Saul begins to reap the deadly benefits of religion without relationship.

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1 SAMUEL PART#27. Chapter 28

Remember all that we have learned about king Saul. One of the most important things we discovered is that he was a religious man, but not a man of faith. Time after time, when he felt he could somehow use or exploit God, he did so. But when he was confident in himself, or when he felt that God had nothing to offer him, he ignored God. He had the trappings of religion and he used them to control others and manipulate God. But he did not live in a day to day walk of faith, trusting God in all things, relating to him, loving him. The depths of Saul’s spiritual poverty are revealed in 1 Samuel chapter 28.

Saul, having no real trust in God, was terrified when he saw the Philistines. Now consider something. Every time Saul was involved in a battle with the Philistines up to this point, God saved the Israelites. The Lord used Jonathan in chapter 13, and David in chapter 17, and several other times. But none of that seemed to make any difference to Saul. He was just as scared and faithless as he had always been.

I want to pause and say something about that here. Sometimes we think that if God just did a miracle for us, then we would really trust him. If we saw the Lord do something really great, then we wouldn’t doubt, then we wouldn’t disobey or draw back in fear. But that wasn’t the case with Saul. God’s previous miracles didn’t matter. The same was true with the first Israelites who came out of Egypt. They saw many miracles. Their food and water were daily miracles. And yet it did not help them to have faith and surrender to the Lord.

Jesus addressed this issue in his own ministry. Though he did many miracles, often people came and demanded miracles on the spot – basically asking him to prove himself to them. Jesus addressed this Luke 11:27-29:

27 As He was saying these things, a woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “The womb that bore You and the one who nursed You are blessed! ” 28 He said, “Even more, those who hear the word of God and keep it are blessed! ” 29 As the crowds were increasing, He began saying: “This generation is an evil generation. It demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. (Luke 11:27-29, HCSB)

John records that many miracles (‘signs’) still did not convince people who did not want to be convinced:

37 Even though He had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in Him. (John 12:37, HCSB)

In another place, Jesus told a story about a poor man named Lazarus, and a rich man. At the end of the story, the rich man found himself in hell. He begged that someone be sent from heaven to tell his family the truth about the afterlife. Jesus concludes the story like this:

31 “But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:31, HCSB)

When people in the New Testament say “Moses and the Prophets” they mean “the bible” since that was as much Bible as they had at that time. What Jesus is saying is this: if you don’t trust God’s word and the promises in scripture, no amount of miracles will cause you to trust.” The problem can’t be fixed by a miracle. That is both hard and good for us to remember. Seeing is not believing. With God, believing is seeing.

So Saul, in spite of all that he has seen God do, is a religious pretender, not a man of real faith. Therefore, now, facing the Philistines, he is quaking in fear. It says that he inquired of the Lord. As before, Saul doesn’t go to the Lord unless he thinks God can do something for him. So now, he inquires of the Lord only out of fear and a desire to manipulate God. It doesn’t tell us what Saul was asking God. I think it is most likely that he made an animal sacrifice to the Lord, and was hoping for some prophecy that God was pleased with the sacrifice, and would give Saul the victory. But he didn’t hear anything by way of the “sacred dice” (the urim and thummin) or through prophets, or in dreams. Basically, Saul is demanding another sign here, before he will really trust God. He has had God’s help all his life, but he still won’t trust the Lord without some kind of additional sign.

God has been working on Saul all of his life. Remember how he called him to be king? Remember how he gave him the victory at Jabesh Gilead? Remember how even after Saul proved to be useless to God, God kept pursuing Saul’s heart, sending him a troubling spirit to get him to turn to the Holy Spirit for relief? Saul has had decades to surrender his heart to the Lord. The Lord has never quit trying to win him over. I think this lack of a sign is one more chance for Saul to surrender his heart. The Lord has put him in a crisis where he has the same two choices he has always had: 1. Trust God, or 2. Manipulate God and other people to control his own destiny, and get the outcome he wants. Before this, Saul has always chosen #2. He doesn’t know it, but this will be his last chance to give his heart to the Lord.

Tragically, Saul once again chooses to try to control his own life and outcomes, rather than trusting God. When he doesn’t hear from the Lord, trust is not even an option. Saul simply must find some way to manipulate God into saying what he wants to hear, or doing what he wants God to do. So he seeks out a medium, or witch, or spiritist, or whatever you want to call it.

Deuteronomy 18:9-14 says this:

10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this.

