Refusal to Change.

Then the Lord said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go! And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord:

“‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence,
    and those who are for the sword, to the sword;
those who are for famine, to famine,
    and those who are for captivity, to captivity.’

I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, declares the Lord: the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. And I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem.

“Who will have pity on you, O Jerusalem,
    or who will grieve for you?
Who will turn aside
    to ask about your welfare?
You have rejected me, declares the Lord;
    you keep going backward,
so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you—
    I am weary of relenting.
I have winnowed them with a winnowing fork
    in the gates of the land;
I have bereaved them; I have destroyed my people;
    they did not turn from their ways.
I have made their widows more in number
    than the sand of the seas;
I have brought against the mothers of young men
    a destroyer at noonday;
I have made anguish and terror
    fall upon them suddenly.
She who bore seven has grown feeble;
    she has fainted away;
her sun went down while it was yet day;
    she has been shamed and disgraced.
And the rest of them I will give to the sword
    before their enemies,
declares the Lord.”  – Jeremiah 15:1-9 ESV

God was angry with the people of Judah and there was nothing Jeremiah could do to try and make Him change His mind. In fact, God said that even if two of the greatest intercessors in history were there, He would not listen to them. Moses, who had led the people of Israel out of Egypt, had learned what it was like to try and lead the people of Israel. He hadn’t made it far out of the land of Egypt when the people began to have second thoughts about this new god, Yahweh. Moses was up on the mountain receiving God’s commandments. And while he was out of sight and out of mind, the people decided to make their own god. They took the gold they had received from the Egyptians when they had left Egypt and created a golden calf, an idol and began worshiping before it. God saw their actions and informed Moses about what they had done and His plan to annihilate them for their actions. But Moses appealed to God, asking Him to spare His people.

Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.”

But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are you so angry with your own people whom you brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from your fierce anger. Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’”

So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people. – Exodus 32:9-14 NLT

What about Samuel? He had interceded on behalf of the people of Israel when they had demanded that God give them a king just like all the other nations. In doing so, they were rejecting God as their King. And God was angry.

So Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day. And all the people were terrified of the Lord and of Samuel. “Pray to the Lord your God for us, or we will die!” they all said to Samuel. “For now we have added to our sins by asking for a king.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you—they are totally useless! The Lord will not abandon his people, because that would dishonor his great name. For it has pleased the Lord to make you his very own people.

“As for me, I will certainly not sin against the Lord by ending my prayers for you. And I will continue to teach you what is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be swept away.” – 1 Samuel 12:18-25 NLT

These two men, Samuel and Moses, had prayed on behalf of the people of God and had apparently changed His mind. Or had they? In both cases, the outcome of their prayers to God seems to be less about God changing His mind than about the people changing their ways. God’s anger and threat to punish the people for their sins brought about repentance. Out of fear of God’s judgment, they had pledged to change their ways. And God did judge the people. He did not let them get away with their sin. In the case of Moses, more than 3,000 of those who took part in the worship of the golden calf were put to death by the Levites. And, “Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32:35 NLT). And while Samuel pleaded on behalf of the people, God still punished them by giving them exactly what they demanded: a king like all the other nations. He gave them Saul, and he would prove to be a terrible king, who conscripted their sons into his army and their daughters as his servants. He would tax them and take the best of their fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants (1 Samuel 8:14). 

And while both Moses and Samuel appear to have had success in getting God to change His mind, the people still suffered for their sins. And God demanded that they change their ways. But in the case of Jeremiah and the people of Judah, God said that even if these great leaders of Israel had tried to change His mind, they would have failed, because the people of Judah had no intention of repenting. And God makes it clear just why He is going to bring His judgment upon the people of Israel. It was because of the sins of Manasseh. “Because of the wicked things Manasseh son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem, I will make my people an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth” (Jeremiah 15:4 NLT). And the book of 1 Kings gives us insight into just what Manasseh had done.

Then the Lord said through his servants the prophets: “King Manasseh of Judah has done many detestable things. He is even more wicked than the Amorites, who lived in this land before Israel. He has caused the people of Judah to sin with his idols. So this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I will bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of those who hear about it will tingle with horror. I will judge Jerusalem by the same standard I used for Samaria and the same measure I used for the family of Ahab. I will wipe away the people of Jerusalem as one wipes a dish and turns it upside down. Then I will reject even the remnant of my own people who are left, and I will hand them over as plunder for their enemies. For they have done great evil in my sight and have angered me ever since their ancestors came out of Egypt.” – 2 Kings 21:10-14 NLT

Manasseh, the son of King Hezekiah, had proven to be the exact opposite of his good and godly father. He was not a chip off the old block. He was the epitome of the wicked kings of Israel and Judah, leading the way in sin and rebellion against God. And the people had willingly followed his lead. God makes it painfully clear why He is about to do what He has threatened to do.

I will destroy my own people,
    because they refuse to change their evil ways.” – Jeremiah 15:7 NLT

The people were unrepentant. They had no intention of changing their ways. And God, because He is all-knowing, was well aware of the true state of their hearts. So, no matter of intercession by Samuel, Moses or Jeremiah was going to get God to relent, because He knew the people were never going to repent. And their sins would be judged. Their fate was sealed. They were going to get exactly what they deserved.

“You have abandoned me
    and turned your back on me,”
    says the Lord.
“Therefore, I will raise my fist to destroy you.
    I am tired of always giving you another chance.” – Jeremiah 15:6 NLT

God takes sin seriously. And while He had given the people of Judah plenty of time to repent, they had spurned His warnings and ignored His pleas to return to Him. So, His judgment was going to be unavoidable.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Too Little, Too Late.

So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments and went, he and two men with him. And they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Divine for me by a spirit and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” The woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the necromancers from the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?” But Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.” Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” He said, “Bring up Samuel for me.” When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul.” The king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What do you see?” And the woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.” He said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.

Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul answered, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams. Therefore I have summoned you to tell me what I shall do.” And Samuel said, “Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. Moreover, the Lord will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The Lord will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.”

