17. The Waiting Game

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 17. The Waiting Game

1 Sam 16:1b  Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

Yesterday we saw Samuel in this same chapter being obedient to the word in our verse above, but that was all about Samuel’s expectations. Now we move on to the expectations that David must have had, and how they worked out.

The Present: First of all, observe the present circumstances. The Lord has referred to a new king in the verses above. When David appears, the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” (v.12) i.e. there is no question but that Samuel is anointing David to be the new king: “So 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.” (v.13) Now there is a question mark over the record: did Samuel make clear to David that this is what he was doing? He does not say it in the record. Sometime later when David fled to the Philistines we read, “the servants of Achish said to him, “Isn’t this David, the king of the land?” (1 Sam 21:11a) but that was only because of what they heard had been said in Israel: “Isn’t he the one they sing about in their dances: ” `Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’?” (v.11b) Similarly, later still, Jonathan said to David, “Don’t be afraid, 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.” (23:17) but again that was possibly not because of what happened at Bethlehem, but simply because of his rise to fame. It is probable that Samuel would have said something to David but it is not made public and David, in his humility, does not refer to it.

The Future: So let’s summarise what went on in the following months and years:

  • David carries on looking after his father’s sheep.
  • Because of Saul’s need, David enters his service to play the harp and be a part-time armour bearer for Saul (1 Sam 16:14-23).
  • Nevertheless David still looked after his father’s sheep (17:15), eventually killed Goliath (and we’ll consider that tomorrow) (17:48-51), stayed with Jonathan (18:1,2) and entered Saul’s army (18:5) and was so successful that it started making Saul hate him (18:6-9).
  • Twice Saul sought to kill David while he was with him (18:10,11 & 19:9,10).
  • When Saul gives the instruction that David is to be killed (19:1) David eventually flees and leaves the army and fled to the Philistines (21:10) at Gath.
  • He leaves Gath and settles in Adullam (22:1) and collects a mini-army of followers (22:2) and carried our guerilla warfare against the Philistines (23:1-5).
  • Twice Saul came after him and his men and twice David refused to take the opportunity to kill Saul (24:3-22 & 26:1-25).
  • David escapes to the Philistines for protection from Saul and joins them (27:1-6) but carried on his guerilla tactics against the enemies of Israel (27:8-12).
  • Eventually Saul is killed in a battle with the Philistines (31:1-).
  • David is made king over Judah (2 Sam 2:1-4) and reigned there for seven and a half years until all Israel made him king (2 Sam 5:1-5).

Israel’s Expectation: It is only then that there is any reference to any prophetic words: “In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the LORD said to you, `You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’ “ (2 Sam 5:2) but one wonders if that refers back to a word spoken by Samuel to Saul which was public, when he rebuked him: “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,” (13:14) or whether more had been said and it had got out when Samuel had anointed him.

The Time Factor: The main point here, which we would do well to learn, is that between the time of being anointed, and possibly having a prophetic word spoken over him, to the time when he eventually became king over all Israel, many things happened, many of them not good. We’ve seen that before in the case of Joseph and it frequently happens with us. We need to distinguish between prophetic words that are time-specific, e.g. “This time next year you will have a baby,” and the more general ones such as, “the Lord is giving you a ministry of leadership where you will be known for your perseverance and strength of character.” That latter sort are the ones that involve process. How do you learn to persevere? You are given tough, slow, difficult circumstances! How do you develop strength of character? Time and trials and tribulations!

Changing Lives: The Lord uses the experiences of this fallen world to develop us. When the apostle Peter said, “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love,” (2 Pet 1:5-7) he was inviting our cooperation in these things. To achieve that list you need time and change – your change! And that change comes about as you cope with life in this fallen world. The end result? You are anointed, filled with the Spirit, and with the character of Jesus, and you are a blessing to the world, just like the Lord intended. The ways of the fallen world surround us and hinder our lives and are there for us to deal with by His grace, so we might as well let them change us, knock off the rough corners and so on, and make us more usable!

