Christianity 201

December 1, 2018

Slaughter in the Name of Holy War

Every once in awhile we discover a blog which is new to us that we really, really liked; only to return six months later and find it has become inactive. So it was with the devotional blog called Comfort and Challenge. I really resonated with the unique format and writing by Joseph Schultz, so in addition to clicking the title below, take a moment to see what God might speak to you through the backlist of some of the older devotions. This particular article deals with an area of the Old Testament which can become a barrier to faith for seekers and skeptics; namely, the violence. Note that the opening link takes you to a medley of four scripture passages.

Alien

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 145, Joshua 2:1-14, Romans 11:1-12, Matthew 25:1-13


The book of Joshua jars modern Christian sensibilities – or at least it should.

Full of slaughter committed in the name of holy war, the Hebrew text frequently refers to kherem, a word meaning “to utterly destroy.” Try as we might, can we imagine Jesus commanding a group of Christians to annihilate not just one town but several down to the last woman, child, goat, and shed? Even for those who believe Jesus will return as a conqueror, that image should be disturbing. However we struggle with and maybe resist such ideas, grappling with them helps us grow in our understanding of human and divine nature.

When I was a kid, I watched Star Trek reruns every Saturday. I especially loved episodes that introduced new alien races. As I grew older, I noticed a disturbing trend. Each race seemed homogenous. They didn’t just have identical uniforms – they had uniform values, opinions, and attitudes. When we did meet aliens who were exceptions, what set them apart was almost always an embrace of familiar human values. Despite the intentional diversity given to the Enterprise crew by its creative team, the human tendency to stereotype the unfamiliar and exalt the familiar emerged.

When Joshua’s spies encounter Rahab in today’s reading, she is the exceptional alien. When she protects them – that is, when she embraces their values – she becomes sympathetic, so she and her family will be spared from the coming destruction. Even though she explicitly tells the spies there are other Canaanites who share her beliefs, those people are not even considered for mercy. If Joshua or his people had come to know other Canaanites as they had Rahab, how eager would they have been to embrace kherem? How does the narrative in Joshua compare with God’s earlier instruction in Exodus 22:21 – “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt?

Clearly genocide is not an acceptable notion for modern Christians or Jews. While it is true God’s justice is beyond our understanding, any comfort – or even eagerness – some of us find in the notion of slaughtering God’s (which usually means our) enemies requires some serious reflection on our own hearts and motives. When reading Joshua, we must account for cultural context and seek out the theological themes underlying the story itself. Our reaction to its violence is an opportunity to reflect on how God wants us to relate to the alien today.

Comfort: No one is an alien to God.

Challenge: Who is your Rahab? On a bookmark-sized piece of paper, make a list of people who have defied your cultural preconceptions. Use it to mark your place as we read through the book of Joshua over the next couple weeks.

Prayer: God of the Known and Unkown, temper my judgments and cultivate my mercy. Amen.

Discussion: Who is your Rahab? Who has defied your cultural preconceptions? Did they influence your view of only themselves, or of many people?

November 17, 2018

Politics in Ezekiel’s Time

Six months ago we introduced you to David Ettinger who has been widely published including “various LifeWay publications, Single Parent magazine (Focus on the Family), Zion’s Fire magazine, and Real Life magazine.” David was born and raised in a Jewish family in New York, and converted to Christianity in 1986. As always, we urge you to click through to read this article at its source website.

A Perfect Biblical Description of Politicians

A Cause for Worry
A few years back while listening to the radio, I heard an interesting news item. Apparently, United States politicos were up in arms over a tell-all book by an ex-congressman who promised to expose the rampant corruption occurring in our nation’s capital and beyond.

The book is called Confessions of Congressman X, the author’s identity concealed for safety reasons. Here are some excerpts:

  • “Most of my colleagues are dishonest career politicians who revel in the power and special-interest money that’s lavished upon them.”
  • “My main job is to keep my job, to get reelected. It takes precedence over everything.”
  • “We spend money we don’t have and blithely mortgage the future with a wink and a nod. [Forget] the next generation.”[1]

Controversial indeed, but nothing new; the Bible has spoken of political corruption for millennia.

Ezekiel’s Denunciation
Perhaps it was only a coincidence that I had been reading the Book of Ezekiel, one of the Bible’s “major prophet” books. And perhaps it was only a coincidence that my reading took me to Chapter 34, and that my reading followed my hearing the news account of Congressman X.

