Christ, you don’t have the right answer, no matter how well you know the Bible.

The lesson here is not, “you should wait when you are pressured.” Nor is it, “you should move forward decisively when you are pressured.” No. The message is that you should cultivate your relationship with God. Then when you are under pressure and need to know what to do, you won’t be like Saul, hesitating and unsure. You can simply check with the Lord, and move forward – or not – as he leads you.

Maybe there is something else here for you. Perhaps you needed to hear God speak through Jonathan – “nothing can stop the Lord from saving, whether by many, or by few.” Maybe you are tempted, like Saul, to believe deliverance cannot come until you have more – more people, more resources, more time, more money…whatever. But maybe the Lord is saying to you, “what you have is plenty. The point is not your resources, but mine.”

Let Him speak to you right now.

What Comes Out When you are Squeezed?

The tough times that Saul faced revealed what was inside him. What do tough times reveal about you?

1 SAMUEL PART 9. 1 SAMUEL CHAPTER 13

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During his first battle as leader of Israel, Saul defeated an enemy that dominated the Eastern tribes of Israel, as well as the Jordan valley. After that victory, the people finally accepted him officially as king. Saul conscripted 3,000 professional warriors and sent everyone else home. He let his son Jonathan command 1,000 of the soldiers.

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Everything we read about Jonathan suggests he was an outstanding young man in every way. He took his 1,000 men and promptly handed the Philistines a stinging defeat. This was good, as far as it went, but basically it had the same effect has kicking a hornet’s nest, or shooting a grizzly bear with a BB gun. Jonathan inflicted damage, but he didn’t impair the power of the Philistines to make war. In addition, after almost a generation of peace with Philistines (under the leadership of Samuel), the war was beginning again. We will see as we go on that Jonathan had a warrior’s heart, and a trust in the Lord, and he wasn’t worried about stirring up Israel’s old enemy. The problem was, the rest of Israel – including his father – was worried. The news of victory was carried throughout the land, but this is how it went:

“Saul has attacked the Philistine garrison, and Israel is now repulsive to the Philistines.” (1 Samuel 13:4)

At this point, we need some historical and geographical background. Chapter 13:19-23 describes something very significant. It tells us that these events took place at the end of the Bronze Age, and the beginning of the Iron Age. Quite simply, at this point the Philistines had Iron-Age technology, and the Israelites did not. This is one clue to why the Philistines were so feared by the Israelites, and why they were such a persistent military problem. They had iron weapons, and the Israelites did not. When we keep this mind, this makes any Israelite victory over the Philistines something of a miracle.

I want to chase a side trail for just a moment. 13:5 records the number of Philistine warriors. Some translations will say 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen. Other bible passages record battles involving tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of people. This seems surprising to me; in fact unlikely. For most of history, battles did not involve hundreds of thousands of people, and rarely involved even tens of thousands. It used to trouble me as a potential issue with the reliability of the bible. However, I think the answer may lie in ancient Hebrew. Ancient Hebrew did not include any vowels. The vowel was implied by the context. Even today, Hebrew vowels are expressed as little punctuation type marks, not by actual letters. Anyway, the point is, that the word for thousand “eleph”(“lp” in Hebrew) looks exactly the same as the word for professional solider — “alluph” (also “lp” in Hebrew). Thus, 100 lp could be 100,000 people, or simply 100 professional soldiers. In addition, “eleph” (thousand) can mean a few other things as well, just as many words in English have more than one meaning (For example: Present can mean “here” or “gift” or “the current moment in time” or “to show or display.”) Remember of course, professional soldiers were usually accompanied by peasant-militia troops as well.

In addition, we have examples of parallel passages where extra zeroes have been added or dropped. 2 Samuel 10:18 records the defeat of 700 chariots; 1 Chronicles 19:18, speaking of exactly the same incident, writes 7,000. Generally, I would suspect the lower number to be correct. So if you ever read these numbers and think, “Gee, that sounds like a much bigger number than seems likely,” you can knock off a zero – and in some cases, three zeros – and still agree that the bible is faithful and reliable. The problem is simply in the translation.

