Thursday, February 24, 2011

1 Samuel 17: David and Goliath

David faces Goliath in this 1888 lithograph by...Image via Wikipedia
Almost as many songs and stories have been written about this event as years that have passed since this event.  We've all heard the story of a brave boy who defeated a giant.  However, today I would like to explore another dimension of this account.

In the preceding chapter, it states that "from that day on, the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power" (1 Samuel 16:13) when referring to Samuel's anointing of David, the shepherd boy,  as King of Israel.   David continued in his duties as a shepherd to his father's sheep, but with the Spirit of the Lord dwelling in him, numerous changes were effected in David's spirit.  Over time, he grew not only in his knowledge of God but also in his certainty of God's very existence and in the ramifications of that knowledge, i.e. God's covenanted eternal promises to Israel; God's eternal love of Israel; God's specific sovereign plan for his life.

Through the Spirit of the Lord, David came to know and love the Lord who appointed him king.

So, when David arrived at the battleground where the Philistine, Goliath, was taunting Israel's army, I am sure that Spirit of the Lord brought to mind Mosaic writings with which  David was familiar.  (In Genesis 10:14, where the Philistines were first mentioned, it was to state that they descended from Noah's son Ham, who fathered the Canaanites whom God cursed through all generations, for their brazen dishonor of God.  God ordered Israel to dispossess the Canaanites when they entered the Promised Land. )

In the manner in which  David questioned Israel's soldiers about the identity of Goliath, he  prodded them to recognize  Goliath as an "uncircumcised Philistine" thus stating that this formidable giant was already cursed by God and could not successfully stand against the army of the Living God.  David's older brothers, and probably other soldiers, were angered when David reminded them of God's view on this battle.  Though David was ridiculed for expressing his belief that this physically daunting giant who terrified Israel's army, was really an already defeated foe, cursed by God and only awaiting destruction, he clung to it.  David persisted in talking to numerous troops about this so that eventually even King Saul heard of David's pronouncements.

I think that God wanted Israel's army to hear of David's faith in the God of Israel because soon afterwards,  King Saul permitted David to battle the Philistine giant,  Goliath.

Fortified by his relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,  David took only five smooth stones and a slingshot to face the giant who was garbed in over a hundred pounds of bronze protective gear (1 Samuel 17: 4-7).  When facing the giant who was over nine feet tall and who carried a formidable iron spear, David focused only on the God of Israel, who chose Israel out of all of the nations to be His own; who had a plan for Israel; who Himself effected an eternal covenanted relationship with Israel; who spoke through prophets to Israel; who worked in Israel's midst through signs and wonders.  Because the Spirit of the Lord was on David, he stepped out in confidence that no matter how he used the slingshot, God would make certain that it hit its mark.

This battle, in which David first publicly stood on God's Word, was really David's first battle as King of Israel, in which he defended his nation.  David began the battle by admonishing his troops to remember who the God of Israel was.  And then, after he defeated the Philistine champion, the army of Israel was sufficiently empowered spiritually to pursue and defeat the fleeing Philistine army.  David became a leader of his people by encouraging them to turn their hearts back to the living God of Israel.

Unfortunately, King Saul, a seasoned warrior, could only fight the enemy in his own strength.  Because he himself rejected the God of Israel, he couldn't encourage his troops to seek Him for the strength they needed.  King Saul could not see that the battles Israel fought were lost or won in the heart and spirit of Israel, on the strength of their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
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Saturday, February 19, 2011

1 Samuel 16: King David Anointed

David anointed by SamuelImage via Wikipedia
Intrigue and subterfuge, choreographed by God,  surrounded  Samuel's anointing of David as the new King of Israel.

In this episode God demonstrated a complete understanding of the emotional trauma and political difficulties that Samuel was experiencing.  While Samuel was still mourning the loss of Saul as a colleague in the Lord,  God presented him with directions to anoint a new king, a son of Jesse of Bethlehem.  When Samuel expressed his fear of being assassinated for such a treasonous act, God gave him a plan to work outside of Saul's suspicions.

Since Samuel commonly traveled to various towns to offer a sacrifice to the Lord, God directed him to travel to Bethlehem where he was to invite  Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice.  It seems that Samuel took Jesse into his confidence, because Jesse called his sons to come before Samuel individually.   However, the inexplicable happened.  Samuel understood that God had not chosen any of the seven young men who were presented to him.  So, he asked if there were any other sons.

Almost apologetically, Jesse said that he had another son, David, the youngest, the smallest, and the least significant of the brothers, who was assigned to tending the sheep.  Apparently, Jesse didn't think him important enough to invite to the sacrifice.  However, Samuel did not allow anyone to sit down to the sacrifice until David arrived.

As soon as Samuel saw David, the Lord directed him to anoint David in the presence of his brothers. From that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David with power and he could no longer be considered insignificant.

David became the King of Israel when only God knew his heart, when only God thought him significant, when only his immediate family was present at the anointing.  David had neither army nor following.  Though God anointed him King, David remained in his father's house serving him as a shepherd and entertaining him as a harpist.  It seems that David simply trusted in God to bring about what He declared to be true.  I think that as David waited for God's direction, he also grew deeper in his knowledge of God.  Through the Spirit of God he came to appreciate God's Sovereignty and God's timing, being fully assured that God's plans never fail.

