Through the Bible, March 24

Reading: 1 Samuel 21-23

Summary: David soon learns that even those who would provide assistance to him are not safe from Saul’s fury, even priests of God.  As David begins his life on the run from Saul, he finds many other troubled people are drawn to him and he becomes the leader of a growing group of people–his own private following army.

Devotional Thought:

Do the Best You Know to Do

Do you have dreams?  Aspirations?  Goals? Are you on your way to achieving them?

Really? Or are you like most people who think about them and wish for them, but no real move has yet been made on your part?

Frequently that inactivity is justified on the basis of “waiting on the Lord.”  It’s as if they’re expecting God to drop something in their lap, give them a discernible nudge when the right opportunity comes along or something like that.

It’s one thing to act like God plays no role in our lives and just barrel ahead with no regard for Him or His will.  I believe the Bible has something to say about that (see James 4:13-17).  It is another to just sit around and expect God to do it all for us.

Notice what David did when he had to run for his life from King Saul.  He hid out at the cave of Adullam and when his family heard, they came to him there (1 Sam. 22:1).  That was not a good place for his parents so he went to the king of Moab and said, “Please let my father and my mother stay with you, till I know what God will do for me” (1 Sam. 22:3).

David did not yet know for sure what God’s plans were.  But David didn’t just sit around waiting.  He did the best that he knew to do given the circumstances and his limited knowledge.  He was confident that given time, he would better know God’s will, but for now this is what he would do.

Sure we would all like to possess a clear and definitive understanding of what we should do in every circumstance.  Rarely are we afforded such a luxury.  Rather, like David, we need to do the best we know to do in the given situation.

Don’t just sit around, get going!

Through the Bible, March 23

Reading: 1 Samuel 19-20

Summary: Saul’s anger and hatred toward David only grows stronger.  Fortunately, David and Jonathan’s friendship has also grown very, very strong.  Jonathan is able to arrange for David’s successful escape, much to his father’s indignation.

David will never again be able to live in the comfort and security of a home, much less the king’s household, as long as Saul remains alive.

Devotional Thought:

Crazy Saul

King Saul was a crazy man. Some people diagnose him as severely bi-polar.  I don’t know about all that, maybe he was.

What I do know is that he was a selfish man.

Notice this fundamental difference between Saul and David; Saul thought David should die because as long as he lived Jonathan, Saul’s son, would not be able to become king. Yet David thought Saul should live, solely based on the fact that he had been anointed by God as king (1 Sam. 20:31; 26:6).

Saul’s thinking was purely Saul-centered; David’s was God-centered.

When Jonathan challenged his father’s reasoning and suggested David had done nothing worthy of death, Saul maliciously hurled his spear at Jonathan, his own son (1 Sam. 20:33).  The idea of what was right and just only enraged him.

When David’s men argued that Saul should be killed when the opportunity arose (1 Sam 26:8), the idea of what was within David’s rights (self-defense) wasn’t motivation enough for him to act. He refused to use a notion of justice to his own selfish ends.  Greater than his own rights was God’s honor.

The same issue that separated Saul and David challenges us as followers of Jesus. The Savior said that if we are to follow Him, the first requirement–the first–is that we deny self (Matt. 16:24).

When it comes to following Jesus, am I more like David or Saul?

Through the Bible, March 22

Reading: 1 Samuel 16-18

Summary: The quite handsome, but very young David is chosen from among the sons of Jesse to succeed Saul on Israel’s throne, though it will be many years before he actually begins to reign.  David will, even as a youngster, begin to make his mark; first serving Saul as a musician and then some time later as the unlikely victor over the mammoth Philistine nemesis, Goliath.

It’s following this surprising victory over the giant that David and Saul’s son, Jonathan, strike up a very strong friendship.  David also gains great notoriety as a military leader against the Philistines and his ties grow even stronger to Saul when he becomes the king’s son-in-law. Unfortunately, though, Saul’s jealousy of David also begins and only grows from this time forward.

