Category Archives: 1 Samuel

1 Samuel 27-31: Good Endings

When my kids wenarrativere in primary school, sometimes their homework involved writing a story. Except they’re not called stories like in MY day. They’re called NARRATIVES. And I learned that every narrative has THREE PARTS. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a novel, a short story, a movie, or even a joke. They all have an ORIENTATION. A COMPLICATION. And a RESOLUTION.

The ORIENTATION tells the reader what the story’s ABOUT. Details of who, when, what and where. The COMPLICATION creates some sort of tension. A problem to be solved. A difficulty to be overcome. If there’s no complication, it’s not a narrative, it’s a description. “I did this, and then I did this, and then I did this.” Boring! And the THIRD part of a narrative is the bit we’re interested in this morning. The RESOLUTION. It’s not just an ENDING. It’s a SOLUTION. An ANSWER.

And we all LOVE a good resolution. When there’s JUSTICE against the guilty. Or the guy gets the girl. Or the hero finds the treasure. Or the innocent child escapes.

In fact, we get incredibly FRUSTRATED if there’s NO resolution. Or an UNSATISFYING one. Which often happens in a TV series in the final episode of the season. Or the end of the first part of a movie trilogy. Like there’s a huge explosion and we don’t know whether the hero’s survived or not.

Like Lord of the Rings. Part ONE finishes. And the heroes are half way to Mordor, and the bad guys are still winning, and the ring hasn’t been destroyed yet. My friend Amy saw the movie, and didn’t realise it was only part one. AT the end of the movie she walked out and exploded, “What sort of an ending was THAT!?”

But, of course, that’s because it’s not REALLY the end of the narrative. It’s only ANOTHER COMPLICATION. The producers want to make sure everyone comes back to watch the show NEXT SEASON. Or to watch the SEQUEL. As the story CONTINUES.  It’s like we’re MADE for RESOLUTION. We’ve got a hunger for the satisfaction of a good ending.

JRR Tolkien, who wrote Lord of the Rings, gave a famous lecture called “On Fairy Stories.” And he talked about how the very BEST stories all finish with the good resolution. A happy ending. Where everything turns out RIGHT.  In fact, he said it’s something built into human nature to SEEK that resolution. And to ENJOY it, and be SATISFIED with it. ESPECIALLY in life. But even when it’s just in a story.

And as we come to the end of 1 Samuel today, we get that same sort of feeling. We want a RESOLUTION. And we’ll see that SOME things are resolved. But others are left HANGING.

In fact, rather than just ONE cliffhanger ending, there’s FOUR of them. In these last chapters, the focus moves from David, to Saul, back to David, and finally back to Saul. And at each point, there’s a COMPLICATION, and suspense. But rather than A RESOLUTION, we change scenes to the OTHER character. It’s a series of cliffhangers!

But even when we get to THE END of the book, there’s no real resolution. And we’re left with ANOTHER cliffhanger. And it leaves us UNSATISFIED. And I think that’s just what the writer intended. But more on that later. I’ll leave you in suspense. On your OWN cliffhanger.

  1. David

The beginning of chapter 27 is familiar. David’s running from Saul. It’s what half the book’s been about. So he heads back to the Philistines. He figures Saul will stop hunting for him there.

And he’s right! David and six hundred of his men and their families go to GATH. And, v4, when Saul hears, he stops searching for him.

David goes to the king of Gath, Achish, and asks for a town of his own to live in. He hides his true intentions with humility, v5, “Why should your servant live in the royal city with you?” (In other words, I’m not worthy of living in the capital with you. Just give some grubby little village).

So Achish gives him Ziklag, some distance away. And near the border of Israel.

And that’s where we see David’s plan. V8. David and his men raid the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. All of them Israel’s enemies. (Just what we’d expect a KING to do!)

But when Achish would ask, v10, where David had gone raiding, he’d say, “Against JUDAH,” or against another Israelite outpost.

And so, v12, Achish thought David had completely swapped sides. “He’ll be my servant forever.”

David’s doing it to keep Achish on side. And so the families of his men can live in safety. But he’s playing a dangerous game. Which is what we see as Ch 28 begins.

The Philistines gather to fight Israel. Again! And Achish calls in his favours. He says to David, “You must understand that you and your men will accompany me in the army.”

David’s in a difficult position. If he says NO, Achish will realise he’s not REALLY an ally. If he says YES, he’ll end up fighting his own people. So David gives the tricky answer in v2 Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do.” It COULD mean, “I’ll show you how loyal I am when I fight for you.” But WE know it probably means, “I’ll show you how I’m still loyal to ISRAEL by fighting for THEM.”

And there’s the cliffhanger. We don’t know how David is going to get out of the mess.

  1. Saul

And the action shifts to SAUL. Ch 28 v3. The orientation tells an important piece of information. Samuel’s DEAD. V5, Saul sees the Philistine army, he’s terrified. But God’s abandoned him. So, even though he seeks God’s guidance, there’s no answer. And so, in desperation, he asks his servants to find a medium. Someone who talks to the dead.

They find one in Endor. So Saul disguises himself, and travels there at night. V11, the woman asks who she’s to bring back. “Bring up Samuel,” he said. The woman sees Samuel, and then realises it’s Saul who’s asking. “What do you see?” says Saul. V14. “An old man WEARING A ROBE is coming up.”

And Saul knows it’s really Samuel. That ROBE was what Samuel was wearing the last time Saul saw him. Back in Ch 15. Samuel rebuked him for disobeying God. And then Saul ripped his robe as he tried to leave. And Samuel says, “The LORD has torn the kingdom from you and given it to one better than you.”

And THAT chapter finished with two comments. Until the day Samuel died, he didn’t see Saul again. And the LORD was grieved that he’d made Saul king over Israel.  So Saul hears of the robe, a symbol of his failure. And he fell down with his face to the ground. V15, Samuel, somewhat understandably, is a bit grumpy to be woken from his eternal rest. “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Saul whines about how desperate he is. And how there’s no one to guide him. “So I’ve called on YOU to tell me what to do.”

And Samuel says, “It’s a bit late for that!” V17. “The Lord has done what he predicted. He’s torn the kingdom out of your hands, and given it to David. All because you didn’t obey the LORD and carry out his wrath against the Amalekites.”

You want some guidance? Here it is! V19. “The LORD will hand you and Israel to the Philistines. And by tomorrow, you and your sons will join me in the grave.” Samuel certainly hasn’t learned any new skills in gently breaking bad news! Saul seems to have got back up during this speech. Because, v20, he falls full length on the ground again. Filled with fear, his strength gone.

The medium’s had enough of all the hysterics. She wants the guests gone. V22. “Let me give you some food, so you can be strengthened and GO ON YOUR WAY.” The servants agree, so Saul drags himself off the floor and onto the couch. And waits while the woman kills a fattened calf, prepares it, cooks it, and bakes some bread. It’s a meal fit for a king. But Saul isn’t a man who’s fit to BE a king.  It’s the condemned man’s last meal. He eats, and while it’s still night, he gets up and leaves. And that’s cliffhanger number two. We know WHAT’S going to happen. We’re just waiting for the hammer to fall.

  1. David

And the action returns to David. In the difficult position of having to head into battle with the Philistines, and to fight against his own people. But Ch 29 is about how Achish’s commanders aren’t comfortable with David’s soldiers bringing up the rear. They’re worried about an ambush.

We expect David would be pleased. But look at what he says in v8.

8 “But what have I done?” asked David. “What have you found against your servant from the day I came to you until now? Why can’t I go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?”

Which, to Achish, sounds like he wants to fight for HIM. But, just like David’s LAST comment, it’s got two meanings. Because all through 1 Samuel, whenever David says “My Lord the king”, he means… SAUL.

So WE can see what David’s REAL plans are. Just what the commanders are scared of. His plan is, once the battle starts, to turn and fight AGAINST Achish. So David and his troops get sent home to Ziklag.

(Into Ch 30). Here’s the COMPLICATION. They arrive back in Ziklag to find that the Amalekites have raided it. They’ve carried off all the women, and the children, and the animals.

Now, it was the AMALEKITES David had been raiding back in Ch 27. So this is probably RETALIATION.

And it’s the Amalekites SAUL SHOULD have totally destroyed. But DIDN’T. Back in Ch 15. So it seems like David might FINISH what Saul STARTED.

But that’s not the end of the comparison. V4.

So David and his men wept aloud until they HAD NO STRENGTH LEFT TO WEEP.

Which reminds us of SAUL, when he finds out the news from the spirit of Samuel. But instead of finding strength from the witch’s meal, like Saul. V6 says

6 David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. BUT DAVID FOUND STRENGTH IN THE LORD HIS GOD.

Because God’s WITH him, unlike SAUL. And then, instead of looking for guidance from a medium and a spirit, like SAUL. Look at what David does. 7 Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” Abiathar brought it to him, 8 and David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.”

David finds his STRENGTH in God, and receives GUIDANCE from God. Unlike Saul.

So now David and his men, after three days riding, have to take off to rescue their families. They come to a particularly difficult valley crossing, and two hundred of his men are too exhausted to keep going. So they leave them behind.

A bit further along, v11, they meet ANOTHER exhausted person. An Egyptian slave left behind by the Amalekites. They feed him, and now strengthened, he leads them on to the Amalekite camp. They’re all lying around, drinking and partying. David and his men attack, and by the end of the next day had nearly wiped them out. V18 says 18 David recovered everything the Amalekites had taken, including his two wives. 19 Nothing was missing: young or old, boy or girl, plunder or anything else they had taken. David brought everything back.

We know David’s a WARRIOR. But what sort of KING will he be? V21. They arrive back at the 200 men who were too exhausted to chase. Some of the troublemakers don’t want to share the plunder they’ve taken. But David wisely says, v23,

“No, my brothers, you must not do that with what the LORD has given us. He has protected us and handed over to us the forces that came against us. 24 Who will listen to what you say? The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” 25 David made this a statute and ordinance for Israel from that day to this.

And then, when they make it back to Ziklag, he distributes MORE of the plunder to those people in Israel who’d looked after him as he’d roamed around. It’s a little picture of David, the King who GIVES. Saul was the king who TAKES. A king like the nations. Who takes the men and the women and the horses and the taxes. But it looks like David might be a DIFFERENT sort of king.

And that’s where we finish with David. In a sense, it’s ANOTHER cliffhanger. He’s been PROMISED the kingdom, but he’s not king. In fact, he’s not even in ISRAEL. It will be TWO Samuel that takes up THAT story.

  1. Saul

But there’s still one part of the story without a resolution. In Ch 31 the action shifts back to SAUL. And while the OTHER chapters are full of interesting details. About food and geography and exhausted soldiers. Chapter 31 gives us only the barest of details.

Israel and Philistia fight. Israel flees. Saul’s sons are killed, including Jonathan. Saul’s critically wounded. He commands his armour-bearer to finish him off. He refuses. Saul falls on his sword and dies. The next day, they strip his body, cut off his head, and send messages around the country. They hang his body from the wall of Beth Shan.

V11. When the people of Jabesh Gildead hear about it, they travel to Beth Shan at night, take down the bodies of Saul and his sons, and bury their bones under a tamarisk tree in Jabesh Gilead. And they fast for seven days as a sign of mourning and respect.

So, what sort of RESOLUTION is this? In the end, it’s NOT. We’re still HUNGRY for a resolution. Rather than an ANSWER, all we know is that Saul’s NOT the answer.

I think this LAST scene affects our response to Saul. As much as he was evil and disobedient. As much as he would have killed David in a heartbeat. As much as we’ve been cheering for David. We can’t help feeling a little SORRY for Saul.

Jabesh Gilead was Saul’s first and greatest success. Back in Ch 11, they were attacked, and sent out a cry for help. When Saul heard, the Spirit of God came on him, and he burned with anger. He cut up his oxen, and sent the pieces throughout Israel with the message “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.”

And the people united behind him. And he won a great victory. And delivered the people of Jabesh. And they hadn’t forgotten.

That’s what Saul’s reign SHOULD have been like. COULD have been like. But, ultimately WASN’T.

And in the end, he’s a SHADOW of a king. A king who was supposed to guide and lead his people. But, in the end, couldn’t even guide or lead HIMSELF.

We feel SORRY for him. Sneaking around at night. Searching desperately for guidance, but not finding it. No strength to go on, but looking for strength in all the wrong places. Hopeless and helpless, abandoned by God.

And perhaps that’s YOU. Desperate for guidance. Desperate for strengthening.

Perhaps you don’t know where to turn. Perhaps you feel like your prayers don’t make it past the ceiling. Perhaps your sinful choices and failures of the past have left you feeling hopeless. You’ve tried everything, and nothing’s worked. You’ve given everything, and you’ve got nothing left to give.

If that’s YOU, then you can rejoice that your king isn’t SAUL. In fact, you can rejoice that your king isn’t DAVID EITHER. Because if we keep reading through the Bible, we see that DAVID wasn’t the ultimate solution EITHER. He wasn’t the RESOLUTION we need. Because he failed TOO.

If you’re without strength and without hope, then you need a king like JESUS.

Jesus, who gives us clear guidance on all we need to know. Jesus, God’s final and ultimate communication. Hebrews 1 says

1:1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

And as Jesus SPOKE his words of guidance to his disciples, many found them too difficult to follow. In John 6, Jesus said to his disciples, “Are you going to leave TOO?”

And Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? YOU have the words of eternal life.” He’s the king who guides you when you’re lost and hopeless. The ONLY guide.

And he’s the king who gives strength when you’re weak and helpless. In Mt 11:28 he says

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

He’s the ultimate RESOLUTION to all our COMPLICATIONS.

In fact, that’s what Tolkien said in his essay. A good ending, a resolution, gives us JOY. And he said that’s what we find in JESUS. He called Jesus’ incarnation (his coming to earth) the good ending of the story of man’s history. And he called the resurrection the good ending of the story of the incarnation. And our experience of that story, like ALL good stories, is one of JOY.

Come to me, said Jesus. All you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST.

1 Samuel 21-26: Tempted or Trusting


At the start of World War 2 Oscar Schindler was a member of the Nazi Party, and a successful industrialist. He owned a factory in Krakow, Poland, employing lots of Jews. When Hitler started sending Jews to the concentration camps, it would have been easy for Schindler to keep quiet, follow orders, and go with the flow. After all, that’s what most Germans did, including THE CHURCH.