I drive a nail in my own coffin, if I may put it like that, when I pray every day, ‘Please Lord use me,” because I know His word indicates that those He loves He disciplines (Heb 12:6) which means trains and transforms and that is what this is all about. He loves us just as we are but He loves us so much He wants something better for us than we have at the present, and that means us being changed, and change means process and process means time. He will be there with us every moment, and His grace will be available for us, but it is still a process of change.

The Future Goal: If you think it is tough sometimes, then look past the present to what He is achieving through this: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) There it is; Jesus looked past the Cross to the joy beyond it, to the wonder of the kingdom being established and millions being set free and brought into the divine family. Look past the present process and know it is going somewhere and that ‘somewhere’ is glorious, even here on this earth! Hallelujah!

16. Beware Appearances

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 16. Beware Appearances

1 Sam 16:1,2  When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “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.”

When it comes to the kingdom of God, there is one particular area in respect of expectations where we can get it spectacularly wrong, and it is the area of what we think of people when we see them. These opening verses of 1 Sam 16 are some of my favourite verses in the Old Testament, because there is so much humour behind them. The Lord tells Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint a man of his choosing to be the new king, because Saul has fallen down on the job and one of these days will need replacing. He sends Samuel to the family of Jesse, a local dignitary. He has a number of sons, so Samuel asks for them to be lined up, so he can bless them. (I think the Lord was wanting to give Samuel a lesson here because He could simply have said, “Jesse has a son named David. Go and anoint him,” but He didn’t. He left Samuel to find out.)

They come in order of age and so Samuel starts with the oldest who also looks big and tough and he thinks, this must be the one. But the Lord has other ideas and declares this very significant principle: “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” So Samuel works his way along the line and still the Lord hasn’t indicated this is the one. I can imagine him praying silently, “Lord, I’ve run out of sons. What do I do?” He turns to Jesse and asks if these are all the sons: “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.” Now that is like Jesse is saying, “Well, yes, I do have another one but he’s not worth considering because he’s just the youngest and he’s the one who looks after the sheep.

Now when we think about the Shepherds in the Nativity story we tend to remind ourselves that they were the outcasts of society who were always out in the hills with their sheep and not able to join in the life of society. And this is David, and from what he tells Saul later on, he’s obviously been doing it for some time and making a good job of it, fighting off bears and lions (17:34-36), but as far as the family is concerned he’s not likely to be someone the important prophet – the religious man – is likely to be concerned with.

Our problem is that so often we cannot see the heart of a person and so we go by what they look like, and we measure them but what they have done or achieved in life so far and if they tend to be poor, or don’t appear special we so often tend to write them off. Or like those in the Bible, we tend to measure them by their social position. For them the oldest son was always the most important, but that had nothing to do with their heart, which is what God is concerned about.

We’ve already recently considered the children Rebekah was expecting when the Lord spoke to her and warned her that they would turn out differently to what might be expected: “the older will serve the younger.” (Gen 25:23) We find something similar when Jacob is blessing Joseph’s sons (see Gen 48:8-22), and he gave a greater blessing to the younger son, to Joseph’s displeasure, but the giving of a blessing is the equivalent of speaking prophecy over them and true prophecy is always the Lord’s will for the person. The Lord knows the potential of the individual, He alone knows the state of their heart and indeed what they are capable of.

The amazing and beautiful thing about personal prophecy is that the Lord works on a person’s future potential, not merely what they are now. We cannot see this, but He can, which is why He told Samuel not to go by outward appearances. The truth is that the Lord has higher expectations of us than we do. We so often struggle, because of the knocks of life, with low self esteem. Because of our past failures or because of the things unkind, insensitive and thoughtless people have said about us in the past, we so often think little of ourselves, but the Lord doesn’t go so much on the past as what He sees inside us, what sort of heart we have, and what He knows He can do with it.

When Saul had blown it, Samuel spoke prophetically: “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.” (1 Sam 13:14) even though it had not happened yet; in the prophetic realm, which so often operates outside of time, this was God’s will and it was merely a matter of it now coming about, which is what we have seen in chapter 16.  The Lord chose David because He saw his heart, saw he was a young man after God, and we see that in subsequent chapters which we’ll go on to consider in the next study.