Devotional Thought:

My Problem, My Solution

It wasn’t David’s size or experience or mastery of hand-to-hand combat skills that felled the colossal Philistine warrior (1 Samuel 17). Nor had it been superior numbers and fire power that brought victory to Gideon’s army versus the marauding Midianite hoards (Judges 7). Israel’s siege tactics against a fortified city played no role in laying waste to Jericho, the first target of conquest in Canaan’s land (Joshua 6). So too, Israel’s extraction from Egypt’s “iron furnace” (Deut. 4:20) depended not at all on either skills of diplomacy to arrange their emancipation or cunning stealth to secure their escape (Exodus 7-13).

So what is the problem that I face?

What are the skills, abilities, talents, resources, and opportunities that I lack in order to adequately address this problem?

Exactly what is it that is stopping me from achieving what I need to do, advancing to where I need to go, or becoming what I need to be?

Goliath possessed everything he needed for victory and failed.  David had nothing and won.  It’s just one more reminder, one more example, one more message to our slow and dull minds: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses: but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7).

Through the Bible, March Week 4 Introduction

Week 4: Saul’s Fall and David’s Rise

March 22-28

            Timing is everything, or so the saying goes. Our trouble is that we are often perplexed by God’s timing.

Saul has failed horribly as the first king of Israel.  He has rejected by God as king (1 Sam. 15:26).  Yet, Saul will remain on the throne for many more years.  Even so, God immediately chooses the next king–a boy, and a young boy at that; the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, David (1 Sam. 16:11-12).

It will be several years before David finally takes the throne.  Those years prove to be a roller coaster ride of great triumphs and awful trials.  He will serve as a source of calm as a musician whose music soothes the king’s tortured mind, and a most unlikely vanquisher of the mighty Philistine soldier, Goliath, and a celebrated military hero leading Saul’s army.  But he will also become the target of the king’s vehement jealousy as a repeated mark for assassination.  He will spend years as an innocent fugitive, living in caves and scrounging for the most basic needs.  All the while he maintains his integrity and honors Saul as God’s anointed and refuses to lash out in retaliation.

A truly great ruler is in the making; as Israel’s first king plummets in a downward spiral of unbridled selfish jealousy.

Through the Bible, March 21

Reading: No scheduled reading

Thoughts and Reflection: Today is the scheduled catch up day (if needed) for the third week of March (15-21).  No reading is planned for today, but below are some points to ponder based on this week’s readings.

  1. The New Testament teaches us to rejoice in our trials (Jas. 1:2). The Old Testament illustrates the validity of this principle.  Naomi encountered many heartbreaking trials.  She even decided her name should be changed to Mara (“bitter”; Ruth 1:20).  Yet, out of those trials came Boaz, the father of her grandson, Obed, and Obed became the grandfather of King David.

Also, the beginning of Israel’s monarchy was a disaster.  How easy it would have been to have just given up on the whole notion.  But it was precisely from those very troubling times of Saul’s reign that the great King David would arise.

  1. Hannah understood well what many parents do not. Our children are a gift from God.  Though most parents would agree with that sentiment, how many would be willing to return to God what He has given?  We likely will never do so in exactly the way Hannah did, but we can rear our children to give themselves over to God first and foremost.  Their lives are about serving God first, not me as their parent.
  2. Israel’s interest in having a king was motivated by their desire to be like the nations (1 Sam. 8:5). Remember, God’s concern for His people upon entering the land of Canaan?   It was specifically that they not be like the nations (Lev. 18:3; 20:23).   Always at conflict in the life of God’s child is the desire to fit in with those among whom we live and the distinctiveness to which we are called as His children.

Devotional Thought:

Do I Want to Go Where I’m Headed?

Have you ever found yourself some place you did not intend to be?  Maybe while traveling you took a wrong turn and before long you realized your current location did not match your plans or desires.

The whole problem could be traced back to one wrong decision; if that one mistake had not been made, then you likely would have already arrived at your desired destination or at least been on the right road to get there.

That’s easy to see in literal, physical driving situations.  But it is also true spiritually.

King Saul ended up in a terrible place; God had rejected him (1 Sam. 15:26).  How did he ever wind up here?  His beginning had been so good but now things were so bad (and it would only get worse).

Can we look back and see where a mistake was made?  The point at which he took a wrong turn and stepped onto a path that led away from God?

That seems to have happened when he “forced” himself to offer a sacrifice at Gilgal when it was not his place to do so.  He rationalized his misdeed as though he had no real choice but to commit this sin (1 Sam. 13:11-12). From this misstep the king never recovered.