In any case, we ought to understand that whatever the actual number – 3,600 or 36,000 – for the times, it was a formidable professional fighting force that the Philistines sent into Israelite territory, along with a large number of peasant-militia troops. It was a big threat in two additional ways. First, up until this point, the Philistines had stayed mostly on the coastal plain. Technically, that was Israelite territory also, given to them by the Lord when they entered the promised land, however, Israelites had never really lived there. But in the incident recorded in 1 Samuel 13, the Philistines were pushing inland, up into the mountains that had been occupied by Israelites for hundreds of years.

Secondly, the Philistine invasion recorded here nearly cut the nation of Israel in half. They pushed all the way to Micmash, which was just a few miles short of the Jordan River valley. If they moved all the way down to the Jordan, the largest tribe in Israel (Judah) would be cut off, along with the tribes of Benjamin and Dan, and roughly half of the territory of Israel would be isolated from the other tribes. In clip_image002other words, the Philistines were about to take a gigantic, and possibly fatal bite out of Israel. See the picture at left. The brown line shows the territory occupied by Israelite tribes, and the yellow is the Philistines (this is a rough approximation, just to give you an idea of the danger they were in). Micmash is the yellow dot. The red dot next to the river is Gilgal, and the red dot closer to the Philistines is Gibeah.

Israel was just a few miles and one lost battle away from a huge national catastrophe.

It is interesting to note that Saul had originally held the position at Micmash, but retreated from the Philistines down into the Jordan valley. He gathered his army at Gilgal, a town in the Jordan river valley not far from the Philistines as the crow flies, but a fairly rough walk up or down the mountains by foot. The text doesn’t explain things clearly but apparently Samuel had sent a message to Saul, telling him to wait until he came, and then they would worship the Lord and make sacrifices before commencing the battle. In other words, they wanted God’s favor and help when they went out to fight.

Now it is quite likely that Samuel’s home town was affected by this invasion. The Philistine forces may have also forced Samuel to travel a considerable distance out of his way to get to Saul – remember, they had almost cut the nation in half. In any case, days passed, and Samuel did not show up. Saul’s army got restless and afraid. No doubt, many men were thinking of their families, wanting to prepare them for the disaster, or wondering if their homes had already been overrun by the enemy. They began to desert.

So Saul took action. He decided to go ahead and lead the worship and offer the sacrifices himself. He made the burnt offering. This was animal that was killed and completely burned up. No part of it was eaten – it was all “given” to the Lord through fire. It was used to seek God’s favor, to bring God’s forgiveness or to avert judgment. Just when Saul finished, Samuel finally made it to the camp.

Now, here is what troubles me. I think many Americans, if they didn’t read any further, would approve of what Saul did. People might say, “he’s a go-getter, a self-motivated leader.” They might think, “There’s a real leader – he’s losing men so he takes bold decisive action, he makes something happen.”

But Samuel didn’t see it that way, and apparently, neither did God.

13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the LORD your God, with which he commanded you. For then the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.” 15 And Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal. (1Sam 13:13-15, ESV)

The prophet immediately identified that the problem was Saul’s heart. It wasn’t fixed on God. Instead we see now that Saul was not humble, but rather insecure. He was worried about the future of Israel, of course. He was worried about his own ability to keep the men with him and maintain an effective fighting force. He did not trust the Lord with these concerns. Instead, he trusted in his own action. He trusted in the offering ceremony. Clearly, Saul viewed the offerings as a tool. It was a way to keep his army together and energized; perhaps also a way to manipulate God into helping him. Saul did not offer the sacrifices to please the Lord, or because was personally repentant or worshipful. If either of those had been the case, he would have waited for Samuel, who was the one who was supposed to do such things.

