11. Historical & Geographical Context

PART TWO: POST DAVID AND SOLOMON

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 11. Historical & Geographical Context

1 Kings 12:20  When all the Israelites heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. Only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David.

Health Warning:  I think as we progress with this series I need to give a health warning – it is not for the faint-hearted. I have the feeling that this is possibly the most intense series – in terms of the amount of information and biblical quotes included – that I have ever written. It may be that you might find it more helpful to copy and paste the material (if you are reading it on something capable of doing that) in order to use this material as a future resource. I don’t think the church is usually very good at teaching of the history of the Old Testament and my hope is that this series may in a small measure remedy that or at least provide material to do that.

Recap: We have noted David’s successes and his failure and the consequences, and then Solomon’s success and then failure and further noted the Lord’s word to Solomon about dividing the kingdom. We now need to see how this works out and how the outcomes ‘fit’ our overall goal of examining the struggles of this nation. To do this we will have to now follow two streams, that of the north and that of the south. We will start with the northern kingdom as they lasted for roughly 135 years less than the south.

As we move on we are going to find a string of names of the various kings and I will endeavor to clarify them by printing them in bold. I will also seek to pick out their enemies similarly.  2 Chronicles describes the activities of the southern kingdom and 1 & 2 Kings mostly follows the northern kingdom (although there are some descriptions of the things of the south). For this reason, in the next part where we cover the northern activities, our resources will come from 1 & then later 2 Kings.

Warning: Now I am aware that as you read through this particular study, as I indicated above you may feel overwhelmed by ‘information’ which may leave you feeling that this is purely an academic study. In no way do I suggest you will remember all this detail but it may be in the subsequent studies you may wish to return here to put everything that follows into the historical and geographic context that I hope to provide here. I will make further comment at the end of this study.

Context:  Earlier on in the series, in Study No.7, we identified the various tribal nations that occupied Canaan when Israel went in to clear it out. Now many years later we will keep finding reference to other nations who the Lord used as a thorn in Israel’s side. It will be helpful therefore if we focus in this study  on the various nations interacting with Israel, and we gave a mini-description of each of these:

In study no.7 and into no.8, we covered the Philistines and saw them throughout David’s story. After that they ceased to be seen much and perhaps because of their geography (coastal plain in the south) they did not feature with the northern kingdom.

When Israel were transiting up the east side of the Dead Sea before entering the Land by crossing the Jordan, we identified the various nations to the south and east of the Dead Sea as follows: to the south is Edom, north of them is Moab and north of them Ammon, west of which dwelt the Amorites at the city of Heshbon, and then further north still, Bashan. Let’s pick up on some of these who also appear later in Israel’s history:

Edom: Edom was another name for Esau (Gen 36:1) and so the Edomites were descendants of Esau, who had clearly migrated there very early on (Gen 32:3, 36:1-8), absorbing the Horites who already lived there (Gen 14:6). Seir, which is often mentioned, was first a mountain in that area and then was the land in that area that became better known as Edom. Saul had fought against them when he came to rule (1 Sam 14:47), David subsequently conquered them (2 Sam 8:13,14). Later in Jehoshaphat’s time they joined with the Moabites and Ammonites to fight against the southern kingdom. In the reign of Jehoram in the south they rebelled (2 Kings 8:20-22). They were thus an opposition in the south mostly against the southern kingdom. They helped the north on one occasion (2 Kings 3:9)

Moab: Moab was the son of Lot (Gen 19:37) whose descendants settled the land that was to the east of the southern half of the Dead Sea, north of Edom. As we saw in the third study, they were protected by the Lord when Israel passed by on their way to enter the land further north. (Deut 2:9) Saul later fought with them (1 Sam 14:47) and David later subdued them (2 Sam 8:2). After Ahab died they rebelled (2 Kings 1:1, 3:5) against Joram but were routed by Joram, Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom (2 Kings 3:24). Later they simply took to raiding Israel every Spring (2 Kings 13:20). They were later subdued by Assyria until their power waned.