It occurred to me while reading Ezekiel 34 that everything the feared book is rumored to touch upon was covered – minus specific names and offenses – by the great prophet about 2,600 years ago. Chapter 34 is addressed to Israel’s “shepherds” – her king, princes, and other political leaders. As shepherds, Israel’s leaders were to look after and care for their flock – God’s people. God had put Israel’s political leaders in place to shepherd His people and to tend to their needs. So, how did Israel’s leaders do? Verses 2-6 give us the answer:

Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

Sound Familiar?
Hmm, this doesn’t sound like something written 2,600 years ago, rather it sounds more like today! Read this portion one more time, but with your nation’s politicians in mind. Does Ezekiel 34:2-6 look like a perfect fit to you? Isn’t it true that the vast majority of today’s politicians look after only themselves while neglecting their constituents? Don’t they seek to make themselves wealthy while those who voted them into office suffer? Don’t they all too often neglect the welfare of those they are supposed to look after, noticing them only at election time in order to secure their votes?

Of course they do, and it is a stench in God’s nostrils. While politicians make a mockery of mercy and justice, the Word of God says something quite different:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6-7).

The Lord directed this passage to all of Israel, but how remarkably the world would be changed if all men and women were to live this way. But how can “all” men and women live this way if our leaders so ignobly ground such compassionate and gracious directives under their feet? Yes, there are good and well-meaning politicians, but they are few and far between; tragically, far more of them are “Ezekiel 34 Politicians.”

Making it Personal
What about you? Do you, without even realizing it, fall into the Ezekiel 34 category?

No, you’re not an elected politician, but as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ you are a shepherd in the sense that you have been given a “charge,” an area of responsibility the Lord expects you to tend and nourish. In a general sense, all Christians are “shepherds” of our own holiness. God has given us charge over the way we conduct our lives, the way we tend to areas of sin and righteousness. Are you applying yourself to these areas, or are you treading them under foot. What about you who are parents? Are you putting your children first in your life? What about a neighbor the Lord has lain on your heart? Are you nurturing your responsibility to be kind to him and sharing Christ with him?

Just because Ezekiel 34 focuses on political leaders does not mean that you and I shouldn’t take it to heart. I urge to you reread verses 2 through 6 one more time and allow God to convict you of any area in your life where any one of these indictments apply. If so, ask God to redirect your focus away from yourself and onto your “flock,” and He will most certainly do so!


[1] http://www.wnd.com/2016/05/confessions-of-congressman-x/#PIUZmT7EqC2R2SUs.99

 

 

November 2, 2018

Sin Makes People Stupid

Today and tomorrow we return to Canadian devotional writer Elsie Montgomery at Practical Faith. Yes, her writing is such a good fit here that I’m taking the liberty of ‘borrowing’ two different posts, two days in a row. Click the title to read at source.

Learning from history . . .

Which one is the wiser statement: “Study the past if you would define the future.” (Confucius) or “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” (Edmund Burke)

Our ‘home group’ is studying the kings of Israel. I came away with one question. They recorded the activities and outcomes of their kings. Clearly, those who followed God prospered and those who did not did not. Each one of them made their own decisions. If they knew the historical patterns, why would any of them choose to worship idols and disobey God? These ‘evil’ kings knew yet repeated the past. It seems all they learned from any study of the past was how to replicate it in their own lives.

My conclusion may come across as crude, but it seems that sin tends to make people stupid. As we discussed this during the Bible study, we agreed that the laws of God are true and He never changes, but even the good kings occasionally pushed against the boundaries and got themselves into trouble. That is, we are doomed to repeat history even when we know it, and unless God intervenes, the past cannot help but define the future.

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:7–9)

This is a spiritual law that could be called cause and effect. It is illustrated in the physical realm of agriculture. If I plant a carrot seed, I will get carrots, not peas or corn. In my spiritual life, if I plan, plant and spend my energies in activities that are self-focused and driven by my old nature, I will reap a spiritually dead crop that amounts to nothing of eternal value. If I live according to the Spirit, the results will last forever.

The ‘evil’ kings were all about power and doing their own thing. They were not measured as evil by their building programs, achievements, battles, etc. but by their response or lack of response to God. The good kings were also not measured by any accomplishments as we might measure our leaders. They were measured by their faithfulness to God and His commands.

I look back at my own history and cannot make an accurate list of “this I did for God” and “this was fleshy junk.” However, I know both will be determined at the bema judgment seat of Christ:

“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:10–15)

Because of Jesus Christ, my eternal destiny is not shaped by mistakes or rebellion, but by faith in Him. What is affected by the law of cause/effect is eternal rewards. Some of life’s efforts will go up in smoke while some will shine like gold.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, Your Word motivates me to think about motivation and about the power behind everything on my to-do list. Some of it is obviously useless. Open my eyes and keep them open to see and obey the Holy Spirit that the resulting work not only pleases You but will pass that final test.

September 6, 2018

When the King is Rejected

by Clarke Dixon

Editor’s Note: Clarke is away this week. This post was taken from the large number available at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon, which includes many which have never been published here at C201.

In the beginning we see the King. God created it all and clearly was ruler of all. But a few pages into the Bible and already the serpent is looking to take God’s place not to mention Adam and Eve looking for more than just tasty fruit. And the King is rejected.