Then Saul fell at once full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night. And the woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, “Behold, your servant has obeyed you. I have taken my life in my hand and have listened to what you have said to me. Now therefore, you also obey your servant. Let me set a morsel of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.” He refused and said, “I will not eat.” But his servants, together with the woman, urged him, and he listened to their words. So he arose from the earth and sat on the bed. Now the woman had a fattened calf in the house, and she quickly killed it, and she took flour and kneaded it and baked unleavened bread of it, and she put it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night. – 1 Samuel 28:8-25 ESV

The scene that takes place in this chapter is fascinating and difficult to understand. Saul had long ago lost access to God’s guidance because of his disobedience. God had removed His Spirit from Saul.

Now the Spirit of the LORD had left Saul, and the LORD sent a tormenting spirit that filled him with depression and fear. – 1 Samuel 16:14 NLT

Now, when Saul finds himself facing the threat of war with vastly superior Philistine army, he is at a loss as to what to do and decides to seek God’s advice and help. But God is not talking. And not only that, Samuel, the prophet of God, is dead. To make things even worse for Saul, Abiather, the sole remaining priest who had escaped Saul massacre of the all the priests of Nob, had taken the high priest’s ephod with him and was not residing with David. The ephod contained the Urim and Thummim, which was used to seek God’s will (1 Samuel 23:6-12). So Saul was out of luck and out of options. Which led him to do the unthinkable and unholy. He sought out a medium or a witch. While Samuel had been alive, he had persuaded Saul to remove those who practiced witchcraft, divination and sorcery from the land. God had given the people of Israel very clear orders concerning these matters when they had entered the land of promise:

When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 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 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 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. – Deuteronomy 18:9-12 ESV

God knew the danger of these practices and had forbidden them among His people. He had other plans for them. He was to be their only source of wisdom and direction.

“You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, 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.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen…” – Deuteronomy 18:13-15 ESV

But once again, Saul disobeyed God. He sought out a medium, in an attempt to get divine help in his time of need. He was desperate and allowed his fear to get the best of him. But not wanting everyone to know what he was doing, Saul disguised himself and went to visit the medium or witch at night. He attempted to cover his actions through deceit, not wanting the people to know what he was doing. And when the medium was reticent to assist him out of fear for her life, Saul assured her that nothing would be done to her – in direct defiance of God’s command.

What is very fascinating about this story is that the woman was actually able to conjure up Samuel from the dead – or so it would appear. This passage does not validate the practice of necromancy or communication with the dead. It would be wrong to use this story as a proof that seances really do work. What this woman and those like here really were doing was conjuring up evil spirits. Their practice was demonic. But in this case, God supernaturally intervened and allowed the spirit of Samuel to appear. Even the woman was shocked at what she saw. “When the woman saw Samuel, she screamed” (1 Samuel 28:12 NLT). Whatever appeared before her was unexpected and disturbing to her. Even she couldn’t believe her eyes. That the vision she saw was Samuel, the dead prophet, was clear to her and to Saul. And the message Samuel gave was clearly from God.

What Samuel had to say to Saul was not good news. If this had been an evil spirit, it would have lied to Saul, telling him what he wanted to hear and giving him false counsel. But Samuel told Saul exactly what was going to happen, and it was anything but comforting.

“Why ask me, since the Lord has left you and has become your enemy? The Lord has done just as he said he would. He has torn the kingdom from you and given it to your rival, David. The Lord has done this to you today because you refused to carry out his fierce anger against the Amalekites. What’s more, the Lord will hand you and the army of Israel over to the Philistines tomorrow, and you and your sons will be here with me. The Lord will bring down the entire army of Israel in defeat.” – 1 Samuel 28:16-19 NLT

This was clearly a case of too little, too late. While Samuel had been alive, Saul had ignored his counsel. He had repeatedly refused to accept the prophet’s advice, instead choosing to disagree with God’s word concerning David and stubbornly attempting to derail what God had ordained. It is vital to note that there is no remorse or repentance associated with any of Saul’s actions. When he found himself faced with the overwhelming threat of annihilation at the hands of the Philistines, he did not call out to God in repentance. He did not confess his sins. Oh, he fell on his face, but only out of fear over what he had heard the prophet say. At no point does Saul admit his wrong and beg God to forgive him. He is stubborn to the end. He wanted God’s guidance and protection, but remained unwilling to live his life according to God’s will.

How often do we find ourselves in difficult circumstances and forced to call out to God? The very One whom we have refused to show proper honor and respect in the good times becomes our go-to source in the bad times. We get in trouble and suddenly our prayer lives take on a whole new significance. We cry out. We beg God to save us. And there is nothing wrong with crying out to God. In fact, we are commanded to call on God in times of trouble. But it is important that God desires for us to come to Him humbly and with a heart of repentance. Saul knew this. He had heard those very words from the mouth of the prophet years earlier.

“What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” – 1 Samuel 15:22 NLT

Years later, when David had become king, and after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, he would write the following words:

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. – Psalm 51:16-17 NLT

Saul would find himself face down in the dirt, but his prideful heart would remain unrepentant and stubbornly unwilling to confess his disobedience toward God. Sorrow over sin is not the same as repentance. Fear of the circumstances facing us is not the same as a reverent fear of God. Saul wasn’t seeking a relationship with God, he simply wanted deliverance from his problems by God.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Opportunity Versus Authority.

When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to seek David and his men in front of the Wildgoats’ Rocks. And he came to the sheepfolds by the way, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. And the men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you.’” Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. And afterward David’s heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way.

Afterward David also arose and went out of the cave, and called after Saul, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the earth and paid homage. And David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Behold, David seeks your harm’? Behold, this day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you today into my hand in the cave. And some told me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord‘s anointed.’” – 1 Samuel 24:1-10 ESV

Distracted by the surprise attack by the Philistines, Saul was forced to call of his pursuit of David, allowing him time to escape to the wilderness of Engedi. But it was not long before Saul was back on the war path, accompanied by 3,000 highly trained soldiers. His mission: Capture and kill David. But chapter 24 is going to provide a striking contrast between Saul, the current king of Israel, and David, the God-appointed king- elect of Israel. Time and time again we have read of Saul’s relentless pursuit of David and his obsessive compulsion to take his life. Now we will see the tables turned. This time around, David will have the chance to take matters into his own hands and eliminate the threat of Saul once and for all.

