1 Samuel 21-22

What A Way To Start A Kingdom!

“Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him.” ­– 1 Samuel 22:2 NASB

David is on the run. Saul is out to kill him and David has no choice but to high-tail it out of town. But these two chapters reveal more than David’s travel itinerary during these early days as an outcast. They reveal some of his weaknesses. We get to see some areas of David’s life in which God is going to have to work if David is going to be the kind of king God intends for him to be. As soon as David leaves he ends up in Nob, where he seeks aid from Ahimelech the priest. David concocts a story in order to get Ahimelech to help him and walks away with the bread of the Presence, right out of the Tabernacle, and the sword of Goliath. Jesus Himself uses this story as an example to teach that compassion for the needs of men took precedence over the legalistic adherence to the Law (Matthew 12:2; 4). But Jesus was in no way justifying David’s lying. He was using the actions of Ahimelech, the priest, in feeding David, as a justification of His healing the needy on the Sabbath. David’s lie would have ramifications. It would result in the senseless slaughter of Ahimelech and 84 other priests as well as the destruction of the city of Nob and all its inhabitants. David got food and a sword, but he compromised the safety of an entire town.

Next, David did something that reveals his desperation and lack of leading by God. He straps on the sword of Goliath, the Philistine champion he had killed, and heads straight to the recently deceased Philistine’s hometown of Gath. We aren’t told what David was thinking, but it seems insane. Which is exactly what David has to pretend he is when he gets there because the residents warn the king of Gath that he should not trust David. They know who he is and what he has done. Fearing for his life, David feigns insanity, drooling into his beard and acting like a madman. King Achish allows David to leave probably because in that culture the insane were a bad omen and avoided at all costs. From there, David flees to the cave of Adullum. Here is when things get really interesting. David, the anointed king of Israel find himself hiding in a remote cave in the wilderness of Adullum. And the passage tells us that he suddenly finds himself surrounded by a rag-tag and of misfits and malcontents. The Message describes them this way: “all who were down on their luck came around–losers and vagrants and misfits of all sorts.” The New American Standard describes them as the distressed, indebted, and discontented. What a way to start a kingdom! David is surrounded by people with all kinds of problems. They have been abused by Saul’s reign. They have personally experienced what God had warned them about when they demanded a king (1 Samuel 8:11-18).

These early days of David’s exile are not pretty. They do not paint a flattering picture of Israel’s future king. But they do reflect a man who is being personally trained by God and having all his weaknesses exposed in order to transform him into the kind of king God desires. David was NOT a perfect man, but he was a man after God’s own heart. He had a love for God. He had a desire to serve God. But we see that he was as flawed as the next man. He was impulsive, fearful, struggled with faith at times, and prone to fits of melancholy. But we also see that David took personal responsibility. Unlike Saul, who was always blaming everyone else for his sins, David took ownership. When he finds out that Saul has murdered Ahimelech and all the priests in Nob, David confesses to Abiathar, the lone survivor, “I have brought about the death of every person in your father’s household” (1 Samuel 22:22 NLT). We are seeing God’s slow, steady transformation of a man into the kind of man He desires. Transformation requires transparency, or the exposure of our flaws. It requires brokenness so that we will learn to confess or sinfulness. It requires the removal of all the other props on which we lean, so that we will lean more and more on God. God was transforming David and He is transforming us. Can you see His hand at work? Sometimes we can’t, but we can rest assured that He is always at work – using every event in our lives to do His will in our lives.

Father, thank You for Your sovereign rule and reign in my life. Thank You for reminding me that I am a work in process. You are not done with me yet. You are constantly molding and making me into the kind of man You intend for me to be. You use each and every circumstance to expose my weaknesses and failings. You are always breaking me, so that I might be more like Your Son. But You are always loving me too. You are at work in my life each and every day. Help me to see Your hand in every circumstance of life. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Samuel 20; Psalm 59

Getting to Know God Through Adversity.

“But as for me, I will sing about your power. I will shout with joy each morning because of your unfailing love. For you have been my refuge, a place of safety in the day of distress. O my Strength, to you I sing praises, for you, O God, are my refuge, the God who shows me unfailing love.” ­– Psalm 59:16-17 NLT

David knew God. When we get introduced to David for the first time in the book of 1 Samuel, he is standing before King Saul and the army of Israel telling them about the exploits he had accomplished by God’s power. David had defeated a lion and a bear and knew that it was because of God the he had been able to do so. He trusted in God’s power. He had experienced it first hand. He knew God to be faithful. But there was a lot about God that David didn’t know. He was a young man with limited experience. He had been a shepherd, working for his father. His life experiences were limited. But God had chosen him to be the next king of Israel. He had been anointed by God for the job. But there is a big difference between being anointed and being prepared. God was going to enroll David into His School of Leadership. Not just teach him what a good king should do, but to introduce him to the one true King.