In the kingdom of God, it is not what we think about people that matters so much, but what God thinks about them. Yes, He loves every person, but this is all about the persons individuality, what they are like as individuals, and thus what He can do with them.

14. The Cry of Anguish

Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 14. The Cry of Anguish

1 Sam 1:1,2   There was a certain man from Ramathaim…. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.

The number of women in the Bible who initially appeared barren may cause some surprise. We’ve already seen Abraham’s Sarai, and Isaac’s Rebekah and even Samson’s mother. Each one provides a case study of anguish and calling on God for help – which He does bring, but perhaps none of them is as distressed as Hannah in the first chapter of 1 Samuel. The thing about barrenness is that there is this natural expectation in a woman to be able to bear a child, and that is being frustrated, and what is worse is that there is nothing you can do about it.

Hannah’s anguish of childlessness is accentuated by the fact that she is one of two wives of this man. Admittedly her husband tried to compensate for her situation “because he loved her” (v.5) but that only stirred a competitive  spirit in the other woman that made her nasty to Hannah (v.6). The ongoing situation caused such anguish in Hannah that she wept (v.7). But love and weeping don’t change barrenness. The key event that perhaps opened the door to change occurred at Shiloh where the Tent of the Lord was situation and people went to worship God. At their annual visit Hannah was in such anguish that he poured her heart out to the Lord: In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. And she made a vow, saying, “O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” (v.10,11)

Now before we carry on we might do well to note something that has appeared twice already in the story: “to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her.” (v.5,6) The perception was that God is the withholder of life and the bringer of life, but what is the bigger truth here?

Does God ‘play’ with human beings, especially women, causing them great anguish. I believe the bigger truth is that, because of the Fall, things go wrong. Because of the presence of Sin the world does not work perfectly as originally designed and that includes all of us, so our bodies break down and we get ill or we suffer infirmity or malfunction or mis-function, and so barrenness is just another of those things that occur as a result of the malfunctioning fallen world. The only problem about this, from our side of things, is that sickness etc. etc. strikes not according to individual guilt but randomly. Someone carrying the flu virus has close contact with me and pass it to me (which is why the elderly are wise to have injections). There is no link with guilt here. I am guilty of being a sinful member of a sinful human race and therefore there are times when I suffer simply for being a member of this human race, not because I have just committed some terrible sin! And the same thing applies to barrenness.

Now of course God could step in and heal instantly every case of malfunction but He is reticent to keep on overriding our self-sovereignty. He waits until we call. In our anguish and distorted thinking we may blame Him, for yes, He could keep us from such things but that would change the nature of design where negative consequences follow misuse. If I misuse my body it is likely to break down and it is foolish to demand God override my folly. But Hannah, and many other ladies like her demonstrate it is not their fault they are in anguish. If it helps, when we see God in close-up in the form of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, we see Him anguishing in tears for the anguish of those around him. God does not stand afar off stony-hearted.

The expectation of many people in this world, as they view life and the difficulties of life in this fallen world, is that God is cold and callous, and even if they concede He is not the specific author of our woes, they anticipate that he will stand afar off, uncaring. That is not the God who left the comfort and security of heaven, came and dwelt in human form, that of a vulnerable baby, lived on the earth for some thirty or so years, died on a Cross for our sins, rose from the dead and ascended back to heaven. That was a God who gets His hands dirty, so to speak, a God who comes alongside and, wherever given the chance, brings healing and blessing. That is what the incredible revelation of Jesus Christ shows us. – and yet he wept with us.

But what was the outcome of this particular story? The Lord intervenes and enables Hannah to conceive and Samuel is born and Samuel will be the last of the Judges to rule Israel and become a transition between the period of Judges and the period of kings, and he will do that because he is also a prophet! Would Samuel have been that if Hannah had had no problem conceiving? I don’t know. All I do know is what happened: in the prevailing situation caused by the fallen world, the outcome was that when God intervened, a saviour for Israel was born and because Hannah was so desperate, she was happy for her child to be brought up on the presence of God at Shiloh as that saviour, one who would have a closer relationship with the Lord than was normal then.

