Returning Good for Evil, Repeatedly

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David was a man of many virtues, some of which gain more attention than others.  In the latter category, we must put his forbearance.  By the end of 1 Samuel, Saul has become David’s implacable foe.  He will not rest until David is dead.  Nonetheless, David chooses to spare Saul’s life not once but twice, in 1 Samuel 24 and again in 1 Samuel 26. Continue reading

Twisted up by Evil People

When we read the Bible, we learn about some people we simply have to feel sorry for.  Hosea has to marry a prostitute.  Jeremiah has to faithfully proclaim God’s message to a wicked nation that doesn’t want to hear it and will kill him for saying it.  And so on.

On the list, though, we must include Saul’s son Jonathan.  From beginning to end of his life, he seems like a high-character guy.  The major sins that mar the reigns of Saul and even David are absent from his life.  Continue reading

What God Sees

One of the great themes of 1 Samuel is the difference between personal appearance and personal worth.  Saul gained immediate approval as king of Israel because he stood head and shoulders above everybody else.  In the words of Shakespeare, he was every inch a king.  However, he failed the tests of kingship, revealing only his moral and spiritual shortcomings.

After Saul’s failure to obey in 1 Samuel 15, God sends Samuel out to anoint Saul’s replacement.  However, even though Samuel has witnessed Saul’s failure, he fails to draw the correct conclusion.  When God directs him to the sons of Jesse, he again evaluates the candidates on the basis of appearance.

In response, God makes the point that Samuel has missed.  He says, “For the Lord sees not as man sees:  man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  God isn’t concerned with height or attractiveness.  He cares about character instead. Continue reading

Committing to the Wrong Things

When we consider the unhappy record of the life of Saul, we see that he is a man who fails to keep faith with God.  He’s willing to follow God when it’s easy, but whenever things get difficult, he disobeys rather than confront the difficulty.  In 1 Samuel 13, he offers the sacrifice that only a priest had a right to offer because he is worried about the Philistine army bearing down on him.  In 1 Samuel 15, he spares the king and the livestock that God explicitly told him to kill.  In 1 Samuel 28, he seeks out the witch of En-dor even though he knows very well that consulting a medium is against God’s law (and, indeed, has enforced that law himself).  From beginning to end, he is a man deficient in moral courage. Continue reading

Hannah and Mary

Samuel Dedicated by Hannah at the Temple by Frank W.W. Topham

Many Christians are familiar with the song of Mary in Luke 1:46-55.  Fewer though, realize that it has an Old-Testament predecessor.  This forerunner is the song of Hannah, which appears in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

The similarities between the two songs are too striking to be coincidental.  Both are sung by women in an unpromising position.  Both are about the same circumstance:  the birth of an unexpected son.  Both begin with similar language (“My heart rejoices in the Lord.”).

Most importantly, though, both have similar content.  Hannah’s song and Mary’s song both explore the same theme.  They exalt a God who humbles the mighty, exalts the lowly, and proves His covenant faithfulness to His people. Continue reading

Decency in Darkness

Other than the time immediately preceding the flood, the closing chapters of Judges are arguably the darkest chronicle in the Bible.  The final story of the book—the rape and murder of a man’s concubine by the men of Gibeah—does not appear to have one likeable character, one single redeeming quality.  The author of Judges wants us to understand that at that point in time, the people of Israel were as depraved as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The next book of the Bible, Ruth, though set in the same time period, has almost nothing in it but good, sympathetic characters.  Ruth herself isn’t even an Israelite.  She’s a Moabite.  However, the loyalty she shows to her bereaved mother-in-law marks her out as an admirable woman regardless of her ethnicity.  Boaz too shows kindness and generosity in a way that distinguishes him as a truly excellent man. Continue reading

Samson’s Fatal Flaw

Most Christians are aware of the great spiritual cycle of the book of Judges:  prosperity, apostasy, punishment, repentance, deliverance, and prosperity.  However, fewer recognize that this cycle is also a downward spiral.  Even as the Israelites repeat these steps, their overall spiritual state declines.