As David and his men were hiding in one of the caves in the wilderness of Engedi, Saul entered, seemingly alone, and placing himself in a very vulnerable position. Little did he know that the very man he pursued was there in the darkness watching his every move. And when David’s men saw Saul walk into their hideout, they spied what they believed to be a God-ordained opportunity.

“Now’s your opportunity!” David’s men whispered to him. “Today the Lord is telling you, ‘I will certainly put your enemy into your power, to do with as you wish.’” 1 Samuel 24:4 NLT

Their assessment of the situation was quick and incredibly clear – at least to them. God had obviously sent Saul into the cave for the sole purpose of David taking his life. What else could it be? The timing was perfect. Saul was alone. He was defenseless. Of all the caves in the wilderness of Engedi, he had chosen this one. What else could it be but a divinely ordained opportunity for David to out an end to this nightmare?

There was only one problem: Nowhere in the text does it indicate that God had given His permission for David or anyone else to take the life of Saul. Regardless of the picture-perfect circumstances and the seemingly divine nature of the opportunity, what was missing was the divine authority for David to lift a finger against Saul.

But David, emboldened by the advice of his men, crept forward and in the darkness of the cave, sliced off a section of Saul’s robe. He had chosen to spare Saul’s life, but his action was intended to send a deliberate and crystal-clear message to Saul that he could cut his reign short at any time. What David did was an act of rebellion, and he soon had second thoughts. The text tells us:

But then David’s conscience began bothering him because he had cut Saul’s robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this to my lord the king. I shouldn’t attack the Lord’s anointed one, for the Lord himself has chosen him.” So David restrained his men and did not let them kill Saul. – 1 Samuel 24:5-7 NLT

His action had been presumptuous and without divine authority. God had not given him permission to take matters into his own hands. Earlier, when Jonathan had told David, “You shall be king over Israel” (1 Samuel 23:17 ESV), those words must have registered in David’s mind and given him the confidence to believe that God had anointed him to be the next king of Israel. But God had not told David when or how his reign would come about. Saul was still the king. Technically, he was the anointed sovereign over the nation of Israel. Saul had been chosen by God, and at no time had God given David permission to take his life in order to speed up the process of his coronation. David was susceptible to the same thing we all face as followers of God: To believe that the end justifies the means. It was far too easy for David to assume that if he was to be the next king, then getting rid of the current king must be part of God’s plan. But God had not disclosed to David the means by which He was going to bring about the transition of power from one man to the next. That was God’s concern, not David’s.

The Scriptures are full of warnings about confusing our plans with those of God.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
 – Proverbs 19:21 ESV

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. – Proverbs 16:9 NLT

We can make our own plans, but the LORD gives the right answer. – Proverbs 16:1 NLT

LORD, we know that people do not control their own destiny. It is not in their power to determine what will happen to them. – Jeremiah 10:23 NET Bible

David had no shortage of well-meaning friends providing well-intended advice. But what he really needed was a word from God. The opportunity may have looked right, but without God’s approval, the outcome was going to turn out all wrong. It is interesting to note that David would eventually admit to Saul, “the Lord gave you today into my hand in the cave” (1 Samuel 24:10 ESV). This is not an admission on David’s part that he believed God had given him permission to kill Saul. He was simply saying that this encounter had not been a coincidence. He had been put to the test by God. And David’s own men had made that test even more difficult by counseling David to take Saul’s life. But he didn’t. David even saw his cutting off of the section of Saul’s robe as an act unsanctioned by God. He had overstepped his bounds.

Opportunity means nothing without God-given authority. In fact, there is an interesting side story that involves Saul himself. In the early days of his reign, when he had been king for only two years, he found himself besieged by the Philistines. He was outnumbered. He had 3,000 men, but was facing 6,000 Philistine cavalry, 30,000 chariots and infantry “as the sand which is on the seashore in multitude” (1 Samuel 13:5 ESV). Needless to say, his troops were terrified. In fact, the passage tells us:

When the men of Israel saw that they were in danger (for the people were distressed), then the people hid in caves, in thickets, in rocks, in holes, and in pits. And some of the Hebrews crossed over the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. – 1 Samuel 24:6-7 ESV

Here’s the point. Saul had been instructed by Samuel the prophet to wait in Gilgal for seven days. When the seven days passed and the prophet was nowhere to be found, Saul took matters into his own hands. He was facing a formidable foe with demoralized troops. Saul seized the opportunity. He commanded his servants, “‘Bring a burnt offering and peace offerings here to me.’ And he offered the burnt offering. Now it happened, as soon as he had finished presenting the burnt offering, that Samuel came” (1 Samuel 13:9-10 ESV). Saul thought that he had done the right thing. They were in trouble. The prophet wasn’t there. Somebody needed to offer a sacrifice to God before the battle ensued. But while Saul had the opportunity, he did not have the authority. And he would have to suffer the consequences for his disobedience.

When confronted by Samuel, Saul explained, “‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12 ESV). Saul’s compulsion was not to be confused with God’s permission. His urge to do something was situation-induced and self-authorized. And as a result, his offering brought God’s wrath, not blessing. Acting on behalf of God, but without the permission of God, is a sign of disobedience, not faithfulness. God had a plan. Saul got impatient. He took matters into his own hands. But just because an opportunity presents itself does not mean God is in it or has given His permission for it. God’s will can only be done God’s way. Opportunity without authority will almost always result in calamity.

 

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Stubborn Streak.

And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord take vengeance on David’s enemies.” And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul.

Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed, because your seat will be empty. On the third day go down quickly to the place where you hid yourself when the matter was in hand, and remain beside the stone heap. And I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I shot at a mark. And behold, I will send the boy, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you, take them,’ then you are to come, for, as the Lord lives, it is safe for you and there is no danger. But if I say to the youth, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then go, for the Lord has sent you away. And as for the matter of which you and I have spoken, behold, the Lord is between you and me forever.”

So David hid himself in the field. And when the new moon came, the king sat down to eat food. The king sat on his seat, as at other times, on the seat by the wall. Jonathan sat opposite, and Abner sat by Saul’s side, but David’s place was empty.