It would have easy to use EVENTS HAPPENING AROUND HIM to justify making sinful, fearful decisions. To take convenient short-cuts. To say, “I’m just following orders. What difference can one man make? Everyone else is saying nothing.” But instead, he did what was RIGHT. He did was what DIFFICULT. He did all he could to protect his Jewish workers. He’d buy luxury items on the black market to use as bribes. He’d claim that workers’ Jewish wives, children, and even the disabled were mechanics and metalworkers in his factory, vital to the war effort. He used his Nazi party connections. By the end of the war, he’d used his entire fortune protecting the Jewish workers he called “MY CHILDREN” from concentration camps and death. Oscar Schindler was no saint. He had many flaws. But in the midst of a terrible situation, he refused to let circumstances govern his responses.

What about YOU? Are there times when YOU’RE tempted to use your circumstances as an EXCUSE for your choices? Perhaps your car is stuck in a traffic jam in the carpark. But you’re in a hurry, and YOUR time is more important than everyone ELSE’S. So you blast your horn. And push in. Or you’re in the swimming pool change rooms. And someone’s left behind a nice pair of swimming goggles on the bench. You’ve had LOTS of pairs disappear. And they fit you so NICELY. And it serves someone right for being careless. So you pop them in your bag and hope no one sees you. Or the opportunity to speak up for Jesus comes with your friend. But you don’t want to ruin the friendship. And they seem so happy as they are. And it would make things weird. So you say nothing. Or the pressure’s on at work to achieve your sales target. There’s talk of cut backs and retrenchments. And you really need the bonus. And everyone ELSE does it. And no one gets hurt. So you get a little CREATIVE in your product description. You stretch the truth a little. Or someone hurts you. And they deserve it. And they need to learn a lesson. And you have to stand up for yourself. So you get even. You hurt them back.

What’s God got to say to you if that’s YOU? He wants you to learn from DAVID. In these chapters, we see DAVID being tempted in the same way. He’s being chased around the countryside by Saul, who wants to kill him. He’s lost his family, his wife, and his best friend. It would have been easy to use all that as an excuse. To feel sorry for himself. And to lash out in revenge. To shortcut God’s timing by taking matters into his own hands.

But right in the middle of these chapters, Ch 25, we see some great advice from Abigail. David and his men are hiding in the desert from Saul. And Nabal’s flocks are there. And David’s little band has looked after the shepherds and the flocks, and not one sheep is lost. And so when shearing time comes along, and the parties have started, David sends a polite message to Nabal. “We’ve helped YOU out, how about sharing a little with US.” But Nabal won’t give them a CRUMB. V10.

“Who is this David? … Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”

When David hears, he EXPLODES. Forget common courtesy. Forget helpful gestures. Nabal’s ASKING for wrath. V13. “Strap on your swords!” he tells his men. And as he storms down out of the hills to KILL him, he says to himself. (v21) “It’s been useless-all my watching over this fellow’s property in the desert so that nothing of his was missing. He has paid me back EVIL for GOOD. 22 May God deal with David, be it ever so severely, if by morning I leave alive one male of all who belong to him!” In other words, circumstances JUSTIFY his actions.

When Abigail, Nabal’s wife, hears about it, she rushes out to meet him with a huge picnic basket for everyone. She’s trotting up the road on her donkey as David’s storming DOWN. She’s gorgeous, and intelligent. She’s everything Nabal ISN’T. And to top it off, she’s got the insight and faith of a prophet. It’s no wonder David marries her when he gets the chance. And she says, v28 of Ch 25, Please forgive your servant’s offense, for the LORD will CERTAINLY make a lasting dynasty for my master (that’s David), because he fights the LORD’s battles. Let no wrongdoing be found in you as long as you live. 29 EVEN THOUGH someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound SECURELY in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God. But the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. (Is that a little flattery about David’s famous victory?)

30 When the LORD has done for my master every good thing he PROMISED concerning him and has appointed him LEADER over Israel, 31 my master will not have on his conscience the STAGGERING BURDEN OF NEEDLESS BLOODSHED or of having avenged himself. In other words, don’t let my husband’s stupidity, or Saul’s evil intent, PROVOKE you to do something just as evil or stupid. Don’t use it as an excuse to do the wrong thing. She reminds David of God’s promises and God’s faithfulness. “God’s got PLANS. And he’s working them out.” David’s response should be to TRUST his plans. “Keep doing things HIS way. Have integrity. Be patient,” she says, “So that when you DO become leader, there won’t be guilt or needless bloodshed hanging over your reign.” She says, “You SHOW you’re trusting God by DOING THINGS HIS WAY. In OBEDIENCE.” You don’t try to short-cut, or speed up, or side-step God’s plans by doing things YOUR way. PATIENCE and CONTENTMENT and OBEDIENCE are expressions of TRUST IN GOD.

And David recognises good advice when he hears it. Plus the picnic basket is an added bonus. He says, (v33), May you be BLESSED for your good judgment and for KEEPING ME FROM BLOODSHED this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. And he sends her home in peace. And God ends up delivering justice.

We see JONATHAN reminding David of the same truth. Ch 23. V15. David’s out in the desert, running from Saul. And Jonathan comes out to him, and HELPED HIM FIND STRENGTH IN THE LORD. 17 “Don’t be AFRAID,” he said. “My father Saul will NOT lay a hand on you. You WILL be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.”

God’s made PROMISES. And Jonathan reminds David of them. And TRUSTING God is shown by NOT BEING AFRAID. How GOOD is it to have faithful friends, like Abigail and Jonathan, who give us good advice like THIS?!

But David doesn’t ALWAYS get such good advice. And he doesn’t always make the right DECISION. If we jump back to Ch 21. David’s running for his life. And he arrives in Nob, where Ahimelech the priest is in charge of the tabernacle. Ahimelech’s afraid because David’s ALONE. If it was OFFICIAL business, he’d have an ARMY with him. He doesn’t want to be seen to be helping David the fugitive. For some reason, David feels justified to lie to him. He’s on a special mission from Saul, he says. And he asks for bread. And Ahimelech gives him some. But his fears are realised, and, v7, Doeg the Edomite overhears them talking.

But it’s not just bread David’s after. V8. He’s come for ANOTHER REASON. “Do you have a spear or sword?” he asks. Which would seem perfectly reasonable in the situation. Except this is the same David who said to Goliath, “You come against me with spear and sword. But I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel. He’s the only weapon I need. This day the LORD will hand you over to me.” And he DID.

And is it only a coincidence that it’s Goliath’s own sword that Ahimelech has stashed away? Or that David has to walk PAST the ephod to REACH it? The ephod was the gear the priest wore to ask God’s guidance. We don’t know exactly what it was, but it should have been enough for David. God’s promised him the throne. So he’ll guide him THROUGH it. But David won’t TRUST him. He won’t seek God’s guidance. Instead, he chooses EARTHLY weapons.

And, instead of rejoicing in God – “there is none like GOD!” He rejoices in HIS WEAPON, v9, “There is none like IT!” And the comparison with the BOY David’s faith still casts a shadow. (v10) He heads to King Achish in GATH, Goliath’s home town. I wonder what people thought of THAT– turning up there with Goliath’s sword on his belt?! But when the servants start singing the song of David slaying his ten thousands, David’s reaction is unexpected. V12. He took the words to heart, and was VERY MUCH AFRAID. The BOY David wasn’t afraid of ANYTHING, because God was WITH him. But THIS David lets CIRCUMSTANCES, rather than GOD, influence his reactions. And he pretends to be crazy so they won’t feel threatened by him.

He leaves Gath, heads into the desert. Saul asks around for word about David. And Doeg the eavesdropper pops up again. Down into Ch 22, v9, he tells Saul about David visiting Ahimelech. He’s summoned before Saul. And, in v19, Ahimelech and 86 priests are MURDERED because they chose to help David, instead of Saul. Only Ahimelech’s son, Abiathar, escapes. And he makes it to David with the news. And David says, (v22) “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I KNEW he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family.  All because he trusted EARTHLY weapons instead of trusting God. And he FEARED the wrong things – fearing MAN, rather than fearing GOD.

And, as we move into ch 23, it seems like David’s LEARNED SOME LESSONS. He hears that the Philistines are attacking the Jewish town of Keilah. And instead of just reaching for his sword, he looks to God for guidance (v6 tells us that Abiathar had brought the ephod with him when he’d fled). God says, “Attack!” Twice. And David DOES, and he WINS. Saul hears about it. And thinks he’ll trap David inside the city walls. David hears Saul’s on his way. And again, instead of just running, v9, he asks God’s advice. TWICE. So they escape before Saul arrives. And just in case we think it’s David’s plans, or David’s weapons that keep him out of Saul’s reach. V14 says “Day after day Saul searched for him, but GOD did not give David into his hands.”

David keeps running, and Saul keeps searching. Into ch 24, they’ve moved to the Desert of Engedi. David and his band are hiding in a cave. And Saul happens to head into that exact cave to relieve himself. All alone. And listen to the advice his men give David. 24:4. “This is the day the LORD spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.'” They INTERPRET THE SITUATION to mean that God’s put Saul into David’s hands. That the circumstances justify a violent reaction. So David creeps over, cuts off a corner of the robe. But doesn’t do anything else. He’s doing more than gathering EVIDENCE, though. Saul’s cloak was his ROYAL cloak. A sign of his KINGSHIP. And by cutting off a corner of it, David is saying, “I want a piece of your kingdom, and I’m going to TAKE it.” He may not be MURDERING Saul, but there’s at LEAST the DESIRE.

Afterward, he feels GUILTY. V6. “I shouldn’t have lifted a hand against the Lord’s anointed.” And he forbids his soldiers from attacking Saul. Even the DESIRE to shortcut God’s plans is wrong. When Saul leaves, and makes it a safe distance away, David calls out to him (v9) “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’? 10 This day you have seen with your own eyes how the LORD delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the LORD’s anointed.’ And he shows him the corner of the robe he cut. “I COULD have killed you, but I DIDN’T.”

And Saul, at least for the moment, admits his sin. V17. “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. 18 You have just now told me of the good you did to me; the LORD delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. 19 When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? In other words, “MOST people, when they get the CHANCE will TAKE it. But not YOU.” And then he makes two interesting comments. V19. First. “May the LORD REWARD you for your behaviour.” Which can ONLY mean the KINGSHIP. And second. “I know that you will surely be KING, and that the kingdom of Israel will be ESTABLISHED in your hands.” Even SAUL can see it. Which makes us wonder why he keeps FIGHTING it.

V22. Saul returns home. But David doesn’t TRUST him. He heads off back into a mountain stronghold. Which is just as well, because Saul’s new attitude doesn’t last. If we jump over Ch 25, with Abigail, Ch 26 describes a very similar situation. Saul comes after David again. God gives David another perfect chance to kill Saul. One of David’s men even says to him: I’ll do it for you! But this time, David isn’t even tempted. He doesn’t need anyone to remind him. Because through all these trials and temptations. He’s learnt: “Don’t take sinful short-cuts. Trust God instead. Leave it up to HIM.”

And God’s PLAN seems to be that he’ll use THESE VERY DIFFICULTIES to MAKE DAVID into the sort of king God wants. A king NOT like Saul. And perhaps God is using YOUR circumstances to do his work in YOU. Perhaps, instead of using circumstances as an excuse to disobedience or a lack of faith. God wants you to REJOICE in the difficulties. To be PATIENT in his timing. To NOT BE AFRAID in the scary bits. To TRUST HIS PROMISES and his FAITHFULNESS when things seem out of control.

Or maybe he wants YOU to be an Abigail, or a Jonathan, in the life of a Christian brother or sister who’s doing it tough. To remind THEM of God’s promises and his purposes. And to pray with them, and stand with them. And encourage them. That’s what church is all about.

If we’re HONEST, we ALL react to situations with a lack of faith and a lack of patience. We’ve all taken that sinful short-cut. And used the circumstances to justify it to ourselves. Instead of trusting and obeying God. Perhaps it was ANGRY RETALIATION. Or dishonest WORDS. Or self-pity that dragged us into lust. Or a lack of contentment that led us to COMPLAIN. Or to seek PLEASURE, or SELFISHNESS. In one way, or another, we’ve ALL done it. So what do you do when you’ve messed up, like David?

Be thankful you don’t have a KING like David. Be thankful that your king is JESUS. He NEVER took revenge, he never took shortcuts. He never used difficult circumstances as an excuse to SIN. Especially as he went to die on the cross. He even had his closest friend and follower, Peter, tell him: “Don’t go there! There’s a better, easier way!” But through all that: Jesus TRUSTED his Father. For US. Jesus rejected sinful short-cuts. For US. And when he died for our sins on the cross. Jesus took God’s justice… for US.

Later on, Peter finally understood it. Listen to what he wrote later about Jesus. 1 Peter 2. V23.

When they hurled their insults at Jesus, he DIDN’T RETALIATE; when he SUFFERED, he made no THREATS. Instead, he ENTRUSTED HIMSELF TO HIM WHO JUDGES JUSTLY. Jesus is the one who, like David, trusted God even when it was hardest. Rejecting sinful short-cuts as the way out. But he trusted God far more than David. And he didn’t do it just so he could be KING. He did it to SAVE US. From our FAILURE to trust and obey God. As Peter goes on to say, verse 24: Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds… you’ve been healed.

Jesus himself is both the SOURCE of our forgiveness. And THE EXAMPLE WE’RE TO FOLLOW. Peter calls us to LOOK AT JESUS. And then to IMITATE the way he reacts to circumstances. In the paragraphs before v23, Peter says. V13. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake, to every authority. V17. Show proper respect to everyone. V19. He says, “Don’t use unjust suffering as an excuse to disobey God.” 18 Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but ALSO TO THOSE WHO ARE HARSH. 19 For it is COMMENDABLE if a man bears up under the pain of UNJUST suffering because he is conscious of God.  

Sure, it’s COMMENDABLE. But how can you possibly DO that? V21. Peter says, Look to Christ. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, LEAVING YOU AN EXAMPLE, that you should follow in his steps.

He SAVES us from our sinful disobedience. And then he GIVES US THE EXAMPLE. And calls us to FOLLOW HIM. And then he gives us the power and the motivation to DO IT. As we look to him, and trust the faithfulness and power and wisdom of God.


1 Samuel 18-20: How to treat God’s anointed

anchovies-primarySome things provoke a strong reaction. We either LOVE them, or HATE them. Let’s take a quick survey. Hands up.