These practices were part of the reason for Holy War, which Saul failed to carry out as king. Not only were the people of God not supposed to do these things, they were supposed to wipe out those who did. Such things separate people from God and put them under the influence of hell. Saul did make some attempt to stamp out the practice of the occult, but obviously he wasn’t entirely successful. And now he is willing to deliberately abandon faith in God, abandon his previous laws against these things, and seek help from the dead.

Here is the final proof of Saul’s internal condition. Religion is just something to be used and manipulated, and if one approach doesn’t work to accomplish his aim, he’ll try another. So he and a few of his men disguise themselves and go to the witch. The disguise is actually pretty pathetic. The woman lives not far from the battlefield. Her visitor is the tallest man she’s ever seen, and he wants to talk to the ghost of the prophet Samuel. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out it is Saul. So at first she thinks it is a trap. Then when she is convinced, she pretends that the ghost of Samuel told her who Saul was.

Now it is natural to wonder, what really happened here? Was the woman a charlatan who made it all up? Was there really a spiritual presence there? And if so, was it really Samuel?

To answer that, we need to consider what the Bible says about life after death. Certainly, the entire New Testament teaches that at the end of time, there will be a judgment day. Those who rejected Jesus will be thrown into a lake of fire with the devil and his demons. Those who receive him will be physically resurrected to an eternal, joyful existence.

But there is that period of time in between. Samuel was in the period, as is every person who has died up until today (except for Jesus). Some people believe that in that “between-time,” you are unaware of existence until judgment day, at the end of time. Others believe, as I do, that there is a period of time when dead souls are either with Jesus in joy and freedom, or in hell. The presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus in Matthew 17, suggests this very strongly. Jesus painted this picture of life after death in his story of Lazarus and the rich man. Revelation 6:9-11 shows people who have died, yet are aware and are waiting for the final judgment day and the resurrection. Actually several passages in Revelation suggest that there is life with Jesus between death and the physical resurrection that will occur at the end of time.

Therefore in order to believe that it really was the spirit of Samuel, we have to believe that some people on earth – mediums, fortune tellers etc. – have the power to pull people out of the presence of God and back to earth so we can talk to them. I don’t buy it for second.

There is another reason to believe that this was not really Samuel. God chose not to answer Saul when Saul wanted some reassurance. He did not answer through the urim, or through the prophets or in dreams. If God would chose not to speak to Saul through these holy and righteous means, why would he then work through the unrighteous means of a medium – basically rewarding Saul’s wicked behavior?

Even beyond these most significant facts, there are other things in the text which suggest that this was not Samuel. Saul himself could not see the spirit – he had to ask the medium what he looked like. Her reply was very vague: “An old man wearing robes.” That’s pretty much how I picture Samuel myself. Saul accepted this description as true, but there is nothing in it that actually identifies Samuel personally.

Finally, there is the message that Saul got from this apparition. Once again we need to question why God would speak through this illegitimate means after not answering by any legitimate route. But secondly, listen to the tone of the message. It is angry, bitter and hopeless. There is no encouragement. There is not even any opportunity for repentance. Not too long after this, Saul becomes wounded and commits suicide, rather than fight on with courage. I personally believe that his encounter with this evil spirit contributed to that act.

I do believe that there was something spiritual going on here – something creepy and utterly evil. Remember the other Saul, in the New Testament, the one who repented and came to Jesus, and later was known as Paul? He encountered a girl who could tell the future. But it was an evil spirit that gave her the power of limited fortune telling (Acts 16:16-19). I met someone once, who used to be involved in fortune telling, and spirit communication for money. She became a Christian and rejected all that. We asked her what was involved in it. She said that sometimes, she was just tricking people by being observant, and making vague statements combined with educated guesses. But she also told us that sometimes, she was aware of a spiritual presence which gave her information – which she now realizes was a demon.

I personally believe that Saul unknowingly sought (and received) an audience with a demon, masquerading as Samuel. Saul was rewarded with the kind of the thing you would expect from a demon: condemnation and hopelessness. By turning to witchcraft and séance to try and control his life, he was turning his back utterly on God and seeking help from hell. And he got exactly what you might expect from hell.

So where to do we go with this text?

First, if this isn’t too obvious, don’t play around with séances, spirit-guides, mediums, psychics and so on. That stuff comes straight out of the pit of hell, and you are inviting the depths of hell into your life if you fool with it. Saul’s results were dramatic and self-destructive.

