28. Nevertheless…

Meditations in 1 Samuel   28. Nevertheless….

1 Sam 14:47,48   After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them

There is a natural tendency when we see something going wrong to overstate the case. I think that is true in the case of Saul. Without doubt he got it wrong and I believe everything we have said thus far about him has been true, but then I come across verses like the ones above and I find I have cause to pause and reflect. Not everything about him is bad. In those days when you had enemies you either overcame them or they overcame you and the records of the Old Testament show again and again nations round about Israel trying to destroy them. It is the same today in respect of Israel. Now we have seen through the book of judges that the Lord used these enemies to discipline Israel and make them rely upon Him, but merely because He was using them to discipline Israel that didn’t mean Israel could not do anything about it – and Saul was doing just that.

Now we could have read, “After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he sat back and enjoyed his position,” but we don’t; it says, “he fought against their enemies,” he was doing something about them, Moreover he was doing it all round – “he fought against their enemies on every side,”   and then the recorder gives us a list of five nations he was dealing with. That is quite impressive. Indeed he adds, Wherever he turned….” meaning that whoever he went to sort out received the punishment due for their hostility. Even more we are told “he fought valiantly.”  Wow, he really put his heart into the job!

Now you may be wondering why I am bothering to go down this route. Well, very simply it is this: so often in life we come across people – and they may be in our own family even – who we look at and write off because they seem to be making such a mess of life. Look for the bit of them that is good. They are still made in the image of God and there may yet be hope. Now of course we know that Saul goes on to make an even bigger mess of it, but that isn’t always so; God is a God of second chances and merely because at the moment this person before you is messing up that does not necessarily mean they always will – they may, but keep an open heart to them in case they are going to come good.

I often have found myself writing about people with feet of clay. I believe that applies to all of us; we all have vulnerable areas where we are weak and have not yet been fully sanctified in daily behaviour, but for the vast majority of the time we are probably doing all right. I recently had the joy of bringing a word of encouragement to a couple who were adoptive parents and who were struggling a bit: “The Lord says you are doing all right.” Very simple but encouraging, and we all need that sort of thing because although most of the time we are doing well, there are still areas in which we struggle.

Now the case I am speaking about is the opposite of that: this person is mostly getting it wrong but actually look carefully and you will see signs of hope, things they are doing well. Here’s a husband (or partner) who treats his wife badly, gets drunk and abusive, and yet would walk over glass to help his daughter. Yes, he is utterly wrong in his drinking and in his abuse of his wife, but he is still made in the image of God and he still has sparks of care and compassion  for his young daughter. We may write him off, but pray that God can reach him through that gateway of care and compassion. She may have had three abortions and be an addict but watch her carefully and she is actually there for some of the weaker girls in her community. She looks a lost cause but there is no such thing with Jesus.

Saul is not good on the spiritual side but he is working on being a good protective king and we read, All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines, and whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he took him into his service.” (1 Sam 14:52) He knows an army doesn’t just consist of him and so he is a good recruiter, and that is going to come into play later on in respect of David. Moreover we are going to see Saul messing up again and again and being on the bad end of God’s discipline but every now and then we will also so him acknowledge the truth about himself and about the current situation. You can get it wrong but still do right and until your time comes to depart this planet, there is always hope.

The truth is that Saul could have repented any time up to his death, but he didn’t. There are some who say that once God writes you off – and He does seem to have done that with Saul – there is no hope for you, but the facts challenge that. Again and again Saul is going to be presented with opportunities to face up to the truth and genuinely repent; the Lord would not have given these if he was a genuine write-off. Yes, there are times, such as in the case of the Pharaoh with Moses where the Lord knew that he would never repent and would therefore be destroyed, and similarly with Eli’s sons, but only the Lord knows this. The person we focus on in our circumstances may be such a person but we cannot say that until they die cursing God. Until then there is hope; look for the good bits in them and pray for them.

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