Anchovies: Love them?    Hate them?
Vegemite: Love it?    Hate it?
Camping: Love it?    Hate it?
Cats: Love them?    Hate them?
Breakfast in bed: Love it?    Hate it?

It seems to me, with these things, you either LOVE them, or you HATE them. Not many people are NEUTRAL. And we see the same reaction to DAVID in these chapters. You either LOVE him, or HATE him. You have to make a choice.  God’s made HIS choice. He’s anointed David to be king of Israel. But the problem is there’s ALREADY a king of Israel. SAUL.

  1. Loving God’s anointed king

So everyone around them has to make a CHOICE. Between David and Saul. And MOST people are choosing DAVID. They LOVE him. Ch 18 begins straight after David’s killed Goliath. And EVERYONE, understandably, LOVES him.

First up, there’s Jonathan. He became ONE IN SPIRIT with David. A kindred soul. Jonathan loved David as himself. Now, it’s no secret that gay lobby groups read between the lines here, and see a secret homosexual relationship. But there’s just no evidence for that. God’s law was clear on sexual sin. And these two guys are more upright than ANYONE in this story, apart perhaps from Samuel. It seems that people these days seem to have a hard time understanding a deep platonic friendship that’s not sexual. But if we read these chapters carefully, it’s perhaps not surprising they have such a close connection. They’re very similar. They share a love for GOD, and a love for COURAGEOUS ACTION.

Apart from Samuel, no one else seems to have more concern for God’s honour than Jonathan and David. Back in Ch 14, Jonathan and his armour bearer attack the Philistines. Jonathan says, “Let’s attack. Perhaps the LORD will act on our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” And then, with no thought of being outnumbered, they attack. And win the victory with God’s help.

It reminds us of DAVID’S courage and trust in God as he faces Goliath. “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied,” he says. Before he attacks, with no thought to the size of his enemy.

It’s no real surprise that Jonathan’s declaration of friendship comes straight after David’s victory over Goliath.

But as much as there’s evidence for the love and loyalty of FRIENDSHIP, what’s REALLY on display here is love and loyalty that’s POLITICAL. It’s the sort of love and loyalty you display to A KING. Back in medieval society, it was called FEALTY. Where the vassal would pledge loving allegiance to his Lord. And that’s what Jonathan’s doing in verses 3 and 4. Jonathan made a COVENANT with David because he loved him as himself. 4 Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.

Now, this is more than loaning a mate your favourite jumper. This was the gear that marked Jonathan out as the CROWN PRINCE. The FIRST in line for the throne.  And Jonathan takes them all off. And he hands them over to David. In effect, he’s saying, “I don’t want to be king. I want YOU to be king.” As he says a few chapters further on, Ch 23 v17, “You will be king over Israel, and I will be SECOND to you.”

That’s Jonathan. We’ll come back to his reaction in a few minutes. But HE’S NOT ALONE IN LOVING DAVID. He’s the first of many.

After his defeat of Goliath, David becomes Saul’s “go-to man”. V5. WHATEVER Saul sent David to do, he did it SUCCESSFULLY. So Saul promoted him up the ranks in his army. “This pleased ALL the people, and Saul’s officers as well.” He gets on just as well with the top brass as with the rank and file.

But not just the MEN, the WOMEN loved him TOO. V6. 6 When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with tambourines and lutes. 7 As they danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”

Whatever the difficult military assignment, David wins the victory. And the people LOVE him for it. Like down in v16. “All Israel and Judah LOVED David, because he led them in their campaigns.”  No WONDER they love him. He’s doing what SAUL HIMSELF should be doing.

And at the end of the chapter. There’s a summary of that period. Down in v30.

30 The Philistine commanders continued to go out to battle, and as often as they did, David met with more success than the rest of Saul’s officers, and HIS NAME BECAME WELL KNOWN.

  1. Hating God’s anointed king

And that seems to be the issue for Saul. His reputation and honour. That’s why the song from the women in the street, back up in v8, really annoys Saul. Everyone else LOVES David. But Saul HATES him.

V8. He’s ANGRY. The women sing about Saul’s THOUSANDS slain. But for David it’s TENS of thousands. Saul’s FURIOUS. He thinks, “David’s got the crowds and the girls and the cheers. WHAT MORE CAN HE GET BUT THE KINGDOM?!” From that point on, v9, Saul’s keeps A JEALOUS EYE on him. No doubt he’s been on the LOOKOUT for any contenders. Ever since Samuel, back in Ch 13, told him his kingdom wouldn’t endure. And that God has sought out a man after his own heart, and appointed HIM leader of his people. And David seems the man most likely.

Saul hates David for one specific reason: David’s a threat to his rule. His authority. His position of HONOUR. And that’s what Saul loves most. You might remember back in chapter 15. Saul sinned against God, listening to the people instead. So God rejected Saul as king. But Saul didn’t seem to mind too much, as long as the people still honoured him as their king. “I’ve sinned,” he said to Samuel. “But PLEASE HONOUR ME BEFORE THE ELDERS OF MY PEOPLE AND BEFORE ISRAEL.”  Saul’s been rejected by God. But he doesn’t mind/ as long as the people still HONOUR HIM AS KING. And that’s what David threatens.

And so there’s JEALOUSY. And there’s RAGE. He wants David DEAD. And over and over that’s what he tries to make happen. V10. The evil spirit from God torments him, and when David comes to play the harp, Saul hurls a SPEAR at him to pin him to the wall. But David’s too quick.

But not just jealousy and rage. Oddly, Saul’s SCARED of him, v12. (Odd, because Saul’s THE KING, and David’s NOTHING.) But here’s why he’s scared. Because he recognised that the LORD was WITH David, but had left Saul.  Now that might explain the hostility YOU might have felt from people simply because you’re a Christian. And it often seems way out of proportion with what they feel for OTHERS they disagree with.  Is there some unacknowledged jealousy for something YOU’VE got that they DON’T? A peace, or a joy, or a purpose, or a contentment?  Or maybe it’s a fear of THE TRUTH you speak, truth you LIVE OUT. Truth that SHAMES them, but they don’t want to ADMIT to themselves. About God. And sin and judgment.

It was certainly FEAR that made the Pharisees and Sadducees so determined to kill JESUS.

And out of FEAR, v13, Saul sends David away to lead the military campaigns. If he can’t kill him HIMSELF, he’ll let the Philistines do it. At the very LEAST, it will remove him from public attention.

But that just backfires. Not only is he not KILLED, in everything he did he had great SUCCESS, because the Lord’s with him. And so, v15 you see it again. That success just makes Saul even MORE afraid.

Same thing again, down in v29. David’s successful in battle. Again. Saul’s own daughter Michal marries David, and LOVES him. So, v29,

29 Saul became still MORE afraid of him, and he remained his ENEMY the rest of his days.

Choose a side

David: LOVE him, or HATE him. Jonathan LOVES David. And his father Saul HATES him. And it comes to a head in Ch 19 when Jonathan has to CHOOSE A SIDE. His love for David costs him his KINGDOM. And it’s going to cost him the love of his FATHER TOO.

Saul’s tried to kill David. And failed. And the Philistines can’t kill him EITHER. So, v1 of Ch 19, Saul tries to get JONATHAN to kill him.  Instead, Jonathan WARNS David. And speaks UP for him. V5. “He’s won you a great victory. And he’s innocent. Why would you do wrong and kill him for no reason?” And Saul’s anger is calmed. For a while. And he promises that he won’t kill David. Which Jonathan, naively, seems to believe.

But it’s not just JONATHAN who has to choose a side. Saul’s own daughter Michal, David’s WIFE has to, as well. V11. Soldiers from Saul come to her house looking for David. She makes her choice. She protects him, helps him escape, and covers for him. When her father finds out, he says, v17, “Why did you deceive me like this, and help my enemy escape?” And it seems like she makes an enemy of her own father by being loyal to David.

And as we move into Ch 20, David’s been running all over the countryside, trying to stay ahead of Saul’s soldiers. He finds Jonathan again, and asks, “What have I done? What’s my crime? How have I wronged your father that he’s trying to kill me?” Jonathan says, “Never! Dad PROMISED me you’d be safe. You’re not going to die!” But David says, v3, “Get real! Your father knows how close we are. He’s hiding his real intention from you. There’s only a step between me and death!”

And Jonathan chooses his side. “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do it for you.”

And so, they come up with a complicated plan about how to work out Saul’s true intentions, and then how David will find out.

There’s a new moon feast. David won’t attend. When Jonathan gives his apologies, if Saul’s CALM, then David’s SAFE. But if Saul’s FURIOUS, then he’s determined to HARM him.

The two friends recommit themselves to each other. V16.

16 So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the LORD call David’s enemies to account.”

(Which is a big call. Since David’s CHIEF enemy is Jonathan’s own FATHER. He’s asking God to judge him. That’s REALLY choosing a side!)

17 And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.

And, jump down to v30. They put the plan into action. And Saul’s furious when he finds out.

“You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? 31 As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send and bring him to me, for he must die!”

Saul’s angry not just at DAVID, but JONATHAN TOO. Because he’s chosen David’s side. And, v33, he even tries to kill JONATHAN with the same spear throw he’d tried with David. And at that point, Jonathan knows that his father intends to kill David. And he’s grieved at his shameful treatment of him.

Costly love

That’s what it costs to love God’s anointed king. It costs Jonathan his kingdom. And it even costs him the love of his own father. So it begs the question, WHY? How can Jonathan love David, God’s anointed king, more than anything else? More than his own kingdom? More than his own family? It’s more than just FRIENDSHIP. It seems to come down to ONE THING. David is Israel’s saviour.

When Jonathan hands over his kingdom to David. It’s straight after chapter 17. When David alone put his own life on the line. To kill Goliath. And save Israel. And restore God’s honour.

And Jonathan recognises it. And is ONE IN SPIRIT with him. He says, “THAT’S a leader I can give 100% to. That’s a leader I’LL FOLLOW.” And loves him as himself. And he hands over the rights of his kingdom.

Down in Ch 19, when he’s defending David before his father, v5, he says, “David took his life in his hands when he killed the Philistine. The LORD won a great victory for all Israel.”

That’s why he’s willing to give up everything. Because he loves David. As Israel’s saviour.

And Jesus calls US to love him with the SAME costly love. Love that gives up everything. Because he’s given everything to save US. Far more than RISKING his life. It COST Jesus his life. And he defeated a far more dangerous enemy than Goliath. He defeated Satan, and sin and death, and God’s judgment.

And so our RESPONSE, our LOVE, at the VERY LEAST, should be as great as Jonathan’s.

We should be willing to give up OUR kingdoms. To give up our LIVES. To give up the rights of what we’ve EARNED, or DESERVED. Or been BORN with. To give up our choices, and plans. To let go of awards and approval and accomplishments.

To allow Jesus, instead, to make the decisions, to set the priorities, to plot the course. Because he’s SAVED us. And he deserves everything we’ve got.

In Mark 8, Peter recognises Jesus as the Messiah. God’s chosen king. Jesus goes on to explain what it will MEAN for Jesus to be king, and to be the SAVIOUR of his people. V31

31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.

Peter can’t understand how a victorious king will go through any of that. But Jesus says that not only will HE go through it all, but that his FOLLOWERS must DO THE SAME. Give up EVERYTHING for the one who gave everything for THEM. V34.

“If anyone would come AFTER me, he must DENY HIMSELF and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever LOSES HIS LIFE FOR ME AND FOR THE GOSPEL WILL SAVE IT. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Does that describe YOUR life? LOST, for Jesus and the gospel? Or is there THIS bit, or THAT bit that you’re still holding on to?

In Mark 10, a rich man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus gives the expected answer about keeping God’s commands. The man says, “Yep, kept them all. That’s child’s play!” But he doesn’t realise what’s required.

Jesus demands much more than keeping a few rules. He DESERVES much more. He deserves EVERYTHING. So he says to the man

“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

He was a good, moral, nice man. But he missed out on God’s kingdom. He missed out on knowing Jesus as his Saviour. Because he refused to give him EVERYTHING.

That’s the costly love Jesus requires. And deserves.  It’s the costly love Jonathan showed for HIS king, HIS saviour, David. And it’s the same costly love Jesus calls US to display.

You might be like that rich man. Good, moral and nice. You may not think you HATE Jesus. But if you’re clinging onto your own honour. If you’re holding onto control of your own kingdom. If you’re clinging onto ONE CHERISHED PART of your life. If you’re insisting on SELF-rule, rather than JESUS-rule, then that’s the same sin as Saul.

Instead, Jesus calls those who would follow him to give up EVERYTHING.

But he won’t be in anyone’s debt. Listen to the PROMISE that comes WITH the command.

29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields-and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Are you willing to display costly love like THAT/ for the One who showed costly love for YOU? Are you willing to be LAST, for the one who was LAST for you?

YOU WON’T MISS OUT. Now, or THEN. Because Jesus is worth EVERYTHING YOU GIVE UP.

1 Samuel 16-17: A Real Man

350500-lleyton-hewittAustralian culture celebrates REAL MEN: sportsmen, bushrangers, war heroes, adventurers and explorers. We value them, and respect them, and want to BE them. But what IS a real man? Is it about physical size or strength? Is it about courage or achieving extraordinary tasks?

Is being a real man about your ability to change a tyre, or kick a football, or build a house, or light a campfire, or climb a mountain, or romance a woman, or earn a high income?

Or is being a real man about SOMETHING DIFFERENT? Is it more than appearances and skills?

Who is the REAL man – the one who swims 15km in the open ocean to win a race, or the father who can hardly swim at all, but who jumps into a big surf to rescue his kids from drowning?

Who is the REAL man – the one who climbs Mt Everest, or the man who goes off, year after year, to a job he hates to support his family.

Who is the REAL man – the young body-builder who drinks a bottle of whisky and gets into three fights on a Saturday night? Or the skinny guy with glasses who speaks up for the Asian girl being racially abused by bullies on the bus?

Maybe our definition of what REAL men are needs to be more THOUGHTFUL. Maybe our criteria needs to be more focussed on what’s on THE INSIDE rather than what’s on THE OUTSIDE.

That’s certainly a theme we see in these chapters of 1 Samuel. Real men! The word for “man” or “men” occurs 26 times in Chapters 16 and 17 alone! And the chapters seem to be making a case for REDEFINING what makes a real man.