I’ve always found it interesting that God had Samuel anoint David to be Saul’s replacement, but then left Saul on the throne. Then God removed His Spirit from Saul and placed an evil spirit on him that caused him to react in rage and anger toward David. God caused David to prosper and every time David did, Saul because increasingly angry. So much so, that he tried to pin David to a wall with a spear – twice. God was behind all of this. He could have just removed Saul from his throne and put David in his place, but God had other plans. And those plans included David going through some extremely difficult days. He would lose his position, his wife, his best friend, and ultimately, his mentor Samuel. But David would gain so much more. He was going to learn things about His God he would have learned no other way. It was going to be through adversity that David learned reliability and sovereignty of God. As David experienced the hatred of Saul and was forced to run for his life, he would find himself with nothing to trust in, except his God.

That is why David’s Psalms resonate so well with most of us. They are journals of his life – intimate glimpses into those dark moments of the soul where David honestly and sometimes glaringly shares his heart. Psalm 59 is just such a Psalm. In it, David expresses his feelings as he runs from Saul and his men who want to take his life. David cries to God for deliverance. He admits that he feels like God is asleep at the wheel and unaware of his circumstances. He begs God to destroy them. But through it all, he learning things about his God that he didn’t know before. He already knew God was strong. But now he is learning that there is more to God than just power. He is a God of lovingkindness and tenderness. He is a refuge or place of safety when times are tough. He is a stronghold where David can hide when his enemies are out to get him. David is learning about God as he is forced to trust and lean on God. God is using adversity to educate and prepare David for what lies ahead. His reign will be a long one, and it will be filled with ups and downs, successes and failures. David is going to need God, but more than anything else, he is going to need to KNOW God. It is in the tough times that we learn the tenderness of God. It is in the difficulties of life that we learn nothing is too difficult for God. It is in our moments of despair that we discover God is a source of hope. Our adversity is God’s opportunity to reveal to us just who He is in all His glory.

Father, thank You for adversity. I don’t like it, but I realize that it is in the difficulties of life that I really get to know You – IF I will learn to turn to You. David had nowhere else to turn. But when he did look for You, he always found You, because You are faithful all time time. David got to know You as he went through the difficulties of life. Help me to see You in the dark moments of my life, not just the good times. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Samuel 18-19; Psalm 11

A Good God Even in the Bad Times.

“Certainly the Lord is just; he rewards godly deed; the upright will experience his favor.” ­– Psalm 11:7 NET

The life of David is a roller-coaster ride filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, thrills and chills that can leave you feeling exhausted just reading about it. Here was a young shepherd boy who was thrust into the limelight one day and his life would never be the same. After his miraculous defeat of Goliath, he found himself employed by the king. He was working for the very man he was to one day replace. And while David had been anointed by Samuel as Saul’s replacement, God was not going to allow him to have the throne right away. Instead, God was going to allow David to work for Saul, learning to serve someone who would grow increasingly hostile toward him. If you think you’ve ever had a bad employer, consider David. I can’t think of one boss that I have had who tried to kill me! But Saul tried to personally murder David twice by throwing spears at him in fits of rage. He also tried to have him murdered on numerous occasions. But God protected David each and every time.

David was doing everything he was asked to do by Saul. He fought for him and won. He did exactly what Saul asked to win his daughter’s hand in marriage. He served faithfully, but in return all he got in return was anger (1 Samuel 18:8), suspicion (1 Samuel 18:9), fear (1 Samuel 18:12), dread (1 Samuel 18:15), and a life-long enemy (1 Samuel 18:29). Yet David prospered because God was with him. In spite of the circumstances surrounding him and the difficult situation in which he found himself, David was blessed by God. Jonathan, the king’s son, loved him and protected him. His wife Michal, the king’s daughter, was willing to lie for him in order to protect him. The people highly esteemed him. Why? Because God’s hand was on David.

Even when things got really bad and Saul sent men to murder David in his own home, David escaped and ran away to hide with Samuel, the prophet who had anointed him to be the future king. Saul sent me to kill David, but God intervened, turning the would-be murderers into prophets of God. This happened three different times. They came with one intention, but God changed their minds and their motives. Even when Saul came personally to take David’s life, he too ended up prophesying instead of murdering. God had stepped in. He was going to protect His own. No one could do to David anything God would not allow. And these early days of David’s life were going to be a schoolroom where David would learn the faithfulness of God. Psalm 11 was most likely written at this time. In his time of difficulty and loss, David was learning just how trustworthy his God was. David was under siege, but he had a shelter in God. David had a mortal enemy, but he had a protector in God. David had a king who wanted him dead and would not stop at anything to see it happen, but he had a heavenly king seated on His throne who would guarantee that it not happen. It was the very circumstances in which David found himself that allowed him to learn the truth about his God. Our difficulties are God’s opportunities. It is in the dark moments that we get to see the light of God shine brightest. David’s greatest days were ahead of him. But he would have to navigate the dark days of the present with the light of God’s prevailing presence. We best learn to trust God when we find ourselves in situations that demand we have to.