At the exodus we see the King. God rescues His people and though Moses and Aaron are the spokesmen, God clearly is the King. His authority as King is proven with the awful plagues and the awesome parting of the Sea. But the people begin to whine that Moses is taking too long and before you know it, a golden calf is presented for worship. And the King is rejected.

In the early days of Israel, we see the King. Though things are not always rosy as the young nation of Israel becomes established among bigger, nastier, and more powerful peoples, God protects His people through raising up judges to deliver them. But the people of God see how the other nations have a king and so they want one too and go to God’s servant Samuel “and the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to 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 8:6-7 NRSV) And so the King is rejected.

In the presence of the prophets we see the King. The prophets warned the rulers and people when repentance needed to burn, and encouraged when hope needed kindled. Though the people got their wish for human kings, God remained in their lives as the true King showing real concern through the prophets. But the words of the prophets often fell on deaf ears: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37 NRSV) The prophets were often killed and the King is rejected.

And standing before Pilate, bloodied and bruised with a crown of thorns and a makeshift robe we see the King. What shall be done with Jesus? “Away with him! Crucify him!” (John 19:15). What shall I do with your king asks Pilate? The chief priest respond with the most tragic words in all of history: “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15)

This is already a dark moment in history with Jesus mocked by Rome and rejected by his own people. But here we see the depth of the darkness that has descended on humanity as the chief priests affirm that the Roman emperor is their real king. “We have no king but Caesar!” These are the chief priests, the very ones who should have been leading the people of God to know that God Himself was the true King of the world and of history. These are the very priests who should have been teaching that this King had promised and covenanted to bless His people, and through His people, to bless the world. And this was the festival of Passover, the very time they were to look back and see God, like a true and benevolent ruler, delivering His people from the enemy at the Exodus. But no, according to the chief priests, Caesar is king, and Caesar’s power will deliver us from the pest called Jesus. And so the King is rejected.

We have dark moments also. We have no king but Caesar when:

► Fear controls us.
► Emotions overpower us.
► Our logical minds overpower us.
► Drama, whether our own or not, consumes us.
► Situations determine our fate for us.
► Addictions ruin us.
► Religion enslaves us.
► World-views fail us.
► The people we want to please, own us.
► We try to be king or queen.

And in all this the King is rejected. We demonstrate that have no king but Caesar.

We see the King in the beginning and He is rejected. We see the King delivering His people at the Exodus and He is rejected. We see the King delivering His people through the judges and He is rejected. We see the King in the presence of the prophets and He is rejected. And we see the King standing before Pilate and the people in a crown of thorns and mock robe. And “He was despised and rejected; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3 NRSV) What happens next?

Easter happens next and the rejected King becomes the welcoming Saviour on the cross. Easter happens and the rejected King takes His place as the King of kings and Lord of lords. As we have seen, so often the King was rejected. Now you get to write a part of the story. By you the King is _________.


originally published in 2014 as “We Have No King But Caesar! – Ouch! (John 19)

 

June 4, 2018

When it No Longer Holds Together

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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Today we are again paying a visit to Bible Study Magazine, published by Faithlife. If you click this link, you have the option of reading a daily blog or seeing past issues of the magazine. Clicking the title below takes you direct to today’s article.

When Everything Crumbles

by Jen Wise

We spend our time building for the present. We stack bricks of time and energy into relationships, savings and careers. We believe our passion will serve as the mortar that will hold it all together. When it all comes crumbling down—when a spouse cheats, when a position is terminated, when tragedy strikes—we’re left feeling lost.

Jeremiah witnessed unparalleled destruction during his day. In Jeremiah 39:2, we read of a tragic event in rote historical detail:

“In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, the city was taken by assault.”

After besieging the city for a year and a half, the Babylonians broke through Jerusalem’s last defenses, took the people captive, and set fire to the city.

Few events would have been more devastating for the Jewish people than watching their city be destroyed. Jerusalem was not only the political and administrative center of the kingdom; it was also the religious center. After David moved the ark of the covenant there, Jerusalem became known as a city established in God’s name. Even in a period of rebellion, Jerusalem’s destruction would have been devastating.

How would the city respond? King Zedekiah of Judah, the rebellious vassal king to Nebuchadnezzar, chose flight. Warned by Jeremiah of the coming disaster—based on his refusal to surrender—Zedekiah lived to witness the Babylonian rulers positioned in the Middle Gate. It was a brazen display of power. Overcome with fear and shame, he and his soldiers fled under the cover of night.

It’s difficult to act in faith as we struggle with failure, fear and shame. The destruction of something we love often exposes the things or people in which we place all of our trust. Rebellious and sinful, Israel and Judah refused many chances to repent. Instead of responding to the prophet Jeremiah’s calls to repent and put their loyalty in the right place, they stubbornly trusted in themselves, choosing to disregard God’s intentions for their lives.