What sort of REAL MAN do you respect, or aspire to be? Maybe after we spend some time in these chapters, your opinion might change.

A man after God’s own heart (13:14)

Ch 16 picks up the action after God tears away the kingdom from Saul. He might be tall and masculine, a man’s man, but he WON’T OBEY GOD.

And, instead, God promises (back in Ch 13 v14) that he’s going to replace Saul with “A MAN AFTER HIS OWN HEART.” A man with a GOD-focus, rather than a people-focus. A man with INNER INTEGRITY, rather than OUTER IMPRESSIVENESS.

Is THIS what a REAL man is like?

And so, as Ch 16 begins, we’re looking for A MAN LIKE THAT. God commands Samuel, “Stop sulking about SAUL. I’ve moved on. Fill your horn with oil. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, I’ve chosen one of his sons to be king. You are to ANOINT for me the one I indicate.”

Samuel arrives at Bethlehem, and Jesse brings in his sons. Starting with the ELDEST, Eliab. And, v6, Samuel sizes him up, and makes a judgment. “Surely, the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord!”

But look at God’s answer. V7.

“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

In God’s eyes, there’s more to being a ruler than looks and physique. Or, for that matter, intelligence or education or skill or achievements or wealth or possessions or connections.

Those are the criteria PEOPLE base their judgments on. Judgments on who’s IN, and who’s OUT. Who’s RESPECTED and who’s RIDICULED. Who’s VALUED and who’s IGNORED.

And, so, perhaps that’s a temptation YOU feel. The temptation to CONFORM and FIT IN. The temptation to pursue those things. The things PEOPLE value. Appearance, education, possessions, wealth or influence. Pursuing the approval of PEOPLE.

When what GOD wants is a HEART THAT’S RIGHT WITH HIM. A heart that’s intent on HIS approval, rather than PEOPLE’S. A heart that’s intent on living HIS way, reflecting HIS character, as FIRST priority. A man who loves what God loves. For God, that’s a REAL MAN.

And that’s what he wants in a king.

We should already know it. Right from the beginning of the book, with Hannah’s song. Back in Ch 2. And SAMUEL should know it – he’s Hannah’s SON.

God doesn’t care for outward impressiveness. He’s got a habit of turning things around so that he uses the UNIMPRESSIVE for his purposes. Ch 2 v4. Hannah sang

4 “The bows of the warriors are broken,

but those who STUMBLED are armed with STRENGTH…

She who was BARREN has borne seven children,

but she who has had many sons pines away…

7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth;

he humbles and he exalts…


10 those who oppose the LORD will be shattered…

“He will give strength to HIS KING

and exalt the horn of HIS ANOINTED.”

Way back then, before they’d even THOUGHT of a king, Hannah predicted that it would be GOD who gave strength to his anointed king. And that human strength counted for NOTHING.

And that’s just what God’s going to DO. Jesse brings in his sons, one by one, from the oldest and most impressive, down the line. But each time, Samuel says, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.”

Until we get to v11, and there’s no more sons coming through the door. “Are these all the sons you have?” Samuel asks.

“Oh yes, there’s still ONE MORE. The youngest. The littlest. The RUNT.” The LEAST likely, humanly-speaking. Which should be enough to make us pay attention. And when he arrives, sure enough. God says, “Rise and anoint him. HE’S the one.”

So, v13, Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.

Just like Hannah’s prophecy – God gives strength to his king, and exalts the horn of his anointed. And this MAN we’ve been waiting for – this man after God’s own heart – is finally NAMED. DAVID.

He’s the man after God’s own heart, but at this stage he seems to be ONLY A BOY. But that shouldn’t bother us, because, remember, God doesn’t look at OUTWARD APPEARANCE, like people do. He looks at THE HEART.

And it’s here that, I confess, things get a little confusing. But I wonder if it’s not because of this question of what’s a real man.

Let me explain. From v14, we jump forward some period in time. God’s poured his Spirit onto David. But he’s TAKEN his Spirit from SAUL. And Saul’s tormented. V16, his servants suggest, “Let us search for A MAN who can play the harp.” Great idea, says Saul, FIND ME A MAN.

One of them says (v18), “I’ve seen a son of Jesse. Not only is he skilled on the harp, he’s a strong hero, a MAN OF WAR, wise of speech, a MAN OF GOOD LOOKS.” (That’s literally what it says in the original language). In other words, “You want a man! I’ll send you A MAN!” And then to top it all off, “And the Lord is WITH him.”

So Saul sends for David, who’s out looking after the sheep. Which doesn’t really SOUND like a warrior. But he comes to Saul, enters his service. And Saul’s PLEASED with him. Whenever Saul felt the torment of the bad spirit, David’s playing would soothe him.

And here’s the CONFUSING bit. Chapter 17 comes next. The story most people know well. About the LITTLE BOY, David, and the giant Goliath. And there seems no mistaking in Ch 17 that David’s a BOY. V33, King Saul says David can’t go and fight Goliath because he’s ONLY A BOY, while Goliath’s been a fighting man since his youth.

And again, in v42. David comes out to fight Goliath, and Goliath sees he’s ONLY A BOY, ruddy and handsome, and he DESPISED him.

So how can David be a MAN, A REAL man, at the end of Ch 16, but only A BOY in Ch 17?

ONE option is that the two stories are out of order chronologically. Although it doesn’t really seem likely that David would kill Goliath, then fade back so much into obscurity that Saul wouldn’t KNOW about him when he needs a harp-player.

ANOTHER option is that the servant is just talking up David unrealistically to impress Saul. (Making him out to be more than he really is.)

But I wonder if there’s not a BETTER option. And that’s to do with this idea of A REAL MAN. And that is, the servant is speaking almost PROPHETICALLY. He recognises something about the BOY David that’s not in evidence yet. He sees him the way GOD sees him. He sees THE INSIDE.

He sees that the Lord is WITH him, and THAT means God can do ANYTHING – even with the littlest boy. And even at THIS age, there’s the MAKINGS of a MAN OF WAR, a strong hero, a MAN OF GOOD LOOKS, and wise speech. While the men who SHOULD be acting like this AREN’T.

And that’s the way Ch 17 develops. Showing who the REAL MEN are. The Philistines and the Israelites line up on opposite sides of the valley. And, v4, Goliath is the Philistine champion. He’s nearly 3m tall, with armour and weapons to match. If ever there’s a REAL man, he’s IT! And every day he’d come out and challenge the Israelite army. V8.

CHOOSE A MAN (he says) and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.”

The search is on for A MAN. HE REPEATS the taunt in v10. “Give me A MAN, and let us fight each other.”

And how do the MEN of Israel respond? Is there A MAN to be found? “Saul and all the Israelites were TERRIFIED.”

Right back in Ch 8, the people had wanted A KING LIKE THE NATIONS, remember? They wanted a king who’d LEAD them, and go out BEFORE them, and fight their BATTLES. But when Saul gets his CHANCE, he’s TERRIFIED. He might be head and shoulders above the rest. But even HE’S no match for Goliath.

V12. Enter David. V14 He’s the youngest, or littlest, of Jesse’s sons. But with what we already know, it seems like he might be the answer to the search for A MAN.

And Jesse sends him up to the battle with some supplies for his three older brothers. And he arrives just in time for the action. The two sides are lining up to throw insults at each other. Just like they do EVERY day.

And v22, another lovely little detail, David leaves the cheese sandwiches in the supply tent, and RUNS OFF to see the action. It’s the running of youthful enthusiasm. You can just imagine the young boy, wide-eyed and red-cheeked from running.

Goliath steps up, shouts his usual insults. And v24, the Israelites see the man, and they all RUN from him in GREAT FEAR. And he’d been doing it for forty days! Is that what they did EVERY DAY?

David, the BOY, runs TO the battle. All the adult soldiers run FROM the battle. Who’s the REAL MAN?

David watches all this, hears Goliath’s challenge, and he’s PUZZLED, v26, in youthful innocence he asks the men standing near him,

“What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

David’s the only one concerned for GOD’S HONOUR. Everyone else is concerned FOR HIS OWN SAFETY.

And he can’t work it out. Sure, Goliath’s BIG. But he’s up against the LIVING GOD! Surely, it’s NO CONTEST!

His big brother hears about it. And thinks David’s just BRAGGING. (Trying to look BIG, to IMPRESS the soldiers.) And he’s FURIOUS with him.

But Saul hears about it, and summons David. David says, v32, “Let no MAN’S heart fail because of Goliath. YOUR SERVANT will go and fight him.”

Is there a little criticism there of Saul’s army? A BOY willing to stand in the place of MEN, who’s hearts fail in fear.

Saul says, “You can’t do it, you’re ONLY A BOY.” David says, “I don’t see anyone ELSE putting their hand up. Besides, v36, I’m used to fighting lions and bears. I chase after it when it steals a sheep. When it turns and start chasing ME, I stop, seize it by the hair, whack it and kill it. THAT’S what I’ll do to this uncircumcised Philistine. The LORD will deliver me.”

Saul agrees. It’s not like he has a lot of other options. “Go and the LORD be with you.” Which we already know he IS.

David isn’t used to armour and sword. So he takes his staff and his sling. And heads down the valley towards the Philistine camp. He casually stops at the stream in the middle of the valley, perhaps in view of both armies, and picks up five stones. He puts them in his bag, crosses over, and keeps walking towards Goliath.

V43. Goliath’s waiting for him, with his shield bearer in front of him, and they start edging closer too. When he sees the boy David, carrying a STAFF, he curses him by his gods, and he says, “Am I a DOG that you come at me with STICKS?”

For David, the WEAPON he uses is unimportant. He answers, v45,

“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.

A NAME is far more powerful than a SWORD. They’re bold words for a kid with a stick, a sling and a few stones. But in the end, it’s not about the kid, is it? As much as the God BEHIND the kid. Because he’s the REAL weapon. And David’s words in verse 46 capture it best.

46 This day THE LORD WILL HAND YOU OVER TO ME, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is NOT by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for THE BATTLE IS THE LORD’s, and HE will give ALL OF YOU into our hands.”

Goliath’s heard enough. He moves forward. David RUNS forward. (More running). He pulls out a stone, slings it, strikes Goliath in the forehead. The only vulnerable spot on his whole armour.

The stone sinks into his skull, and he falls face down on the ground before David. Just like his god Dagon had done before the ark of the LORD back in Ch 5. Because it’s God who’s guided the stone, and brought the victory.

Goliath blasphemes God, and the punishment for blasphemy is STONING.

V51. David runs up to him (AGAIN). The courageous running of a REAL MAN. He pulls out Goliath’s sword, kills him, and cuts off his head. The Philistines FLEE, Israel ATTACKS. And, NOW, they run, and they chase them all the way back to Gath, Goliath’s home city.

And that’s where we’ll leave it for today.

Normally at this point in the story, we talk about how we should all be like David. And trust God, who’ll help us beat the giants in our lives.

But that’s not REALLY what the story’s about. It’s not primarily about you, it’s about GOD’S ANOINTED KING. That’s what the whole BOOK is about. Like Hannah said, God gives strength to his ANOINTED. To his Christ, or Messiah.

And David was a pale imitation of a far greater Messiah. His great great, great (and so on) grandson. Jesus. Who defeated a far scarier enemy than Goliath. Who defeated Satan, and sin and death and judgment. A far greater victory. Not in one corner of a tiny country in one period of time. But a victory for all people, in every age, for all time. A victory that restores and reconciles ALL CREATION under his kingship.

But as great as that victory IS/ the world today looks at Jesus, and it looks at us, his followers, and it’s JUST as unimpressed as GOLIATH was at DAVID.

They see a weak and gentle teacher, Nice ideas, (Love your neighbour, turn the other cheek), but not really PRACTICAL. From a different era and culture, dead, impotent and irrelevant.

And they DESPISE him.

Or maybe they don’t even GET as far as looking at Jesus. Perhaps they stop after looking AT THE CHURCH. And they an institution that’s aging, old-fashioned and irrelevant. That’s hypocritical, distracted and divided, tired, weak and worldly. That has no PASSION, no sense of IDENTITY or CALLING or PURPOSE.

And they DISMISS us, and DESPISE our King.

But God’s champion, his Christ, Jesus was a real man. He looked unimpressive. But he was the ONLY real man. The TRUEST, manliest man who ever lived.

Humanity was CREATED in God’s image. Perfect. But sin SCARRED that image. And so we’re only a SHADOW of the humanity God CREATED us to be. We’re ALL like that. We all fall SHORT of God’s glory.

All except for Jesus. The truest, manliest man who ever lived. Colossians 1:15 says “He is the IMAGE of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” The one who never sinned. The PERFECT earthly representative of God. The perfect STANDARD against which all humanity is MEASURED AGAINST.

Perfect love combined with perfect power. Perfect Justice combined with perfect mercy. Courageous compassion. Consistent integrity. Sacrificial, servant leadership.

Motivation and action always perfectly in line. A desire to please his heavenly Father ALONE. And perfect submission and obedience to him alone.

He’s OUR champion.

And we’re called to HONOUR him. And WORSHIP him. And FOLLOW and IMITIATE him. And that means being A REAL MAN (or woman). Reflecting the truest manliest man who ever lived.

It means not being distracted by earthly appearances. Give up on impressing people. Don’t worry about looking weak, or weird. Do what’s RIGHT, whatever the cost. Let go of fear and the need for comfort or acceptance or comfort. Let go of rights, and step up to your responsibilities.

Seek God’s approval ALONE

That’s being a REAL man, or woman, like Jesus.

Know your champion. Love him. And FOLLOW him.

1 Samuel 13-15: The king of appearances

One of the things I do is interview students for the ministry. Our committee writes a report for the presbytery who decides whether they’re suitable to be an ordained minister.

And we meet all sorts of men. Old and young. Academic and not academic. Married and single. Great preachers and not so great. Experienced and inexperienced. Mature Christians and not so mature. Confident and nervous.

Most of the time it’s a joy. And the recommendations are easy to make. But one of our challenges is to SEE THROUGH how they perform IN INTERVIEW to work out whether they’d make a good MINISTER, or not.

Because they don’t always go together. Sometimes a man PRESENTS as confident and gifted and organised and capable and mature. But there’s something NOT QUITE RIGHT. A wrong attitude or motivation, or a sin. A character flaw perhaps. A poor way of dealing with people, or pressure. And he’d be a DISASTER as a minister.