No expectation of a child, then expectation of change through an anguished prayer, and then, who knows what – because we have not had a judge like this before. This is a new day. What am I saying?  This whole matter of expectations is wrapped up in the sovereignty and maybe even the providence of God (His sovereign moving behind the scenes)  and so from our point of view it is not entirely clear what is going on. As we saw in the outset of this series, sometimes expectations arise when God speaks clearly (Abram). Sometimes there are natural expectations of life (Isaac) but it is at that point as we see here again, that it can start getting murky. In this fallen world, natural expectations don’t always work out as we expect. The lesson is to hold them lightly, but hold our relationship with the Lord ever more tightly. The future may be unclear to us, but it is not to Him. The future may be limited from our perspective but when He steps in, anything is possible. Let’s remember that.

15. 1 Samuel

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 15.  1 Samuel

1 Sam 16:7   the LORD said to Samuel, “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.”

This is all about spiritual realities and as we look into it, we will see various other verses that appear, I believe, as highlight verses in this book, but they all go together. It is about spiritual vision, about what you see with your eyes and understand in your heart.

Let’s observe the context first of all. This is the first illustration of at least five that we will look at in this book. Saul is king and has failed at the job so God is going to appoint a new king and he sends Samuel, the prophet, down to Bethlehem to the family of Jesse because He has chosen one of his sons to be the new king. The story that follows is quite hilarious. Samuel gets the sons lined up, starting with the eldest who looks big and strong. This must be the one, thinks Samuel, but then the Lord speaks the verse above. No, don’t go on looks. This is not the one. So he works his way along the line and at each of the seven sons before him, he gets a “No!” from heaven. You can imagine him at the last one thinking, “Lord, I’ve run out of sons. What do I do?” Ask if there are any more, is the answer, and David is revealed, the eighth son out on the hillside looking after sheep for his father. He’s the one!

But the principle has been laid down and it’s one that has already been seen earlier in the book. The second illustration comes before Samuel was born, his mother-to-be is crying out to the Lord because she seems unable to conceive. She is in the tabernacle praying, but not out loud. Old man Eli is the chief priest and he sees her lips moving. He jumps to a wrong conclusion: “Eli thought she was drink”. (1 Sam 1:13). No, Eli, she is praying her heart out! Don’t judge by outward appearances.

A third illustration perhaps, as an extension of this, can be seen in some of the most spiritually poignant words which are found in 1 Sam 3: “The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.” (v.1-3) Spiritual reality? Prophetic words were rare and there were few visions from God. Physical outworking, if you like? Eli could barely see and was lying down. The physical reality reflected the spiritual reality. The lamp of God had not yet gone out – physical reality in the tabernacle, but reflected the spiritual reality; God has the next carrier of His light also in there, Samuel, who is also lying down at the moment. He’ll get up and into action as soon as he learns to hear God’s voice, so God’s light will shine brightly in Israel again.

The fourth illustration comes many years later, when Israel decide they want a king instead of the judges they have had, “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.” (8:19,20) i.e. we can’t see God; we want someone we can see who will go before us to fight, just like the other nations have. But you’re not like the other nations, you’re better off, you have the Lord! But they persist and so the Lord allows them to have just what they want, a big, tough looking guy to be their king, a guy who was head and shoulders (as some older versions put it) above all others (10:23). That was exactly what Israel wanted except he didn’t live up to the job. Possibly the most memorable Bible Week series of teaching I have ever heard was called, I believe, ‘The King and his army’, given by an elderly Canadian, Pentecostal preacher, called Ern Baxter, back in 1975, who spoke of the transition from the head and shoulders man (head referring to human intellect and shoulders referring to human strength) to the heart man, David (a man after God’s own heart – 1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22) Israel wanted a big tough man, but human wisdom and human strength aren’t up to the job; it needed a heart man! It’s not looks, it’s the heart!