Father, You are always there. Even when I can’t see You at work, You are. You are always behind the scenes doing what only You can do. Help me to continue to learn to trust You regardless of the circumstances. Nothing is too difficult for You.  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Samuel 16-17

Looks Can Be Deceiving.

“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t make decisions the way you do! People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at a person’s thoughts and intentions.‘” ­– 1 Samuel 16:7 NLT

The story of Saul is the story of a man who looked like a king, but who failed to live like one. He had all the outward characteristics of a leader. He was tall, handsome, a warrior, and yet, he ended up being rejected by God because he was disobedient to God. He was a lousy leader because he was a lousy follower. This entire story of Saul and David seems to be filled with references to appearance, and I don’t think it’s just coincidence. When Samuel is sent by God to the house of Jesse to look for the one He has chosen to be Saul’s replacement, looks play a significant part. God assured Samuel, “I have selected a king for Myself among his sons” (1 Samuel 16:1), but He didn’t tell him how he would recognize the one chosen. So all Samuel had to go on was appearance. He was looking for someone who looked like a king. And as Jesse paraded his sons by the prophet one at a time, Samuel began choosing based on appearance. As soon as Eliab, the firstborn came into view, Samuel said, “This has got to be the one!” He had all the outward qualities of a king. We aren’t given a detailed description of Eliab, but he was most likely tall, handsome, strong, and a warrior. Much like Saul had been. But Samuel hasn’t seemed to learn from the lesson with Saul. God rejects Eliab and informs Samuel that He is looking for something more. He is looking beneath the surface. His interest is in the heart. He doesn’t need a man with strength and the right kind of leadership skills. He needs a man with the right kind of heart. So he rejects the sons of Jesse one at after the other. Until He gets to David, the youngest. The likelihood of David being selected was so low that he had not even been brought by Jesse to appear before the prophet. He was out tending sheep. And the passage tells us that David was not only young, but “he had red hair and beautiful eyes and pleasing looks” (1 Samuel 16:12 BBE). David was a red-headed, pretty boy Jewish kid. He didn’t look like a king or a warrior. But God told Samuel, “This is the one; anoint him!” (1 Samuel 16:12 NLT).

In chapter 17 we have the well-known story of David and Goliath, and once again appearance plays a major part. We get a detailed description of the Philistine champion, Goliath. He is huge, a giant of a man with superhuman strength and a personality to match. He is intimidating in all his armor as he shouts insult at the Israelites day after day. Everything about this guy is bigger than life, including his armor and weapons. And no one is willing to stand  against him. Not even Saul, who stood head and shoulders above anyone else in Israel. Then in comes David, the harp-playing shepherd boy from Bethlehem. By all appearances, he is no match for this warrior from Gath. But he has something going for him that no one else can see. He has a heart for God and the faith of a man who trusts in God. He is also anointed with the Spirit of God. But when Saul looks at David, all he sees is a boy. Yet David is brimming with confidence, not in himself, but in his God. David boldly informs Goliath, “you come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD Almighty – the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Samuel 17:45 NLT). We all know how the story ends. David defeated Goliath with nothing more than a sling and a stone. But the truth is, David had so much more than a rock and piece of leather. He had God. More than that, he had confidence in God. He had a heart that understood the power and presence of God. He had might and right on His side. So he had nothing to fear.

Looks can be deceiving. Appearance can be misleading. But God looks at the heart. Because that’s where reality is. It’s what’s inside that really counts.

Father, You aren’t impressed with appearances. You don’t need me to be strong to accomplish great things in me or through me. If fact, You seem to prefer that I am weak, so that You can prove Your strength through me. Help me to learn to stop looking at the outside and to start looking at the inside. Give me an internal perspective. Give me a greater concern about my heart than the way I appear.  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Samuel 14-15

We Tend To Make Lousy Kings.