Other men present TERRIBLY at interview. They mumble, and um and ah. They can’t explain simple theological truths, or they get them wrong. But DESPITE that, their churches recommend them. Or we glimpse, hidden away, an integrity, or a humility, or a passion for Jesus and his people. And we give them the benefit of the doubt, and recommend them DESPITE appearances.

I’m sure you all know people like the FIRST sort. Who are THE KINGS OF APPEARANCES.

They’re the work colleagues who are always out to impress. New suits. Long hours. Smiles, and slaps on the back. They’re friendly when it suits them. When you can do something for THEM. They’ve always got an agenda. Always working the angles, Slick and performing. Manipulating a situation to get what THEY want.

Or perhaps you’ve got a BOSS like that. Meetings are all about covering his back. He speaks the language, just enough to appear like he’s got things covered. But without committing himself. There’s bold promises and slick presentations. But when the meeting’s over, YOU’RE the one who has to make it happen. They LOOK and SOUND hard-working and competent. But they’re lazy or incompetent, or both. There’s no substance behind the façade. No integrity, no authenticity, no reliability.

And, unfortunately, with a FEDERAL ELECTION looming, THOSE sorts of leaders just seem to come out of the woodwork.

And that’s the picture we get of SAUL here in these chapters of 1 Samuel. Right from the first moment he appears, he’s the impressive physical specimen. A head taller than the rest. Just the man to be king.

But appearances can be deceiving. V3 of Ch 13, JONATHAN attacks a Philistine outpost, and the Philistines retaliate. Saul summons all Israel to come and fight with the message, “SAUL has attacked the Philistine outpost.” He’s taking credit for someone else’s action – not for the last time, either.

The two sides assemble. Philistines – as numerous as the sand on the seashore – camp at Michmash. Saul and HIS army at Gilgal.

But the Israelites, seeing how big their opposition is, begin to melt away. V6. They hide in caves and thickets and among the rocks.

Saul’s waiting for Samuel to show up. So he can offer a sacrifice to God before the battle. As each day goes by, his army gets smaller and smaller, melting away into the hills. And still no Samuel. You can imagine Saul getting more impatient as each day goes by.

Finally after seven days, he can’t wait any longer. V9.

9 So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. 10 Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

On the surface, Saul’s done the right thing. He’s made a reasonable decision. He’s made an offering to God. Saul’s perhaps expecting Samuel’s approval.

But Samuel’s not impressed. V11.

11 “What have you DONE?” asked Samuel.

Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

You see, back in Ch 10, when Saul was anointed as king, Samuel had given him some instructions. “Go back home to Gibeah, where there’s a Philistine outpost. The Spirit of God will come upon you with power. Do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.”

Presumably, he was meant to ATTACK the PHILISTINES.

Then Samuel said. (v8 of Ch 10) After that, Go to Gilgal, I will surely come down to you to sacrifice. But you must wait SEVEN DAYS until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.”

So poor old Saul. He did NOTHING when he should have been ACTIVE. (He didn’t invade the Philistine outpost at Gibeah). And then when Jonathan attacked the Philistines, instead of him. He was ACTIVE when he should have done NOTHING. (He sacrificed the offerings before Samuel arrived at Gilgal.)

BOTH actions were disobedience against God. One by omission, the other by COMMISSION. And so Samuel has a word of judgment against him. V13 of Ch 13.

13 “You acted FOOLISHLY,” Samuel said. “You have NOT kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you HAD, he would have established your kingdom over Israel FOR ALL TIME. 14 But now your kingdom will NOT endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed HIM leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”

And as quick as that, the end of his dynasty is announced. Saul falls at the first hurdle. And his dynasty stops AT ONE. Which is a shame, really, considering who would have succeeded him as king. Jonathan. Who we find out from the next verse, v16, is actually HIS SON. And he seems to have the integrity and obedience Saul DOESN’T.

Jonathan’s the one who attacks the Philistine outpost at Geba that STARTED the whole episode. And he’s off doing it again in Ch 14.

Jonathan’s tired of hanging around Gibeah, while the Philistines are raiding across Israel. His dad’s sitting under a pomegranate tree in Gibeah. Once again, doing nothing, when he should have been active. So Jonathan decides HE’LL be active.

He and his armour bearer head across the valley to the Philistine camp. V6, Jonathan says,

“Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by MANY or by FEW.”

He’s tired of counting soldiers, and hiding in holes. God’s able to save, whether with a whole army, or just TWO MEN.

And that’s a great attitude for us to have when it comes to trusting God, isn’t it? He CAN do whatever he wants. NOTHING is too hard for God. So faith steps out, and isn’t put off by the odds. One commentator says of Jonathan, “Faith in God knows that he is of infinite power, but it does not PRESUME on that power.” (Woodhouse, 243)

But too often we LIMIT God’s power. And don’t ASK, or don’t step out. Because we think the odds against us are too great. It’s all too unlikely.  But not Jonathan.

And it’s by looking at JONATHAN that we realise what’s been nagging us about Saul. What’s MISSING. There’s no personal relationship with God. There’s no real FAITH. It’s all second hand. Abstract. Impersonal. He’s an empty shell. And God’s seen it, and he’s got his eye, instead, on a man after his own heart to replace Saul.

So Jonathan heads off across the valley. And he and his armour bearer set God a test. V10 If the Philistines say to them, “Come on up,” rather than “We’re coming to you,” we’ll take that as a sign that God’s given them into our hands.

It’s a bold plan! But they’re trusting a BIG GOD. V12. The Philistines see them and yell, “Come up to us, and we’ll teach you a lesson!” And v13,

The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. 14 In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre. It’s an interesting description. The Philistines FELL before Jonathan, whereas the armour-bearer comes along BEHIND him, and KILLS them. Perhaps it’s GOD who causes them to fall down as Jonathan moves through. Either way, it’s certainly God who takes OVER from that point. V15. A panic sent by God goes through the Philistines, and they all scatter.

The lookouts see it, and tell Saul, who’s still having a rest under the pomegranate tree. They do a roll call, and work out that Jonathan and his armour bearer are missing.

Saul can’t decide WHAT to do. He calls for the ark. Then he changes his mind, and decides to ATTACK. The Israelite army charge. The Philistines are in total confusion, attacking each other. And Saul and his forces hunt them all the way back to Beth Aven. And, v23, so the LORD rescued Israel that day.

Which would have been a great place to FINISH except for something that happened during the day. Saul had foolishly bound his army to an oath. V24.

“Cursed be any man who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the troops tasted food.

And, as a result, his soldiers are running out of energy. V25 They’re chasing the Philistines through the woods, and there’s honey on the ground. Jonathan sees it, and grabs some, for a quick energy boost. (He was off fighting Philistines, and didn’t hear his dad’s oath.)

One of the soldiers fills him in. At which point, he says, v29.

“My father has made TROUBLE for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?”

Jonathan sees it. Saul putting his MOUTH in gear before his BRAIN. And putting his OWN AGENDA before the good of THE PEOPLE. Personal revenge means more to him than the nation’s victory.

And that theme continues that night. The army’s exhausted. But Saul wants MORE. He says, v36, “Let’s attack the Philistines AT NIGHT and wipe them out COMPLETELY.”

The priest suggests they ask GOD. Saul hadn’t THOUGHT of that. But when they do, God doesn’t answer.

Saul takes that to mean there’s some unconfessed sin. And he wants to get to the bottom of it. So he makes ANOTHER foolish oath. V39.

“Let us find out what sin has been committed today. 39 As surely as the LORD who rescues Israel lives, even if it lies with my son Jonathan, he must die.”

Which it DOES. And the lot falls on HIM. And Saul mouths off AGAIN. V44

“May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan.”

It’s just PRIDE and FOOLISHNESS. And it takes his own soldiers to speak some sense.

“Should Jonathan die-he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the LORD lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.” So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.

Saul is FIRM when he should be flexible. And he’s FLEXIBLE when he should be FIRM. He should have waited seven days to sacrifice, but he was flexible instead.

And we see more of the same in Ch 15. Flexible when he should be firm. Samuel delivers him a message from the LORD. “Go and attack the Amalekites, and wipe them out COMPLETELY. Don’t spare them. Destroy everything.” Fairly clear. Not really any room for uncertainty or confusion.

But in v7, Saul attacks, and takes Agag king of the Amelekites / ALIVE. Uh oh! And, v9, spares the BEST of the animals, and takes them as plunder.

He’s FIRM when he should be flexible in Ch 14. And FLEXIBLE when he should be FIRM.

And, v11, Samuel gets ANOTHER message from God.

“I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.”

The next morning Samuel heads off to find Saul. Instead he hears he’s gone to CARMEL to SET UP A MONUMENT IN HIS OWN HONOUR. Like that big statue of Saddam Hussein Iraqis pulled down in Baghdad. Blatant self-promotion!

And here we were thinking it was GOD who’d won the victory! But what else can you expect from a king who’s more concerned with keeping up appearances than with integrity and honesty!?

And then he heads to Gilgal, the site of his disobedient sacrifice back in Ch 13. Which doesn’t bode well! And when Samuel catches up with him, Saul, in blissful ignorance, comes to meet him, flush with glow of victory, full of self-congratulation. V13.

“The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”

“Oh REALLY!” says Samuel. “Then what’s the voice of the animals I can hear?” Saul should have listened to God’s voice. Instead all he hears are the animals’ voices.

And Saul, the king of appearances, passes the blame.

“The SOLDIERS brought them from the Amalekites; THEY spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

And he REPEATS it, down in v21, when Samuel reminds him what God had commanded.

He took the credit for something he DIDN’T do. Back when Jonathan won the first victory. And now he’s laying the blame on someone else for something HE did.

He speaks a foolish oath when he should have been SILENT. And, here, he’s SILENT, when he should have SPOKEN UP as the soldiers plundered the animals, instead of killing them.

He’s ACTIVE when he should have DONE NOTHING. (Back when he sacrificed without Samuel.) And now he’s done NOTHING when he should have ACTED.

And Samuel responds with God’s REQUIREMENTS. V22.

Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?

And then the line Keith Green, back in the 70’s, turned into a great song. “To OBEY is better than SACRIFICE.”

That’s God’s priorities. Internal commitment to God, before EXTERNAL ADHERENCE. And King Saul, the king of appearances, just doesn’t GET IT. He cared more for the voice of animals than he did for the voice of the Lord.

And so, at the end of v23, Samuel announces God’s judgment.

Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.”

Saul’s distraught, v24. “I’ve SINNED. I was afraid of the people and gave in to them. I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD.”

But it’s not genuine ANYWAY. Saul’s apology gives away his TRUE motivation. He’s afraid of the PEOPLE, rather than GOD. It’s all about APPEARANCES.

Down in v30, Samuel’s about to leave in disgust, and Saul pleads, “I’ve sinned. But honour me before the elders. Walk with me, so no one knows there’s anything wrong. And we’ll go and worship the Lord YOUR God.”

He’s sorry, but not repentant. He STILL doesn’t get it. Jonathan, Samuel and Hannah all KNOW AND TRUST God. Saul, rather than go straight to God, asks SAMUEL to forgive his sin. And he cares more for what PEOPLE think than GOD. And speaks of worshipping SAMUEL’S God, rather than HIS God.

And God has his eye on ANOTHER KING. A king who’s right on the INSIDE. Doesn’t look much by APPEARANCES. That’s David. Who we’ll meet NEXT WEEK.

But even DAVID fails. Even DAVID can’t measure up to the standard of leader God requires.

And so he promises ANOTHER leader for his people. And he’d be COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Isaiah describes him only as THE SERVANT of THE LORD.

And in Ch 53, rather than being the king of appearances, he would grow up like a tender shoot. With no beauty or majesty to attract us to him. Nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

And when Jesus came, 500 years after Isaiah, the description was ACCURATE. He was despised and rejected by men. Oppressed and afflicted, led like a lamb to the slaughter.

But it was all according to God’s great plans. Because he was pierced for our transgressions. Crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him. And by his wounds we are healed.

He’s the leader who gives everything, without thought of appearances and impressions.

And who calls US to do the SAME.

And we need more leadership like THAT.

Just this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald, Phil Gould wrote an article about the need for servant leadership in the NSW Blues league team. If we’re ever going to beat Queensland, he said we need Trent Merrin as captain. Here’s how he described him.

“Trent rolls up his sleeves and gets stuck into the real stuff; productive work that actually contributes to the overall team performance… I have no doubt he is exactly the leader NSW needs to nurture through the young crop of outstanding footballers NSW can produce over the next few seasons. Merrin has the humility that we find in all great leaders. He also has a steely resolve and burning passion to be successful. He respects the power of the team and how individuals perform at their best when committed to a team environment.

If you want an example of what selfless leadership really looks like, if you want an example of what makes a player a champion and why Queensland has built such a wonderful culture during the past 10 years, then all you need do is revisit Friday night’s effort by the great Johnathan Thurston…”

We need more leaders like THAT. And with the federal election just around the corner, we should be praying for leadership where righteousness matters more than rhetoric, where substance matters more than style. Where there’s real integrity and not just posturing. Because it’s tough to find a leader like that.

When it boils down to it, it’s tough to even BE a person like that, isn’t it? To be GENUINE. To not FAKE it to make a good impression. To not ACT more pious than you really are.

It’s so difficult to have integrity. To be concerned for God’s opinion before others. To BE, rather than to DO. To be content with APPEARING unimpressive.

But that’s what Jesus calls us to. He reserved his harshest criticism for HYPOCRITES. Like in Matthew 6, he said, don’t do things to be seen by MEN, but only by GOD, or you’ll have no reward in heaven. Don’t GIVE, so people see. Don’t PRAY so people are impressed. Don’t FAST, or do religious DUTY, so people will respect your godliness.

Store up treasure in HEAVEN. Work on your INNER integrity, rather than your external appearances. Be like Jesus, not like SAUL.


1 Samuel 8-12: A King like the rest

turnbull shortenWhat sort of LEADER do you want? That’s the question Australia has to decide in the next six weeks. As Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten campaign for the Federal election.

And it’s an IMPORTANT question. Because the sort of LEADER you have can have a huge impact on the people he leads. On environmental policy, or the legality of same sex marriage, or negative gearing, or tax cuts, or education and hospitals, on superannuation.

A king like the nations have

And as we come to 1 Samuel 8, we see ISRAEL asking the same questions. “What sort of LEADER do we want?”