A fifth illustration that comes  to mind, revealing this same principle, is that involving a giant Philistine named Goliath who came with the Philistine army to attack Israel and challenged Israel to put up their best man to fight him, and the winner would designate the victorious nation. This petrified Israel who were cowed into inaction. What always surprises me about this was that Saul didn’t refuse the challenge and send ten of his best men to bring this threat down. But size seemed to hypnotize Saul and his people and so for forty days the two armies just faced each other while Goliath came out and roared out his challenge – the Philistines as an army couldn’t have been feeling too sure of themselves. (see 1 Sam 17:4-16). David turns up and is surprised that size is the criteria that brings Israel to a standstill. As far as he is concerned it is all about relationship: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (v.26) We’re the people of God, this guy isn’t! He knows God has helped him in the past (see v.34-37) and so He will do so in the present. It’s nothing to do with how big the problem looks! It’s all about relationship with the Lord.

And there is the same lesson, five times over in this book. Will we be a people who look and see only material things, or will we open our hearts to discern the spiritual realities of the world in which we live. Will we look at people’s appearances and write them off, or will we look with Jesus’ eyes and see the spiritually hungry and thirsty and be open to bring his love to them (Zacchaeus was a good example of this – Luke 19). The lovely thing about the New Testament gift of prophecy is that it looks past the outward appearance and sees the inner reality and the future potential. Dare we be a people who give up on ‘outward appearance Christianity’, and cry to the Lord to become heart and Spirit people who discern true spiritual realities?

1. Childlessness

Meditations in 1 Samuel: 1:  The Harshness of Childlessness

1 Sam 1:1-2   There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.

When we delve into the Old Testament as people out of the twenty-first century West, we find ourselves so often in alien territory. In these studies or meditations (and we’ll do a little of both) we are using narrative text as against the direct teaching that we find in say the apostle Paul’s letters. Here we are dealing with a story, a history if you like, and within stories we find a whole raft of things about the human race that are as true today as they were then. 1 Samuel is essentially about the days in the life of Israel under the judgeship of Samuel, a prophet, that takes us on to see their first king, Saul, and then God’s dealings with a young shepherd boy, David, who was to become the next king.

But here in our opening verses we have a handful of unfamiliar names. Ramathaim, it is thought, is somewhere a few miles north of Jerusalem. The reference to this man being a Zuphite may be a reference to being a descendant of Zuph (1 Chron 6:32-34) but we don’t know for sure although the Chronicles names match those of his earlier family recorded here. Whatever else, the writer is wanting to make sure we are under no illusions: this is not a made up story, it is well grounded in history.

Now this man Elkanah, an Israelite, had two wives. Monogamy was God’s design (Gen 2:23,24) but polygamy was not uncommon, but as the story unfolds we see the downside of that. Verse 2 lays it out so simply: He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.”  Names in Israel were often significant. Hannah means ‘grace, but Peninnah, a concordance suggests means ‘coral’ or maybe ‘pearl’. That she thought herself a pearl in this marriage becomes clear and the way she expresses it seems to indicate the sharpness of coral. We could ponder on that some more as we go through the story.

A few verses on we find, “And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her.” (v.6) Interestingly the writer ascribes Hannah’s barrenness directly to God and we’ll ponder the providence of God in a later meditation. Peninnah isn’t content simply with the satisfaction of bearing children to Elkanah, we might say today she ‘rubbed her nose in it’, meaning she pointed out this fact again and again and made Hannah particularly upset, which we’ll consider some more in the next meditation.

There are, I suspect, fewer things in life more distressing than being unable to fulfil the desire that most women have, to be able to bear a child. Today we live in a society where often this is sublimated beneath the desire of self-fulfilment through a career which often leads women to put off having children until much later than that which was traditionally the years for child-bearing, which brings difficulties both in heath and in later years bringing up a child in older years.

Not only is there so often a frustration that turns into anguish in such situations but there are question marks that arise in the couple about their inability. What is there wrong in me that I am unable to conceive / father a child? In this case this is very one sided because Elkanah has shown he is quite capable of fathering children which makes it doubly difficult for Hannah. She clearly is the one at fault. But then, when you believe God involves Himself in our affairs, there might be the question, why hasn’t God allowed me to conceive, or even, why has He stopped me conceiving? What am I guilty of that this should happen to me? Hannah’s story tells us that we should declare loud and clear, it’s nothing to do with your sin or defectiveness, it’s just what happens in a fallen world where things go wrong. There is no indication that Hannah is a particular sinner (more than the rest of us) and that this is a punishment. It just happens!