Yet Saul did not say anything that day, for he thought, “Something has happened to him. He is not clean; surely he is not clean.” But on the second day, the day after the new moon, David’s place was empty. And Saul said to Jonathan his son, “Why has not the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?” Jonathan answered Saul, “David earnestly asked leave of me to go to Bethlehem. He said, ‘Let me go, for our clan holds a sacrifice in the city, and my brother has commanded me to be there. So now, if I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away and see my brothers.’ For this reason he has not come to the king’s table.”

Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said to him, “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman, do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, neither you nor your kingdom shall be established. Therefore send and bring him to me, for he shall surely die.” Then Jonathan answered Saul his father, “Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” But Saul hurled his spear at him to strike him. So Jonathan knew that his father was determined to put David to death. And Jonathan rose from the table in fierce anger and ate no food the second day of the month, for he was grieved for David, because his father had disgraced him. – 1 Samuel 20:16-34 ESV

David and Jonathan had come up with a plan. David would miss the feast of the new moon, knowing that his absence would be noticed by Saul. When Saul inquired of Jonathan where David was, David had instructed Jonathan to tell his father that David had gone home to Bethlehem. If Saul accepted this news without incident, then David would know it was safe to return home. But if Saul became angry and lost his mind like usual, then Jonathan was to secretly let David know so that he could escape. When the fateful day came and David was not at his place for the feast, Saul did miss him, but just assumed that something had come up. But by the third day, Saul became suspicious and asked Jonathan for an explanation, which he did not receive well. He became furious with his son, seeing through his ruse, and recognizing that he and David had conspired against him. Feeling betrayed by Jonathan, Saul lashed out in anger, using very coarse language to express his sentiments.

Saul, now incensed and enraged over Jonathan’s liaison with David, is actually hurling very coarse and emotionally charged words at his son. The translation of this phrase suggested by Koehler and Baumgartner is “bastard of a wayward woman” (HALOT 796 s.v. עוה), but this is not an expression commonly used in English. A better English approximation of the sentiments expressed here by the Hebrew phrase would be “You stupid son of a bitch!” – NET Bible study notes

Saul is beside himself with rage. His own son has taken sides with someone he sees as an enemy and a real threat to his throne. Saul even reminds Jonathan that his actions are going to end up keeping him from inheriting the kingship. “As long as that son of Jesse is alive, you’ll never be king. Now go and get him so I can kill him!” (1 Samuel 20:31 NLT).

What is amazing in all of this is that Saul had been clearly told by the prophet Samuel that his reign was coming to an end. He was going to be replaced.

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. 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.” – 1 Samuel 13:13-14 ESV

And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” – 1 Samuel 15:26 ESV

But Saul stubbornly refused to accept the prophet’s words and God’s will. He somehow believed that he could hold onto his throne in spite of God’s statements to the contrary. There is inherent in sin a stubborn streak that seems to reveal itself in a refusal to repent and accept responsibility for God’s just and righteous punishment. Saul had a habit of shifting blame and denying culpability.

When Saul had been confronted by Samuel for offering a burnt offering on his own, rather than waiting on the prophet as he had been instructed, Saul simply offered up excuses: “Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering” (1 Samuel 13:12 ESV). He forced himself. He knew what he was doing was wrong. Only a priest was to offer sacrifices to God, but Saul, impatient and impulsive, took matters into his own hands and decided to do things his way.

On another occasion, when Saul had been instructed by God to wipe out all the Amalakites, he once again chose to do thing his own way. The text tells us, “But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction” (1 Samuel 15:9 ESV). When the prophet, Samuel, confronted Saul about his disobedience, his only response was, the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction” (1 Samuel 15:15 ESV). He blamed the people. Once again, it was not his fault.

Saul was never one who found repentance easy. He could not bring himself to accept responsibility for his own sinfulness. And he also had a difficult time accepting God’s decision to remove him from the throne for his repeated disobedience. It was as if he truly believed he could somehow get around God’s plan to replace him and remain on the throne by sheer will power. Saul was a fool. He had all the attributes of the fool outlined in the book of Proverbs.

Fools think their own way is right… – Proverbs 12:15 NLT

The words of the godly are like sterling silver;
    the heart of a fool is worthless. – Proverbs 10:20 NLT

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
   fools despise wisdom and instruction. – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

For the simple are killed by their turning away,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them.
– Proverbs 1:32 ESV

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
    but a wise man listens to advice. – Proverbs. 12:15 ESV

A prudent man conceals knowledge,
    but the heart of fools proclaims folly.
 – Proverbs 12:23 ESV

Saul was foolish to think he could escape the inevitable judgment of God. He was foolish to think he could defeat the man who had been chosen by God as his replacement. He was foolish to believe that his disobedience to God would not have consequences or that the divine will of God could somehow be circumvented. In fact, Saul lived as if there was no God, a hallmark of the foolish lifestyle. It would be David himself, who would later write, “Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!” (Psalm 14:1 NLT). Saul’s actions revealed his foolish assumption that God was either impotent or irrelevant. Saul was going to do what Saul wanted to do, as if God didn’t even exist. His stubbornness would ultimately be the end of him. But not before he spent the next years of his life foolishly shaking his fist in the face of the Almighty, somehow believing that his wisdom was greater than that of God’s. But he would be proven wrong, as fools always are.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

When the Least-Expected Does the Unexpected.

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons. In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years. The three oldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to the battle. And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadab, and the third Shammah. David was the youngest. The three eldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.

And Jesse said to David his son, “Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers. Also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand. See if your brothers are well, and bring some token from them.” – 1 Samuel 17:1-18 ESV

The exact timeline of the story of David can be a bit difficult to piece together. Samuel, who wrote the book that bears his name, seems to have been less interested in providing a precise chronological outline of David’s life than he was of highlighting the details of how he came to be king. A case is point is the reference to David found in chapter 16. It was made by one of King Saul’s servants when the king began to suffer the effects of the harmful spirit placed upon him by God.

Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.” – 1 Samuel 16:18 ESV

He refers to David as a man of valor and a man of war. But the last reference we have of David is that of his anointing by Samuel. Immediately after that event, David is said to have returned to his sheep. And with David being the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, it is believed that he could have been no older than 15 at the time of his anointing by Samuel. So when did he become a man of valor and war? It would seem that some significant time has passed since David’s anointing – enough time for him to grow up and join the army of Israel. He must have gained some experience in battle to have earned the reputation as “a brave warrior, a man of war” (NLT). But regardless of how much time has passed, one thing remained unchanged about David: …the Lord was with him (1 Samuel 16:18). David had the Spirit of God resting upon him. He had the power and the presence of God available to him. His anointing with oil by Samuel made his selection by God to be Israel’s next king official, but it was his anointing with the Holy Spirit that would make him fit for the office of king.