They’ve come to a crucial turning point in their history. A bit like our election. Samuel’s getting old. And, while HE’S done a great job as judge, the same can’t be said for his SONS. Who he appointed as judges TOO. V3 tells us they didn’t walk in Samuel’s ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain, accepted bribes and perverted justice.

And tribal elders are, understandably, WORRIED. What’s going to happen when Samuel dies, and he’s not around to keep an eye on his sons? All the people will SUFFER. And so they come to Samuel, and v5, they say, “Appoint a king to lead us.”

But not just ANY king. They wanted a CERTAIN TYPE of king: A king SUCH AS ALL THE OTHER NATIONS HAVE.

You see, Israel in those days was DIFFERENT from every other nation around them. Every OTHER nation had a palace, and a crown, and a throne and a KING. If an alien landed in a spacecraft and said, “Take me to your LEADER,” every OTHER nation would know exactly where to TAKE him.

But not Israel. If E.T. had landed in Israel, and said, “Take me to your leader,” the Israelites would look around at the tribal elders living in villages or farms, scattered all over the country. Or to Samuel, who was a prophet who wandered around judging disputes. But there was no palace, no throne and no king.

Perhaps the BEST they could do would be to go to wherever the ark of covenant was. Either at Shiloh, in the tabernacle. Or later on, in Abinadab’s house at Kiriath Jearim.

There’s a HINT back in Ch 4 that they’d be on the right track. In v4, it’s described as the ark of the covenant of the LORD Almighty, who SITS ENTHRONED between the cherubim.

That little gold box that Moses built, with the ten commandments inside. It’s got two gold angels on top, with their wings spread across. And the LID of the box is like a THRONE. And that’s where the King of Israel sits. Except you can’t see him.

Because he’s not a human who sits on a throne. He’s the eternal, invisible, omnipotent Creator God. In fact, the whole HEAVENS can’t contain him. So that’s why there’s no palace. And no crown. The ark just REPRESENTS him.

The elders of Israel don’t just want a king. Because they’ve already GOT a king. They want a king LIKE THE NATIONS. A HUMAN king.

The presenting problem is the dishonesty and injustice of Samuel’s sons. But down in v20, we see what the REAL problem is. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to LEAD US AND TO GO OUT BEFORE US AND FIGHT OUR BATTLES.

Which is ironic, really. Because at the end of Ch 7, the Philistines attack. Samuel prays. And GOD GOES OUT BEFORE THEM, thunders against the Philistines and throws them into such a panic, they’re routed by the Israelites!

They want what they’ve already GOT. Actually they want something LESS than they’ve already got. Because the Philistine kings were all DEFEATED by God.

They want a king like the nations. And Samuel takes it personally. As if there’s some criticism of HIS leadership. But, v7, God says, “It’s not YOU they’re rejecting. They’re rejecting ME as their king.”

And so God says, v9, “Listen to them. Give them a king. But WARN them what a king like the NATIONS will actually be LIKE.”

So, v10, Samuel told them ALL THE WORDS OF THE LORD. He didn’t hold back. Here’s what a king like the nations will do. He’ll TAKE. He’ll take your SONS. They’ll look after his chariots and horses. They’ll fight in his army. They’ll plow his ground and reap his harvest.

And he’ll take your DAUGHTERS. To make perfume and cook and bake. And he’ll take the best of your FIELDS. And he’ll take a tenth of your GRAIN. He’ll take your SERVANTS and CATTLE and DONKEYS. He’ll take a tenth of your FLOCKS.

And, here’s the best bit. “You yourselves will become his SLAVES.” How ironic. Again. It’s God who brought them OUT of slavery. Now, they want a king who’ll take them back INTO slavery. A king who’ll TAKE and TAKE and TAKE.

You might wonder how Samuel KNEW all of that. Perhaps he’d noticed the way the nations around him operated. But there’s a hint in v10. He told them ALL THE WORDS OF THE LORD. You see, God’s ALREADY WARNED Israel about this. And Samuel’s just REPEATING the Warning. Back in Deuteronomy 17. Moses tells the people about life in the promised land. And he says, v14,

14 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and … settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses.

Don’t just pick your own. Make sure he’s God’s choice. And here’s what he SHOULDN’T be like.

16 The king must not acquire great numbers of HORSES for himself … 17 He must not take many WIVES, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of SILVER AND GOLD.

In other words, make sure he doesn’t just TAKE, TAKE, TAKE. And Samuel warns them, “Appoint a king like the nations. And that’s just what he’ll DO.” But the people won’t listen. V19. No, they said. We want a king over us. Then we’ll be LIKE ALL THE OTHER NATIONS.

And that’s the problem. God wants them to be DIFFERENT. To be HOLY. But they want to be just like all the rest. They’re tired of being laughed at. Of being DISTINCTIVE.

Is that YOU? Do YOU want to be different? Do you want to be different at WORK? Do you want to risk the anger of everyone by calling out DISHONESTY? Do you want to be the peacemaker, rather than the gossip? Do you want to stand out by being thankful and grateful, rather than joining in with the complaining?

Or what about in your ATTITUDES? Do you want to be different in your attitude to MONEY? And possessions? Do you want put up with the stares of wearing last season’s fashions, or a driving a 10 year old car because you’re sponsoring a Compassion child, or supporting a missionary, or paying for your kids to go to Christian camps or schools?

Or what about your PRIORITIES? Do you want to be different in how you raise your kids? Everyone else drives the kids to sport on Sundays, rather than bringing them to Sunday School. Or they send them to tutoring instead of Youth Group. Do you want to be different by valuing your kids walking with Jesus more highly than their sporting or academic success?

Or what about your MORALITY? Do you want to be different in what issues you SPEAK UP ON? Will you risk the ridicule of your friends by speaking up on the touchy subjects? Issues of same sex marriage, or asylum seekers, or abortion, or divorce?

Because if you STAND UP for what’s right in any of these areas. Then you’ll STAND OUT from the crowd. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb. And attract the sort of attention perhaps you don’t WANT. The ridicule. Or the room goes quiet when you walk in. Or you sit by yourself in the lunchroom. Or the aggressive response from people who think you’re judging them. Or you’re overlooked for promotion or pay rises.

Are you TIRED of being different? After all, if you’re NOT different, life might be EASIER, and QUIETER. But then if you give up and blend in, perhaps God might make you live out the CONSEQUENCES of your disobedience. Of wanting to be like everyone else. You might END UP like everyone else. (Just like Israel) You might end up with kids who are great at sport or school, but who aren’t interested in Jesus. You might get promoted so you’re too busy for church and family, and life falls apart. You might build the biggest barns in the suburb, but then lose your life because, foolishly, you’re not rich towards God.

Israel didn’t WANT to be different. So God will cause them to live out the CONSEQUENCES of that. He tells Samuel to give them a king. And Samuel sends everyone home to wait for God’s choice.

Saul- the king they asked for

And as Ch 9 begins, we see who that IS. His name’s SAUL, which means “Asked for”. Israel ASKED for him. And that’s who they GOT.

He’s the obvious candidate to FIGHT for them. He’s a head taller than any of the others. And, while Eli’s sons don’t listen to HIM. And SAMUEL’S sons don’t seem much better. At least SAUL does what his father tells him. V3. He heads off, with a servant, looking for dad’s lost donkeys.

But as the story progresses, Saul quickly runs out of ideas. And it’s the SERVANT who tells Saul what to do. Perhaps he’s not such a good leader after all!

They find their way eventually to Samuel. THEIR plan was to ask about the DONKEYS. But God’s got OTHER plans. Look there from v15.

15 Now the day before Saul came, the LORD had revealed this to Samuel: 16 “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. ANOINT him LEADER over my people Israel; he will DELIVER my people from the hand of the Philistines.”

And it’s interesting that while the people want a KING. And while God says to GIVE them A KING. When it COMES to it, he tells Samuel to anoint him LEADER. Which is a different word. And means something like prince, or captain, or governor. A SECOND in charge.

And that’s because that’s what Israel’s king SHOULD be. A SECOND in charge to God. Who’s the REAL king. And when Saul turns up, God says to Samuel. “He’s the one who’ll GOVERN my people.” It’s a word that means RESTRAIN, or GUIDE, rather than to RULE. Because GOD rules, and the king should simply HELP the people to follow GOD’S rule.

So Samuel tells Saul that the donkeys are fine. They’ve been found. And then offers this cryptic comment (v20) And to whom is ALL THE DESIRE OF ISRAEL TURNED, if not to YOU and all your father’s family?”  In other words, Israel wants a king. And they’re looking TO YOU.

Saul has a hard time coming to terms with it. V21. After all, he’s from the smallest clan of the smallest tribe. And on top of that, there’s never been a king before – he’ll be the FIRST. And so the next few chapters lay out A SERIES OF STEPS leading up to Saul becoming king. And it seems, as much as anything, to be about getting SAUL used to the idea. 9:25. Samuel gives Saul a long one-to-one chat on the roof of his house. A night-time deep-and-meaningful.  Then, into Ch 10, Samuel anoints him secretly as LEADER of Israel. Not king. The pouring of oil a symbol of God pouring his Holy Spirit onto Saul.

And then there’s a prophecy for Saul, about a series of things that will happen on his way home. To prove to him that he’s God’s choice. And it all comes true, including, v10, the Spirit coming on him with power, so that he prophesied. And a few MORE people notice him.

And then from v17, we come to the PUBLIC coronation. Samuel calls everyone to Mizpah. He reminds them what they’re REALLY doing, asking for a king. “God delivered you from Egypt, and all the other nations. But that wasn’t GOOD ENOUGH. You rejected him, and asked for a king.” V20. To PROVE it’s God’s choice, they draw lots, and the tribe of Benjamin is chosen. Then Saul’s clan is chosen. And finally SAUL HIMSELF is chosen.

But Saul’s had second thoughts. They find him hiding among the luggage. They drag him out, and he’s a head taller than anyone else in the crowd. And Samuel says, rather cryptically, v24, “Do you see the man the LORD has chosen? There is NO ONE LIKE HIM among all the people.”Which COULD refer to his HEIGHT. Or to the fact that no one else is hiding in the baggage!

But the people like what they see. They shout, Long live the king. Samuel explains to them the regulations of the kingship. Which probably means something like the Book of Deuteronomy. He wrote it all down, then sent everyone home. Including Saul, who doesn’t have a palace, so he goes back to the family farm.

Chapter 11 describes his first real challenge as king. The Ammonites attack the city of Jabesh Gilead. And when Saul hears the news, he cuts up his plowing oxen, and sends the pieces throughout Israel, rallying an army.  It’s showing real leadership. He’s burning his bridges, because the oxen are his livelihood. He’s not going back to farming. He’ll NEED support from his people after this. The people answer the call, Saul and the army are victorious. And Saul leads everyone to Gilgal to offer sacrifices and to CONFIRM him as king. Yet ANOTHER step.  He’d been anointed leader, And declared king THEORETICALLY by Samuel. But now, he’s shown he’s up to the job. And they ENDORSE the coronation. Now, he’s king PRACTICALLY.

And, into Ch 12, Samuel steps up to the microphone. Perhaps a bit like one of those awkward drunk uncle speeches at a wedding. It’s all about the bride and groom, but he thinks it’s all about him. And everyone ends up looking awkwardly down at their feet.

The people think the confirmation should be all about SAUL. But Samuel stands up and talks about himself. Sure. Now you’ve got a king. Sure, I’m old. But check my record, I’VE never taken from you. I’ve only GIVEN. (Same can’t be said for his SONS, but that’s ANOTHER story).

And then he adds GOD to the list. V6. All God’s ever done is GIVE. He gave Moses and Aaron. He gave judges like Jerub-Baal and Barak and Jephthah.

And yet, v12, when the Ammonites threaten, you ask for a King – even though the LORD your God was your king. Now, here’s your king!

Perhaps at THIS point in the speech, Saul feels like slinking off to hide under the baggage again.

And we expect Samuel to BLAST them. But surprisingly he doesn’t. v14. Here’s God’s model. Follow it and everything might turn out ok. God’s the king who RULES, Saul is the leader UNDER him who restrains or guides the people. V14.

If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if BOTH YOU AND THE KING WHO REIGNS OVER YOU follow the LORD your God-good!

And then he warns them of the NEGATIVE. DISOBEY the Lord, and his hand will be against you. Down in v25, both YOU and YOUR KING will be swept away. And that’s where we leave it for today.

A king who gives

Look to WORLDLY leaders, leaders like the rest of the nations, and all they’ll do is TAKE, take, take. WHOEVER is prime minister. WHOEVER is President.

But what God calls us to do, instead, is follow a DIFFERENT LEADER. Who instead of TAKING, followed the example of God himself and GAVE.

In Mark 10, Jesus said to his disciples,

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus GAVE. He gave his life. He deserved to BE served. But instead he SERVED. He died in our place. The ultimate servant king.

And then he calls US to follow his example. To give, and give, and give.

If you want to be GREAT in Jesus’ kingdom, then it doesn’t come by TAKING. By working people around to get what you want from them. It comes by pouring yourself out for others. Your time. Your money. Your emotions. Your energy.

Following the LEADER who gives. But also BEING the leader who gives. Workers, as leaders of those under you in your workplace. Fathers, as leaders of your family. Parents, as leaders of your children. Teachers, as leaders of your students.

Follow the example of Jesus. Like this Christian leader in New York. Tim Keller tells the story of a lady who made a huge mistake at work. It cost the company thousands. She was sure she’d lose her job. Her supervisor heard her explanations, and then said, “Leave it with me. I’ll deal with it. I’ll take the blame. You were my responsibility.”

And she kept her job, and her supervisor took a hit to his reputation.

She couldn’t understand why he’d DO that. Normally bosses were quick to cover themselves, and lay the blame on those below them. But her boss took the blame on himself. The blame SHE DESERVED.

When she asked him why he’d done it, he said, “I’m a Christian. Jesus took the blame for me. So, I’m just doing the same for someone else.”

And that was enough for her to start coming to his church. To investigate following the sort of LEADER who would GIVE, instead of take.

May we follow Jesus, like that. And may people we know EXPERIENCE that, and turn to follow him, TOO.

1 Samuel 4-7: Raiders of the Lost Ark

mary-shrine-july-2015Lots of Australians will say they’re RELIGIOUS. Or that they BELIEVE IN GOD. But not that they’re CHRISTIAN. Some of them, of course, follow RECOGNISED religions, like Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism.