For us, the terror of a ferocious army might take a different form. We might fear the judgment of others, a tainted reputation, or losing control of a situation, but when we let fear determine our course, we deny God’s faithfulness. We shift our focus from Him and turn it to defending, promoting and planning for ourselves.

The prophet Jeremiah stands in stark contrast to King Zedekiah. Charged with proclaiming a message that broke his own heart, he chose obedience in the midst of uncertainty. He chose faith over fear, even while facing persecution from his own people and the heartbreaking destruction of his city (Jer 37:7–16).

That type of faith seems strange in the face of such destruction. It’s the type of faith built only on a foundation laid by God—a God so loving that He sent His Son for us. He repairs what was lost, and He rebuilds what is broken.

Biblical references are from the Lexham English Bible (LEB).

September 23, 2017

The God Devised in Our Own Hearts

Last year at this time, we were introduced to the devotionals by David Guzik the host of Enduring Word, the daily radio program of Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara. Click the title below to read at source.

Making God in Our Own Image

“Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. He made shrines on the high places, and made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi…So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense.” (1 Kings 12:30-31, 33)

After the days of King Solomon, the twelve tribes of Israel divided into two kingdoms. The first leader of the northern kingdom was a man named Jeroboam – one of the more interesting and tragic figures of Israel’s history. Jeroboam was anointed and called by God, but very quickly became more interested in holding onto power than in honoring the God who gave it to him.

When Jeroboam led the 10 northern tribes in their rebellion, he wanted to break every tie with the southern kingdom of Judah. However, the city of Jerusalem was in Judah – and it was to that place that all the children of Israel were commanded to bring their sacrifices. Afraid to allow his people to visit Jerusalem and Judah, Jeroboam set up his own altars at the cities of Dan and Bethel.

The Bible simply tells us, “Now this thing became a sin.” It was a sin when Jeroboam suggested it, but it was more of a sin when the people followed it. The people were so attracted to the religion of Jeroboam that they went as far as Dan (at the far north of Israel) to worship at the shrine of the golden calf there. Today, you can visit Israel and the site of ancient Dan and see exactly where the altar and golden calf stood.

Jeroboam went even further; “he made shrines on the high places.” He made more places of worship than the main centers at Bethel and Dan. These high places were even more convenient for the people.

Then he abolished the priesthood that God commanded, he “made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi.” Jeroboam rejected the commandments of God regarding the priesthood of Israel, and established a priesthood of his own liking.

Jeroboam arranged for a special feast to be held “in the month which he had devised in his own heart.” This is a good summary of Jeroboam’s religion – it was devised in his own heart. Jeroboam is an example of those who create their own religion according to their own taste.

For the most part, the world today believes in the religion of Jeroboam. Not necessarily his particular expression of golden calves and high places, but a religion created according to its own taste. You could say that Jeroboam believed in “Jeroboamism” – it was all devised in his own heart. He was his own priest and created his own theology – basically, he created a god in his own image.

The tendency to do the same is in us all, but fortunately God has revealed to what He is like – He tells us in the Bible. We come to realize that my opinion about God isn’t any better or worse than that of anyone else – but what God says about Himself in the Bible reveals to us the God who is really there; not just the figment of my imagination or the creation of my own heart.

It is up to each of us to carefully examine our own idea of God and ask: “Did I make this myself or does God Himself tell me this in the Bible?” At the end of it all, all the gods we make in our own image are illusions – the God of the Bible is the one who is there, He is not silent, and He is the one who can rescue and help us.

June 11, 2016

When Saul Went AWOL

1 Samuel 10 22

NIV 1 Samuel 10:17 Samuel summoned the people of Israel to the Lord at Mizpah 18 and said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.’ 19 But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your disasters and calamities. And you have said, ‘No, appoint a king over us.’ So now present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and clans.”

20 When Samuel had all Israel come forward by tribes, the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21 Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was taken. Finally Saul son of Kish was taken. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. 22 So they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?”

And the Lord said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.”

23 They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. 24 Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.”

Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

The entire narrative in 1 Samuel 10 contains a number of things that would, each on their own, make for interesting study today. But the second half of verse 22 had somehow eluded me until this week.

Therefore they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?” So the Lord said, “Behold, he is hiding himself by the baggage.”  (NASB)

Israel is about to get the king they’ve always wanted. The surrounding nations had kings, but they had the King of Kings. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t stand up to federal peer pressure. In our world, Saul would make for good optics on the international circuit. The story begins in chapter 9 where we learn,

9:2 Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.

But there was more to it:

9:17 When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.”

In chapter 10, Saul is formally anointed king, and then there’s an interesting contact with a group of prophets which, as I said, will have to wait for another day. To get us to today’s key verse, here’s a transitional section which appears in The Voice Bible:

Why is Saul chosen as the first king? He is from the tiny tribe of Benjamin, so he seems to be outside the mainstream of political power. But he is a handsome and tall young man, meaning he is appealing in appearance and able to inspire confidence in warriors. At this first appearance, it even seems as if his inner qualities might match his outer qualities—God transforms him and gives him the power to prophesy—but as the story goes on, his insecurities and his jealousy of David are his undoing. (emphasis added)

So Saul, what are you doing in the baggage caravan?