It is interesting to note that when Saul sent for David, he was found back with the sheep. So whatever deeds of valor and bravery he had done must have been done on the side or as a result of his responsibilities as a shepherd. Later on in the story, David himself will recount to King Saul a few examples of his exploits in the field caring for the sheep. It seems that it wasn’t as safe an occupation as one might thing.

Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears…” – 1 Samuel 17:34-36 ESV

But back to our timeline. David had been hired by the king and given the responsibility to minister to Saul when he experienced the fits brought on by the “harmful spirit.” He was also made the king’s armor bearer. Which presents another interesting issue. When chapter 17 opens, the Israelites are preparing to do battle with the Philistines. And while King Saul is there with all his troops, David, his armor bearer, is not. He was at home tending the flocks. The text tells us that “David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem” (1 Samuel 17:15 ESV). It seems that David was pulling double-duty, balancing the demands of a bi-vocational lifestyle that required him to split his time between his responsibilities as a shepherd of sheep and a servant to the king.

It is essential to keep in mind that, all during this time, David was the God-appointed and Holy Spirit-anointed successor to King Saul. And yet, here he was dividing his time between tending sheep and plucking out tunes on his lyre in order to calm the heart of the current king of Israel. Saul was still on the throne and tasked with the responsibility of defending the nation of Israel from their enemies. But he was ill-equipped for the job. He no longer enjoyed the anointing of God’s Spirit. He had all the physical attributes to make him “a brave warrior, a man of war,” but when Goliath challenged the armies of Israel to send out a champion to fight him, Saul and his troops were “dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Samuel 17:11 ESV).

Samuel’s interest is not so much in establishing an exact chronology of the events as he is in creating a stark contrast between the warrior-king and the shepherd-servant. With the introduction into the story line of Goliath and the Philistines, Samuel reminds his readers that there is something far more significant going on here than just who will sit on the throne of Israel. This is about the future well-being of the people of God. The king of Israel was to be much more than a figure head. He was to be the leader of God’s people, providing them with physical protection and spiritual direction. He was to be a man after God’s own heart, who listened well, followed instructions obediently, and protected God’s people faithfully. Saul was tormented by a spirit that attacked him relentlessly, leaving him unable to do his job as king. Goliath represents a physical manifestation of that same spirit, tormenting the people of God and creating in them fear and dismay. They stood before their enemy leaderless and helpless. They had to suffer his daily taunts and jeers, unable to do anything about it. He demanded that they send one man who would be willing to face him a winner-takes-all match. But no one stepped forward. Nobody had the guts to face the Philistine champion and keep God’s people from becoming their slaves.

The stage was set. Saul, the king, stood immobilized and paralyzed by fear. But all of that was about to change, when the Lord’s anointed stepped onto the scene. David, the sheep-tending, lyre-playing, armor-bearing, food-delivering son of Jesse was about to provide an unforgettable lesson in faith and godly leadership. The least-expected was going to do the unexpected. The sheep-tender was about to become the giant-killer.

You Call This A Plan?

And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.” One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the Lord is with him.” Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.” And Jesse took a donkey laden with bread and a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them by David his son to Saul. And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.” And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him. – 1 Samuel 16:11b-23 ESV

David, the youngest son of Jesse, was eventually brought before the prophet, Samuel. And while the passage describes David as ruddy in color, with beautiful eyes and a handsome exterior, that had nothing to do with his selection by Samuel. God had already told the prophet, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV). While David’s outward appearance had nothing to do with his selection by God, it is interesting to note that he is described as “ruddy.” The Hebrew word is ‘admoniy and it can refer to someone who is red-headed or who has a reddish complexion. It is the same word used to describe Esau at his birth (Genesis 25:25).

David was a young, handsome, redheaded, Hebrew shepherd boy. When he walked into the presence of Samuel, Jesse and his seven brothers that day, he would have stood out like a sore thumb. There was Eliab, who by Samuel’s own admission, had the look of a king. Each of the brothers who had heard the prophet say of them, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one” (1 Samuel 16:8 ESV), had to stand and watch as Samuel took the oil and poured it over David’s head. There is no indication that anyone but Samuel knew the significance of his actions. Samuel had not told Jesse why he had come to Bethlehem. He had not indicated the reason for wanting to see each of Jesse’s sons. And even when David arrived, Samuel was the only one to whom God said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he” (1 Samuel 16:12 ESV). What is missing in this scene are any signs of celebration or trepidation. Had they realized that David had just been anointed the next king of Israel, you would have thought that Jesse and his sons would have reacted with either joy or fear. Joy, because it was not everyday that one of your own family members was anointed to be the king of Israel. Fear, because they would have realized that King Saul was probably not going to take the news all that well. Had they recognized the significance of what had just happened, it seems they would have shown more of a reaction. But all that we’re told is that the Spirit of God rushed upon David, Samuel rose up and went to Ramah and, according to verse 19, David simply returned to tending sheep. No party. No celebration. No celebratory pats on the back. But while it may appear that all things remained the same, one thing was radically different.

The Spirit of God rushed upon David. God placed His Spirit upon this young shepherd boy, radically altering his life, just as He had done with Saul. After Saul had been anointed king by Samuel, he had been given specific instructions and was told, “this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage” (1 Samuel 10:1 ESV). The prophet sent Saul on what can best be described as a sort of scavenger hunt, where he would encounter a variety of people along the way and receive various clues, that would eventually lead him to the city of Gibeath-elohim.

And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. – 1 Samuel 10:5-6 ESV

Saul had received the Spirit of God as well. But with the anointing of David as his replacement, Saul would have the Spirit of God removed from him. “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him” (1 Samuel 16:14 ESV). Saul retained the crown, the symbol of his reign, but He lost the power to rule. With the removal of the Spirit of God, he “turned into another man” again, but this time, not for the better. Without the abiding presence of God’s Spirit, Saul was left to his own fleshly, sinful self. And he was left open to the influence of Satan. We are not told the nature or source of the “harmful spirit” that tormented Saul, but it is clear that God, in His sovereign plan, allowed this spirit to come upon Saul.