But then there’s lots of people influenced by Eastern religions. They see God as an impersonal force. Often they think God is PART of nature, rather than OUTSIDE it. Perhaps they’re into yoga, or meditation. Or God is something like KARMA, where you get what you DESERVE. Or people who take on a new age spirituality. And see power in crystals and dolphins and pyramids.

Then there are lots of people whose beliefs have a LIGHT WASH of Christianity. There’s angels and holy places and statues and icons. There’s superstition and ritual and saints. There’s trust in lucky prayers or tokens, but not much trust in GOD. There’s CHRISTMAS and the BABY Jesus. But not much EASTER, and the crucified, risen KING Jesus.

And, I think, the attraction in all these versions of spirituality is that you KEEP GOD AT A DISTANCE. God is SMALL and UNDEMANDING. You keep your independence. You don’t have to CHANGE, or submit your will to anyone. Life just continues as normal. You pick and choose where religion gets a say. God has been DOMESTICATED. Robbed of any power or influence. And people remain king of their world.

But those of us who are Christian can be guilty of the same mistake. Domesticating God. Reducing his influence to those areas we feel comfortable with. While we keep a firm hand on the direction of where our life is headed.

We give him Sunday mornings, and the spare change in our pockets. We’re content to read our Bibles and mutter a quick prayer as we rush out the door to work, and feel we’ve done our duty.

We measure our godliness according to the standards of acceptability of those around us, rather than according to the standards of a holy God, or a sinless, perfect Jesus.

We PRAY, but we don’t really believe we NEED God. He’s an ADDED EXTRA. Mostly, we’re quite capable of looking after life ourselves, thank you very much. And so genuine, humble, dependent prayer only comes when we’re DESPERATE. As a LAST option, rather than a FIRST.

We treat God LIGHTLY. As if he’s insignificant and unimportant.

But these chapters of 1 Samuel REBUKE that sort of attitude. Today we meet a God who is THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE. Who is HEAVY. GLORIOUS. SUBSTANTIAL. And NOT to be taken LIGHTLY. We see the WEIGHT of the GLORY of GOD.

Glory and Heavy are words that run right through these chapters. The Hebrew word for GLORY is KABOD. We saw it in the name of the baby born at the end of 1 Samuel 4. ICHABOD, which means NO glory.

And it comes from the same root as the word for “heavy”, or “weighty”, KEBED. In fact in Ch 4 v18, when Eli breaks his neck when he falls of his chair because he’s old and HEAVY – KEBED. And God’s hand is HEAVY, or KEBED, on the Philistines.

Part of what the GLORY of God means is his weightiness. The immensity and splendour of his power and influence. And how SERIOUSLY we have to take him. You don’t take him LIGHTLY.

The glory departs

And that’s something ISRAEL needs to learn at the start of Chapter 4. Their enemies, the Philistines, have attacked, and about 4000 Israelites die at a place called Ebenezer.

V3, the elders ask the question, “Why did the Lord bring defeat upon us today?” They ask EACH OTHER, but don’t bother asking GOD.

They decide to bring up the ark of the covenant from Shiloh, where it’s been in the tabernacle. Kind of like a good luck charm. Eli’s 2 sons, Hophni and Phinehas, arrive in camp with the ark, and the soldiers cheer like they’ve already won.

It SEEMS like they’re trusting God. But they’re trusting the ARK, a REPRESENTATION of God, rather than God himself. They think there’s power in THE ARK ITSELF, rather than in THE GOD IT REPRESENTS. They’re treating the

God of weighty glory LIGHTLY, which is a mistake.

When the Philistines hear the roars from the Israelite camp, rather than melting in fear, v9, they STEEL themselves, and determine to fight even HARDER. And v10, they WIN. The ark is captured. And Eli’s 2 sons are killed. Just as God had PROMISED.

And that same day, when Eli finds out the terrible news, first that his sons have died, and secondly that the ark has been captured. V18, he falls of his chair in shock, breaks his neck, and dies.

And then when Phinehas’ pregnant wife hears the news, she’s goes into labour. But there’s complications, and as she’s about to die, she gives birth to a son, and calls him, Ichabod – NO glory – because, v22, THE GLORY HAS DEPARTED FROM ISRAEL, for the ark of God has been captured.

In Exodus, the GLORY was a visible cloud that represented God’s presence. And it would descend on the tabernacle, where the ark was kept, whenever Moses would enter.

And so, as the ARK departs, THE GLORY OF GOD HIMSELF departs.

But more than that, something ELSE has gone. THE PEOPLE’S RECOGNITION of God’s glory. They’ve domesticated God, shrunk him down to fit into a convenient size. A God who suits their plans. A God in A BOX – literally. And it’s no wonder a god like THAT won’t save ANYBODY.

The glory returns

But, of course, God won’t STAY like that. He won’t STAY small and light-weight. He’s weighty and glorious.

It SEEMS like he’s been defeated by the Philistines. But it’s got nothing to do with a lack of POWER. And EVERYTHING to do with his SOVEREIGN JUDGMENT against Eli and his family. That’s why Israel’s defeated. Back in Ch 2, 31, he’d promised Eli

31 The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your family line 32 and YOU WILL SEE DISTRESS in my dwelling. Although GOOD will be done to ISRAEL, in YOUR FAMILY LINE there will NEVER BE AN OLD MAN.

And that’s how it happened. Eli saw the distress of the death of his sons. And then Eli, the old man, died of the shock.

And, into Ch 5, we see how God, having brought down Eli, does GOOD for Israel. How he restores his honour. How the weighty hand of his glory falls on the Philistines. And how the GLORY of the ark RETURNS to Israel.

The Philistines head back to Ashdod, and put the ark in the temple of their god, Dagon. Like a trophy cabinet. Displaying all the gods Dagon’s defeated. Except things don’t turn OUT that way. The next morning, the statue of Dagon has fallen over on its face in front of the ark. Symbolic of who bows to whom.

They give their god a helping hand, stand him up again. But next morning, the same thing’s happened. THIS time, with his hands and head broken off, and scattered across the floor. The heavy hand of GOD breaks the POWERLESS hands of DAGON.

But it’s not just DAGON who’s a target. V6, the Lord’s hand was HEAVY (KEBED) against the PEOPLE of Ashdod. He brought devastation, and afflicted them with tumours.

So, v8, the leaders moved the ark to GATH. But the same thing happened THERE. So, v10, they sent the ark to Ekron.

And the people of Ekron said, “Thanks very much! They’ve brought the ark to KILL us!” The Lord’s hand was HEAVY upon them, and death filled the city.

ONE city with death and tumours you could understand. TWO was bad luck. But THREE was PROOF God had punished them. So they called the leaders together, and decided to send the ark back to Israel.

And to confirm that it really WAS God behind the tragedies, they set up an experiment. Into Ch 6. They put the ark on a new cart, v6. And they yoke up two cows with new calves. They pen the calves up, and set the cows free.

By NATURE, they won’t leave their calves. But THESE cows, straight away, head for Israel. V12, Sticking to the road, and not turning to the right or the left. That’s not coincidence. That’s GOD!

The ark crosses the border back into Israel. And it stops by a large rock at Beth Shemesh. The Israelites REJOICE at the sight. They smash up the cart, build a fire, and sacrifice the cows on it, as an offering to the Lord. And they put the ark on the rock. It SEEMS like the glory has returned. And that, this time, the people will treat God SERIOUSLY.

But God’s glory is HEAVY. And you can’t treat him LIGHTLY. V19, seventy men DIE after they look into the ark. And they people who’d REJOICED at the ark, now MOURN, and they rightly ask, v20, “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this HOLY God?”

They thought it was a light, an insignificant, thing to step up to the ark, and peer inside. But it represents God, and God is HOLY. And SEPARATE. And can’t be EASILY approached by sinful people. It’s a weighty matter to have God AMONG you. His holiness is DANGEROUS.

“Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this HOLY God?” Dagon can’t stand. The Philistines can’t stand. And Israelites can’t stand. We’ll come back to the ANSWER to that question in a moment.  Israel thought they were in danger from the Philistines. But perhaps their greatest danger is from GOD HIMSELF.

Their NEXT question is, “To whom will the ark go up from here?” In other words, who can we pass this dangerous hot potato on to before it does any more damage? And it would be FUNNY if it wasn’t so SERIOUS. They find some unsuspecting suckers in the neighbouring town of Kiriath Jearim. At the start of Ch 7, they come and take the ark, and set it up at Abinadab’s house. And they have the sense to consecrate Eleazar his son to GUARD it. Probably more to protect people from the ark, than the ark from people.

And that’s where the ark stays for the next TWENTY YEARS. That’s what it says there in v2. It’s an intriguing detail, isn’t it? We don’t know ANYTHING about those years. Whether they were GOOD or BAD. But at the END of that time, v2 says, all the people of Israel MOURNED and SOUGHT AFTER the Lord. Perhaps that’s how long it took for them to take God SERIOUSLY. To give his glory the WEIGHT it deserved. Perhaps it took twenty years to stop being ANGRY AT GOD for killing those who looked into the ark, and for Israel’s defeat by the Philistines. And to start looking at THEMSELVES.

We’re PROUD creatures, aren’t we? Something goes wrong – an argument, a relationship breakdown, or a disaster of some sort. And our first reaction is to BLAME SOMEONE ELSE. To defend our own reputation. But then, after a while, we cool down. Sometimes the next day. Sometimes it takes LONGER. But in the cold, hard light of day, we think a little more clearly. And we begin to recognise our own mistakes. And that perhaps we were too hasty to blame the other person. And perhaps our apology might take A WEEK before it comes.

But it took Israel TWENTY YEARS to be humbled. Twenty years for the attitude to change from rejoicing and curiosity / to mourning and seeking after the Lord.

And some of YOU have been praying for family or friends for twenty years OR MORE. And they haven’t been humbled to repentance. Yet! But don’t give up. God’s timing for Israel was twenty years. For your spouse, or children, or neighbour, or friend it might be THIRTY or even FORTY years. But God IS hearing your prayers, and he IS at work. All according to His timetable. So keep praying.

And you’d do worse than to follow Samuel’s advice in terms of what you pray. The people are mourning and seeking after God. But there’s a difference between REMORSE, and REPENTANCE. Remorse is what you feel when you’re sorry for YOURSELF. It’s what you feel when you’ve been CAUGHT. Or you don’t like the situation you’re in.

But REPENTANCE seeks to make AMENDS. Repentance means a change of direction. And Samuel says, (v3),

“If you are returning to the LORD WITH ALL YOUR HEARTS, then RID yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and COMMIT yourselves to the LORD and serve him ONLY, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”

Turn AWAY from foreign gods, and turn TO the TRUE God. And serve him ONLY. No half-way half-heartedness. No flip flopping.

And the people LISTEN. V6. At Mizpah, they fast and confess their sin.

And God makes good on HIS promise. Just like Samuel SAID. The Philistines hear about the gathering, and decide it’s a good place for a battle. V7.

The Israelites are afraid, and they ask Samuel to keep praying. And he offers a lamb as a sacrifice. And, v10, as he’s doing that, the Philistines attack. But,

That day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Car.

And Samuel sets up a stone as a memorial, and called it Ebenezer, which means “stone of help”. Because “Thus has the LORD helped us.”

Ebenezer was the name of the place where Israel had been defeated, and the ark captured, so many years before. Where it had SEEMED like God had been defeated.  But NOW, Ebenezer would be remembered as a place of God’s VICTORY. Where he HELPED his people. And where the weight of his glory was seen. Just like Hannah had prayed, back in Ch 2. “My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. There is no one holy like the Lord, there is no one besides you; there is no ROCK like our God.” The ROCK OF HELP, the EBENEZER, for his people.

And the lesson of Hannah proved true for ISRAEL, TOO. Who does God help? Hannah had said that God raises the HUMBLE, and fills the HUNGRY, raises the poor from the dust. And it takes Israel more than TWENTY YEARS. But they LEARN.

“Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?” They learn the answer: Unholy, sinful people who mourn and humbly seek after him. Who turn from their sin, confess it, and commit to serve him only. And then, whose sin is COVERED by an offering. A LAMB dying, so that sinners don’t HAVE to. One DEATH counted in place of MANY. Because it’s not on the basis of our OWN holiness that we can approach a holy God. No matter HOW repentant and humble we are. As Hannah prayed, there’s NO ONE holy, like our God.

And that lamb, and many OTHER lambs that followed, MADE DO, as a temporary fix. God overlooked sin on the basis of the faith that offered them in sacrifice.

Until the TRUE lamb. The Lamb of God arrived. Jesus. Who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). The perfect sacrifice. God become man. The visible likeness of the invisible God.

John 1:14 describes him as the Word who became flesh, and who tabernacled among us. And we’ve SEEN HIS GLORY.

And he bore in his own body the WEIGHT of God’s heavy hand against OUR SIN. He was crushed by the weight of God’s glory, so we didn’t HAVE TO. He’s the Eleazar who guards us from the white hot wrath of God’s glorious holiness. But he’s also the ARK, who lived among us, representing God visibly, his GLORY. He’s both the MEANS by which we can approach a holy God. (Our protection from him.) And his visible glory. He’s the One who COMMUNICATES God to us.

And so, we need never settle for a light view of God. A SMALL God. An uninvolved, impotent, or part-time God. Settling for a magic prayer, or a lucky charm, or a holy place, or 1 hr a week.

Jesus is the Lord of all, the victor over sin and death. Colossians 1 describes him as the first-born over all creation. All things made by him and for. He’s redeemed all things. And all things find their fulfilment and satisfaction in him. Before him EVERY knee will bow.

Israel had the ark. But we have Jesus. And when you see him. When you see his GLORY. Then you’re able to say with Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4,

Unbelievers cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as LORD, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

1 Samuel 1-3: Rags to riches… riches to rags

400x400The businessman in the $2000 suit and slicked back hair driving the speeding yellow Porsche blasts his horn as he dangerously overtakes you on the inside, and screeches away into the distance. If there’s any justice in the world, you think to yourself, there’ll be a speed camera just over the hill, and he’ll get caught.

The guy at work takes credit for all your ideas. He does the minimum amount of work, but always looks busy when the boss is watching. He gets the promotion. And you think to yourself, “If there’s any justice in the world, they’ll work out he’s incompetent and lazy. And he’ll get what he deserves.”

The major company collapses, leaving employees without entitlements or a job, and creditors owed millions. But the CEO responsible for the mess manages to walk away with bonuses and shares worth millions. If there’s any justice in the world, he’ll be brought to account, and he’ll have to PAY in some way.