I find some reminders here about religion. There are many people like Saul who go to church and talk the religious talk as a way to manipulate God or influence others. It became a way of life for Saul, and ultimately it destroyed him. God never gave up on him, but by his empty religious spirit, Saul took himself out of God’s jurisdiction. I hate religion. I love Jesus, but I hate religion. I think maybe God hates it too. Religion is about appearance and manipulation. Real faith is about surrendering your heart to the One who created you, and cares about you more than anyone else in the universe. Saul had plenty of religion. David had faith.

There is also a caution here about how you view miracles. I’ve seen miracles. I love it when God does them. But my faith does not depend on them, and I know I cannot demand them from God, on my cue. We sometimes think (like Mike and the Mechanics) that all we need is a miracle. Not so. All we need is the Lord, and to get him all we need is faith to believe he is there and to trust him. Miracles are real, and great, but if we make them necessary to trusting God, we are in trouble. Jesus himself warned against that attitude.

I think there are many times when we get ourselves into situations like Saul’s. We come face to face with a problem. We can try to manage and control life ourselves; or we can trust the Lord and surrender to him. I pray that we make the second choice, not the first.

I guess the main message is the same message we hear over and over through scripture: Trust the Lord. Base that trust on his word and his promises, not on anything else.


When God sends your enemy into your cave with his pants down, unable to see you in the dark,  how do you know that it isn’t God’s will for you to kill him?


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1 Samuel #23. (Chapter 23:14 – Chapter 24:20)

This is one of my favorites stories in the entire history of David. I think what David does, and what he refrains from doing in 1 Samuel 24, shows more courage, faith and heart for God than any of his amazing feats in battle. This is David at his best.

I want to briefly summarize the end of chapter 23, since we did not cover it in detail anywhere else. After David left the town of Keilah, he took his men and went into the wilderness on the other side of the Judean mountains. It may have been more green there 3,000 years ago, but these days, it is mostly desert. It was farther away from Saul, and in terrain that was significantly more rugged. Even so, Saul pursued David there, hoping to capture or kill him. During this time, Jonathan came secretly to David, and “encouraged him in his faith in God.” They renewed their friendship.

The people of the region betrayed David, as the citizens of Keilah had done. When you read the Psalms that David wrote, you will often find references to treacherous people, liars and friends who betray. This is because this sort of thing happened to David astonishingly often. In spite of his integrity and the help he brought to others, in spite of his faithfulness to God and respect for Saul as king, people were quick to believe the worst of him, and spread lies about him, and betray him to Saul.

I don’t know about you, but this encourages me. I think my natural expectation is that if I surrender my life to Jesus and have integrity in letting him live through me, people will see it, and like it, and praise God for it. I expect a positive response to God’s life shining through me. I expect good results, and favor with people. But Jesus said we ought to expect the opposite:

18 “If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of My name, because they don’t know the One who sent Me. (John 15:18-21, HCSB)

He explains that there is blessing for us in this situation:

10 Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 11 “You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. 12 Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:10-12, HCSB)

Peter, in his first letter, also talks about this:

19 For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God. (1Pet 2:19-20, HCSB)

13 And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, (1Pet 3:13-14, HCSB)

Seeing the life of David, and hearing what the New Testament says, gives me hope. Being a person with a heart for God is not necessarily a way to get a whole bunch of people to like you. It isn’t a road to sure success. It is often the opposite. But I cling to these promises that there is great blessing for us in those sorts of trials, sooner or later. At this point for David, he experienced the persecution, but not the blessing.

At one point, David was almost caught. He and his men were in a valley or canyon, and Saul and his men were coming down another valley on the opposite side of the mountain. They were gaining on David. But before they could close, messengers found Saul, reporting that the Philistines were attacking elsewhere in Israel. Saul had to break off the pursuit. Once again, I want to point out that David did not know what his future held. He didn’t know for sure what God was doing, and he might very well have been caught. In that particular incident, it was merely lucky timing that saved him.

And then comes the incident described in chapter 24. This is later. Saul is back to his new hobby of trying to find David and kill him. He and his men are traipsing around the rugged desert and mountain terrain where, according to rumour, David is hiding. They aren’t having any luck. David appears to be miles away. One day, Saul has to relieve himself, and he goes into a cave alone for privacy. It just happens to be the cave where David and some of his men are holed up.

I want to make sure we understand the scenario. David was anointed by Samuel to be God’s chosen instrument. It was understood along with that, that he was supposed to be Israel’s next king. Israel’s present king – Saul – who is no longer God’s instrument, has been trying for a long time to kill David. Now Saul is alone, unarmed and unaware, standing right in front of David, night-blind, back-turned with his pants down. Saul could not be more helpless.