  • This he might do, because he either had, or at least would be thought to have, a modest sense of his own unworthiness, which was a likely way to commend him to the people.(Matthew Poole commentary)
  • … Saul hid himself, hoping that if he was not found they would proceed to another choice, so free from ambition was he, and such was his modesty; nor does this seem to be affected and dissembled, but real; though afterwards, when he was settled in the kingdom, he did not care to part with it, and sought to kill David, whom he looked upon as his rival… (John Gill commentary)
  • …he understood, by what Samuel had said, that the people had sinned in asking for a king. (Matthew Henry)
  • …Because the affairs of Israel were at the time in a bad position [militarily]; the Philistines were strong, the Ammonites threatening; he must be bold indeed who will set sail in a storm (Matthew Henry)

At Chandler Vinson’s blog A Trivial Devotion, a longer explanation which includes consultation with some very detailed writers. This is an exhaustive study of this verse, and I commend the research here to you. You may not finish reading all of this, but it gives insights into one of the Hebrew Bible’s most interesting characters:

Saul’s hiding place is a good one as the Israelites cannot find him without divine intervention.

A more pertinent question than where Saul is hiding is why the nation’s potential leader is lurking among its supplies. Some have speculated that with time to contemplate this life changing event, the future king is getting cold feet. Timidity would be a natural response to such responsibility. A Targum reference claims that Saul slips out for prayer and Bible Study. Most, however, interpret Saul’s absence in one of two polarizing ways: commendable modesty or a flaw in character.

Some have viewed Saul’s action as evidence that he possesses the necessary modesty to be Israel’s king (I Samuel 9:21). Prominent rabbis Rashi (1040-1105) and Radaq (1160-1235) support this theory. Saul’s absence is not necessarily incriminating as David, Israel’s model king and Saul’s successor, will also initially be absent when being chosen (I Samuel 16:10-12). Even so, given the tragic way Saul’s life will unfold, it is difficult for many to see his truancy as a sign of the king’s goodness.

Many have viewed Saul’s concealment as unwillingness to lead. From this perspective, it is Saul’s personal baggage that leads the leader into the nation’s baggage. Reluctant to take the position, Saul’s physical position screams, “Not me!”

If this is the case, Richard D. Phillips (b. 1960) understands Saul’s trepidation:

The context strongly suggests fear instead of humility as the reason that Saul hid himself. And who can blame him, since he was being called to step into God’s place! Perhaps Saul could see that God was angry and that his selection was God’s judgment on the nation. Given the difficulty of the task, we can hardly blame him for trying to get away. Nonetheless, Saul’s selfish neglect of duty foreshadows a pattern that will be repeated during his kingship. The people of Israel had desired a king who would give them the leadership edge enjoyed by the worldly nations, no longer willing to rely simply on God’s saving power. Here, then, is the kind of self-serving cowardice that they will have to get used to under human kings! (Phillips, 1 Samuel (Reformed Expository Commentary),163)

Robert Alter (b. 1935) critiques:

This detail is virtually a parody of the recurring motif of the prophet-leader’s unwillingness to accept his mission. Saul the diffident farm boy had expressed a sense of unworthiness for the high office Samuel conferred on him. Now, confronted by the assembled tribes and “trapped” by the process of lot drawing, he tries to flee the onus of kingship, farcically hiding in the baggage. (Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 48)

From this perspective, Saul lacks true humility which would include depending on God. This stance is supported as fear fits the paranoia that will characterize Saul’s life. Though his action is highly irregular, it is typical of Saul.

Robert D. Bergen (b. 1954) explains that this inauspicious start is fitting:

Saul’s actions, however off, were consistent with the portrayal of Saul to this point; previously the king-designate had shut out both his servant (I Samuel 9:27) and his uncle (I Samuel 10:16) from any knowledge of his destiny. Saul’s vacancy at his own coronation suitably foreshadows a reign that would vacate responsibilities associated with the exercise of godly rule and perhaps suggest the lack of wisdom of those who preferred such a king to Yahweh. At the same time, divine assistance in the search for Saul reinforced the conclusion that Saul was indeed the Lord’s answer to Israel’s demand for a king “like the other nations.” (Bergen, , 2 Samuel (New American Commentary), 132)

Clinical psychologist David A. Stoop (b. 1937) concurs, characterizing:

Saul’s fearful posture toward life is…seen in his response to being publicly anointed as king. He simply wants to avoid the whole process. The way he attempts to avoid being anointed king in front of all Israel is to hide. (Stoop, What’s He So Angry About?, 80)

Whatever his motives for hiding, when discovered, Saul assumes the crown. Saul’s reluctance is completely ignored and the people accept him as king (I Samuel 10:23-24). On cue, they chant, “Long live the king!” (I Samuel 10:24, NASB).