If we think more widely in the Bible, we come to realise that this sort of thing is not that uncommon. In the story of Abram, we read of his wife, Now Sarai was barren; she had no children.” (Gen 11:30) Such hard, cold and definite words!  The miracle of their story is that God enabled Sarah to conceive and have a son when Abraham was one hundred years old!  Isaac is born, grows up, marries and then we read, “Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren.” (Gen 25:21) Again such harsh and cold words: “she was barren”. When we look at the details of their story we find, “Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah,” (v.20) and “Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth.” (v.26) i.e. twenty years passed before the Lord answered Isaac’s prayers.

When we come into the New Testament we find a couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and we read, “But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.” (Lk 1:7)  There it is again in stark print: “Elizabeth was barren.” It is almost as if the Bible throws it at us to see how we will respond. Indifference or tears of empathy?  In all four cases that we have just noted, the Lord turned up and enabled conception.

I think the most rewarding prophecy that I have ever brought to a couple was, “in a year’s time you will have a baby,” especially when I was told afterwards they had been told they could never have children. To my relief (because I hate the possibility of bringing false comfort) they had their child within the year.  The same thing happened to my daughter with a word from a friendly prophet. In each case it was a declaration of God’s intent contrary to the expectations of man.

May I share a pastoral feeling that I have about these things. I believe today that if  we have single people longing to be married or couples longing to conceive, as churches we should commit ourselves to praying for these people until God answers. I firmly believe He wants to provide marriage partners and He wants to enable couple to conceive. It may need some miraculous workings but that is easy stuff for God. It may need battling against unbelief or indifference or declarations of ‘experts’ but God is a life bringer. Until we clearly hear the words from God, “not yet” or “I  want you to rest in what you are now,” I believe we should be praying our hearts out to bring God’s blessing to childless couples and singles who yearn for a partner in our congregations. (For those who actively don’t want children or actively want to be single, the Lord bless you as you are.) To sit back and just watch the months and years past without change, speaks of our indifference.

This story has elements in it that are hard to understand and we’ll struggle with some of them later on, but at the heart of it we find frustration and anguish that so often comes in this Fallen World where things just don’t work sometimes as they should do. That’s what life is like in such a world. The crucial things to observe are how we respond to it and what God wants to do about it, and that we’ll see as this story unfolds.

Now I’m going to do something I’ve never done before and that is add a poem that recently came my way, written by a single lady, an English poetry teacher, in honour of her and others like her who turn their energies into bringing blessing to others. She wrote this while invigilating an exam for her students, and I think you will agree it has a certain poignancy about it:

Now all my teaching comes to face the test
Why will I ask, did I do all I could?
I know I tried to do, I did, my best
With love, with patience, with the very blood
From my heart’s pulse of poetry I strove to give

Both fact and thought, ideas, instructed feeling,
That when this stress was past there still might live
A joy within their minds I showed them, stealing
At quiet hours upon them, a gift of mine.
This joy in growing minds is what I crave,
This hope I nourish with my oil and wine,
For this is all the life, my life, can have.
Then let none judge my barrenness a dearth.
Have I not laboured to achieve a birth?

9. To David

“God turned up” Meditations: 9 :  To David

1 Sam 16:1,12 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” …. So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”

Sometimes life just carries on. The soap operas on TV convey it well, if only they didn’t focus on the seamy side of life. But life does just carry on. We are part of a family, we have a job or part to play in life and life just carries on without anything special happening. And then God turns up and everything is changed.

It must have been like that for David. He was the youngest of a big family and his job was to look after his father’s sheep. From things that happen later, there is a sense that he’s been doing it for some time. Again from things that occur later it seems that perhaps he wasn’t the only one looking after the sheep and so perhaps they took it in turns and now, at the moment we break in to the story, it’s his turn.