“I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has not been loyal to me and has again refused to obey me.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard this that he cried out to the LORD all night.” ­– 1 Samuel 15:11 NLT

Saul had been appointed and anointed king by God. But he somehow forgot the source of his authority and began to believe that he had made himself king. He began to read his own press clippings and bask in the glory of his own reputation. Saul, although reluctant to be king at the start, had begun to get used to his new role. He had begun to like being king. But he forgot that God was His ultimate ruler and authority. God is the one who had put him on the throne and God could remove him at any time. But somewhere along the way Saul began to confuse his authority with God’s. He began to believe that he could act apart from God’s will and do things his own way. And his victories seemed to assure him that he was right. In chapter 14 Saul had put the people  under an oath not to eat anything until they had completely defeated the Philistines. This man-made rule would lead to some significant problems. First of all, it left his own army undernourished and exhausted so that they could not fully carry out their rout of the enemy. And it ultimately led the people to violate the command of God when they, famished and exhausted, slaughtered some of the livestock taken as spoil and ate the meat with the blood – in direct violation of God’s law (Leviticus 3:17). And worse yet, Saul’s own son Jonathan, who had been away fighting the enemy, unknowingly broke his father’s rule by eating honey.

Whenever we try to be the king of our own lives, we can end up making some really bad decisions. Motivated by greed, ruled by our own passions, and focused on our own selfish desires, we can tend to lose sight of reality. When things go wrong, we tend to blame others. We pass the buck. We rationalize and justify our own actions, because we begin to believe that we really are king. We can’t be wrong. This is exactly what happened to Saul. When the people sinned by eating the meat with the blood, he sought to find a scapegoat, someone to blame for the calamity. And he vowed to kill whoever was responsible. When he sought a word from God and didn’t hear anything, he didn’t blame his own sin and impulsive behavior, he looked for someone else to hang the problem on. And when it turned out to be his own son who had violated his precious oath, he treated his own word with the same weight as God’s command and was ready to put his own son to death. What arrogance. What pride. It was only the words of his own men that kept Saul from carrying out his plan.

Saul had become highly selective in his obedience to God. He obeyed when it was convenient. But most of the time he did what HE wanted to do. And in chapter 15 we see the culmination of his arrogant behavior. God clearly instructs Saul to completely wipe out the Amalekites for their opposition to the Israelites when they first entered the Promised Land. But instead of obeying God completely, Saul decides to do things his way. He captures the king of Amalekites alive and then allows the people to keep the best of the spoil for themselves. “Then Saul slaughtered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt. He captured Agag, the Amalekite king, but completely destroyed everyone else. Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs––everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality” (1 Samuel 15:7-9 NLT). In other words, Saul partially obeyed. He conveniently obeyed. And his actions caused God to reject him as king. Saul defended his actions. He justified his decisions. And when God refused to accept his excuses, Saul blamed others for his own sin. He even tried to appease God by offering sacrifices to Him from the very spoil he had taken against God’s commands. And God’s response? “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to him is much better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as bad as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23 NLT).

Saul had played king and lost his throne. He had attempted to rule his own life and put a higher priority on his own word and will than God’s. And as a result, he lost his kingship. Are you on your own throne today? Are you attempting to rule your own life? Or is God on the throne of your life? Saul made a lousy king, but so do we.

Father, You are king and no one else. But I so often try to be my own king and rule my own life. I justify my actions and demand that others obey my commands. I want to dictate how my life should go. I want to do what I want to do – so much so that I end up disobeying what You tell me to do. So I am a lot like Saul in many ways. Help me to see my sin and turn from ruling my own life back to You. I want You to rule and reign over every area of my life Lord. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Samuel 12-13

When Looks Aren’t Enough.

“But be sure to fear the LORD and sincerely worship him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you.” ­– 1 Samuel 12:24 NLT

Saul was now king and he looked the part. He was tall, good looking, and a natural-born warrior. But God was looking for more than appearance. He was looking for obedience. Samuel made this clear in his address to the people. He reminded them of the faithfulness of God and all He had done for them over the years. He had rescued them from Egypt and delivered them to the promised land. But they had forgotten all about God. And this latest episode – their demand for a king – was the latest in a long list of offenses against God. Saul told them, “…you came to me and said that you wanted a king to reign over you, even though the LORD your God was already your king” (1 Samuel 12:12 NLT). And God had gone ahead and given them their king. But Saul also warned them that having a king would not be enough. They would still have to be obedient to God.

Now if you will fear and worship the LORD and listen to his voice, and if you do not rebel against the LORD’s commands, and if you and your king follow the LORD your God, then all will be well. But if you rebel against the LORD’s commands and refuse to listen to him, then his hand will be as heavy upon you as it was upon your ancestors. – 1 Samuel 12:14-15 NLT

Saul pleads with them to follow the Lord with all their hearts. He warns them not to turn aside and go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue them. That has been their track record for generations. And having a king was not going to change that. No more than having judges had changed that. Saul reminds them that God will never completely forsake them, because of His concern for His own name. But He will allow them to reap the consequences of their disobedience if they forsake Him again. “But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be destroyed” (1 Samuel 12:25 NLT).