Turning the attention to myself; am I where I want to be?  Where I intend to be?

Now, there is a difference between having not yet arrived though being on the right course and not being where you wish because you’re going the wrong way.

We all do make mistakes.  Saul made his.  But unless corrected, those mistakes become course changing wrong turns that take us far from our desired destination.

If where I am is not where I want to be, one of two things needs to happen; either persevere with my current bearings because it will take me where I want to go, or, stop, change directions completely and get back on the right track!

Through the Bible, March 20

Reading: 1 Samuel 14-15

Summary: The effective end of Saul’s reign came when he arrogantly failed to follow God’s command in dealing with the Amalekites.  He would for several years remain on throne, but God’s attitude toward his reign was “regret” (1 Sam. 15:35).  It is from Samuel’s confrontation with Saul on this occasion that we learn an incredibly valuable and needed lesson about priorities in serving and worshipping God (see 1 Sam. 15:22).

Devotional Thought:

A Failure of the Highest Order

An epic failure.

I don’t know how better to describe Saul’s fall from God’s favor (1 Sam. 15).

But notice this; all the while he’s talking about obedience, worshipping God, offering sacrifices, repentance and forgiveness (1 Sam. 15:15, 20, 24-25).  He has lost all standing with God while maintaining the appearance and sound of spirituality.  A lesser man than Samuel may have been taken in by it all.

A vast gulf may indeed exist between a religious person and godly person.  All the godly ones are religious, but all the religious aren’t godly.

For all the talk and all the religiosity, one simple fact remained: Saul failed to obey God.

Jesus identified the same issue; a lot of talk and religious practice–“Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?”  To which Jesus responds, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21-23).

This fail is no less epic than Saul’s.

Through the Bible, March 19

Reading: 1 Samuel 11-13

Summary: Though Saul from all outward appearances seemed to be the right man to serve as king of Israel, his inadequacies did not remain hidden long.  Neither did God keep hidden His displeasure with Israel’s original monarch.  His message through Samuel to Saul was that his throne would not endure but that God would seek out for Himself “a man after His own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14).  Incidentally, this is the source of the reference to David being a man after God’s own heart, though it is not directly tied to him here (see Acts 13:22).

Devotional Thought:

More Than Right or Wrong

What if you did only “right” things, and did nothing “wrong”? Now that, it would seem, should keep a person exactly on track spiritually.  Right? Not necessarily so.  We could not do another “wrong” thing the rest of our lives and still be spiritual failures.

That would mean the criteria for our behavior has to be something more than just “right” or “wrong”.  But what more is there?

During the fiasco that was Israel’s request for their first king, Samuel convinced the people that they had done wrong (1 Sam. 12:19).  Now, he tells them to be careful about how they proceed from this point forward.  Though they may have made this mistake they should not continue on that path, “do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart” (1 Sam. 12:20).

He then issues this warning–it’s an elaboration on the idea of serving God with all of one’s heart–“And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty” (1 Sam. 12:21).

It is very much like Paul’s criteria for Christian behavior; first of all, is it “lawful,” that is right as opposed to wrong?  Second, is it “helpful” or of benefit? (1 Cor. 10:23).  Isn’t that Samuel’s point?

Yes, be concerned for right and wrong, but just as surely think in terms of what is spiritually beneficial.  Something may not be wrong, but to pursue or embrace it would be of no value.  Instead, I will follow the Lord with my whole heart.

Through the Bible, March 18

Reading: 1 Samuel 8-10

Summary: Samuel takes it personally when the people request to have a king to rule over them.  God assures him that he’s mistaken in his hurt feelings because it isn’t Samuel they’ve rejected as their leader, but God Himself.

It’s a curious thing this request is seen as such a negative turn of events when the Law of Moses itself anticipated the time when this people would be ruled by a king (see Deut. 17:14-17).

This incident well illustrates the fact that we should be careful for what we ask; we might just get it.

Devotional Thought:

Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Have you ever heard of QBQ?

No, it’s not some variation of enhanced BBQ (I could only wish!).

It stands for “The Question Behind the Question.”  John Miller authored a business leadership book by that title.  In part, it has to do with the fact that the real, underlying issue is often masked by another question or observation.  Getting to the real root concern, question, or issue is key.