David’s men believe that this is a gift from God. Now is the time for David to kill Saul, and become king himself. I suspect that nine people out of ten would agree with David’s men. Killing Saul at that moment would have been easily justifiable self-defense – after all, Saul was there for the express purpose of killing David. Saul was acting contrary to God’s stated will and purposes – he was trying to kill God’s chosen instrument. So killing Saul would be not only self-defense, but also protection of God’s work in the world. I don’t believe there was a person living at the time who would have blamed David.

David creeps forward, knife held low and ready. He raises his arm to strike…and then lowers it, and quietly cuts off the corner of Saul’s robe. He creeps back to his men, and a furious but quiet argument ensues. Now David’s men, seeing that he will not kill Saul, are eager to do the deed themselves. Once again, who could have blamed David if he had let one of his men do it? Not only would he have the justifications listed already, but he could always claim that it wasn’t actually him who killed Saul, and he really didn’t want it to happen. But David argues vehemently, and commands his men not to touch Saul. Finally, Saul leaves the cave and the opportunity is lost.

I imagine the cave was up on the slope of a hill or something. After Saul has gone down a little ways, David emerges, and calls to Saul. He shows him the corner of his robe and says:

11 See, my father! Look at the corner of your robe in my hand, for I cut it off, but I didn’t kill you. Look and recognize that there is no evil or rebellion in me. I haven’t sinned against you even though you are hunting me down to take my life. 12 “May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD take vengeance on you for me, but my hand will never be against you. 13 As the old proverb says, ‘Wickedness comes from wicked people.’ My hand will never be against you. (1Sam 24:11-13, HCSB)

All this wisdom from a man not yet thirty years old. But of course, it wasn’t really David’s wisdom – it was the Spirit of God at work within David. I think the key is verse 12: “May the Lord judge between you and me, and may the Lord take vengeance on you for me, but my hand will never be against you.” David literally refused to take matters into his own hands. Remember when Saul was about to lose the entire southern portion of Israel? His army was deserting him, Samuel wasn’t showing up, and so Saul held a worship service merely for the purpose of getting people to stick around. Saul took matters into his own hands. But David will not do that. His trust is not in what he can do, but in what God will do.

However, there is a natural question. When God sends your enemy into your cave with his pants down, unable to see in the dark, facing away from you, how do you know that it isn’t God’s will for you to kill him? I mean, we’ve already offered many reasons why no one would condemn David for doing it. So how did David know he shouldn’t do it?

I think there are two answers. The first is one that I never get tired of talking about: we need to live in a day-by-day, moment-by-moment relationship with the Lord. The ten commandments told David not to murder, but it could have justifiably been called self-defense, or war, not murder. There is no rule-book that covers this scenario. David, like us, had to rely on a connection of faith with the Lord. Through that faith, the Lord communicated to him that it would be wrong. We might say David just knew it in his heart. The reason he knew it in his heart is because God put that knowledge there through the faith-relationship.

Second, in context of this faith relationship, what God showed David was that to kill Saul at this point would be taking matters into his own hands, rather than trusting. I believe that there are times when God calls us to act speedily and courageously without hesitation. But there are also times when the Lord calls us to let opportunities pass by, and trust Him to bring about his purposes in his own way. Personally, I think the second way is harder, and in our culture we almost never think that way. We typically assume that if we see a means to meet our goals, it is God giving us that chance, and we should take it. Sometimes, that may indeed be true. But sometimes the Lord calls us to wait and trust so we can receive it from him, not get it by our own effort.

Consider this: if David had killed Saul at this point, he might always afterwards wonder if God really wanted him to be king, or if he had made himself king. And there was something that was more important to David than reaching his goal of becoming king. It was more important to him to be right with God than to achieve his ambitions. So he says, “Yes, I’d like God to judge you Saul, for what you’ve done. But my priority is not to judge you, nor to make my goals happen. My priority is to be right with the Lord.”

What’s your priority? Think of something that you really, truly want. Now imagine that the power to make it happen is in your hand. Would you do it, even if you knew in your heart that God didn’t want you to?

Now, I don’t want the message to be that we are just not as righteous as David. David wasn’t any better than us. He just learned to trust God, and he made the trust the primary and most important part of his life. The message is not “you aren’t as good as David.” The message is: Trust God. I’ll say it again: Trust God. The thing that you want so much, the thing that you are convinced is even God’s will for you – God will take care of that. David eventually did become king. It didn’t happen that day. In fact it was still years away. But God did take care of it. He worked it out the best way possible.