And it doesn’t take long for things to go south for the people of Israel. Their new king reveals his true heart in just a matter of days. His actions expose the real nature of his character. And good looks is not enough to cover up what is going on inside the man. Saul had been given instructions by Samuel to go down to Gilgal and wait for him there. Saul obeyed, but when he arrived, he was faced with some difficult circumstances. Jonathan, his son, had led a group of men in a battle against the Philistine garrison at Geba and won. But this little victory had stirred up a hornet’s nest of trouble. The Philistines were now massing for war against the Israelites and the people were in a panic. So much so, that many of them were running away and hiding in caves. Others had fled across the Jordan into Gad and Gilead. Saul had a real problem on his hands. He was outnumbered and under-equipped for war. The Philistines had chariots and weapons. His troops had farming implements to fight with. So when Saul arrived at Gilgal and Samuel didn’t arrive on time, he took matters into his own hands. He decided to offer up sacrifices to God on his own – refusing to wait for Samuel and disobeying his orders (1 Samuel 10:8). What had Samuel said to the people? “But if you rebel against the LORD’s commands and refuse to listen to him, then his hand will be as heavy upon you as it was upon your ancestors” (1 Samuel 12:15 NLT). Saul made excuses and tried to defend his actions. He attempted to explain that the circumstances demanded that he act as he did. But Samuel wasn’t buying it. His reaction clearly indicates that he knew the real problem – Saul’s heart. He didn’t have a heart for God and it showed up in his disobedience. “But now your dynasty must end, for the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart. The LORD has already chosen him to be king over his people, for you have not obeyed the LORD’s command” (1 Samuel 13:14 NLT). Saul had a heart problem. He looked like a king, but he didn’t know how to act like a king. Because he lacked the inner character and heart of a man who loved God and was willing to obey Him in spite of the circumstances surrounding him. Rather than trust God and obey Samuel’s command, Saul had taken matters into his own hands. He had panicked and disobeyed. And as a result, he lost his kingdom and his kingship.

God deserves our allegiance. He deserves our obedience. He has done nothing to warrant our constant turning from Him to other things for our hope, happiness, deliverance or comfort. He only asks that we obey Him. He asks that we serve Him. He asks that we put Him first in our lives. Is that too much to ask after all He has done for us? Saul’s reign was dependent on his obedience. His ability to obey was directly tied to the condition of his heart. He didn’t really know God or trust Him. He was not a man after God’s own heart. And it showed.

Father, You are looking for men and women after Your own heart. You want obedience. You are not impressed with outward appearance and the level of our capabilities. You look at the heart. You look into the inside and determine the true worth of a man or woman. May we be men and women after Your own heart. May we love what You love and hate what You hate. May we learn to trust You more, regardless of the circumstances that surround us. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Samuel 10-11

Long Live the King!

“Then Samuel said to all the people, ‘This is the man the LORD has chosen as your king. No one in all Israel is his equal!’ And all the people shouted, ‘Long live the king!‘” ­– 1 Samuel 10:24 NLT

For the first time in their long and somewhat checkered history, Israel has a king. And the people rejoice. This is a significant turning point in the story of the people of Israel, because up until this point, God had been their king. He had been their sovereign rule, deliverer, leader, protector, and provider. But the people had rejected God as their king. Samuel makes this quite clear when he addresses the people on the day Saul was revealed as their king. “But today you have rejected your God who saves you from all your trouble and distress. You have said, ‘No! Appoint a king over us’ (1 Samuel 10:19 NET). Saul was obviously chosen by God. He was handpicked by God as the answer to the peoples’ demand for a king. And he appears to be a good choice at the onset. He appears humble, hardworking, a capable leader, and has the anointing of the Holy Spirit. He handles his first crisis calmly and effectively in defeating the Ammonites. He treats even his detractors with patience and self-control, ensuring unity in a time when the nation of Israel was divided.

Chapter 11 ends with the people offering sacrifices to God and rejoicing greatly over the latest turn of events. They have the king they wanted. All is well in Israel. But we know that’s not the end of the story. Thing are off to a great start with Saul, but it won’t take long for all that to change. We cannot lose sight of the fact that God was their real king. Saul was a poor substitute for God. Yes, he was appointed by God, anointed by Saul, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, but he was still a man. An imperfect man whose flaws would eventually show up. Every king Israel ever had was marked by flaws. Some were faithful to Yahweh. Others were unfaithful. But all were human and sinful. Yet they were God’s viceroys, His agents and representatives here on earth. They were to answer to Him. They were to rule on His behalf and at His pleasure. They ruled and reigned only as long as God allowed them to. And Saul would be the first illustration of this sometimes tenuous relationship.