Aram: Otherwise known as Syria, the history is murky and complex but the name becomes associated with a people of the north and east of Israel, a land that stretched eastwards including northwest Mesopotamia, who are clearly established in the time of the Judges (see Jud 10:6). Absalom married a daughter of the king of Geshur and later fled there (see 2 Sam 3:5, 14:23, 15:8 – Geshur being identified as being in Aram).  David defeated a king from there (2 Sam 8:3) – Zobar is to the north-west of Damascus. Ben-Hadad king of Aram, attacked Samaria in the days of Ahab but was repulsed (1 Kings 20:1,29,30). It was the Arameans that Elisha spared at Dothan (2 Kings 6:8-23). Nevertheless Ben-Hadad again laid siege to Samaria but had ending up fleeing (2 Kings 6:24, 7:6,7). After Hazael killed him (2 Kings 8:15) the Lord used Hazael to subdue Israel (2 Kings 10:32) continuing into the reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:7,22)

The Kings of Aram we come across in the text are:

  • Ben-Hadad (there may have been a first and second) in days of Ahab (2 Kings 6:24, 8:7-15)
  • Hazael (843BC-) in later days of Ahab and into reign of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 8:7-15, 9:14, 10:32, 13:3-6,22
  • Ben-Hadad (the third possibly, 796BC-) in days of Rehoboam II (2 Kings 15:20)
  • Rezin – (pos. 750BC-) fought against the southern kingdom in the reign of Ahaz, but later killed by the king of Assyria (2 Kings 15,16, Isa 7:1)

Assyria: focused on the Tigris and upper Mesopotamia, in the period of our studies. Went through many phases through ancient history, and was strong and starting to expand about 900BC, lasting until the fall of Nineveh at the hands of the Medes/Persians and Babylonians, Chaldeans in 609 BC.

The Kings of Assyria mentioned in the text are:

  • Tiglath-Pileser III: (745BC-) built the empire and came and deported some of Israel in Pekah’s reign (2 Kings 15:19, 29)
  • Shalmaneser V: (727-) came against Hoshea, overcame Samaria (722BC) and deported the rest of Israel (2 Kings 17:3,5, also 2 Kings 18:9-11))
  • Sargon II:  (722-) came and took Ashdod in the south (Isa 20:1)
  • Sennacherib: (705-) came against the southern kingdom (after the fall of the north) later in Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kings 18 & 19 & Isa 36,37) but was withstood, and then later assassinated by his sons.
  • Esarhaddon: (681-) Sennacherib’s son reigned after his death (2 Kings 19:37)

Babylonia: In Babylon, which had earlier been part of Assyria, the rise of the city state under Nabopolasser (625-605) meant the end of Assyria in 609 and the ascension of Babylonia under Nebuchadnezzar (605-562) and subsequent kings, until the fall of Babylon in 539BC to the Persian, Cyrus, (539-530) who eventually sent the remnant of Israel back (538) to start to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (537). For the fall of Jerusalem and what followed see 2 Chron 36 etc. (All dates from The New Bible Dictionary)

And So: As I said at the beginning, lots of information and while we may not hold all of it in our memories, I hope that it may enlarge our perspective to see that Israel were just one small nation in a world of change, a world where nations grew and declined, grew and declined. It is for this reason that different nations appear at different times. The nations immediately to the east and south such as Moab and Edom, come and go as irritants in the life of Israel, but the bigger ‘empires’ such as Aram, the Assyrians and later the Babylonians became giants of influence over that area of the Middle East, as we now call it.

As we start to see the geography and see that these latter three empires all come from the north and north-east, we can understand why Isaiah prophesied about Galilee in the north, “In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness  have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned,” (Isa 9:1,2) when he prophesied about the coming of Jesus. The north of the country had taken the brunt of the big powers from the north and north-east and in many ways had become a place of ‘darkness’.

And Us? From an intellectual point of view, may we be those with hearts open to learn. From a spiritual point of view may we catch something of the greatness of the working of the nations and, as the Bible shows it, the activities of the Lord as He interacts into all that is going on. In the studies as we progress, may we see this more and more and worship Him.