Saul was in a tight spot, there’s no doubt about it. But the tense situation did not create the problem in his heart. It only revealed it. When you squeeze an orange, what comes out? Whatever is inside the orange of course, which is orange juice. Now, when you are squeezed, what comes out? Whatever is inside you, of course. If you curse and rage when you are in a tough spot, that is because cursing and rage are inside you. Jesus said:

20“What comes out of a person — that defiles him. 21 For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, 22 adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, promiscuity, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a person.” (Mark 7:7-23)

45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)

When Saul was squeezed by his circumstances, he did not put his faith steadfastly in the Lord. He refused to wait on God or on other people. He let his insecurity rule him, and he chose to act, rather than depend on the Lord. When Saul was squeezed, it was fear that came out. He put his trust in the number of men he had, rather than the Lord. It was more important to him to keep as many men as possible, than it was to seek God and his favor. His situation was not easy. But it didn’t cause his heart-problem – it just revealed it.

This is all about trusting God when things don’t look good – maybe things look disastrous. If you get squeezed, what do you think will come out? What is in the treasure-store of your heart?

What if it isn’t good? What if, like Saul, you have insecurity hiding there? What if there is rage or hatred or jealousy or selfishness? I think Saul had the opportunity to repent. When he was tempted, he could have turned to the Lord, confessed his weakness, and put his trust in the Lord. I think that is what we need to do when we are squeezed, and we see there is a problem in our hearts.

There may be an application here for you if you are faced with a difficult situation. Perhaps you feel a lot of pressure just to act, to do something, to make something happen. Sometimes the Lord does lead us to do that. We’ll see that with Jonathan next time. But if the Lord is calling you to wait, or if your action would be from fear or insecurity, maybe you need to sit still and wait for God to show up. Take a moment to the Lord speak to you no

HUMBLE…OR INSECURE?

saul-nahash

1 SAMUEL #7. 1 Samuel 10:24 – 11:15

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I want to reiterate something that happened at the end of chapter 10, and then we’ll move on to chapter 11. Remember, Samuel anointed Saul as king of Israel when it was just the two of them in private. After being anointed king, Saul went home. As he journeyed back, his anointing was confirmed by several signs that Samuel had given him before hand – things Samuel said would happen, which then came true.

Even so, Saul did not tell anyone that Samuel had anointed him king. At first glance this looks like humility, and maybe it was. It looks like he is waiting for God to confirm it before he says anything. And yet – God already did confirm it. Maybe it is something else altogether – insecurity.

After some time, Samuel gathered the people together, and they asked the Lord to choose a king by lots. Saul was chosen. This was another powerful confirmation of Saul’s calling. But Saul hid among the baggage while it was happening. This could be humility also, but again, it could just as well be insecurity. Actually, I think it is a little bit of both. When we read the texts carefully, we can see that Saul is a very complex, very real person. I suspect that he had a lot of insecurity, but that he was also capable of genuine humility.

Briefly, I want to point out that his insecurity seems to be because he has trouble believing what God has said. Through Samuel, God told him he would be king. Through the signs, he confirmed it. Through the choices by lot, God confirmed it again. But I suspect, for the reasons I shared last week, that Saul had never really been a man of faith. He did not know God, and had not ever been very interested in Him. It’s hard to believe what God says if you don’t really know God. It’s hard to trust someone you don’t know. If you go your whole life ignoring God, then it is hard to believe it when someone tells you that God has a purpose for your life.

Listen to what happened next:

25 Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the LORD. Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home. 26 Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched. 27 But some worthless fellows said, “How can this man save us?” And they despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace.

Just put yourself in Saul’s situation for a minute. You have just made king – twice. It has been confirmed by lot and by prophesied signs that came true. A future with possibilities you never dreamed of is opening up in front of you. Everyone shakes your hand and slaps you on the back, and congratulates you…and then goes home. You look around. It’s time for you to go home also. There’s nothing else to do. I can’t help thinking that this was a major let down for Saul. So he’s king. Now he’s got to go back and plow his fields.

A few warriors felt called to stick with the new king and serve him. The Lord touched them and they believed in him and stuck with him. But there were at least an equal number of people who didn’t believe in him at all, and mocked him and his calling.