So trust him.


1 Samuel 16:14 says God sent an evil spirit to torment king Saul. What do we make of this?


1 SAMUEL #15. 1 SAMUEL CHAPTER 16:14-23

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Now the Spirit of the LORD had left Saul, and an evil spirit sent from the LORD began to torment him… (1Sam 16:14)

When we first read this, it almost feels like one of the most troubling verses in the Bible. I believe, however, when we really understand what was going here, it becomes one more instance for us to thank God for his incredible grace to human beings.

First, let’s remember the context. Saul, since the very first record of him in the Bible, has either ignored God, or considered Him a tool to be manipulated and used. Time after time, Saul betrayed his own securities. Time after time, he refused to trust God, and sought instead to protect his own interests. When he did worship God, it was to get the people to remain in the army, or to try and manipulate God into helping him. Saul represents the very worst in religious leaders – he tries to use religion as a way to exercise power over others, all the while avoiding personal trust in the Living God.

Finally, the Lord told Samuel that he had rejected Saul as king. God simply could not use Saul as His chosen instrument in that generation – Saul wouldn’t let him. After this, God directed Samuel to David – a boy who had given his heart fully to God. David became God’s chosen instrument in that generation. (Remember in those days, Jesus had not come, and so the Lord worked usually only through one or two people at one time. Today, all believers are the given the Holy Spirit. We are all supposed to be his chosen instruments in this generation)

Now, to understand what happens next, to make sense of God sending an evil spirit to Saul, we need to understand this situation completely. God rejected Saul from being king. He rejected him as God’s chosen instrument for that generation. Samuel makes this quite clear (1 Samuel 15:23). But this does not mean that God has given up on Saul as a person.

When I was a child, I remember I desperately wanted a knife. A knife represented power and maturity. It was both weapon and a tool. It was the next logical step in my progression to responsible adulthood. After a lot of powerful legal maneuvering on my part, I got my parents to give me one. Looking back, I realize now that my wise parents gave me a tiny pen-knife, something I couldn’t do much damage with. But back then, after carrying it around for a while, I realized that I wasn’t really using it. Out in our yard we had a clothesline made of rope. I opened my knife and took a swing at it. To my delight the line parted like the waters of the red sea. Later on I examined the metal fly-screen on one of our windows. I wonder if this knife will cut metal? I thought. There was really only one way to find out. It did. I was awed by the power I held.

I don’t remember much about the discipline that followed these incidents. But I do know this: my parents continued to love me and teach me, while at the same time, they took away the knife until I was older. I wasn’t ready for that kind of power. Even so, they loved me, and didn’t reject me. They just rejected the idea of me with a knife.

I think that when they took the knife away, I was probably more upset about losing the knife than I was about the fact that I had done wrong. I don’t remember, but I probably had to be disciplined in other ways so that I could see that what I had done was wrong.

Saul is in this situation. When Samuel tells him that the Lord has rejected him as king, Saul is naturally upset. But to me, it reads like he is upset about losing his position as God’s chosen instrument, far more than he is upset about the fact that he hasn’t trusted God. As we continue through 1 Samuel, we will see that this is in fact the truth.

Now, even though God rejected Saul as king, as His chosen instrument, God does not force Saul to abdicate the crown. He remains king until the day he dies. He just isn’t God’s chosen king. What grace – that God allowed him to continue as king, even when he couldn’t use him.

Continue reading “DOES GOD SEND EVIL SPIRITS?!”

Is it right to make rules for others?

1 SAMUEL#11. SAUL’S LEGALISM. Saul let’s his insecurity drive him to impose a vow upon the Israelites. How did that work out?


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Last time we looked at how Jonathan single-handedly attacked the Philistines. He acted out of faith, not fear, and God used that to create a huge victory for the people of Israel. The Israelites pushed the Philistines back to the edge of the hill country. But nothing spoils God’s work like false religion and religious pretenses. Saul again showed his lack of real relationship with God. He was worried about the outcome of the battle, so he made an oath and imposed it upon all the army that no one should eat until the sun went down. It sounds very religious and impressive. It was supposed to motivate people. It was supposed to impress God, so that God would help them even more.