8. Versus the Philistines

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 8. Versus the Philistines

1 Sam 4:1,2    Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield.

Situation & Cause:  The cities of the Philistines were Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron (Josh 13:3) with Ekron being the northernmost, and Aphek (mentioned above) about 20 miles north of Ekron so the Philistines were well out of their area, suggesting an incursion into Israel. But why was this confrontation coming about? We will see this as the first of three phases in the life of Israel involving the Philistines in 1 Samuel.

Phase 1: The early chapters of 1 Samuel tell of Hannah and her son, Samuel, and how Samuel came to serve at the Tabernacle where old Eli, the chief priest, presided. Yet the old man was not looking after the situation well and had allowed misconduct by his sons. A ‘man of God’ had come and prophesied that judgment would come on his family (2:30-34). When Samuel, the future prophet, started hearing God, the Lord told him that He was about to bring the judgment He had warned Eli about (3:11-14).

Thus we now find the Philistines have arrived on Israel’s doorstep, so to speak. In the first conflict Israel are defeated by them and four thousand are killed (4:2). The superstitious elders decide to bring the ark of the covenant from the Tabernacle to be with them in the battle. This achieves little and Israel continue to be defeated and the ark is taken by the Philistines. (4:10,11) Judgment comes on Eli’s house.

Don’t Mess with God! What then follows is an almost laughable period in which the Philistines take the ark home, first to Ashdod (5:1) where, almost in competition, the ark is put in Dagon’s temple and overnight the pagan god loses his head and hands (5:2-5), then the people are afflicted with tumours (5:6) so the ark is moved to Gath (5:8) where the same thing happens so it is moved to Ekron (5:10) where death and more tumours convinced the Philistines they must get rid of the ark (5:10-12) which happens (see Ch.6)

Revival: Under Samuel, revival occurs within Israel and they gather with Samuel at Mizpah, still in the south but a little north of the Philistine territory (7:1-6). The Philistines hear of this gathering and, feeling defensive, they go to attack Israel, another incursion (7:7). Israel call on the Lord, Samuel presents an offering and the Lord throws the Philistines into confusion in a thunderstorm, Israel chase them, defeat them and “the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines. 14 The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored to Israel, and Israel delivered the neighboring territory from the hands of the Philistines.” (7:13,14)

So Far: So far in 1 Sam we have seen Israel’s poor spiritual state, the Lord using the Philistines to discipline them and bring judgment on Eli and his family, then Philistines take the ark – to their regret – then it be restored to Israel and Samuel leading Israel to triumph over the Philistines and peace following.

Phase 2: The second phase, as I suggest it is, starts with Israel asking Samuel to appoint a king over them (see 1 Sam 8). This upsets Samuel (see v.6) but the Lord explains that they are rejecting Him (v.7). What we are seeing is the same old cycle as seen throughout Judges, except it will be worked out in a different way with a king as their leader-deliverer. But which king?  At their request the Lord brings Saul to the forefront (see 1 Sam 9 & 10) as their new king.

Enter the Ammonites: Back in Study no.2 you may remember mention of Ammon to the east of the Jordan. We now find the Ammonites attacking Jabesh-Gilead, a city occupied by Israel east of the Jordan. (11:1,2) When Saul is told of this, the Spirit of the Lord falls on him and he calls out all Israel who go and deliver the city and destroy the Ammonites. Saul has acted just as other deliverers in Judges.

Moving On: Saul capitalizes on this and he and his son, Jonathan, share the leadership of the army, with Jonathan being in the south near Gibeah. (13:2) A little north of there at Geba, the Philistines still had a small outpost which Jonathan attacked (13:3). This zealous bravado incites the Philistines to rise up against Israel causing Israel in the south to flee (13:5-7). Saul at Gilgal, a little further north, is waiting for Samuel to turn up and when he appears to be delayed, Saul panics and starts acting like a priest by offering a sacrifice (13:7-9), presumably to get God on his side, in his thinking at least. Samuel arrives and rebukes him and tells him that for his trying to twist God’s arm, so to speak, the Lord will find a man after his own heart to replace him (13:10-14). This will eventually be seen to be David.