Eventually, God brought David into Saul's presence by introducing him as a harpist whose playing relieved Saul of the evil spirits which tormented him.  God arranged that David was invited into Saul's throne room to effectively cast out demons which plagued Saul.  Even though he knew that he was the new King, David arrived humbly and willing to serve King Saul.  David did not insist on his own superiority before God but rather extended mercy and grace to a man who rejected God even though he was anointed by God.   By serving where God placed him, David demonstrated his love for God and his desire to obey Him, no matter how little sense he could find in God's directions.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

1 Samuel 15: A Second Chance

Gustave Doré, The Death of Agag. "Agag&qu...Image via Wikipedia

Years earlier, when Saul was disobedient to God’s express command about offering sacrifices in Gilgal, the prophet Samuel left him after he gave God’s judgment upon Saul stating that his kingdom would not be established. Since that time, Saul was busy fighting Philistines and trying to consolidate his kingship over Israel.  So, I imagine that he must have been surprised when Samuel returned to him with a message from God.  

God wanted Saul to attack the Amalekites and to totally destroy all that belonged to them.  I find this to be an interesting command in that the Amalekites were portrayed as the consummate enemy of God and of Israel since Genesis17:14 where God is on record for stating that He intended to eliminate them from the face of the earth. God was calling Saul to align himself with the God of Israel and so to testify publicly his priority of obeying God, no matter what the cost.

Up until this point, Saul’s battles were obvious engagements which any leader of Israel would have fought.  God’s order to attack the Amalekites, on the other hand, was God’s call for Israel to do His will.  It would seem that Saul was being given a second chance to obey God.

Saul set out to do God’s will, but in the process took his eyes off of God.  Instead of destroying everything, Saul focused on how good the best of the sheep, cattle, lambs, etc. were.  In his eyes, as they became more attractive than obedience to God’s command, he spared the best of the livestock   inexplicably, he also spared the the king of the Amalekites, Agag.

All of Saul’s disobedience ultimately testified of how little he thought of God.  Even though Samuel, God’s spokesperson to Israel, spoke God’s commands clearly to Saul, he didn’t take them completely to heart.

Thought he mustered together his warriors and attacked the Amalekites, he spared their best livestock because he disagreed with God’s order to destroy them.  Saul trusted in his own perceptions rather then in God’s revealed will.  Saul spared the life of the Amalekite king.  When Samuel questioned Saul about the plunder he took, Saul lied, blamed his soldiers, and then attempted to put a righteous spin on his actions by saying that the livestock were spared in order to be sacrificed to God.

Underlying this was Saul’s heart which completely failed to recognize that God knows everything and sees everything and is absolutely just.  Saul thought he could trick God with a lie!  How little he really thought of God – how much he failed to understand that God is the Sovereign King of the universe, Creator of all that is. 

With this very foundational understanding of God missing, Saul could never be the King of Israel that God sought to establish.  After this blatant act of disobedience, Samuel proclaimed that God rejected Saul as king of Israel and that the kingdom would be torn from him.  Though Samuel mourned over Saul, he never went back to him either on his own or as God’s representative.

In so many ways, this is like God speaking to us today.  Through His Word, God’s commands are clear.  If we accept God for who He Is, who He says He is, then we have no alternative but to honor His will.  But if we regard His Word as myth and malarkey, then each individual can do as he sees fit, live in his own wisdom, but outside of God’s blessing.

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

1 Samuel: 14 Jonathan, a God Made Hero

In this 1768 parchment, Jekuthiel Sofer emulat...Image via Wikipedia

I think that the most powerful statement of belief in this section was made by Saul’s son, Jonathan, when he and his armor bearer went, on their own initiative, behind enemy lines. 

1 Samuel 14: 6  “Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf.  Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”

This is such a striking confession of faith because Saul had already publicly disobeyed and dishonored God just before this military campaign commenced.  Then, since he didn’t have God’s blessing upon him as leader, Saul carried the Ark of the Covenant into battle.  This Ark was simply a repository for the stone tablets on which God etched the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s staff with the almond blossom, and a hin of manna.  In and of themselves, these were manifestations of God’s hand in the life of Israel.  They were not magical or powerful.  Yet, taking them into battle, suggests that Saul regarded them as talismans.  Saul didn’t seem to really understand who the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was.

Jonathan, on the other hand, demonstrated a deeper understanding of God.  He trusted God with his life; he trusted God with Israel’s future.

By stepping out in his faith in God’s will for Israel, Jonathan precipitated the turning point of this major battle.  Until he decided to enter the Philistine outpost, Israel, though ready to battle, was really prepared for battle.  None of the soldiers, except Saul and Jonathan, had swords.  It seems that Israel’s army was focusing more on the supplies they lacked than on the God of Israel, who would deliver them, who did not require man’s weapons.

After Jonathan and his sword bearer killed twenty Philistines in the outpost, God released a severe panic on the Philistine army.  Saul’s army could pursue the Philistines and destroy them because they were confused and striking each other.

On that day, God acted in tandem with Jonathan’s faith, and rescued Israel from a heavily armed, powerful enemy.

And, it worked out exactly as Jonathan believed – God delivered Israel using only those people whose hearts were available to him.

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