I think all of this must have been disappointing, and it would not have helped his struggles in believing God and setting aside his insecurity.

Now, I want to leave Saul for a moment and go back and set the stage for what happened next. I spoke about this a little bit last time, but I want to go into more detail now. Roughly two hundred years earlier the residents of a town called Gibeah, in the tribe of Benjamin, had committed an atrocity. Rather than welcome a traveling priest, they had attempted to abuse and rape him. When they were prevented from this they raped and killed his concubine instead. In those days a concubine was considered a wife.

The priest took the dead body of his wife, and cut it up, and sent the pieces to the twelve tribes of Israel as a graphic way of letting the whole nation know what had taken place in Gibeah. Eleven of the tribes assembled – the tribe of Benjamin did not come, and Gibeah was in their territory. The other tribes demanded that the tribe of Benjamin deliver the residents of Gibeah to the rest of the nation so that justice could be done. Benjamin refused, and fought a war with the other tribes rather than punish the evil-doers. Naturally, there was a great deal of outrage against the tribe of Benjamin. The other Israelites destroyed almost the entire tribe, which numbered about 30,000 adult men, plus women and children – possibly more than 120,000 people altogether. The only survivors were six hundred Benjamite warriors who escaped into the hills. Everyone else – including women and children, had been killed.

In their rage, the other tribes had sworn an oath to not allow their daughters to marry any Benjamite. That meant that within a few years, there would be no more tribe of Benjamin. But after the war, the Israelites began to mourn for the loss of the twelfth tribe. They looked for a way to get them wives without violating their oaths, so that the tribe could be eventually restored. They found that one city in Israel had refused to go to war along with the other people – the city of Jabesh-Gilead, on the other side of the Jordan river Valley. In effect, Jabesh-Gilead had also been defending the evil doers, just passively, by refusing to fight for justice. So the rest of the Israelites took all of the unmarried women in that city, and gave them to the Benjamites to be their wives.

I mentioned some of this last week. I think the Lord’s choice of Saul was in part to remove the shame of the tribe of Benjamin. Not only was Saul from Benjamin, but he was from the town of Gibeah – the very town that had committed such shameful acts. The Lord was saying to them, “You are no longer under a cloud of shame. You are not second-class in my eyes. Your forgiveness is complete.”

But there was another group under a cloud of shame for that incident – the city of Jabesh-Gilead. They too, had defended the evil act of Benjamin, even if only passively. When Saul was made king, the shame of Benjamin and Gibeah was finally removed. But it appeared that Jabesh-Gilead was forgotten by God in all this. Their sin had not been as great, but they had suffered too, and they still lived under a cloud of shame. God is noticing Benjamin and Gibeah, but no one seems to remember poor Jabesh-Gilead.

Now, after Saul was chosen as king, things got even worse for Jabesh-Gilead. The foreign nation of Ammon came up to besiege the city. You can almost see the low self-esteem born of 200 years of shame. They don’t even pretend they will fight. They start negotiating a surrender right away, ready to give up their freedom in order to keep their lives. As often happens when a bully encounters someone with a poor sense of self-worth, the bully senses weakness, and begins to pile it on. Surrender isn’t good enough for the Ammonites. They want to rub the faces of their enemies in it. They demand that all the men have their right eyes gouged out, as one of the conditions of surrender.

The next exchange of messages sounds strange to us who are used to modern warfare. They city of Jabesh- Gilead asks for seven days to see if anyone will help them. The strange thing is that the Ammonites grant them the time. But there are three reasons for this. First, if the Ammonites don’t grant the time they will end up having to fight anyway, when there is still a chance of a bloodless victory. Second, the Ammonites probably felt that the other Israelite tribes were too disorganized to do anything within seven days anyway. Third, both the Ammonites and the people of Jabesh-Gilead seem doubtful that anyone would help them anyway. They are the black sheep of the family. Of any town in Israel, they are the least likely to be helped.

Their messengers go all over Israel. When the messengers get to Gibeah, Saul’s home town, no one thinks to go get the king. In fact, his royal majesty was plowing a field at that moment. He happens to come to town as the people were weeping over the fate of Jabesh-Gilead.