We see the operations of the Philistines – they go out in three bands (13:17,18) – but Jonathan is undeterred and attacks one of their outposts (14:1-4) and the Lord sends panic on them (14:18) which rouses up Israel to pursue them (14:22,23) For a period, Saul has victories over all their enemies: “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,” (14:37,48) but, “All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines.” (v.52)

And the Amalekites: Next comes one of the rare occasions when Israel are commanded to take the initiative against an enemy. Through Samuel, the Lord instructs Saul to destroy the Amalekites. (This we have considered previously.) This he fails to do and is rejected as king by the Lord (15:1-27). To see the ongoing strife and the role that David played in it, needs more detail so we will save that until the next study.

Recap: We started out seeing a battle looming between Israel and the Philistines, with Israel being defeated and the ark of the covenant being taken by the Philistines. God disciplines the Philistines and the ark is returned. After Eli dies and Samuel takes over leadership, revival breaks out in Israel and throughout Samuel’s time the Philistines were subdued. In the second phase of the book Israel ask for a king and so the leadership is transferred to Saul as their new and first king.  Provoked by the Ammonites, Saul leads Israel in victory. Moving on, Saul’s son, Jonathan, twice attacks Philistine outposts provoking Saul to panic and try acting as a priest for which he is rebuked by Samuel. But the Lord sends panic among the Philistines and Israel pursue them and have victory over them and, indeed, over all their other enemies. Then comes a command to deal with the Amalekites and when Saul fails to fully obey, the Lord rejects him. Saul is now on his own and Samuel will have nothing to do with him. This leads us into the third Phase in 1 Samuel that will largely be about David and his role in all that is going on.

And Us? Is all this purely interesting intellectually or does it have practical applications for us today? What lessons can we see in this book so far?

  • disdaining the name of the Lord (Eli) brings the Lord’s disciplinary action.
  • superstitiously relying on the name does not bring victory over enemies, only obedience will.
  • where there is obedient leadership, blessings will follow (victories over enemies).
  • partial obedience is disobedience

It is really all about obedience and disobedience and provoking the Lord to bring discipline. The underlying truth is that God will not stand by idly watching His name be abused. He will act and that applies as much today as it did then. Do not be deceived by His delaying acting, for He waits until the moment is right and then it comes!

55. A Time to go on the Offensive

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

55. A Time to go on the Offensive

1 Sam 17:10,11   Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

Hostile Neighbors? Israel in history, especially in the Old Testament, can be seen to be a demonstration of various things. We could focus, negatively, on the fact of their apparently continual habit of getting it wrong, of rejecting or rebelling against God, and when we do I also remind us that in that they were merely demonstrating what we as a human race are like. They were not especially bad; they just reveal the reality of sin that is true of all of us. But for this present exercise, Israel reveal to us what it meant to be a special people, God’s people because, as far as their neighbors were concerned, they were enemies.

Now I am not sure if I can find anywhere where the Scriptures say it was specifically because they were God worshipers, and it may be that in those primitive times, one expression of the Sin of mankind simply meant that one nation beat up another nation. Having said that, it seems more than a coincidence that Israel had more than their fair share of getting beaten up. (We should remember in passing that Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” [Mt 10:34] which opens up the whole area of division between believer and non-believer).

But this all goes to show something, perhaps, of what was behind the passage that we are going to examine in this and the next two studies, found in 1 Sam 17 when Israel are being opposed by their old enemy, the Philistines. (It is clear from the Old Testament that the Lord used the Philistines to discipline or chastise Israel when Israel had turned away from Him. They were part of His oft-used method of bringing disciplinary judgment that was designed to drive them back into His arms.)

The Battlefield statistics: The beginning of chapter 17 shows us the Philistines lined up against Israel: “The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.” (v.3), shown to be in the foothills to the west of Bethlehem, on the border of Israel. There is in a sense, a picture here of the divide between the Church and the rest of the world. On one hillside are the atheistic crusaders shouting their derogatory abuses about the folly of belief. With them, in much larger numbers, are the unbelievers of the world. In the UK where the real believing church is said to be only between 5 and 7% of the population, and the USA where more recent figures suggest it is only about 30% of the population who are really believers, the appearance is that we are outnumbered and the church numbers so often appear to be declining.