Despite his awkward discovery, Saul’s impressive stature makes an even more immediate first impression. The only descriptor mentioned is that he stands a head taller than any of his peers: Saul is tall (I Samuel 9:2, 10:23). This detail adds to the story’s humor as the nation’s tallest man is theoretically the most difficult to hide, comparable to 7’6″ Yao Ming attempting to hide in a Chinese national assembly. Aside from Saul, impressive height is a quality reserved for non-covenant people and Saul’s more ideal successor, David, will not share this trait (I Samuel 16:7). In picking Saul, the Israelites receive what they ask for – a king like all the nations (I Samuel 8:5) and his selection foreshadows the typical lack of godly commitment exhibited by most of Israel’s monarchs.

What motivates Saul’s hiding, modesty or timidity? Who is he hiding from? If Saul does not want the position, why does he attend the convention at all? Why would God select a king that did not want the responsibility? Have you ever known anyone to turn down a promotion? Have you ever gotten a position that you didn’t want? Would you follow a leader who did not want her position? Would you want to be a monarch? Are you currently hiding from anything?

Whatever Saul’s reasons, his concealment has a significant consequence: it provides another opportunity for God to demonstrate divine involvement in his selection. It is God, not the Israelites, who finds Saul (I Samuel 10:22). Despite one of the implicit desires in asking for a monarch being independence, once again, the Israelites are reliant upon God. And they have enough access to God to use divine assistance to find the ruler they have chosen instead of God.

Eugene H. Peterson (b. 1932) comments:

Once chosen, Saul is nowhere to be found! He has gone into hiding. Did that last sermon by Samuel put the fear of God in him? Did he have a premonition that despite all the signs of God’s Spirit in his choosing, the kingship was flawed from the start by the people’s God-rejecting ambitions, and it was going to be a rocky road ahead? The story does not provide us with Saul’s motives for hiding. What it makes quite clear, though, is that this whole king business was going to be a mixed bag, involving both God’s mercy and God’s judgment…And here is a telling detail: They are now forced to pray to God to help them find the king they have just chosen with God’s help, but against God’s will (I Samuel 10:22). God graciously condescends to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. (Peterson, First and Second Samuel (Westminster Bible Companion), 66)

If the Israelites are close enough to God to find the concealed candidate, why do they seek a king? Is your trust in God’s leadership or in human rulers?   …

…so all this we get from one verse! But what an interesting study of the reluctant leader who becomes Israel’s first king.

 

 

September 8, 2015

Old Testament Provides Examples of What Not To Do

Today we pay a return visit to Juli Camarin at JCBlog. The article is long, but there is good insight here. Click the title below to read at source and look around the rest of the website.

A Textbook Example of What Not To Do

Do you ever stumble across an odd statement while reading your Bible and think, Are you kidding me?

This happened to me this morning. I was reading the account in Numbers where Moses struck the rock and water came out. This account is actually the second time in Israelite history this event has occurred—and check this out—it happened at the exact same place as before: Meribah, which means “quarreling.”

The first account of getting water from the rock was shortly after the Israelites were delivered from Egypt. But the second account that gave me pause happened a generation later. Same place, same situation, but this time this generation had grown up in the desert and grumbled and complained to Moses about not having water.

This is what they said:

“If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:3b-5).

Sounds like a classic rant, doesn’t it?

“We’re going to die of thirst!”
“It would have been a lot better to die when our parents died!”
“Moses, admit it…you’re trying to kill us!”

The Israelites had fallen into a textbook example of a loose tongue backed by charged emotions…I know I’ve been there…(just ask my husband).

Here are the laments that stopped me cold: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:5).

That is an odd statement coming from a people who grew up in the wilderness eating quail and manna. Of course, there are no grains, figs, grapevines, or pomegranates because they are wandering in the desert!

Come to think of it, when had they ever had figs, grapes, or pomegranates? And why were they complaining to Moses about there not being any at Meribah? It’s the wilderness after all! Makes me scratch my puzzled head:

  • Do you know where there are figs, grapes and pomegranates? Egypt.
  • Do you know who came from Egypt? Their parents.
  • Do you know why that entire generation died in the desert? Because they were faithless.

Their parents’ generation was a textbook example of what not to do. They grumbled, complained, and continually tested God. But you know what? Let’s cut them some slack because they grew up as slaves and didn’t know any better.

But their children, oh, their children should have known better! They were never slaves, as they had always been free.

They had always lived under God’s provision. He went before them in a pillar of fire. He fed them for forty years. He protected them from every single enemy that tried to wipe them off the face of the earth. And most amazingly, during their entire time in the desert, their clothing and shoes never wore out!

