Thursday, January 27, 2011

1 Samuel 11, 12, 13 Honoring God

Relief, Auch Cathedral, France: the Ark of the...Image via Wikipedia
During his years as the leader of Israel, as God’s spokesman to Israel, Samuel always strove to bring his people into a closer relationship with God.  In many ways, his message was the same as that of Moses.  He continuously admonished the nation to forsake the worship of foreign gods and to return wholeheartedly to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Twenty years had passed since God judged the house of Eli, the priest; twenty years passed since the Ark of the Covenant was housed in an Israelite village of Kireath Jearim; twenty years passed since the Philistines slaughtered thirty thousand Israelite soldiers in a devastating battle.  As Israel continued to be oppressed by the victorious Philistines, the nation mourned and began to seek God.  In response to this, God led Samuel to call the nation together in Mitzpah, first mentioned in Genesis 31:49, in order to repent, fast, pray, and worship the God of Israel.  The word mitzpah, or watchtower, came out of Jacob’s and Laban’s deep distrust of one another.  They parted company by establishing a boundary that neither would cross.  Although the name originated from hostilities, it can be understood as invoking the idea of  the Watchtower which represents One who watches all, the God of Israel.  Israel congregated where there was a sense of being seen and heard by the King of the Universe.

As the prophet Samuel led the nation in penitence and worship, God routed the Philistines who again assembled to slaughter Israel.  Samuel military victories came out of worship and out of his absolute allegiance to the God of Israel.  This military victory gave Israel a few more decades of peace from the Philistines.

As the aging prophet, Samuel, tried to confer his responsibilities onto his sons, Israel clamored for a king.  Following God’s direction, Samuel anointed Saul, son of Kish, from the tribe of Benjamin, as the first king of Israel.  After the anointing, Samuel communicated God’s Will to Saul through a series of validating signs and directions concerning an event to occur at some point in the future.    (1 Samuel 10: 1-8)

Years passed since Saul was anointed, since the signs were realized.  However, as Saul prepared for a major battle against the Philistines, his troops were called to assemble at Gilgal, the city about which Samuel prophesied to Saul.  Saul fully understood the significance of  the city and the battle, however as he waited impatiently for Samuel to arrive in order to worship the Lord, Saul became more fixated on the number of soldiers deserting him than he was on patiently waiting for the prophet to come as he promised he would.  Finally, exasperated that Samuel hadn’t yet arrived, Saul took matters into his own hands and offered burnt offerings to the Lord.  When he did this, he showed all of Israel that he didn’t really honor God as his king; he didn’t really regard God with reverence and awe; he trusted in his own assessment of military dissolution rather than trusting in God’s ability to bring about a victory even if only one soldier were left in his command.  

Saul publicly disobeyed God, and so lost the kingdom that as offered to him. 

Obedience is not so much about following rules as it is about trusting in God’s character and in His word.  When we trust who God is, then how we live and what we do is a natural reflection of God’s love, which is also expressed in His law.
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1 Samuel 6 -10: God Calling

The plague of ashdod 1630Image via Wikipedia
Scripture is not only a historically accurate account of Israel’s development as a society and as a people; it is also a dialog with God.  While it is possible to read the Bible in its entirety within a few sittings, in much the same way as one would read any other book, it can become fairly dry reading.  I feel that God, the King of the Universe, inspired this book so as to enter into a dialog with men.

As God wishes to communicate with us, He calls us by name.  In 1 Samuel 3, God called the young prophet/leader Samuel by name and entered into a dialog with him.  While Samuel was still a boy, God revealed to him His judgment against the priest Eli, against his sons, and against future generations because Eli did not stop his sons from publicly dishonoring God.

While God’s judgment against the House of Eli may appear severe and intractable, I feel that because Eli and his family were such a high profile family that their relationship with God, or lack thereof, reverberated loudly throughout Israelite society.  Since Eli’s sons failed to treat God as Holy, they, in essence, told Israel that their God was simply no god of consequence.  They taught Israel that God’s requirements for worship, as stipulated in the Pentateuch, were irrelevant, possibly outdated.

Once God entered into a dialog with Samuel, He continued to reveal Himself to him through his word.

While Samuel was still a boy, a devastating battle with the Philistines cost Israel 30,000 foot soldiers.  Eli and his sons died on the same day that the battle was lost.  And, the Ark of the Covenant, which was removed from the tabernacle in Shiloh, was captured by the Philistines.

After suffering plagues of tumors and mice for seven months, the Philistines understood that these afflictions were from the God of Israel so they sent the Ark of the Covenant away from their cities and territories.  Eventually, the Ark ended up in Israelite territory, in Kireath Jearim, nine miles west of Jerusalem.