The first anyone has any inkling that today is going to be a different day is when the present judge and seer, Samuel, turns up. He’s quite an old man now but everyone has at least heard of him so when he arrives in Bethlehem and seeks out the elders of the town and reveals who he is, there is great consternation. Why should the judge turn up here? Have we done something wrong? No, it’s all right, I’ve come to hold a solemn sacrifice here. Oh, right, it’s the religious thing. Now whether Jesse was one of the town elders who he just happened to be there is unclear but old Samuel picks on him and sets him apart to take part in the ritual (that’s what consecrate means): Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.” (v.5). Yes, not only that, he tells Jesse (I’m supposing) that he’ll give his sons the privilege of being part of it and so will set them apart to take part in ‘the service’ as well – if you’ll just get them all here please.

Which is why it comes about that Jesse lines up all the sons before Samuel, for him to do whatever judge-seers do to set people apart to serve God. So the old prophet carries out a parade ground inspection. “When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.” (v.6) He looked good. A big guy who looks like he could take over the leadership, but the Lord has other ideas and we find Him making a most important declaration: “But the LORD said to Samuel, “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.” (v.7) Oooops! OK, so this isn’t the right one. He moves down the line and doesn’t get the go ahead from the Lord to do anything. He gets to the end of the line. There must e a mistake, for the Lord hasn’t approved any of them. He pauses and thinks and then turns to Jesse. There can only be one other possibility: “So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” (v.11)

Jesse reveals that he’s got one more, the youngest who is out looking after the sheep, so they send for him and thus we meet David for the first time, and Samuel promptly pours oil all over his head. Wow! What’s this? What is happening? Think! This is what priests did of old when they anointed a new priest. Is that what is happening here? Is David a new priest – or what? And we are told, “from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.” (v.13) That’s it, end of story! Well for the time being at least. The old prophet departs and all the brothers look at David and wonder, but that’s all that is said. It all seems a bit open ended and unclear and we have to wait for the unfolding of events before it gets any clearer.

Yes, given the passing of time it is clear that God had anointed David to be king but it would be some years before Saul is killed and the way is open for David to step up to the plate. In the meantime there are a load of odd things that are going to happen to him but he’s never the same since God turned up.

This account tells us that sometimes when the Lord turns up He doesn’t make it abundantly clear what He is saying and why He’s saying it. Yes, from the outset of chapter 16, Samuel is told what is happening but basically he’s keeping it quiet in case Saul hears and comes and kills them all!  In the meantime, there’s a new kid on the spiritual block, who’s been anointed by the prophet and only time will tell why.

When God first turns up and draws us to Himself and we are saved, it is rare that He explains what He’s got on his heart for us and when He does share things they’re not always terribly clear. Yet Paul, speaking of our lives says, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) Oh yes, God knows what he can do with us, so He’s got a whole agenda lined up for us. He’ll drop hints along the way, but that is probably all you’re going to get. We’re just called to be faithful and He’ll do the rest as we walk it out with Him, so don’t be put off by the fact that you aren’t very clear about where it is that God is taking you – He knows!

8. To Samuel

“God turned up” Meditations: 8 :  To Samuel

1 Sam 3:4-6 Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Over the years I have come to a conclusion. I’m not sure I can prove it from Scripture (I suppose I’ve never tried to), but it very simply is that God talks to everyone. I’m sure the Lord speaks to everyone on earth. Now it’s very obvious listening to people that the vast majority would say that they never hear from God; they just aren’t aware of Him speaking – and this includes Christians too! But one of the things that comes over loud and clear in the Bible – and we’ve seen it in these studies – is that God is a communicator; He is constantly making contact with individuals and speaking to them. I’m sure many of us hear things in our thoughts but shrug them off or reject them, yet in eternity we will find it was the Lord.

Samuel’s is a unique start – I suppose each of them we’ve considered is really – but this one stands out in its strangeness. The Lord seems to call out loud to Samuel (or at least he thinks it is out loud – it may just be in his mind). Samuel is so sure he’s heard a voice he gets up and goes to Eli who is the chief priest who he works for. Samuel is only a young person and so when Eli calls, he goes – except it is not Eli. For the first couple of times Eli doesn’t realise what is going on. It is only after the third call that Eli realises that Samuel isn’t just dreaming but must be hearing from the Lord.