Outnumbered and talked down to: There is an amazing little picture found in 1 Kings at one point: “The Israelites camped opposite them like two small flocks of goats, while the Arameans covered the countryside.” (1 Kings 20:27). What an amazing picture of little Israel facing the might of the Arameans. No contest! Well, yes, actually it was, because the Lord was with Israel and they utterly defeated the enemy. A lesson not to be forgotten. But here we are in this world today and lined up against us are atheists who bring derisory words spoken the Bible, derisory words about the nature of God, and derisory words about faith and being a Christian. Note that: so often the enemy’s attack starts with words. The classic example of that was when Sennacherib’s field commander stood outside Jerusalem before attacking it (a tough task with high and thick walls and strong gates) and demeaned their trust in God (e.g. Isa 36:4-10 and then v.12-20). It was pure propaganda designed to bring down the morale of Israel.

Challenging Questions: So today the Battle is joined and the voices of the enemy shout out, “You can’t trust the Bible, it is full of errors and tales of a harsh God,” or “Creation in seven days? What are you lot on about? Everyone knows it took hundreds of millions of years of evolution to bring about what we are today!” or “How can you believe in a God who has women and children put to death in genocide?”  The trouble is there are good answers to this untruths or even half-truths at times, but so often we do not prepare ourselves  because we have never thought to read the great apologists of the kingdom who have got good answers to these questions, and our minister is too busy doing verse by verse exposition of passages we have all heard before, to teach the answers to the questions that the world has.

Occult Spiritual Warfare: Thus very often I find that, if we are honest, many of God’s people are “dismayed and terrified” just like Israel were, because we haven’t trained them and there is little hunger to search out the truth and become warriors who can combat the lies and mis-truths and half-truths of the enemy.  I didn’t mention it in the previous study but there is another whole area of deception that the enemy uses to undermine the faith of God’s people and it is that of the occult. How often I have heard people casually say, “Oh yes, I played with a Ouija board when I was a teenager but it was only a bit of harmless fun.” Think again. Or the other common one is “My husband has been invited to become a Freemason.” Really, watch out for trouble in your spiritual life because any honest Freemason will acknowledge that there is a spiritual dimension to what they do, even though many would prefer to ignore it.

Ignorance of spiritual warfare and a failure of the Church to teach on it, means that many have lives that are blighted without them realizing it, having failed to repent of past dealings with the enemy and thus allowing themselves to be open and vulnerable to him. There are a number of really good ministries that help people be set free from their past, but the trouble is that most of us either don’t realize there is a spiritual battle going on or don’t realize they are walking wounded because of it. There is a strong case to be made for either in-house counselling or invited-in counselling. If we think this is all exaggerated talk, that is a sign that we have been subject to one of the enemy’s attacks I spoke of two studies back and have been lulled into a place of unbelief and placid acceptance of his deceptions.  Ask Him to open the eyes of your understanding, and touch and challenge your heart

Remove the Grave-clothes: What I have just been advocating is the equivalent of Jesus words at the tomb of Lazarus: “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (Jn 11:44) You and I, if we are truly Christian believers, are not dead – we have died with Christ but we have also been raised with him (see Rom 6). Grave clothes are anything which hinders our present movement as resurrected children of God, anything that thwarts the will of God, preventing us living and working as the body of Christ today. ‘Grave clothes’ are unbelief, complacency, indifference, ignorance, self-concern, lack of concern for the glory and honour of the Lord, cynicism, pessimism, anything that stops us living according to His word and at the prompting of His Spirit. If you struggle with these things, talk to your leaders or mature trusted Christian friends and ask them to help get them off you. Don’t be part of the problem of this world, start being part of the answer to it.

15. Don’t Mess with God

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 15. Don’t Mess with God

1 Sam 5:1,2  After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon.

Face the ‘Bad News’: As much as I would like to move on to deal with expectations we may have as Christians – expectations of blessings – while we remain in the Old Testament we must accept the lessons that come through there, and if we think them negative, that is because we have never perhaps considered the seriousness of the ‘bad news’ of the Bible, that sinners should not mess with God but put their lives right with Him – and we’re all sinners. Having done some fairly in-depth studies in the Old Testament, my conclusion why it is there is twofold: 1. To reveal the glory and greatness of God. 2. To reveal the folly and sinfulness of mankind and the need we have of salvation.