For the twenty years that the Ark rested there, Israel mourned and sought the Lord.  It was at this juncture that Samuel was led to speak to Israel.  His first proclamation was a call for the nation to repent of not regarding the God of Israel as Holy; as King of the Universe; as Sovereign.  Israel had surrounded herself with idols and pagan deities, attesting to a belief that all gods were equal; that there was no One True God.  Israel fell into pagan practices while abandoning her special relationship with the God of Creation.
It’s interesting to note that no matter what other sins Israel may have been guilty of, all of them stemmed from the rejection of the knowledge they had of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

All sin originates in man’s rejection of God’s Sovereignty and of His love for His own.  Though Eli served God, he didn’t really hear God.  Samuel, though still a boy, heard God calling him by name.  And Samuel then continued to live in constant dialog with God. 

Reading the Scriptures is dialoging with God.  When we spend time reading slowly and prayerfully, God focuses our attention on specific passages and challenges us to think about them. 

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

1Samuel: 4,5,6: Losing Battles

the Ark of the Covenant of the Biblical TabernacleImage via Wikipedia

In this section, Israel was embroiled in two, significant losing battles with the Philistines.  Because they were still reclaiming the land God had given them, Israel was ostensibly doing God’s will.  Yet, their losses could only testify that God was not fighting with them.  In fact, it would seem that God strengthened the hand of the Philistines against them.  So, why were their military losses so heavy?

In my life, sometimes when I do what seems to be God’s obvious will, I still fail miserably.  Nothing about the outcome of my efforts would bespeak of God’s blessing.
And, I also ask, why? Why aren’t You helping me? Why aren’t You with me on this? And, then I have to examine my heart to see if my actions sprang out of my relationship with the Lord rather than out of my personal pride issues.  Was I really doing God’s will or was I doing what I wanted under the guise of godliness.

Israel asked the same questions and decided that military defeat occurred because the Ark of the Covenant was not present with them in battle. Obviously, Israel perceived the Ark to be a talisman ensuring God’s continued Presence with them.  Under the leadership of the priest, Eli, Israel drifted farther from the nation’s original understanding of God, as One with whom they had a covenant relationship.  Though Eli knew God, he ceased to love Him.  When Eli’s sons, the next generation of Aaronic priests, publicly showed contempt for God, Eli did not aggressively censure them.  Rather,  Eli and his family were guilty of dishonoring God and teaching others to do the same.  Israel began to think of the Ark of the Covenant as a kind of idol.  They forgot that they had a relationship with the Living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

When Israel fought the Philistines, the battle was not engaged by a people who loved the Lord and ardently sought His will.  Rather, they fought the Philistines simply because they were oppressed by them.  In this section, I think that it is interesting to note that God used the Philistines, national humiliation, and personal tragedy to bring a people back to seeking a relationship with Him.  Perhaps, this was also part of Samuel’s training in priesthood and leadership.  He witnessed first hand that Israel knew a Living God who demanded honor and who dispensed justice.

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1 Samuel: 1 -3; Hannah's Prayer

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout - Hannah presenting ...Image via Wikipedia

 In I Samuel, God introduces us to Hannah, a woman who struggled with her own bitterness, jealousy, anger, hurt, and deep sorrow. Because God closed Hannah’s womb, her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, described as the adversary, tormented Hannah severely about her infertility.  In Hebrew, adversary, צָרָה (tsarah), as it is used here connotes a female enemy.  Three times a year, when Hannah and her entire family worshipped the Lord of Hosts, Lord Almighty, at Shiloh, she brought her heavy and despairing heart on the trip.  As the years passed in this holding pattern, Hannah could no longer be comforted by her husband’s proclamations of his love for her.  Her enemy bore children while she suffered.  Her enemy maligned her to the point of despairing for her life.  Hannah probably felt alone, helpless, and without recourse. 

How difficult it must have been for her to worship God, who in this passage is first called the Lord of Hosts, (1 Sam. 1:3), which is in Hebrew צָבָא (tsaba').  צָבָא is a reference to the powerful God, Creator of the Universe, King over armies of angels, who goes out to war against His enemies.  She worshipped the Creator of the Universe, the Sovereign King who led Israel in battle against enemies, yet her personal enemy tormented her as much as pagan nations oppressed Israel.  Was God too big to deliver her from a seemingly insignificant domestic strife?  Was she important enough to God for Him to vindicate her before her enemy?

While Hannah was worshipping the Lord of Hosts at Shiloh, her enemy Peninna continued to torture her mercilessly.  Finally, Hannah wept, which in Hebrew בָּכָה (bakah), implies lamenting and wailing as though for the dead.  Her grief lacerated her soul so much that she felt torn apart, possibly not even able to face living anymore.  In her absolute brokenness, she gave not only her deepest desire for a child to the Lord of Hosts but the child himself.  In prayer, she vowed to give the child back to God; to let him grow up in the temple to serve the Lord of Hosts. 

As she prayed for deliverance, Eli, the priest, assured her that God heard her plea. Shortly thereafter, Hannah conceived.