. 6 And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. 7 He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the LORD fell upon the people, and they came out as one man.

Many of you don’t know this, but my wife has a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies. Years ago she did an exhaustive study on the Holy Spirit. She has pointed out to me many times that when the Holy Spirit comes on people in the Old Testament, it often seems to be almost an external thing, and God seems to use people whether or not they are close to him or in tune with him. For instance, the hero Samson was clearly ignorant of God and lived a sinful life – and yet God used him. After Jesus came, however, the Holy Spirit stopped working in that external way, and now he is connected with all who believe in Jesus through a spirit-to-spirit connection. Now the spirit is within everyone who trusts Jesus, and he flows through us and does his work from the inside out.

Saul is living in those Old Testament times, and in spite of his lack of faith, God used him. The Spirit came on him, and he acted. Even as God is using him, however, you can see his insecurity. First, he calls the people not only in his name, but also the name of Samuel, as if he is afraid they won’t come for the summons of the king alone. Second, he cuts up his oxen and sends out the pieces. Normally a middle-eastern leader in those days would say something like, “so shall I do to you if you do not fulfill your oath of loyalty to me.” But Saul says, “I will do this to your oxen.” It’s almost humorous. He has already destroyed his own oxen, and now he threatens not the people but their cattle.

Even so, God was with him. They assembled for battle and when up and destroyed the Ammonites, saving the city of Jabesh-Gilead. This no-account, shame-filled place suddenly has the tender care and affection of the entire country. Their shame also, has been forgiven and removed.

I have pointed out many of Saul’s faults, but as I said last week, God was not just trying to screw the Israelites for rejecting the Lord as their king. Saul, among all the tribes of Israel, would have been more sensitive to the shame and disgrace of Jabesh-Gilead than anyone else. His own tribe and clan had been under that same cloud until he was chosen as king. I am reminded again of 1 Corinthians, written by another man from the tribe of Benjamin, who was also called Saul:

26 Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. 27 Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. 28 God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world — what is viewed as nothing — to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, 29 so that no one can boast in His presence. (1Cor 1:26-29, HCSB)

Saul was chosen by the Lord. He started out well. God graciously gave him opportunity after opportunity to respond in faith. In this instance, he did.

So what does all this mean for you right now?

Maybe, like Saul, you are facing confusion, hurt and disappointment with God. Perhaps the Lord has given you a calling or done something in your life that seemed momentous. It seemed like it was all heading somewhere. But now everyone is turning out the lights and heading home, and you are left to make your way back to life as usual, and you don’t understand. You wonder what it was all about, if all these ways in which God seemed to be at work amount to nothing. I don’t have every answer for you. But I do know that Saul experienced that. In time, however, God showed him what to do and opened up the opportunity to step fully into his calling. Trust the Lord that he will do that for you also, even if it looks like it is all over right now.

On the other hand, maybe you have been dealing with insecurity, like Saul. The Lord has shown you he is real. He has spoken to your heart, revealed himself through the Bible. But you aren’t sure if you can trust him. Maybe you are afraid to step up to God’s calling. Perhaps that is because you don’t yet know him very well. Here, you can take a different path than Saul. Seek the Lord. Seek him by reading the bible, or listening to recordings of scripture passages. Seek him in music, in fellowship with other Christians, in worship. And make a decision to trust him and trust that what he says is true.

You might be someone who feels like the city of Jabesh-Gilead. For a while maybe other people shared your shame or humiliation. But now they’ve been able to move on, and you are stuck in the same old place. You feel forgotten. Maybe things have even gotten worse lately. You’ve gone from a bad place to a really dangerous or horrible place. I think the Lord would say to you, through this scripture, “do not fear! Do not give up hope. I never forget you. Sometimes I let things get a lot worse so I can then make them far, far better than ever before.”

Pause for a few moments now, and listen to what the Lord is saying. Thank him for it, and receive it with a choice of faith.