“Long live the king!” What if this had been the cry of the people regarding God Himself? What if the people had learned to acknowledge God as their one true king? Obviously, God was not surprised by the peoples’ demand for a king. God had already planned for this to happen. He had ordained the reigns of David and Saul. He was already aware that there would be a whole line of kings who would rule unfaithfully and lead the people into idolatry. He knew the kingdom would one day split. God was in control. He was still king, whether the people admitted it or not. He would always be king. He is always in control. And He is always trying to get His people to realize it. So that we might one day say, “Long live the king!”

Father, You are the one true king. Forgive us for the many times we forget that and bow down to other kings and powers in our lives. We sometimes crown ourselves as the kings of our lives. But like Saul, we make lousy kings. Help us to recognize Your power and bow down before You shouting, “Long live the king!” and really mean it. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Samuel 7-9

The High Cost of Compromise and Conformity.

“But the people refused to listen to Samuel’s warning. ‘Even so, we still want a king,’ they said. ‘We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will govern us and lead us into battle.’” ­– 1 Samuel 8:19-20 NLT

Twenty years pass. The Ark, returned from the Philistines, remains at Kiriath-jearim instead of in the Tabernacle at Shiloh. The Philistines remained a constant threat during those years and the people began to long after the Lord. There seemed to be a growing interest in the things of God during those years and so Samuel calls the people to renew their dedication to God as the one true God. He calls them to return and repent. He demands that they get rid of all the other gods they have been worshiping and to direct their hearts toward God alone. The people obey. They remove the foreign gods. The confess their sins before God. Then God gives them a great victory over the Philistines. And He continues to suppress the Philistines all the days that Samuel judged the nation of Israel. Things seemed to be looking up. But there was still a heart problem going on in Israel. Things were not as they seemed. They may have gotten rid of their foreign gods on the surface, but they were still worshiping something other than God. They were still being influenced by the nations around them.

Years later, after Samuel had gotten old, the problem surfaces. For all their talk of serving God alone, the people finally come out and admit that they would really have a human king than a heavenly one. They demand that Samuel anoint a king over them. He is appalled. He can’t believe what he is hearing. After all these years and all that God had done for them, they are telling God they prefer someone else to lead them. Samuel attempts to talk them out of it, but the people refuse to listen. God tells Samuel what the problem is: “…it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer” (1 Samuel 8:7 NLT). The people were rejecting God as their king. They wanted “a king like all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5 NLT). They had looked around them and seen how the other nations lived. They had seen that they all had kings and were ruled by some human leader who judged them, led them, and fought their battles for them. The bottom line was that they wanted to be like all the other nations (1 Samuel 8:19). They wanted to conform to the world around them. They were tired of being different. They were not satisfied with having God as their king. They couldn’t see God. They had a hard time understanding God. He didn’t rule like the other kings. He didn’t lead like the other kings. Sure, He had given them victory over the Philistines, but that was not enough. The people were rejecting God. They may have gotten rid of their idols, but their hearts were far from God.

So God surprises Samuel by telling him to listen to the demands of the people. He instructs Samuel to do just what the people say. He agrees to give them a king, but warns them that there will be ramifications. He is going to give them a king “just like all the other nations” and it will not all be positive. They are going to get just what they asked for and more. But in spite of God’s warnings, the peoples’ demands grow stronger. They want a king. Which sets the stage for the appointment of Saul – “the most handsome man in Israel––head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land” (1 Samuel 9:2 NLT). Tall, good looking, the epitome of a king, Saul had all the right qualifications. His dad was a “mighty man of valor.” He came from good stock. He looked the part. He was just the kind of man that any nation would want as their king. But there was something missing. A heart for God. The peoples’ rejection of God and demand for a king would result in a man ruling over them who shared their disdain for God. He would prove to be in love with himself and his own press clippings. He would prove to be a king who did not need God.

And it all began with a growing love affair with the world. They couldn’t keep their eyes off the world around them. They began to compromise and conform. They were not content being unique, set apart, a people committed to God and His ways. They wanted more. They saw what the rest of the world had and they wanted it. They took their eyes off God and their hearts followed. Their revival and repentance had turned to rejection. God alone was not enough. That is a danger we constantly face even as believers today. But He calls us to commitment not compromise. He calls us to be transformed, not conformed. He demands that we be unique, set apart, a people after His own heart. But the tug of the world is strong. The call to conform is powerful. But if listened to, it always costs dearly. As we will see in the life of Saul.