“Saul’s evil bent was by the permission and plan of God. We must realize that in the last analysis all penal consequences come from God, as the Author of the moral law and the one who always does what is right.” – Gleason L. Archer Jr., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 180.

It was the presence of this evil spirit that set up David’s transition from the pasture to the palace. He would go from shepherding sheep to serving as the king’s personal servant. And King Saul loved David. What an ironic scene. Here was David, the newly anointed king of Israel, serving as the personal valet to the man he was supposed to replace. At this point, Saul has no clue as to David’s anointing by Samuel. And David seems to be ignorant of the fact that he might be in any kind of danger. Which leads one to believe that he had no clue that Samuel’s anointing had been to make him the next king of Israel. I think David’s awareness of what was happening in his life would happen over time. He would gradually put the pieces together and recognize that he had been chosen by God to be the next king. But in the meantime, his life would never be the same again.

He and King Saul would have a love-hate relationship. There would be moments of genuine affection coupled with inexplicable periods of terrifying hatred and life-threatening anger. Saul’s temperament would be all over the map. His psychological condition would grow progressively worse, as David’s popularity and fame increased. And yet, all of this was part of God’s plan for David’s life. God could have simply removed Saul and replaced him with David. He could have made this an immediate and hassle-free transition plan, but He didn’t. David was going to discover that his road to the throne was to be a rocky one. His anointing by God, whether he understood the full import of it or not, was not going to mean that his life would be easy or trouble-free. Had the prophet sat down with David and given him a full description of what the next years of his life would entail, he might have decided to return to the sheep for good. God’s calling is not a guarantee of the good life. Abraham’s calling by God was accompanied by much sacrifice, years of disappointment, and a constant requirement to live by faith, not sight. Moses was called by God, but faced constant danger, rejection, doubt and questions about his leadership ability. The disciples were called by God, but were also told by Jesus, “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:17-18 ESV). Jesus went on to tell them,  “and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 ESV).

David was in for a wild ride. He had the anointing of God, but now he was to receive the equipping of God. He had the Spirit, but the Spirit was out to have all of him. He was a man after God’s own heart, but now God was going to give David a heart like His.

Last, But Certainly Not Least.

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do. And you shall anoint for me him whom I declare to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?” And he said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord‘s anointed is before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” – 1 Samuel 16:1-11a ESV

The story of the life of King David, considered to be Israel’s greatest king, starts off in a rather less-than-flattering manner. He was born in the city of Bethlehem, the eighth and youngest son of Jesse. David was a member of the tribe of Judah. Judah was one of the sons of Jacob, and it is significant to note that, when Jacob blessed his sons on his deathbed, he said of Judah, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10 ESV). This prophetic word from Jacob revealed that there would be a king, a sovereign, who would rise up from the tribe of Judah. And of this king, Jacob predicted, “your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down before you” (Genesis 49:8 ESV).

Which brings us to 1 Samuel, chapter 16. The prophet, Samuel, has been sent by God to the city of Bethlehem to anoint a new king. The current king, Israel’s very first king, had disobeyed God and was going to be replaced. King Saul had been the people’s choice. After the up-and-down period of the judges, when Israel had no king, the people had demanded that they be given one. They were tired of being ruled by judges. In fact, the people told Samuel, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5 ESV). Samuel’s two sons were judges, but they were dishonest and ungodly men, which prompted the demand for a king. Samuel became angry that the people would ask such a thing, but God told Samuel to give the people exactly what they wanted: A king to judge us like all the nations.

“Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:7-9 ESV

But Saul’s reign didn’t last long. He ended up being just what the people ordered. God had warned them that Saul would prove to be a less-than-satisfactory king (see 1 Samuel 8:10-18).  On top of that, Saul proved to be disobedient to God. And God was forced to remove him as the king, commanding Samuel to break the news to him:

“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.” – 1 Samuel 13:14 ESV

“The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you.” – 1 Samuel 15:28 ESV

Which brings us to the city of Bethlehem and the house of Jesse. God sent Samuel to Bethlehem with the clear directions to anoint one of the sons of Jesse to be Saul’s replacement. Samuel was a bit reluctant, because Saul was still the king, and he feared what Saul might do if he caught wind that another king had been anointed. But God insisted that Samuel do just as He had commanded. And when Samuel invited Jesse and his sons to a sacrifice where he consecrated them.  When he got his first glimpse of Eliab, the firstborn, he immediately assumed he was the one, saying, “Surely the Lord‘s anointed is before him” (1 Samuel 16:6 ESV). But he was wrong. God responded to Samuel with one of the most revealing statements in the entire Bible.

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7 ESV

Saul, Israel’s first king, had been chosen based on sight. He is described as “a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people” (1 Samuel 9:2 ESV). But looks can be deceiving. And Samuel had allowed himself to be deceived by Eliab’s outward appearance. But it is important to remember what God had commanded Samuel to tell Saul: “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14 ESV). This time, the selection process was going to be different. No more kings by consensus. God was looking for a man of character, not stature.

So Samuel had Jesse parade each of his sons in front of him, but one after the other, God repeatedly rejected them, forcing Samuel to announce, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one” (1 Samuel 16:8 ESV). The time came when Jesse ran out of sons and Samuel held the flask of anointing oil in his hands – unused. Samuel, a bit perplexed, asked Jesse if he had any other sons, and Jesse responded, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep” (1 Samuel 16:11 ESV).

There is a lot of conjecture as to why David was not invited to the festivities to begin with. The passage does not indicate that Jesse knew the purpose behind Samuel’s visit. But when Samuel invited Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice, David was left out in the fields to tend the flocks. He was the youngest, the low man on the totem pole. While all his brothers were being consecrated, he was left to care for the family’s livestock.

It is interesting to note that when Jesse informed Samuel about David, he said, “he is keeping the sheep.” The Hebrew word is ra`ah and it can literally be translated, “he is shepherding the sheep.” David was faithfully caring for and protecting the helpless sheep. He was doing his job to feed, guide, and nurture those who had been placed in his care. In Psalm 78, we are given a glimpse into the shepherd heart of David, the one who was about to be anointed the next king of Israel.

