32. Watch the Circumstances

Meditations in 1 Samuel   32. Watch the Circumstances

1 Sam 16:14-16  Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the harp. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes upon you, and you will feel better.”

In an earlier meditation (possibly two) we considered the subject of God’s providence, the hidden hand of God working behind the scenes, so to speak. So what have we seen so far? Saul making a mess of being king and being told God is going to provide a replacement, Samuel being sent to anoint a new king, and David being anointed as that king. However, we also noted, that it wasn’t a dramatic changeover and in fact, life very much continued on as normal – except not quite.

Our verses above are quite contentious. Saul’s life starts to take a downturn and the recorder puts it all down to the Lord. Now previously the Holy Spirit had come upon Saul and empowered him but when Saul did his own thing and was disobedient to the Lord, the Lord withdrew His Spirit from Saul. Saul is now on his own and vulnerable.

We need to wait until the New Testament to be told that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5;19) Also in the New Testament we see a leading apostle instruct, “hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord,” (1 Cor 5:5) as a form of discipline. The revelation is that the Lord allows Satan to act as a ruler over unbelievers, hence Paul’s description, “the dominion of darkness,” (Col 1:13) which stands, with Satan ruling over it, in opposition to the kingdom of God. The Lord thus used Satan and his agents – demons or evil spirits – as means of disciplining or chastising unbelief.

With that in mind we now observe what is going on with Saul. Something appears to be seriously troubling him and the general consensus is that it is an evil spirit that God is either specifically sending or simply allowing. This must make Saul weak, for his attendants have the temerity to suggest to him it is an evil spirit. Now comes another interesting feature of this, the belief that soothing music can help. So what follows? “So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.” (v.17) He goes along with their diagnosis. So, “One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the harp. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him.”  (v.18) That’s interesting! David is already well-known as a musician as well as a shepherd – and that God is clearly with him.  Now you might think that Saul could feel threatened by this description but when you are desperate you don’t bother about the details, you just want relief.  If you’ve ever suffered a bad migraine or acute toothache you’ll know what we mean. Get me free of this!

“Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.” (v.19,20) Do you see the circumstances rolling out before us? The circumstances mean that the head and shoulders king is bringing the heart king in although the head and shoulders king doesn’t realise it and the heart king probably doesn’t yet really believe it, but is just getting on with his life.

So then we find, “David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.” (v.21,22) David comes, is liked by Saul who also gives him the job of an armour bearer and really appreciates him because, “Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” (v.23)

What a strange situation! Saul has been rejected by God and indeed is suffering because of God, but is now getting relief  from God’s man who is established in his service. Why does God want David in Saul’s service? I ask the question assuming it to be valid because what we have read appears more than coincidence; it seems more like a careful plan. Assuming the premise to be correct, I can only make suggestions in the light of all that will follow: the Lord wants to give David opportunity to shine and to be seen by all Israel in preparation for the day when he is able to take the throne. He has thus got to be able to prove himself and that means being seen as more than a mere shepherd boy. He is going to be revealed as the warrior that he actually already is, a warrior with a heart after God; what a combination!

But isn’t that exactly what we are called to be? Ephesians 6 reveals the Christian life to be a life of battle, holding on to the truth, holding on to the Gospel, holding on to the wonder of who we are, and we do it as we relate to Jesus, knit heart to heart with him.  What we are going to see is how two men run parallel to each other for a while until the heart man starts to take the lead and becomes a threat to the head and shoulders man. For a while it will appear head and shoulders will remain supreme, but the eventual outcome will be that God’s heart man will come through to take the kingdom. Watch this space.

Personal application? Will we be head and shoulders people or heart-for-God Christians? Will it be human wisdom and human strength, or will it be the heart of God being revealed by the Holy Spirit that will rule us?

1. Escape from Famine?

Meditations in Ruth : 1. Escape from Famine?

Ruth 1:1  In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.

In some ways the book of Ruth reminds me of Job. No, there is no arguing going on and relatively little dialogue and mostly historical action, but the fact that it is largely (at least in the first part)  dark and everything appears to go wrong, has similar echoes to Job. With Job resolution comes in the knowledge of the background revealed in the first two chapters and then the encounter with Almighty God in the closing chapters. With Ruth, the resolution comes in a completely different way.

In Jesus’ family tree in Matthew’s Gospel we find something quite remarkable in what is largely a male listing: Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.” (Mt 1:5,6)  Two women mentioned! One, Rahab, an innkeeper, possibly a prostitute from Canaan, and Ruth, a Moabite, both women from nations that opposed Israel. What an incredible message: Jesus does not mind being associated with hostile peoples, for even from within such nations can come those who will join the divine family. Incredible. Ruth is thus a signpost for us towards salvation and redemption.

But before we can see this we have to see some difficult things first of all. The story starts with an Israelite from the tribe of Judah who lived in the days following the Exodus, conquest and occupation of Canaan, during which judges led the people. From a reading of Judges we see it was a tumultuous time when again and again a cycle is observed: God blesses the people, the people eventually become complacent and drift away from Him, surrounding nations invade and Israel cry out to God and He sends a deliverer. So much of the time it was summarised by the closing words of Judges, In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (Jud 21:25)  Putting it in today’s language, it was a time when Israel were not in a spiritually clever position! Understatement!