It backfired because it was a stupid idea that again came not from faith, but fear, selfishness and pride. By the way, I want to point out the fact that Saul was not content to make the vow for himself. Instead, he imposed his fake religion (which sounded holy) on everyone else. This is typical of people who do not live by relationship. Precisely because they do not have their own relationship with God, they feel that everything they experience must be a rule that everyone should follow. They don’t recognize the give and take and unique life experiences that go along with walking with God in faith. They can’t go it alone with God. They live only by rules.

Saul’s oath is actually much more like a curse. He says: “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.” This doesn’t sound like the voice of the Lord. It sounds more like the devil. There is an Old Testament tradition of making vows that are associated with curses. However, such vows are also associated with blessings and promises from the Lord. Saul does not include any blessings in his vow. Neither is it associated with any promises from the Lord. To put it simply, there is nothing positive about it.

Notice too, how Saul sees this as his own battle, with the Philistines as his own personal enemies. This is in contrast to Jonathan, who clearly saw the battle as the Lord’s fight, with himself simply a tool in God’s hands.

Three negative things came out of Saul’s religious pretenses.

First, the victory was not as great as it could have been. In other words, the vow had the opposite effect of the one he wanted. The men were weakened by hunger, so they could not sustain their offensive against the Philistines. Saul’s vow preceded not from faith, but from the flesh. It was all about self-effort. Because of that, it was as weak as the flesh. Flesh without food is weak. So the vow flopped. Jonathan’s act of faith energized and sustained the troops. Saul’s rash vow, based in self effort and the flesh, drained them, and robbed them of strength. Jonathan himself realized this. After he himself had eaten in ignorance of the vow, one of the soldiers told him of his father’s words. Jonathan said:

“My father has brought trouble to the land. Just look at how I have renewed energy because I tasted a little honey. 30 How much better if the troops had eaten freely today from the plunder they took from their enemies! Then the slaughter of the Philistines would have been much greater.”

Second, because they were so hungry, when sundown arrived, the troops began to slaughter the captured livestock of the Philistines and eat without regard to the laws of Moses. Specifically, they were eating meat that had not been properly drained of blood.

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood. (Leviticus 17:11-12)

The idea expressed in the Old Testament is that the life of an animal (or person) is carried in the blood. The life belongs to God, and so the blood must be given to him, not consumed by people. It is a way of saying, “Even as I take this food, I recognize that the life of this animal belongs to God, not to me. I receive it as a gift, and I give its life into God’s hands.” But Saul’s vow weakened the resolve of the people who had been running, fighting and marching all day long, and when sundown finally came, they were tempted to sin. They were in such a hurry to eat that they did not properly bleed out the animals. To look at it another way, Saul’s vow did not protect people from sin, but rather made them more vulnerable to it.

Third, Saul’s foolish vow led to strife when it came to Jonathan. Saul had bound everyone to his vow – even those who didn’t know about it. Jonathan, unaware of his father’s oath, ate some of the wild honey that was in the forest where they were passing through in pursuit of the Philistines. The Hebrew says that as a result his eyes became bright. This is one of those Hebrew expressions that is very obscure. The HCSB says, “he had renewed energy” which is probably pretty close to the meaning, though not the exact words. You might say, “brightened up” or “perked up.”

After the men have eaten and regained some strength, Saul decides to pursue the Philistines further – as he could have done, if he had not subjected his troops to hunger. Once again, Saul is simply doing something, moving ahead, without regard to what God may want to do. He is acting not out of faith or his relationship with God, but rather out of a rash desire to make up for the time lost that he himself had caused.

In the earlier part of chapter 14 we saw that Saul was indecisive. He wasn’t sure whether or not he was going to win the battle, and so he sent for the priest to inquire of the Lord. However, before the priest had finished asking God, Saul saw how things were going and told the priest to stop and charged ahead. In other words, he wasn’t asking God because he really wanted to hear from God, he just wanted to know whether or not he would win. Now, he makes a decision to continue the attack without even considering if it is God’s will or not.

The priest is the one who stops him and says, “Let’s ask God first.” Grudgingly, Saul agrees. But there is no clear answer from the Lord. We know that the Israelites cast lots, trusting that the Lord would determine the result. However, we don’t know exactly how this worked. Obviously, there was some possibility that the Lord would not answer at all. In this case that’s what happened.

Sometimes – not always, but certainly at times – we can’t hear God because we are separated from Him by our own sin. If your heart is turned away from God, if there is un-repented sin in you, it will be difficult for you to hear what he wants to say to you. This was a physical demonstration of that fact. Again, I’m not saying that every time you fail to hear from God, it is because of sin. However, if you are asking God to speak and you are not hearing, the very first thing to do is to ask Him to show you if there is any sin standing in the way. We can at least credit Saul for recognizing this.