This decline is revealed in the character of the judges.  The first judge, Othniel, has nothing negative said about him in the text.  However, the last judge in the book is Samson, who is perhaps the least spiritually attractive hero in the entire Bible. Continue reading

Saved by Other Gods

Judges 10:10-14 describes an exchange I can only describe as snarky.  As is typical after the death of a righteous judge, in Judges 10, the Israelites once again abandon God and begin serving the false gods of the nations around them.  As is also typical, God withdraws His protection and delivers His rebellious people into the hands of their enemies.  Only then do they wise up, realize that they should have been serving God all along, and cry out to Him for help.

However, in vs. 13-14, God has this to say in reply:  “Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more.  Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” Continue reading

Bible Reading Week #15

  • The end of Joshua – Our Bible reading in Joshua focused mainly on the children of Israel’s conquest of Canaan. After conquering 31 kings west of the Jordan River (Joshua 12:9-24), the nation could finally begin to divide the land up among the tribes (Joshua 13:1-33). In chapter 14, one of the original 12 spies (Caleb), asked for the inheritance promised to him by God 45 years earlier. At 85 years old, Caleb requested the hill country of Hebron. He wanted to be able to drive out any giants that remained.

The last two chapters of the book consist of Joshua’s farewell address to the nation. After calling the leaders of Israel, he reminds them of the grace of God that had been shown to them (Joshua 23:1-4).  He then urges all the people to serve the Lord and keep His commands (Joshua 23:6; 24:15). He warns them that if they failed to do so, God would in turn remove them from the good land He had just given them (Joshua 23:15-16). The people responded by promising to faithfully serve the Lord (Joshua 24:16-28). Joshua then wrote their covenant in the “book of the law of God” and constructed a great stone as a memorial of the events of the day.

Joshua would die at 110 years of age. He was buried in Timnath-serah in Ephraim (Joshua 24:29-31). The book also concludes by mentioning the burying of Joseph’s bones that were brought from Egypt and the death of the second high priest, Eleazar (Joshua 24:32-33).

  • The book of Judges – This book records some of the darkest moments in the history of Israel. The generation that Joshua lead into Canaan is commonly called, “The greatest generation of Israel.” Unfortunately, the next few generations would not even come close to that level of faithfulness. Instead, they would start serving the same false gods as the heathen nations around them (Judges 2:11-15).

The book begins with God promising not to help Israel drive out the rest of the Canaanites. Since Israel refused to obey Him and drive out the remaining nations immediately, God refused to help them any longer. Instead, He would allow those remaining nations to be a “thorn” in their side (Judges 2:1-5).

The period of Judges lasted for about 300 years. During that time, Israel found themselves in a repeated cycle of disobedience to God and suffering. They would RELAPSE in their faithfulness to God (Judges 3:7). The Lord would get RETRIBUTION and allow them to suffer at the hands of heathen nations (Judges 3:8). The children of Israel would then cry to God and REPENT (Judges 3:9). God would then RAISE up a judge (warrior or deliverer) who would save them (Judges 3:10). The land would then be at a period of REST, until the same cycle would repeat itself once again (Judges 3:11).

There were fifteen judges of Israel.

  • Othniel (Judges 3:7-11)
  • Ehud (Judges 3:12-30)
  • Shamgar (Judges 3:31)
  • Deborah (Judges 4-5)
  • Gideon (Judges 6-8)
  • Abimelech (Judges 9)
  • Tola (Judges 10:1-2)
  • Jair (Judges 10:3-4)
  • Jephthah (Judges 10:5-12:7)
  • Ibzan (Judges 12:8-10)
  • Elon (Judges 12:11-12)
  • Abdon (Judges 12:13-15)
  • Samson (Judges 13-16)
  • Eli (1 Samuel 4:18)
  • Samuel (1 Samuel 7:15)

The book of Judges teaches us that life is always better when we listen to and obey God. A life without doing so leads to suffering and chaos (Judges 21:25).