Israel said they wanted a king.  They told Samuel it was because he was old and his sons were not real leadership material (1 Sam. 8:7).  Both of these statements were true (although Samuel would live another 35 years), but they weren’t the real reason for the request.

This is later revealed when they say, “But there shall be a king over us, that we may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us an fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8:19-20).  It’s also suggested later that threats from a foreign king prompted the desire for a king to protect them, though God already filled that role quite well (1 Sam. 12:12).

It’s a good question to ask ourselves: what’s the question behind the question?  What’s the real reason for what we are wanting?

God warns us about this in terms of our faith and worship.  All in the name of worshipping and serving God, any number of underlying motivations could be present.  Is what I am doing, or wanting to do, moved by the will of God or is it my own personal desires, cultural influences, or long-standing tradition?

We need to be–must be–brutally honest with ourselves.  Human traditions, self-made religion, and compliance to culture all threaten to leave our faith powerless and vain.

Depleted faith and trust in God lie behind Israel’s appeal to have a king.  Really, and honestly, what lies behind what I do (or don’t do) in the practice of my faith?

Through the Bible, March 17

Reading: 1 Samuel 4-7

Summary: The evil escapades of Eli’s sons seem fitting for the time of the Judges.  The leadership vacuum created by these wicked boys is consummated when they and their father die on the same day.  Samuel is prepared not only to step into that void, but to do so most admirably.  His role expands beyond Judge to include priest and prophet as well.

Devotional Thought:

Realities and Representations

I wear a constant representation of my love for my wife on the ring finger of my left hand.  Many, many people do the same kind of thing.

There is a difference though, between the representation and the reality.  Of course.

If I lost that ring, I would be quite sad, but it doesn’t mean our love would be over.  It would continue even if the representation were gone. By the same token my wearing that ring does not make that love a reality.  I could not act in an unfaithful way regarding my wife and claim no damage to the relationship just because the ring was still on my finger.  That is ludicrous.

Think about what Israel did when they took the ark of the covenant into battle against the Philistines (1 Sam. 5:3-4).  They believed that it meant God was with them because the ark was present.

They were wrong.

That ark represented God’s presence among His people, but God was not there (see Psa. 78:60).  The people’s unfaithfulness to God altered the reality; the same as a husband’s unfaithfulness to his wife alters the reality of their relationship, ring or no ring.

Much more important than the external representations are the internal realities.

It’s always been true.  More important under the Law of Moses than circumcision of the flesh is circumcision of the heart (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 4:4; Rom. 2:29).  More important than the outward acts of murder or adultery are the inward attitudes and feelings of anger and lust (Matt. 5:21-30).  Greater than outward sacrifice is a merciful heart (Matt. 9:13).

Taking the ark into battle–thinking it guaranteed God’s presence–was utter foolishness.  No less foolish is strict adherence to outward manifestations of religion and faith if the reality of a heart and life wholly given to God are not there.

Through the Bible, March 16

Reading: 1 Samuel 1-3

Summary: In a series of events reminiscent of Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachel, Hannah, the wife of Elkannah, is barren.  God responds to her impassioned prayer for a child by giving her a son whom she in turn gives back to God.  Young Samuel’s life is far from ordinary, and he too will prove to be a far from ordinary man.

Devotional Thought:

Parents, Children, and God

Concern of parents for their children is huge. I know that’s not exactly a newsflash, but think about what parents do to help, aid, encourage, promote, and assist their children. Nothing, not even appealing to highest known powers and authorities is out of the question.

Do you remember what happened during Jesus’ ministry?  Parents brought their children to Him that He might bless them (Mark 10:13-16).  The mother of two apostles appealed to Him for elevated positions for her boys in the kingdom (Matt. 20:21).

And what of Hannah?  When Samuel was born, she “dedicated him to the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:28; NASB).

There is something more at work here with what Hannah has said about her son.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with parents wishing for God’s blessing on their children.  It’s only natural and even desirable.

But notice what Hannah was doing; she wasn’t asking for anything, she was giving something.  And it wasn’t just “something” was it?  This was her own (and at this point, only) son.

Parents need to know that the very best they can do for their child is not to ask God to bless them and protect them, but rather it is to give that child to God.