Now, a straightforward reading shows that Jonathan was one who caused God not to answer. He was the one chosen by lot. And yet, we know that eating honey is not a sinful act. In addition, Jonathan was totally unaware of the curse Saul had called down on the army concerning food, so he did not deliberately or knowingly violate any oath. I don’t think the Lord chose Jonathan by lot to show that Jonathan was sinful. I think he did it to expose Saul – to impress upon Saul his own arrogance and foolishness and show him the results of it. Look at it this way. God did not withhold his answer because Jonathan ate honey. He withheld it because of Saul’s oath. Without the oath, Jonathan’s eating would have had no significance.

So Saul’s oath weakened the army both physically and spiritually, it prevented them from hearing the Lord, and now it led to the condemnation of their greatest warrior. Let’s say it plainly: the result of Saul’s rashness was to condemn his own son to death for simply eating when he was hungry, even after that very son had achieved a great victory.

Even when his arrogance and insecurity is so exposed, Saul will not repent. He doesn’t say, “I am so sorry, that was a foolish vow to make, let us ask the Lord for forgiveness and mercy.” No, he would rather kill his own son than admit that he was wrong. He continues his rashness and says, ““May God punish me and do so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan! ”

Remember those words. Nothing bad ever happened to Saul that he did not bring upon himself.

The people protest. Jonathan is the one that achieved the great victory that day. He was ignorant of the curse. He doesn’t deserve to die. Notice that Saul backs up. We can hope that he did so because he had a tender heart toward Jonathan, and really didn’t want him to die. But truthfully, that tender heart wasn’t enough. He didn’t back up until the people protested. What really changed his mind was popular opinion. Again he shows his insecurity.

It is quite likely that during all these proceedings, which probably took several hours, the Philistines made their escape. In other words, again, it is Saul’s rashness, harshness and foolishness that makes the victory less than it could have been.

Most people don’t make vows like Saul’s anymore. Maybe we’re too fond of our food. But the truth is, we do sometimes make internal promises to ourselves. Sometimes we let our negative emotions control us, and we act or speak rashly, or make quick, impulsive decisions that somehow bind us. We might say something like “I’ll never do something nice for that person again.” Or maybe we decide because of a certain incident, we hate and distrust all men or all Asians or something like that. We may not think of it like a harsh or rash vow, but it is basically the same thing that Saul did. I think we should expect the same types of results.

It seems obvious now what Saul should have done. He ought to have repented and asked the Lord for mercy and forgiveness. It would have involved humbling himself in front of his people. But everything might have been different for him if he had done those things. If there is some way in which we have taken Saul’s course, we can still correct that by doing what Saul was too proud to do. If we humble ourselves and ask for forgiveness and mercy, if we repent of our ungodly internal commitments, I am confident that the Lord will forgive us and help us.

A thousand years later, Saul’s namesake, who became known by his Roman name, Paul, wrote this:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations: “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)-according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

King Saul’s oath, imposed on the entire army, did indeed have an appearance of wisdom. It promoted self-made religion and severity to the body. But it was of no value. Unfortunately, even today there are people try to impose their false sense of religion upon others. I’m not talking about people who speak the truth about what the bible says. I’m talking about people like Saul, who don’t really operate out of a faith-based relationship with the Lord. These are the folks who tell you, you cannot eat meat on Fridays, or wear blue jeans in church, or that you are not holy unless you pray like they do.

There are certain core things that all Christians believe and agree upon. I’m not talking about things like these. But apart from those core beliefs, when another Christian insists your faith must look and sound and feel exactly like her faith, she is operating out of a sense of law, not a sense of relationship.

I have fasted many times in my life. Often, fasting is a spiritually rewarding time for me. However, a few times, I’ve been in the middle of a fast and I realized it wasn’t doing me any good. At those times, I simply quit. This is because I’m walking in relationship, not by law. The whole point of fasting is to bless the relationship that I have with the Lord. When it doesn’t accomplish that, there is no point in doing it. Once or twice, I have fasted because others told me they wanted me to fast with them. Those times were counterproductive, spiritually speaking.

Let the Lord speak to you right now. Maybe you need to give up an internal commitment or vow that you have made. Maybe you need to realize that you are free from the expectations of others, so long as you continue to walk and true faith and in relationship with the Lord. Let him talk to you about this 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?