This generation was familiar with the miraculous ways that God provides. On top of that, they had this amazing promise from God of a permanent home in Canaan. This was their time to shine!

And yet their main complaint was about their lack of figs, grapevines, or pomegranates…echoing their parents. How disappointing!

Don’t get me wrong—there is nothing wrong with knowing where you come from and remembering the trials and situation you’ve survived to become who you are. It is part of your story and is therefore worth sharing.

But sharing becomes dangerous if we use those things as an anchor to keep us chained to our past rather than walking full of faith into the unknown with the knowledge that the future is full of God’s promises waiting to be unlocked.

Here is an important truth: God will be faithful to you regardless of whatever situation you presently find yourself. So why not trust Him to lead you through it?

This is where I truly believe the Israelites went wrong. They were longing for something in the past, and they kept looking back to what was known rather than looking forward to what was promised!

God was angry with them because they could never quite accept that He had a good plan even though it was unfamiliar to them within their life experiences up until that point. Because His plan was unknown, the Israelites clung to what they remembered and taught their children to do the same, and they all bought into it—hook, line, and sinker.

The Book of Hebrews calls this behavior disobedient unbelief! (Heb. 3:18-19).

So here they are in the exact same place as their parents when they came out of slavery and they are facing the exact same problem. But instead of remembering how God provided water from the rock for their parents’ generation, they longed for figs, grapes, and pomegranates. In other words, they yearned for Egypt, even though that meant slavery.

I call this behavior insane! I read this and thought, Are you kidding me?

They remembered their bondage in Egypt through a different lens than the reality of what actually was. Slowly throughout the years, this fantasy became preferable to wandering in the desert. But the real tragedy in all of this is that their disobedience and hardness of heart blinded them to the real freedom God desired to give them in the future.

Imagine what would have happened if the older generation had only focused on what they were looking forward to: if they spoke about the Promised Land and how it flowed with milk and honey reminded each other that God had promised that land to Abraham. They would have convinced themselves that God would be faithful in bringing them into that land.

I imagine that their children would have shown up in Meribah and announced that this was the last water stop before Jericho! (Oh, the irony, as there was no water anywhere!).

But the entire generation that wandered and died in the desert only spoke of Egypt. They spoke so well of it that their children held onto the hope of having figs, grapes, and pomegranates from a master’s table rather than having their own land, their own vineyards, and God’s best for them. Sadly, this is true because they had never been taught any better!

Friends, we need to evaluate our own lives:

  • Why are we clinging to the past?
  • Why are we focused on our solutions to our problem rather than on the faithfulness of God in the midst of our problems?
  • When was the last time we spent a moment reflecting on the promises found in scripture? And if we know them, do we really believe them?

From the example of the Israelites, we see how harmful this type of thinking is! Not only did it keep them out of the rest God planned to bring to them (Heb. 4:6) it also taught their children to do the same! And the scary thing is that we still behave like this!

  • How many of us are resting in God’s promises, actually resting, which means at peace in the midst of turmoil?
  • How many of us are confident about the future, even when the past and present are less than ideal?
  • How many of us are drowning in circumstances instead of looking to the author of solutions?

If the Israelites are the textbook example of what not to do, then let’s learn from their example and try something different.

June 10, 2012

Merciful Judge

Saw this yesterday at the blog Jesus Carries Me and I knew it belonged here, too!  For best results (!) read this at source, where it appeared under the title,

The Judge who is Plentiful in Mercy

Isaiah 21:13-17New International Version (NIV)

13 A prophecy against Arabia:

You caravans of Dedanites,
    who camp in the thickets of Arabia,
14     bring water for the thirsty;
you who live in Tema,
    bring food for the fugitives.
15 They flee from the sword,
    from the drawn sword,
from the bent bow
    and from the heat of battle.

16 This is what the Lord says to me: “Within one year, as a servant bound by contract would count it, all the splendor of Kedar will come to an end. 17 The survivors of the archers, the warriors of Kedar, will be few. ” The Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken.

Although there are many who like to think of God as their fluffy little genie in the sky who will pander to all their selfish desires, the Bible paints a different picture. Yes, God is good. Yes, He delights in doing us good. But He is also a Judge –a righteous Judge at that.

He doesn’t turn a blind eye to hurts perpetrated against people. He doesn’t turn a blind eye against the wrong. But He is also a judge who is plentiful in mercy. In fact, He is a Judge who became a Savior. Therefore, in order to learn the truth about God’s character, we cannot separate the two –Judge and Savior. We have to study His judgments as much as we study His promises of goodwill.