In this world the rich and privileged get richer. And things never seem to change for the poor. It seems like wickedness pays, while honesty doesn’t.

But it’s not like things have ever been any different. In fact it’s the way the world’s ALWAYS been. Including back in the days of ancient Israel. Before the kings ruled.

They were days when the rich and powerful would do whatever they wanted. And there was no one to call them to account. And it was the poor and weak who SUFFERED. Days when those at THE TOP, like the family of Eli the priest, ABUSED their power at the expense of those they were supposed to SERVE.

If you lived then, you’d be longing for God to step in and bring JUSTICE.

And that’s just what we see from a woman who’s been on the receiving end. An ordinary young mum with a toddler. We pick it up in Ch 2. And she’s praying in the tabernacle. Rejoicing that God’s HEARD her prayer, and TURNED THINGS AROUND. After years of SUFFERING. (We’ll see in a moment from Ch 1 what the problem had been).

But before we do, just listen in to some of her thanksgiving at God’s goodness. Ch 2 v1,

“My heart REJOICES in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high. My mouth BOASTS over my enemies, for I DELIGHT in your deliverance.

It had seemed like God wasn’t listening. But then he DELIVERS her from her problems. And now she’d learned a lesson about his character. V2

2 “There is no one HOLY like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. 3 “Do not keep talking so PROUDLY or let your mouth speak such ARROGANCE, for the LORD is a God who KNOWS, and by him deeds are WEIGHED.

He’s HOLY. Morally PURE. Always acting RIGHTLY. But not just THAT. He KNOWS. He SEES everything. But not only that. He INVOLVES himself. By him DEEDS ARE WEIGHED. He’s JUDGE. He’ll BRING that holy character to bear against human sin.

And that’s three very COMFORTING qualities if you’ve been on the receiving end of injustice and violence. And it’s three very SCARY qualities if you’re someone who’s been dishing it OUT.

And we get a hint of the sort of thing she’d been putting up with. V1, she boasts in her ENEMIES. And v2, she’s rejoicing that God’s silenced their ARROGANT BOASTING.

So let’s jump back to Ch 1 to see what’s behind her prayer.

It’s a story that begins with a man called Elkanah. And he’s got two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. And as we read through this chapter, we see why, even though the Bible often DESCRIBES polygamy, it never CONDONES it. Because whenever we SEE it, it’s always such a MESS.

And while Hannah’s got her husband’s LOVE, it’s Penninah who has all his CHILDREN. Because poor old Hannah’s barren. And Penninah loves to rub it in.

V6. Every year they head into Shiloh. To the tabernacle to offer sacrifices.

6 And because the LORD had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept PROVOKING her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival PROVOKED her till she wept and would not eat.

And her husband would ask her what was wrong. Even though he knew. He’d say, v8,

“Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

Now, I’m not always the most considerate husband. And I’ll often say the wrong thing at the wrong time. But even I know that’s a clanger! Apart from the fact that his OTHER wife is smirking at her over his shoulder. It’s thoroughly self-centred. And it’s KNOWING what her problem is, but not UNDERSTANDING it.

So Hannah’s got THREE problems. An insensitive husband, an arrogant rival, and she’s childless.

Which is enough to put her off her food. Or drive her to DRINK. But, instead, it drives her to PRAYER. V9. She heads into the tabernacle. Past Eli, the priest, who’s having a snooze on a chair near the front door. And v10,

10 In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD

She hands it all over to him. Which is exactly what God wants US to do.

But then here’s the UNUSUAL bit. She makes God an offer. V11. “If you REMEMBER me, and give me a son. Then I’ll give him to YOU. Dedicated to God’s service. For life.”

And here’s what leads to her thanksgiving in Ch 2. God’s going to HEAR her. And ANSWER HER PRAYER. Or as v19 says, he REMEMBERS her. Some time later, Hannah conceives, gives birth to a son, and names him Samuel, which sounds like the Hebrew for “GOD HEARS.”

And Hannah’s going to remember TOO. Remember her PROMISE. She waits until Samuel’s weaned. Perhaps two or three years later. And, v24, she takes him back to the tabernacle. Back to where God HEARD her.

And she offers her sacrifice to God. And then offers her son to Eli the priest. And, v26, she says.

“As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. 27 I prayed for this child, and the LORD has GRANTED me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.”

And at that point Hannah prays the prayer we looked at earlier. Thanking God for hearing her. And delivering her from proud enemies. Who, we now know, refers to Peninnah. And, down in v5, she rejoices in how things have been turned around.

She who was BARREN has borne SEVEN children, but she who has had MANY sons PINES AWAY.

It’s Peninnah who’s missing out, rather than gloating. And it’s Hannah who’s blessed with kids, instead of weeping.

(pause) But there’s a lot more in Hannah’s prayer than just the birth of a little baby. Which is why we started there. Because Hannah recognises something about God’s character from how he’s dealt with HER. And she sees what that means for ALL ISRAEL. As God acts in HISTORY.

And how that’s his USUAL WAY OF WORKING. He’s the God who REGULARLY reverses the status quo. Overturns the powerful and proud, and fights injustice.

And how he LOVES to work with the weak and the insignificant. Because they’re the ones who humbly look to HIM. Who recognise that, without God, they’re NOTHING.

And as the story of Samuel unfolds, we see, again and again, echoes of these same themes.

Of, v4, how the strong and proud are brought down to nothing. But those who STUMBLE are strengthened.

Or, v5, how the full go hungry. But the hungry are FILLED.

All God’s doing. V6. HE brings death, and HE makes alive. HE sends both poverty and wealth. He humbles and he exalts.

Which means, (second part of v9), that it’s not by STRENGTH that you prevail. (Strength means you do it on your won. Humility makes you PRAY.)

Because God can bring down ANYONE, no matter HOW strong. So what counts, (the start of v9), is to be one of HIS SAINTS. Because God GUARDS them. While he silences the wicked in darkness, and shatters those who OPPOSE him.

So Hannah’s prayer becomes an introduction to the whole book. It’s the lens we look through at the REST of the stories. The themes she recognises in HER life are themes we see being played out in the life OF ISRAEL.

For example, as the story unfolds, we see how the tallest man in all the tribes of Israel rises to become king. But then gets dragged back down to nothing. Because he tries to do it HIS WAY. That’s SAUL.

While the smallest son of the smallest clan of the smallest tribe gets lifted up by God to be the greatest king Israel ever HAS. Because he humbly looks to GOD for strength. That’s DAVID.

(pause) But not just that, as we keep reading past Hannah’s prayer, we see how her little boy grows up to become the prophet all Israel listens to. And a better priest than the professionals. While those who are BORN to it, Eli, and his wicked sons, are brought to NOTHING.

Just have a look at the COMPARISON as the story continues. Hannah finishes praying. And she heads home and leaves Samuel there, v11, MINISTERING before the Lord under Eli the priest.

Meanwhile, Eli’s sons are doing ANYTHING BUT that. V12, They’re wicked, and had no regard for the LORD. They abuse their position. They sabotage the people’s sacrifices by demanding the best cuts of meat before they’ve even been offered. And if anyone objects, their servant just takes it by force.

And, while little Samuel is busy ministering before the LORD under Eli. Eli’s sons, v17 – their SIN WAS VERY GREAT in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt.

And then, straight away, v18, by way of comparison, we read about how little Samuel keeps ministering before the LORD.

He’s even wearing a little priest’s outfit. And every year his mum would make him a NEW one. And v21, he grew up IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD.

Which is the complete OPPOSITE of Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas. V22. More abuse of power. They were sleeping with the women servants around the tabernacle. They were FAMOUS for it. In fact, Eli has to hear about it from EVERYONE ELSE. V23.

23 So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. 24 No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD’s people. 25 If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death.

They won’t listen to their father, and they won’t listen to God. And, just like Hannah recognises, God’s going to bring them to JUSTICE. He’s lifted up the LOWLY Hannah. And now he’s going to bring down the HIGH and PROUD.

And then immediately, we read how Samuel’s getting on. V26.

26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men.

Hophni and Phinehas had a BAD reputation with the people. But, in comparison, everyone LOVES Samuel.

And in the rest of Ch 2 we see how the two sons will be brought DOWN. While into Ch 3, we see how little Samuel begins his RISE to leadership.

Firstly, from v27, Eli the priest receives a prophecy from God. He might have been rebuking his sons, but it was too little, too late. He’d KNOWN what they’d been doing. And even fattened himself on the meat they’d stolen. But done NOTHING ABOUT IT. And God REBUKES him. V29

Why do you SCORN my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your SONS more than ME by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’

Now, there’s some scary words there – especially for those of us who are FATHERS. Because Eli was held accountable for his LACK of parenting. He’d known what his sons were doing, but didn’t step in.

His sons were guilty of sins of COMMISSION. They committed sinful deeds. But Eli’s sin was of OMISSION. He FAILED to do the RIGHT thing.

And for many of us fathers, that’s something WE’RE guilty of. Our temptation when our kids misbehave is to SAY NOTHING. To leave the parenting, and the disciplining, to our wives. We overlook their sin. Either because we can’t be BOTHERED. Or we don’t want to make a fuss. Or we’re pre-occupied with more important things. Or we don’t take seriously our responsibility to lead our family.

We take the EASY road, rather than the RIGHT road.

Or here’s one MORE motivation to stay quiet. The temptation to be a PEOPLE-pleaser, rather than a GOD-pleaser.

Do you see what God accuses Eli of in v39? In his choices, he was honouring HIS SONS, more than GOD. Whenever he ate the meat they offered him, he honoured THEM before the God who SHOULD have received the sacrifices. More interested in THEIR approval than God’s.

Now, we don’t QUITE have the same responsibility Eli and his sons had. (Overseeing the sacrifices for the nation) But, nevertheless, God’s given us the responsibility to lead our families. And when we accept without question what our kids do. And fail to GUIDE them as we should, it seems to me we’re not that far off what Eli’s done.

Even if you’re NOT a father. ALL of you, prayerfully examine your motivations. Confess any tendency to PEOPLE-PLEASING. (In seeking to honour MAN more than GOD. In fearing their criticism more than we fear God’s.)

It might be in what you FAIL to say. (Keeping quiet when it’s right to speak up). Or it might be FOLLOWING THE CROWD in how you behave.

(pause) But when it comes to fathers leading their families, notice how sinful decisions NOW can affect your family line for generations.

For Eli, God’s judgment will fall on his WHOLE FAMILY LINE. V32. Some will die, and those who don’t will be full of grief. In fact, v34, Hophni and Phinehas will both die on the same day.

And the end result, V31, will be there’ll never be an old man in the family line. When they have the Eli family reunion, it will be all kids and young men. Not a grey hair to be seen. Because they’ve all died YOUNG.

And it won’t work quite that specifically for most of us. But, nevertheless, the decisions you make with your children TODAY will echo down through the years. As they grow up, and teach THEIR children the lessons they’ve learned from YOU.

And they WILL learn lessons, whether you think you’re TEACHING them, or not. Because kids are always watching. Watching how you speak to your wife. How you pray. How you value church. How generous, how friendly, how patient you are.

Take SERIOUSLY the responsibility God’s given you. Honour HIM more than man.

(pause) And while Eli’s family line dwindles away, and the proud are brought LOW. He’s going to RAISE UP the LOWLY. And use THEM for his purposes of doing good to Israel.

And the lowly one who’s been there in the background all along is little Samuel. He’s ministering before the Lord faithfully as Eli and his sons go off the rails.

Ch 3 describes how God CALLS him. He’s asleep in the tabernacle, and he hears a voice. He thinks it’s Eli. But it’s not. So he goes back to bed.

It happens AGAIN. V6. And again v9. And finally, Eli realises it’s a voice from GOD. So he says, “Go and lie down. Next time you hear the voice, say, ‘Speak LORD, for your servant is listening.”

Which is what Samuel does. And God speaks some BAD NEWS for him. V11. About how everything the OTHER prophet told Eli will come true.

Samuel’s scared to tell Eli. After all, he’s only a little boy.

But Eli pushes him. V17. “Don’t hide it from me!” If only he’d spoken up against HIS SONS like he wants SAMUEL to do!

So Samuel tells him everything. And Eli accepts it. He says, v18, “He is the LORD, let him do what is good in his eyes.”

And as Eli is HUMBLED, the chapter finishes with a summary of how Samuel is LIFTED UP. V19.

19 The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. 21 The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

And that’s where we’ll leave it for today. God’s set up GODLY, HUMBLE leadership for Israel. And Samuel will be there for decades to come. Listening to God, and then guiding Israel with his word.

And Hannah’s observations about God are true DOWN THROUGH HISTORY. God will raise up ANOTHER leader for Israel from humble beginnings. Jesus, born as a helpless baby in a manger. He grew up, always obedient to his Father.

Philippians 2 describes how he HUMBLED himself. Made himself NOTHING. How he put off eternity, and took on the nature of a servant.

A servant who came to give his life as a ransom for many. Obedient to death on a cross.

But then the great reversal. God EXALTED him to the highest place. He RAISED him from death. And seated him at his right hand. And gave him the name above every name. so that every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

God worked with the HUMILITY of Jesus to bring about HIS PURPOSES. And he wants to work the same way in US. Just like Hannah, he LOVES TO WORK WITH HUMBLE PEOPLE.

I don’t know if you want to MAKE IT BIG in the world. But if you do, you need to be warned. Because the way God works, again and again, is to bring DOWN the proud and powerful. And, instead, to take the small and the humble and the weak and the lowly and the insignificant. And, as they look to him, he USES them to fulfil his purposes.

So come to God in HUMILITY. He LOVES to show grace to broken people. DON’T come with a list of your achievements. DON’T come only when you’ve had a GOOD day. Don’t wait until you’ve got yourself SORTED to come to God. Come at your LOWEST. Come in your NEED, and in your brokenness. Because that’s the attitude God LOVES to work with.

And if you REALLY want to make it big, think SMALL. If you want to be FIRST in the kingdom, be LAST / NOW. Think HUMBLE SERVICE. Think how you can meet OTHERS’ needs at YOUR expense, rather than the other way around.

Which is just the inspiration Paul wants us to take from observing the life of Jesus. Just before that majestic description of Jesus in Philippians 2, we read these words. And it’s a great place to finish. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ…

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others…. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who HUMBLED himself to DEATH.