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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.


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

Do You Really Want God to Do What You Ask Him?


1 SAMUEL # 6 CHAPTERS 10 & 11


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This is an age-old story line, repeated all the time in books and movies. A young man goes looking for some donkeys, and comes back three days later at the king of his country.

OK, so it is isn’t a normal or well-known tale. But I love, in part because it seems almost random. Yet in that randomness, we can see God at work. That gives me comfort when events in my own life seem both ordinary and random.

In chapter 8, The elders of of Israel gathered and asked God to give them a king. They asked Samuel to ask God for that, and to show them who God wanted. Then they all went home.

The narrative suddenly switches, and 1 Samuel chapter 9 tells us about a young man who went out with his servant to look for some lost donkeys. The young man was named Saul. He was not at the meeting where the people asked for the king. He was not seeking the Lord, or going on a pilgrimage to a place of worship. He was just doing his job, which at that moment, was to find his dad’s lost donkeys.

After a few days of wandering in the hills, Saul and his servant decided to give up. As they turned back, they were near Samuel’s hometown. Saul’s servant knew this, and suggested that they ask Samuel to ask God where the donkeys are. Saul wasn’t sure about it, because they had nothing to give Samuel, but the servant had some money. Saul then said, basically, “OK, if you think it will helps us find the donkeys.” In other words, he has no desire to see a prophet in order to get closer to God, or to learn God’s will for his life. He just wants God’s help in accomplishing his own mission.

We learned at the end of chapter seven that Samuel used to travel around to various places in Israel and lead worship and judge disputes and share God’s words with the people. Even though Samuel did not live very far from Saul (compared to other areas of Israel) he had never met him. This implies that Saul had not, up to that point, been particularly interested in God. He obviously had never been to Samuel for any other purpose, and he obviously had never taken a sacrifice to worship with Samuel when he was in Saul’s area. Even now, he seeks Samuel not because he wants to know God, but because he’s lost his donkeys. His focus is not on the will of God or on relationship with God, but rather what Samuel can do for him.

So by this point, we can see something things about Saul. The first few verses tell us that he was an unusually tall and large man – the tallest man in all twelve tribes. He was also handsome. But other than that, there is nothing out of the ordinary about him. He isn’t particularly persistent. He isn’t especially patient, or spiritually sensitive. He’s just an ordinary person, except that he is very big, and impressive to look at. He had no clue what was coming.

Samuel, as always had been talking to God and listening. As we study this book, I think Samuel is becoming one of my favorite heroes of the faith. The people wanted a king. God told Samuel he would grant their request. So Samuel went back to work, and waited for God. He didn’t immediately go out and try to find a king for them. He talked to God and listened, and then, some time later, God told him when to anoint the first king. So when Saul showed up in town, Samuel was ready. He recognized him as the person God had chosen to be the answer to the request of the people of Israel. He treated Saul as if he had been expecting him (and actually, he had, since God told him to expect him) and made him a guest of honor at the feast he was going to.

After the feast, Saul was Samuel’s guest. They spoke for a long time. Later, in private, Samuel poured oil on Saul’s head, to anoint him as king of Israel. The significance of oil was that it represented the Spirit of God. The idea was, that with the oil, the Holy Spirit was poured out onto Saul, and he was to be God’s chosen instrument from now on. This is one of the big spiritual differences between the time before Jesus, and the time since his resurrection. Before Jesus, you see that God generally filled only one or two people with His Holy Spirit in each generation. It was as if he had just a few chosen instruments for each lifetime. But the prophet Joel predicted the great change that would come after the Messiah:

28 ​​​​​​​After all of this ​​​​​​I will pour out my Spirit on all kinds of people. ​​​​​​Your sons and daughters will prophesy. ​​​​​​Your elderly will have revelatory dreams; ​​​​​​your young men will see prophetic visions. 29 ​​​​​​​Even on male and female servants ​​​​​​I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29, NET)

In Acts 2:17, on the day of Pentecost, the Lord gave his Holy Spirit to all 120 followers of Jesus. Peter quotes this prophecy from Joel and affirms that it was fulfilled from that day on. And so, from that day on, God’s chosen instruments to work in this world are every single person who trusts in Jesus. It is no longer one or two people in a generation – it is all of God’s people. We are all given the anointing of the Holy Spirit to do God’s work here and now.


Continue reading “Do You Really Want God to Do What You Ask Him?”