Two Modern Failures: I would add that I find two faults that often appear in modern Christianity. First, that ‘Sin’ has gone out of fashion and so it is only dealt with in a legalistic condemnatory sort of way, so we fail to see the depth of the problem of sin, both before we come to Christ and, indeed as something to be rejected as a spoiler of the Christian life. Second, because of that, we so often fail to see the wonder of the Christian life and experience, failing to appreciate and apprehend the full wonder of what Jesus has done for us and the wonder of life in the Spirit that he has opened up for us.

The Backdrop: So here, back still in the Old Testament, there are lessons to be faced, very real lessons that impact on modern day living as much now as then. We come to a time when the period of the judges is almost over. Eli the priest is coming to the end of his time, Samuel has just been called by God and Israel are at war with the Philistines – and the Philistines have just won a battle over Israel. This had already happened once (1 Sam 4:1,2) and so the people of Israel rashly decided their failure was because God was not with them (that part was true), and so they would take the ark of the covenant with them into battle the next time (4:3,4) – but that was superstitious folly. So the Lord allowed them to be defeated and the ark taken. Now I think He allowed that, not so much as to lose the ark but to show Israel that they couldn’t use Him as a talisman or good luck charm. However He would also use this incident to teach the Philistines some things about Him.

Two sets of Wrong Expectations: Now on to expectations. First Israel: they expected that if they took the ark with them it would force God to turn up for them. Wrong! Repentance would do that, but they weren’t ready to do that yet. Second the Philistines: they expected the ark to be just another representative of just another ‘god’ who they half believed in, gods who they sought to appease because it is sometimes a hard world and you need every bit of help you can get, and if this works, so be it. That is what is behind so much idolatry (worshipping idols representing ‘gods’), not any real relationship with a deity. All such ‘gods’ were of course, mere figments of superstitious, fearful, human imagination. Isn’t that how some people still treat God today – some superstitious entity to be appeased or placated in an endeavour to get help to handle this fallen world?

Philistines under Pressure: The story of what follow is worth a reading, if for no other reason than to get a laugh, but the better reason is to see the sovereignty and power of God Almighty, the Creator God of all things. Let’s summarise what happened:

  • The Philistines put the ark next to the idol of Dagon their god. After all, the god of Israel is just another god, isn’t he?
  • Next morning Dagon is found flat on his face (5:3) and when they replace him, next morning, he’s flat on his face again but now headless and with no hands (5:4)
  • Then the people of Ashdod, where the ark was, all start suffering from bad tumours or maybe boils and so send the ark to another group (5:6-8)
  • The same thing is repeated in Gath (5:9) and then Ekron where it got worse and people started dying (5:9-12)
  • To cut a long story short the ark was returned to Israel (6:1-12)

God IS Lord! What we have here is an example of how God looked after His own image. We need to learn a lesson: God does not need defending. When He is rejected by a people or nation, that nation starts falling apart. We might say it is the way He has designed us and so, when people start living contrary to that design, it all starts going wrong, but as much as that is true, it is more than that: He lifts off His hands of protection and even invites the enemy to have free reign until people come to their senses (and that may take a long time).

Our Testimony: However, all the while He will have His representatives, His people, there as a testimony, there as a witness for Him and He longs to bless us in the midst of the rebellious nations of the West, so that we will stand out as demonstrations of His love, His power and His revelation. That is what we can expect in the midst of this fallen world and being part of nations that have largely rejected Him. He will deal with these nations, but in the meanwhile He wants you and me to be His representatives as the body of Christ, revealing Him to whoever’s hearts are beginning to soften and turn and look for answers to the mess. At the moment, these nations, just like the Philistines, think they can play with God – largely reject Him but maybe play lip service to Him, allow Him to be mention as big state occasions and so on, but not be Lord.

Failing Society: That is their folly and the fruit of that is being seen in the breakdown of society in so many ways, with unrighteousness being seen again and again at the very top levels. Some of us tolerate this as the best of two evils, but we are called to stand out and reject ANY injustice, any unrighteous tweets, words, dealings or whatever, by whatever party. If we fail to do that, we align ourselves with unrighteousness and that will probably be seen in other ways as well – family unfaithfulness, break-up of marriages, rebellious out-of-control children, financial difficulties, chaos and confusion in general.