After Hannah weaned her son Samuel, she brought him to the temple as she had vowed to do.

Now, what impacts me the most is Hannah’s prayer after she actually surrendered both her desire for a child and the child himself to God.  Before she left the temple, Hannah, 1 Samuel 2: 1 -10, prayed.  Because she was able to fulfill her vow, because God enabled her to triumph over her enemy, she rejoiced in God, in his deliverance.  This prayer was a public testimony of how God vindicated her in the sight of others; of how God, her King, acted in her behalf.  As Hannah kept her vow to God, she affirmed that she knew that God not only was Almighty in principle, but also Almighty in an intimate, personal way.  Nothing was too small or too big for the Lord of Hosts.  Everything is in His control and under His jurisdiction.  Her prayer asserted her conviction of God’s Sovereignty both in holding the universe together and in guarding the feet of His saints.  In Hebrew, the salvation Hannah spoke of is יְשׁוּעָה (yĕshuw`ah), the only Name by which men can be saved.

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for 'Lord of Hosts' in the KJV". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2011. 24 Jan 2011. < http://
Criteria=Lord+of+Hosts&t=KJV >

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for 'adversary' in the KJV". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2011. 24 Jan 2011. < http://
Criteria=adversary&t=KJV >

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for bakah (Strong's 1058)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2011. 24 Jan 2011. < http://
Strongs=H1058&t=KJV >

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for yĕshuw`ah (Strong's 3444)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2011. 24 Jan 2011. < http://
Strongs=H3444&t=KJV >

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

So, What About Ruth?

Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to t...Image via Wikipedia
Have you ever noticed how, when reviewing ancestors and family trees, there is typically one incident in someone’s life which is frequently recounted and serves to memorialize their entire life?  In my husband’s family there was someone, a several generations past, who was remembered for being very vain about her beautiful hair.  In my family, my father’s grandmother is remembered for her ability to profitably run a business.  I know these people led full lives, yet these are the only surviving anecdotes.

It’s interesting for me to reflect that Ruth is memorialized not only by her courtship with Boaz but also by having moved from Moab to Israel.  While it’s a story of faithfulness, diligence, humility, and obedience it is also an account of how a pagan, a Moabitess, whose people since the days of Baal Peor, were at enmity with Israel, married into a Hebrew family and fell in love with the God of Israel. 

Nestled between the Book of Judges and the Book of Samuel, the Book of Ruth relates an  event that occurred during the time of the Judges, when Israel flirted with foreign gods and drifted away from worshipping the God of Israel.  So it is all the more astonishing that Ruth, instead of drawing her husband into pagan practices, was herself drawn to worship the god of Israel.

The first thing we learn about Ruth’s in-laws is that Elimelech, whose name means “My God is King”, sojourned in Moab with his family until the famine afflicting Bethlehem of Judea passed.  Since Elimelech never intended to leave Israel permanently, he probably kept the love of Israel and reverence for God alive in his home.  Perhaps he enjoyed retelling the stories of all that God did for Israel; of how God delivered Israel out of Egypt; of the battles that Joshua won; of the deliverance God gave Israel through various Judges.  Perhaps the Sabbath observance touched Ruth’s heart as she participated in this family ritual over the years of marriage.  Or, perhaps, as she heard her in-laws continue to pray and place their lives into the hands of the God they knew loved them, she understood that God lived. 

What Scripture does state is that when the widow, Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, decided to return to Bethlehem, she released her two daughter-in-laws to return to their own families.  In Ruth 1: 16-17, we read:

“But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.  Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

When Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, she had already embraced the God of Israel, and was prepared to worship Him and to grow in knowledge of Him.  Ruth also no doubt understood that she was a foreigner, a widow, older than most marriageable women.  Maybe she was resigned to quietly living with her mother-in-law, while doing her best to honorably provide for their needs. 

I think the most interesting aspect of Ruth was that she came to Bethlehem in order to grow closer to God; to know Him more.  And, God, by way of revealing Himself to her, showed her His love by orchestrating her marriage to one of Bethlehem’s most prominent men, Boaz.  Through Ruth’s marriage to Boaz both Ruth and Naomi were blessed when Ruth bore a son.  The story of Ruth effectively closes with the townswomen blessing Naomi and praising God for His love and faithfulness to her.

Ultimately, Ruth was King David’s Great-grandmother.  Maybe because she knew firsthand the pervasive evil of pagan idolatry, she clung all the more tenaciously to the knowledge of the One True God, the King of the Universe.  By virtue of the strength of her faith, I am certain that she powerfully testified to the reality of God and to the depth of His commitment to Israel before the people of Israel who were so tempted to follow the pagan gods she abandoned.  I’m speculating, but I think that Ruth figured King David’s lineage because she lived her life proclaiming God’s Sovereignty and God’s love for Israel.  

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