So we are told that there comes a famine in the land. Now we are not told that the Lord specifically brought this famine but famine was one of the ‘curses’ of Deuteronomy 28, one of the ways life would ‘go wrong’ when the nation turned away from God. Whether it is specifically brought by God or whether the Lord withholds His hand of blessing (see Rom 1 for this principle) is a moot point. Famine is clearly a characteristic of life in the absence of God. Abundant blessing and provision is the characteristic of the blessings of Deuteronomy 28:1-14. So much for the origins of famines.

But the crucial issue we must consider is our response to a famine. This man that we are about to read about flees the land and goes somewhere that does not seem to be suffering famine, Moab. When there was a famine in Canaan in Abram’s day, we find he takes his wife etc. down to Egypt – where he gets into trouble! (Gen 12:10-20). When a famine came to the land in Isaac’s time he similarly starting heading south but only got as far as the land of the Philistines in the south before the Lord told him to stay there and not to go to Egypt (Gen 26:1-6). Of course it was a widespread famine that was at the heart of Joseph’s story and which ended with Jacob and the whole family settling in Egypt (Gen 41-47) and it was because of this that some four hundred years later the Exodus occurred.

Consider this more generally (we’ll go on to the detail of who and what in the next meditation). A famine is a time of trial in the form of shortage of resources which God either directly brings or allows to come when He withholds His hand of blessing. A trial is a time of disciplining where the Lord tests us to see how we will respond. The response of faith is to seek the Lord and repent for the state of the Land that has ultimately brought this about.  The response of godless unbelief is to do a runner!  We’ve already noted how Abram and Isaac went to flee a famine and how a famine forced Jacob into Egypt and now we find that the motivation behind all that follows is a desire to escape unpleasant circumstances by fleeing to an enemy nation.  In David’s remarkable story, in the time of his life when he was fleeing from Saul, at one point he found his only refuge was with the Philistines, another enemy nation. Eventually he had to get out of that and here in the present situation we are going to see that here at least, the Lord does NOT deliver this family from bad circumstances. In fact we might say that it will be a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, as far as the outcome is concerned.

What is going to be incredible about this story is the ultimate outcome that we have already referred to – that a Moabite woman is going to end up becoming part of the nation of Israel and, even more incredibly, that she will become part of the family tree of the most famous king in Israel’s history, David, and that of the Messiah. Pure chance? There are no signs of the hand of the Lord recorded as working in this book, it is just a record of circumstances and therefore it becomes a book that challenges us to see that the hidden hand of God must be there working in our circumstances.

Dictionary Definition: “Providence – God as prescient guide and guardian of human beings.” ‘Prescient’? Having foreknowledge.  This is a story of God (who is not mentioned)  who knows what is going to happen and who, behind the scenes so that He cannot be seen, guards and guides to bring a good outcome. Is this important? Absolutely, because this is what is so often happening with each of us.   Yes, we have, as Christians, the Holy Spirit working within us, cooperating with us and teaching and guiding us, but at the same time God is working in the background to bring good into our lives (Rom 8:28) but so much of the time we don’t see Him doing it, only the outworking. Watch this space! Oh, a warning: we need to co-operate in it all. We have a part to play as we’ll see in this story.

45. Awesome Speaking

God in the Psalms No.45God who speaks awesomely

Psa 29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.

Sometimes there are things in life that you simply take for granted, breathing for instance, or life itself, or colours or taste, a whole range of things. For those of us who study God’s word, the thing we probably take for granted most and accept without thought is the fact that God speaks. In an earlier meditation we did indeed pick up on the fact that God is a God of communication, but today’s verse goes beyond that. When God speaks, things happen. In this respect He is very different from us. We can use words and nothing changes (if it’s in respect of people, to people, they may change), but when God speaks so often, it is a command and when God commands, the world changes. God speaks and material things change. How does he do that? It’s beyond our finite minds. He’s God and when we say He’s all-powerful, we mean it. He only has to speak it and things change.

In this psalm, David perhaps is under cover watching a thunder storm. He sees the thunder as God speaking. He starts the psalm with a call to ascribe to God glory and strength or power. It’s like he’s saying, you need to see God as He really is, acclaim Him for who He really is. Later in the psalm he says, And in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (v.9). The end result of thinking of these things is that the people will give glory to God. Why? Because they will have seen His might and His majesty as they look on Creation and see the works of God. Seven times he refers to the voice of the Lord”. God speaks and it happens. At Creation, each act of creation was bought about by God saying,Let there be…” (Gen 1:3,6,9,11,14,15,20,24,26). The same thing: God speaks and it happens. In this psalm today, David sees the Lord speaking and thundering (v.3), breaking trees (v.5), even the oaks (v.9), and shaking the desert (v.8). Yes, for the materialist this is purely the work of nature (don’t let’s give it a capital ‘N’ for that seems to suggest personality), temperature changes that brings about thunder and rain and lightening. For David, this is the voice of God at work, a mighty voice having mighty effect.