The Scripture reference above is a judgement against Arabia. The Arabians were known as caravaners and were also notorious for robbing other caravaners. Disaster is about to hit this nation. They were well known as skillful archers but neither their skill, nor their strength or courage will be able to protect them against the judgments of God. This serves as a reminder for us to ensure that our treasures are stored up in a place that is safe from the invaders and thieves of this world. Where your treasure is there your heart will be also. What are we storing up? Where is our heart? Is it with things that can be shaken? At the end of the day only what cannot be shaken will remain. Paul writes to Timothy:

To put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17b-19)

You caravans of Dedanites, who camp in the thickets of Arabia, bring water for the thirsty

The prophecy starts by painting a picture of an evening scene as if it is saying that the sun is setting for Arabia. There is a call on the Dedanites to extend hospitality to those who will flee in fear from the threat of the approaching enemy. The Dedanites were merchants known for trading with the prolific port city of Tyre. Apparently they usually camped in the thick, hard-to-reach wooded areas of Arabia through which they usually enjoyed safe passage. They are called upon to give water to the thirsty fugitives. In a dry and arid land, giving someone water is seen as one of the greatest acts of hospitality. As the Arabians flee the enemy they will now become dependent on the kindness of others. The lesson here is that we should be generous in our help of others. We never know when it is our turn to be in need of the kindness of others.
You who live in Tema, bring food for the fugitives

The people who live inTema is also called upon to provide.  Tema is believed to have been an oasis. This indicates how the Arabians will experience a scarcity of basic necessities of food and water.

We see from these calls to Dedan and Tema, that although God brings His judgments against those who disobey Him, He still provides a way out of the danger and we see in the later verse that not all of the Arabians are destroyed. A small remnant is saved from the disaster.  The prophecy is given a year before the actual disaster takes giving those who hear it time to repent and change their ways. This is in line with God’s merciful character. Although He cannot turn His back on the wrong, He provides a way out. We have all sinned and fallen short of His glory. But He provided a way out for us to be made righteous. He provided a Substitute so that the judgement due to us will fall upon Christ Jesus. By faith in Him we escape the inevitable final judgement coming on this world.
All the splendor of Kedar will come to an end

Kedar was splendid in beauty, in power, riches and military strength but all these things were to be torn from them. They were excellently skilled as archers but this will not help them as the judgment of God comes against them. In Psalm 120:5 dwelling in the tents of Kedar is symbolic language for being cut off from the true worship of the true God. “Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek, that I live among the tents of Kedar!” Sometimes, we look at what is splendid on the surface and we live by sight instead of by faith. This is a reminder that whatever looks grand in this world is destined for destruction and if we place our hope in these things we are bound to be terribly disappointed.

God is righteous. He is holy, but He will not leave us in our current state of hopelessness. He is merciful and will always provide a way out. If the Judge declares us innocent, who is there that can declare us guilty any longer?

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. (Romans 8:31b-34) NLT

June 7, 2012

God Keeps On Putting Up With Us

Indiana Sovereign Grace Pastor Mark Altrogge at the blog, The Blazing Center published this last week under the title, God’s Astounding, Jaw-Dropping, Eye-Popping Patience. (Click the link to read at source.)

How patient and long suffering is our God! How amazingly loving he is.


Psalm 106 is a litany of how God’s people spit in his face again and again, yet when things sour they come back to God, and he forgives and blesses them again and again.  It’s a broken record of their failures and God’s patience.

As soon as Israel comes out of Egypt, they start their slur campaign accusing God of wanting to kill them and they “rebelled by the sea,” yet “he saved them for his name’s sake,” (7) and God carves a path for them through the waters yet sweeps the Egyptians away.

Israel suffers a huge case of God amnesia- “they soon forgot his works” (13). How do you forget God splitting the Red Sea?  They continue their belly aching, are jealous of Moses, and party at the golden calf.  ”They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt” (21).  If I were God I’d have said, “That’s it.  I’m done with you, have a good life – without me!”  Yet God spared them when Moses prayed for them.

They go on to despise the promised land (ever have someone be ungrateful for a gift you’ve given them?), don’t believe God’s promise (ever had someone call you a liar?), worship Baal and eat sacrifices offered to the dead.  God sends a plague but as soon as Phineas intervenes in prayer he relents yet again.

Do they learn anything?  When they finally enter the promised land instead of destroying the peoples as God had commanded they mix with them, serve their gods and even sacrifice their sons and daughters to demons.  As a grandfather and dad, I can’t imagine hurting one of my kids or grandkids, yet Israel murdered theirs for demons.

Verse 43 sums it up: “Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes and were brought low through their iniquity.”

Then comes the most amazing verses: “Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. For their sake he remember his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (44-45).

What?  After all their bad mouthing him, dancing with demons, ingratitude and self-absorption, God relents?  God, are you a masochist?  Do you like rejection?  How much love do you have?  An abundance.

How patient God is with me! How great is his long suffering toward me! Now if he was so forbearing with Israel, even forgiving them when they sacrificed their sons and daughters to demons, how much more will he be patient with us who have received his Son and been washed by his sacrifice.

And if God is so patient with us, should we not be patient with the failures of others?. Let’s remember God’s steadfast love when others sin against us or when they’re slow to change.