Stand Up, Stand Out! If we will not stand out as a holy, righteous, just, loving, caring and serving people, we align ourselves with the people of Israel in Samuel’s day, thinking we can get away with it because ‘we are the people of God’ and our expectations are false for, as the apostle Peter said, it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God,” (1 Pet 4:17). When God comes to do a clear-up job, He starts with His own people and then moves on to the world. That’s what we see in the first part of 1 Samuel, and we should heed the lessons.  In a day when we rightly emphasise the grace and goodness of God, we should also remember that we cannot use that to excuse our infidelities. May we hear it today.

15. Enemy Defeat

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.15

1 Sam 4:3 Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines?

That the Christian life is a battle, there is little doubt. Some Christians aren’t aware of it like that, but if you talked to them, they would express things which indicate the normal characteristics of a battle are there. So what is happening? Very simply, Satan or his demons use our old sinful nature to play on, to lead us astray, make us feel down, and make us want to give up our faith. The battle is largely in the mind and so they will whisper things in our minds that are lies: “You will get away with this, it’s all right!” That’s when they seek to lead us in temptation to do something wrong. Or there is, “You’re a failure, you’re a nobody, you’re a bad Christian, I should give up!” That’s when they want to reduce our effectiveness and stop us having impact on the world for Christ. Or it may be, “You’re too tired. Don’t bother to go to the prayer meeting,” or “You know who’s preaching this morning. He’s awful. I should stay in bed for the morning. The rest will do you good!”

Those are the sort of things that come to take us out of fellowship, to take us out of the place where we can encounter God through others in the church. Or perhaps it is, “You’re too tired. I wouldn’t bother with your Bible this morning. Don’t bother to go on line and read a meditation. I shouldn’t bother with praying. You know nothing happens anyway!” This is where they are trying to keep you out of direct contact with God. It is a battle, and sometimes we lose! Now on those occasions when give in and give up, what is the answer? Pick up and start again tomorrow!

But then there are times when all hell seems to break loose and people start getting hostile, and nasty words are spoken, threats are made and abuse is given, and so on. People rise against you. Jobs are lost, hopes are dashed and the future looks bleak and it seems like the enemy has had a field day! Even the apostle Paul knew this: For we wanted to come to you–certainly I, Paul, did, again and again–but Satan stopped us (1 Thess 2:18). Somehow the upsets of Satan thwarted his desires. When Daniel was praying for three weeks an angel came to him and said, Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. (Dan 10:12,13) For three weeks the enemy thwarted the angel of God. This is a tough truth, that there are times when the freedom the Lord allows the enemy means that he does seem to get the upper hand for a while. So why should this be? Well tomorrow for one day we’ll step aside and look at a number of reasons why God allows Satan to act as he does.

Here in our verse today, we find this cry – why should our enemy be allowed to overcome us? Let’s look at the circumstances. Samuel was still a young boy when the Lord called him:And the LORD said to Samuel, See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle (1 Sam 3:11) Israel were not in a good spiritual state and Eli the priest had been allowing his sons to act badly before God, so the Lord spoke through Samuel warning that He was going to deal with this situation and bring His judgement on Eli’s family and on Israel. Some time later we simply read, Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines.” (1 Sam 4:1) There seems no specific reason for this apart from the ongoing hostility that prevailed between the two peoples. The outcome of the battle was declared: as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield,” (v.2) which resulted in the people crying out as above. The answer was simple and obvious: God had said He would bring judgement and this is part of it. He knew what would follow. Superstitious Israel would call for the ark of the Lord, which came to be considered as synonymous with the presence of the Lord, to be taken out to battle Of course Eli’s sons would have to accompany it and they would be killed by the enemy as the ark was taken captive. All this would be part of the outworking of God’s plans to chastise Israel and bring them back to Himself.

Again and again, through adverse enemy circumstances, the Lord is working to bring about His purposes for His people. Yes, we live in a Fallen World and things go wrong, but behind the apparently mundane things, the Lord is moving to achieve His purposes.