Have you ever stood in a thunderstorm with a sense of awe? We’re told that one lightning strike can carry enough electricity to power 10 million homes for one month, and there you are standing there with deafening thunder and lightening strikes of incredible power ever few seconds. If that isn’t awesome, what is?  Of course scientists can observe temperature and pressure changes but why should they happen? Don’t be silly, says David, just recognize here the power and presence of God in His Creation. He speaks and things happen.

The struggle to understand ‘providence’ is the struggle to see the hand of God and hear the voice of God. Was God in this flood or that hurricane?  We’ll never be able to answer that confidently this side of heaven. The Bible suggests, at the very least, He is behind it sometimes. There are Biblical examples of God bringing ‘natural’ effects to bear to destroy enemies. Whether it’s all or some, we could be in danger of missing the point: God can speak and this can be the effect. He can do it and sometimes, at least, does do it. That makes Him awesome, that brings a proper perspective in life. In the early years of the 21st century we have seen a considerable number of such ‘natural catastrophes’. What they tell us is that we’re powerless. Let’s give Him proper respect and worship.

Coincidences

Readings in Luke Continued – No.7

Lk 4:16-17 He went to Nazareth , where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him

When I look back over my life I can see lots of ‘coincidences’, lots of things that ‘just happened’ and coincided with other things that then produced a good outcome. Sometimes you can see that actually these weren’t coincidences but events brought about by subconscious choice – but that in itself raises questions. Sometimes it is a set of circumstances that are already preset which then run into other ‘random’ circumstances which make us speak of ‘coincidences’.

In the Old Testament, the account of Abraham’s servant going to search for a wife for Isaac, is one such time when a series of ‘coincidences’ come together to bring about a good end. (Gen 24:1-51). We have already seen in Luke 2 the account of Mary & Joseph going to the Temple to present offerings according to the Law, only to encounter the Spirit-directed man, Simeon. It was a case of word and Spirit bringing about a good outcome. Jesus is about to proclaim himself for the first time; that is the significance of what is about to happen. So how did it come about?

Jesus, we read in the previous meditation, has been teaching in the synagogues around the area of Galilee and has been obviously gaining a reputation for himself as a teacher. Now he ‘happens’ to be back in his home town. Whether this was by design or accident we are not told, but it is his home town which may explain some of the subsequent reactions to his declaration. Then we observe it is the Sabbath day and for all good, pious Jews this was the day when they went to the synagogue for teaching, so Jesus went, as was his custom.

There were usually prayers and also readings from the Law and from the Prophets. It is when they come to the reading of the Prophets that the scroll of Isaiah is handed to him. Now as far as the synagogue leader was concerned there was probably nothing more of significance to this than the fact that Jesus was considered an honoured guest invited to read – probably for the reason that we’ve already noted, that he has a reputation in the synagogues of Galilee. Was it a coincidence that the Isaiah scroll was being read that morning, or did they work their way through the Prophets to a known and prescribed schedule? Did Jesus thus know that this would be the scroll of the day and did he choose to be in his home town to take this opportunity and make this point there? We aren’t told! Frustrating isn’t it, but Luke is just giving us what he’s been told and presumably those who conveyed it to him didn’t know either. Jesus is about to declare himself by means of a prophecy on this scroll and it seems more than coincidence that it happens in his own home town!

When we try thinking our way into the interweaving of the workings of God and the workings of man, we soon find ourselves out of our depths and we are left wondering just how much was God-planned. If you are a Christian, can you look back at the circumstances that brought you to the Lord and see His hand behind all that was going on? The Lord will use a variety of means, a variety of people and a variety of circumstances to help us to the place of commitment. Were the things that brought you to Him coincidences? Had God been speaking into your mind? Had He been speaking into the minds of others, to bring about the things that happened? In the Christian world there are many and varied testimonies about coming to salvation, about receiving healing or deliverance and about receiving God’s provision, and the more you listen to them, the more you discern the many ‘coincidences’ that came together to bring about this end encounter with the Lord that resulted in blessing.

The book of Acts is full of instances of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but it is also full of the acts of hostile unbelievers who brought pressure to bear on the Christians, and so we see a combination of guidance by God and by circumstances. Yet the Bible tells us that God works within all the circumstances; He works within the bad motives of sinful men – He doesn’t make them do things but He uses even their sinful motives and builds them into His plans.

The conclusion to all of these thoughts, about what theologians call ‘Providence’, is that when you are a Christian you can rest in the knowledge that God will be working there in the background (as well as the foreground!) of our lives, taking and weaving actions and circumstances to bring good for us. As the apostle Paul was later to say, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Rom 8:28). Note that it doesn’t say He brings all the things He uses, because they will even involve the sinful acts of men (e.g. Acts 2:23 ), but he will use and work within all things to bring good somehow for us in it.

We may not be able to see the hand of God moving, we may not know if certain circumstances are originating with Him or with men, and we may not be sure of what our responses ought to be, but as we commit all these things back to Him and seek to be obedient to His word and to the leading of His Holy Spirit, we just have to trust that He will guard us, keep us and guide us and that there will be a good outcome. That’s what living by faith is often all about!