He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from following the nursing ewes he brought him
to shepherd Jacob his people,
Israel his inheritance.
With upright heart he shepherded them
and guided them with his skillful hand. – Psalm 78:70-72 ESV

God was going to choose David because of his heart, not because he was handsome. God was going to anoint David the next king of Israel, not because he was famous, but because he was faithful. Yes, he was the last in line of all the sons of Jesse, but he was far from the least in the eyes of God.

There is a song written by Kittle L. Suffield that sums up the situation with David quite nicely.

Does the place you’re called to labor
Seem too small and little known?
It is great if God is in it,
And He’ll not forget His own.

Little is much when God is in it!
Labor not for wealth or fame.
There’s a crown—and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus’ Name.

David was left in the field by his father. But he was not left out of God’s plan for the future of Israel. David was an afterthought in his father’s thinking, but he would be thought worthy by God to become the shepherd of the flock of God. David was unknown and insignificant, shepherding sheep in the fields of Bethlehem. But God was about to do something with his life, the likes of which neither he nor his father could have ever imagined.

The Many Faces of Faith.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. – Hebrews 11:32-38 ESV

The list goes on. The author of Hebrews draws this chapter to a close, but can’t help but add a few more names to his growing list of the faithful. He mentions Gideon, who lived in Israel during a time of spiritual apathy and moral depravity. God had given the Israelites over the the hands of the Midians as punishment. “For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey” (Judges 6:3-4 ESV). But when the people cried out to God, He sent them Gideon as a judge to deliver them. But Gideon was a reluctant deliverer. When God called him, his response was less than enthusiastic. “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Judges 6:15 ESV). And God’s response to him was simple and direct: “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16 ESV). Gideon would go on to accomplish great things for God, delivering His people from the oppression of the Midianites – by faith. Each step of the way, Gideon had to believe God’s promise that He would be with him.

This is true of each of the individuals listed in the verses above. Barak had to face the overwhelmingly superior armies of Sisera on the words of Deborah, a prophetess. The odds were against him, but He obeyed the word of the Lord and God gave Israel a great victory.

Then there was Samson, a somewhat surprising addition to the list. His story is a sad one and does not end well. He was driven by his desires and eventually defeated by them. But on the final day of his life, having been blinded by the Philistines and chained between two pillars, he called out to God in faith. “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes” (Judges 16:28 ESV). That prayer of faith, lifted up in his most vulnerable, weak condition, was answered by God. “Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life” (Judges 16:30 ESV). He died in faith, trusting in His God and giving his last minutes of life to destroy the enemies of God.

What about Jephthah? He had been born as a result of his father’s immoral affair with a prostitute, and when he became an adult, Jephthah was thrown out of the family by his brothers. He ended up living in a form of exile from his family and found himself in the companionship of “worthless men.” But when the Ammonites began to oppress the Israelites, they sought out Jephthah to deliver them because he was a mighty warrior. In his newfound position as the judge of Israel, Jephthah turned to the Lord, and he made a vow to God. “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord‘s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31 ESV). Jephthah believed that God could and would deliver His people. But he wrongly assumed that God would want something in return, so he bargained with God. I suggest that Jephthah fully believed that God would come through and that he would be required to follow through on his vow. But little did he know that after God had given him the victory over the Ammonites, it would be his own daughter who came out of the house to greet him. He would go on to sacrifice his daughter. This is a bizarre and disturbing story. It seems a bit strange to include this man in the Hall of Faith. But while Jephthah’s understanding of God was somewhat flawed, he did believe in the power and deliverance of God. He trusted that God would and would come through. His problem was that his faith in God was marred by a faulty understanding of God.

In the case of David, the stories that exemplify his faith in God are many. The psalms he wrote echo his belief in God and his unwavering faith that God was his savior and sustainer. From the moment David was anointed the next king of Israel, he had to live a life of faith in God, spending years trusting in the promise of God while running for his life from the wrath of King Saul. He had been anointed king by God, but Saul was still on the throne. David learned to wait on God, believe in God, trust in God, and rely on God. And his life reflects that faith.

From his earliest days as a young boy serving in the house of the Lord under the watchful eye of Eli the priest, Samuel developed a growing faith in God. He would become a prophet for God, speaking on his behalf and leading the people of Israel to obey the will and word of God. Samuel would eventually be called on by God to anoint Israel’s first king. And while he was reluctant to do so, he obeyed. Throughout his life, Samuel would learn to trust God. He had to believe that God knew what He was going, even when it seemed to make no sense. His faith is best seen in his faithful obedience to the will of God. What God said, he would do. What God declared, he would believe. Trusting that God knows what He is doing even when you can’t comprehend it or completely appreciate it is a hallmark of faith.

The author of Hebrews goes on to illustrate that faith is oftentimes accompanied by rousing success, including military victories, strength in the midst of weakness, deliverance by the hand of God, and mind-blowing miracles. But just as often faith can be accompanied by less-than-ideal circumstances. He mentions torture, mocking, flogging, chains, imprisonment, stoning, destitution and even death. Faith doesn’t always result in a happy ending. Samson died under the very rubble that destroyed the Philistines. David died never getting to build the temple he dreamed of constructing for God. Jephthah would see the accolades for the victory over the Ammonites go to a woman. The focus of our faith should always be God. Faith is trusting Him regardless of what we see happening or not happening around us. The presence of difficult does not mean the absence of God. The lack of answer is not proof of God’s lack of power or interest. Faith that is God-focused is willing to wait and comfortable accepting seemingly unacceptable outcomes knowing that God is not done yet.

 

No Permission To Stop Praying.

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. – 1 Samuel 12:23 ESV

Samuel was near the end of his prophetic ministry. He had faithfully executed his duties as a prophet of God and had actually served as the last judge over the nation of Israel. So when the people came to him clamoring for and demanding that God give them a king just like all the other nations, Samuel was less than happy. He felt rejected by the people. Of course, on the surface, he blasted them for rejecting God as their King. But God saw through his anger and said, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7 ESV). Over the years, Samuel had had plenty of opportunities to witness the stubbornness and rebellion of the people of Israel first hand. Their arrogant demand for a king was just one more example of their unwillingness to recognize God as their sovereign ruler and Lord.