Father, the call to conform is strong. Give us the strength to reject that call and not You. Keep us focused on You and You alone. The world has nothing we need. It’s ways always prove themselves to be a disappointment. But You are always faithful and true. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Samuel 5-6

A Game of Divine Hot Potato.

“So they called together the rulers of the five Philistine cities and asked, “What should we do with the Ark of the God of Israel?” The rulers discussed it and replied, “Move it to the city of Gath.” So they moved the Ark of the God of Israel to Gath.” ­– 1 Samuel 5:8 NLT

This is a great story. Unless of course, you happened to be a Philistine. It seems that after the defeat of the Israelites at the hand of the Philistines and their capture of the Ark of the Covenant, things got a little hot in the city of Ashdod. That’s where they took the Ark and put it only display as kind of a trophy in the temple to their own god, Dagon. During the night, the statue of Dagon took a nose dive and they found it the next morning lying prostrate before the Ark. They stood it back up and the next night it fell again. Only this time its head and hands were sheered off on the threshold. This was a divine message from God because “the hand of the Lord was heavy on the Ashdodites” (1 Samuel 5:6). And things were about to get worse. Their god was not going to be the only one to suffer. God ravaged them with tumors or emrods, a word that could have signified that God struck them with hemorrhoids! A disease you wouldn’t wish on your own worst enemy. Regardless of what these tumors were exactly, they were painful and even the Philistines recognized that they were a retribution from God. So the men of the city of Ashdod hold a pow-wow and come up with a plan. They decide to get rid of the Ark by sending it to the city of Gath, another neighboring Philistine city. I’ve always loved this story because it reveals the heart of man – our stupidity, selfishness, and insensitivity. The men of Ashdod know full well that the Ark is the source of their problems and their pain, but they are more than willing to send it to the city of Gath so that it can become a literal pain in the rear to the people there. They just want their suffering to end, and they don’t care who they hurt in order to make that happen.

The Ark arrives in the city of Gath and it isn’t long before the same problems break out. The men of Gath then send the Ark to the city of Ekron. By now, the word had gotten out and when the men of Ekron see the Ark, they rightfully panic. “So the people summoned the rulers again and begged them, ‘Please send the Ark of the God of Israel back to its own country, or it will kill us all.’ For the plague from God had already begun, and great fear was sweeping across the city” (1 Samuel 5:11 NLT). For more than seven months the Ark made its way from city to city, bringing death and destruction wherever it went. God was dealing with them harshly. So the Philistines consult with their priests and diviners, asking for their advice as to what to do. Their recommendation? Send the Ark back to Israel. Get rid of it. Give the God of Israel back His Ark along with some tokens of sacrifice and maybe He will relent on the tumors and the plague of mice that was devastating the land (1 Samuel 6:5). So the Philistines agree to send back the Ark. They load it on a cart along with some golden replicas of the tumors and mice, hitch two milk cows to the cart and send it on its way. Miraculously ignoring their calves, the cows make a bee-line to the Israelite city of Beth-shemesh. The residents of this levitical city welcome back the Ark by offering sacrifices to God. The only problem is, 70 men of the city ignore the sacredness of the Ark, look inside, and are struck dead by God. This was in direct violation of the Mosaic law prohibiting anyone from looking inside the Ark (Numbers 4:5, 20; cf. 2 Samuel 6:6-7). So the people of the city react in fear and decide to get rid of the Ark one more time. They send it on to the city of Kiriath-jearim.

As has been the base all along, we see in this story the omnipotent, sovereign hand of God at work. The Israelites attempted to use the Ark as a good luck charm, only to lose it in battle to the Philistines. But God would use these circumstances to teach the Philistines about His power. It is interesting that Dagon was their fertility god, but he lost his head and hands before God, and the land was devastated by mice, probably destroying crops and contaminating their stores of grain. But in verse 13 of chapter six, we see that harvest had come to the people of Israel. God had been blessing them while He had been destroying the people of Ashdod. In spite of Israel’s sacrilegious treatment of the Ark, God faithfully returned it to them.  But He wanted them to learn to treat it and Him with a sense of holy awe and respect. It was not some good luck charm or talisman. It was a holy vessel set apart for God’s use in His tabernacle. It was not to be taken lightly or treated flippantly. It belonged to God. God takes His holiness seriously, even if we don’t. He demands our awe and respect, and deserves it.

Father, You are a holy God. You deserve our obedience and respect. Forgive us for taking You for granted and treating You flippantly and lightly. You are set apart. You are truly unique and one of a kind. Everything about You is holy. May we learn to treat You with the dignity and respect You deserve. But thank You for Your faithfulness in spite of our faithlessness. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Samuel 3-4

Where is the Glory?