Chapter 12 starts off with a very defensive-laden monologue by Samuel. “Behold, I have obeyed your voice in all that you have said to me and have made a king over you. And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day” (1 Samuel 12:1-2 ESV). He is still upset. He demands that the people voice their complaints or accusations against him. He wants to know why they have rejected him. Did he steal something? If he did, he would make restitution. Had he defrauded anyone? Was his leadership oppressive? Had he ruled unfaithfully by taking bribes? The people swore before God that Samuel had done none of those things and was undeserving of their treatment of him. You can tell from the passage that Samuel was still upset about their demand for a king. He had taken it personally.

Then he recounted all the ways in which the people of Israel had sinned against God over the years. Time and time again, the people had cried out to God and He had delivered them. All the way back to their captivity in Egypt, God had heard their cries and provided them with victory over their enemies. “But they forgot the Lord their God…” (1 Samuel 12:9 ESV). And now they were doing it again. “And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king. And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you” (1 Samuel 12:12-13 ESV). The people may have been rebellious, but they weren’t stupid. They got Samuel’s point and confessed their sin and begged Samuel to pray for them. They feared the rejection of God. So Samuel assured them, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:20-22 ESV).

Then Samuel said something to them that was probably difficult for him to say. “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way” (1 Samuel 12:23 ESV). As much as Samuel may have desired to see divine judgment meted out on the people for their rejection of him and their sin against God, he knew he wasn’t free from his responsibility to pray for and instruct them. God had not released him from his duties as a prophet. To fail to pray for them and teach them would have been a sin for Samuel. In spite of their stubbornness and rebellion, Samuel was obligated by God to minister to and pray for them. The rejection of our leadership by others is a difficult thing to stomach. Our pride suffers. Our feelings get hurt. And we find it easy to justify a decision to abandon our God-given responsibility to pray for them. Parents face this situation every day. Our children refuse to listen to us, rejecting our authority over their lives and demanding to make their own decisions. At those times it could be easy to give up and stop lifting them up in prayer. But their rejection of our authority doesn’t release us from our God-given responsibility to care for them. Samuel may have been rejected by the people, but he was still obligated by his commitment to God. There will be those in our lives who refuse to listen to us. There will be times when others will reject our input and fail to recognize our legitimate care for their lives. But rather than abandon them in anger and resentment, we must pray for them. Like Samuel, we must learn to say, “far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” We must keep on loving by continuing to pray for them. We must keep on trusting God by continuing to teach them, leaving the results up to Him. It’s easy to pray for those who listen to and honor us. But prayers for the rebellious and sinful come hard. When we lose our influence over others, rather than give up, we must lift them up to God. We must love them enough to trust them into His care. 

God Knows.

Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. – 1 Samuel 2:3-5 ESV

1 Samuel 2:1-10

“The Lord is a God of knowledge.” What an interesting statement for Hannah to make. But it came from her own experience with Him. He had seen her distress, heard her cry for help and He had answered. Now Hannah was expressing praise to Him for all He had done, but also for who He was. Her God was all-knowing. Nothing escaped His notice. He saw all that was going on. He knew of Hannah’s plight. He was fully aware of her barrenness. He also knew of her ill-treatment at the hands of her husband’s second wife. The God to whom Hannah prayed was wise, caring, compassionate and just. He cared for the humble and the hurting. He came alongside the hungry and the hopeless. How did Hannah know this? She had experienced it. She had been the recipient of God’s grace, mercy and love. She had been downcast and He had lifted her up. She had been barren, but God had give her a son. She had downcast and God had lifted her up. She had cried out and God had answered.

This prayer is not a promise that God is going to right every wrong in our lifetime. It is not a guarantee that God will eliminate every problem we face. It is certainly telling us that every barren woman who cried out to God will bear a child. But it is a sobering reminder that our God is sovereign. He knows all. He is fully aware of all that is going on in our lives. If we are facing injustice or ill-treatment, God knows. If we are suffering from hunger or facing unemployment, God knows. If our spouse treats us with contempt, God knows. If our child is living in open rebellion against us and God, He knows. And while God’s answer may not come in just the same way as it did for Hannah, He will answer us when we call out to Him. We can cry out and know that He hears us. He sees us. He cares for us. He has a plan in mind for us. Hannah had no idea what kind of role her son, Samuel, would play in the future affairs of the nation of Israel. She was clueless as to what was going to happen as a result of her dedication of Samuel to God. But she knew that God knew. Just as God had told the people of Israel living in exile in Babylon, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV), we need to learn to trust God with our circumstances. We need to see Him for who He is: a sovereign, just, all-powerful, merciful and loving God. He can exalt the lowly, humble the prideful, bless the barren, knock the arrogant down to size, protect the weak, defeat the strong, and right wrongs.

The key to faith is believing these truths without necessarily having seen them or experienced them. It is to pray expectantly to God, hopefully waiting on His answer because we trust in His character. It is why Hannah cried out to God in the first place. “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (1 Samuel 1:11 ESV). She was appealing to God based on what she believed about Him. He looks on the affliction of His servants. He remembers and does not forget. He knows. He sees. He answers. He is just, righteous, good and gracious.

It is interesting to note that in this prayer recorded in verses 1-10 of chapter two of 1 Samuel, there is NOT petition. Hannah does not ask for anything. She simply praises God for who He is. It is a prayer of thanksgiving for what He has done. It is an acknowledgement of His sovereignty and a statement of His character. While Hannah was grateful for the son God had so graciously given her, she would be going home without him. He belonged to God now. And yet, her prayer is one of joy, gratitude and worship. Because the real gift she had received was the knowledge that God loved her and cared about her. Rather than make her son the object of her worship, she focused her attention of the one who had made his birth possible. Too often we worship the gift rather than the Giver. We can end up focusing less on God than on what we hope to get from Him. Our desire for blessings from God can overshadow our worship of God. When we are faced with a difficulty or trial, it is enough to know that God knows. We can share our requests. We can make known our desires. But our faith grows as we learn to trust Him for the outcome. He knows what is best. He will do what is right. We can trust Him.