“She named the child Ichabod––”Where is the glory?”––murmuring, “Israel’s glory is gone.” She named him this because the Ark of God had been captured and because her husband and her father–in–law were dead.” ­– 1 Samuel 4:21 NLT

Chapters three and four continue to use contrasts to set the scene of what is going on in Israel during these closing days of the judges. Eli, the current judge is old and has done a poor job of judging Israel. In fact, he has done an even worse job of judging his own sons, Hophni and Phinehas. God has had to condemn them for their disobedience and immoral habits. He has pledged to punish Eli and his entire family for their failure to live in obedience to Him (1 Samuel 2:30-35). Yet in spite of all this, God Himself appears before Samuel in the tabernacle and breaks a long period of silence by opening up the lines of communication again to His people. His first assignment to Samuel, his new judge and prophet is to tell Eli, the current judge, that the judgment of God is about to come on he and his house (1 Samuel 3:11-14). It is the end of one judge’s rule and the beginning of another. One is advanced in years. The other is young. One is tied to the years of rebellion associated with the people of God. The other is linked to the future of Israel and the hope that God is about to do a great thing among His people. There had been a shift in leadership and the people knew it. God had visited His people and Samuel was His new spokesman. “Samuel grew up. GOD was with him, and Samuel’s prophetic record was flawless. Everyone in Israel, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, recognized that Samuel was the real thing–a true prophet of GOD. GOD continued to show up at Shiloh, revealed through his word to Samuel at Shiloh” (1 Samuel 3:19-21 MSG).

It is interesting that after a detailed introduction to Samuel and his new role as God’s mouthpiece for Israel, he disappears from the story until chapter seven. He is mentioned in verse 1 of chapter four, but then we don’t hear from him again for several more chapters. Why? Again, I think it is to set up another contrast. The people of God had lost touch with God. Chapter 3, verse 1 tells us that a word from the Lord was rare in those days and that visions of God were infrequent. In other words, they were not used to hearing from God. So they didn’t know what to do with Samuel. They were used to doing things their own way. Eli had provided lousy leadership, so they had developed a bad habit of self-rule and self-administration. They didn’t really know or understand God. So when chapter four opens with another pending conflict with the Philistines, we find the people of God reacting in the flesh again. They go to battle with their arch enemies and lose. They immediately question why God has allowed them to lose, but never seem to ask why they never inquired of God regarding whether they should fight or not. As a remedy to their problem, the elders decide to send for the Ark of the Covenant, a symbol of God’s power and presence, which was housed in the tabernacle. The Ark contained the ten commandments written on stone and was topped by the mercy seat where the high priest atoned for the sins of the people. They send for the Ark like it was some kind of totem or talisman for good luck. In doing so they turn it into an idol or a good luck charm. They have no idea what the real presence of God might look like. Seven times in the next few chapters we read about the Ark of the Covenant. It becomes the focus now. The people are about to learn that having the things of God is not the same as having God. The presence of the Ark was not going to save them. In fact, we read in verse 17 of chapter four the bad news that was given to Eli by a messenger, “Israel has been defeated, thousands of Israelite troops are dead on the battlefield. Your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were killed, too. And the Ark of God has been captured” (1 Samuel 4:17 NLT). Israel has been defeated, thousands are dead, including two priests of God, and worse yet, the Ark of God is now in the hands of the Philistines. At this news, Eli topples over in shock, breaking his neck and dies. The chapter ends with the birth of a son to the wife of Phinehas, one of Eli’s rebellious sons. At the news of her husband’s death, she goes into premature labor, and in giving birth to her son, she too dies. But not before she names her new son, Ichabod, which literally means “where is the glory?” In her mind the glory of God had departed with the loss of the Ark. Her words reflect the attitude of the people. God was gone. All was lost. But the truth is, God was far from gone. He was using these dire circumstances to reestablish Himself as Israel’s King and sovereign Lord. He was in control. He was orchestrating events to accomplish His will. He used the battle with the Philistines to remove Hophni and Phinehas. He would use the capture of the Ark to defeat the Philistines. He would use the return of the Ark to bring a period of revival among the people of God. The glory of God had not departed. The people had left God long ago. He was now calling them back. Difficult times do not indicate that God has left us, but are simply opportunities to see God’s power revealed among us. The capture of the Ark did not limit God’s power or impact His presence. He was there. He was in control. But He needed to get their attention. Is He trying to get ours today?

Father, You are here. You are deeply engaged in the lives of Your people. We can’t always see You and we don’t always understand how You are working. But You are here. Open our eyes and help us recognize Your power and presence in the middle of even our darkest moments. You are not limited by circumstances, no matter how bleak they may appear to be. You are always working behind the scenes orchestrating events and situations in such a way that Your divine will is always accomplished. Give us eyes to see You clearly. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men