Now the description of Samuel is interesting: “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” (v.7)  In other words Samuel did not yet have a relationship with the Lord and did not realise that God speaks and, even more, had not yet learnt to discern the Lord’s voice.  As we said, it is only after the third call that Eli realises what is going on: “Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.(v.8,9)

So what has Eli told him to do? He told him to stay where he is when he hears the voice again, to reply to the voice and then stay still and listen. I think those three things are good guidance.

If you think you might be hearing the Lord, first of all stay where you are. Many people who do hear the Lord immediately jump into action or even more, they focus more on the wonder of God speaking than what He actually said. I know this is something that I have struggled with over the years. When God turns up we get all excited and our minds start running ahead and we lose the rest of what He is trying to say.

Now the second thing is to reply to the Lord. I think this is important too. It is a sign of your acknowledgment of the Lord and a sign that you are positively going to listen to what He has to say. It is a faith statement. I can look back on one or two very memorable conversations with the Lord, but a conversation is a backwards and forwards speaking, first one person, then the other, then the first person and so on. But for a conversation to ensue you need to acknowledge the first words. As I said, it’s a faith issue.

Now the third thing is to stay still and listen. This is perhaps the hardest. You’ve had the initial excitement of sensing the Lord speaking and then you’ve responded. But what we said in the first response is equally true here for I find that I have a mind that can suddenly get full of junk and go off at tangents, and before I know it a number of minutes have passed and I haven’t heard a thing from the Lord. At that point I apologise to the Lord and sit quietly and He graciously starts again. This is a real experience but because of the nature of the lives we live, so full of voices and information, I believe it is a very difficult experience and one we need to discipline ourselves in.

I have also noticed that I have a tendency to interrupt the Lord. He speaks and I join in. What I mean is that I cut across Him and I have to apologise. He graciously reaffirms His love for me and tells me He will not give up on me. This is a major learning experience and I am the learner. I have been learning to listen to God for probably over thirty five years and the only thing I can tell you is that I am obtuse and a slow learner – but still God loves me and still God keep speaking – just like He did with Samuel. He doesn’t give up when He sees our slowness to hear, our slowness to pay attention, our slowness to learn. No, He loves us and understands us and one of the things the story of Samuel tells us is that He will keep on speaking until we hear.

But then I hear you saying, but not everyone does hear. Yes, I agree. I believe He does speak again and again to everyone so no one will face Him in heaven and be able to say we didn’t know. But there are some that I believe the Lord knows will never heed and so He gives up speaking (I may be wrong), but with others He knows that if He keeps on speaking we will eventually hear. I am sure, when I look back, that the Lord was speaking to me long before I came to Him. That’s how I eventually came to Him. He spoke to me and stirred a hunger in me and then drew me and saved me. Isn’t He wonderful!

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.

Walk of Rebellion – 2

WALKING WITH GOD. No.22

1 Sam 28:8 So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”

The story of Saul and David is a story of contrasts. Saul is a man head and shoulders taller than most (1 Sam 10:23), a man who ‘looked’ the part. David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14). Saul was a ‘head’ man, David was a ‘heart’ man. When it came to difficulties David sought the Lord (1 Sam 23:10-12). When Saul got into difficulties he reasoned what should be done and ended up taking the role of a priest (1 Sam 13:9-13) and was rebuked for it, only referred to the Lord as a second thought (1 Sam 14:36), makes a bad judgement (1 Sam 14:44,45), and was only partially obedient against the Amalekites (1 Sam 15:9-19). No wonder he was rejected by God.

We are now some time on and Samuel has passed away and Saul is left without any counsellor. Once again the Philistines gather to come against Israel (v.4) and Saul is afraid. He enquires of the Lord but the Lord is silent, because He has rejected Saul and Saul has not the sense to stand down. More than that he has not the sense to call for a time of national repentance which he should lead and seek God’s mercy. That would have been the right course of action. Instead Saul thinks, what other way is there of getting guidance? I have no counsellor, God is silent, what about the spiritists? Ah, under Samuel I got rid of them from the land – yet there is one at Endor I’m told.

Now the Law of Moses expressly stated, “Do not practice divination or sorcery” (Lev 19:26) and “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.” (Deut 18:10,11). Occult means ‘hidden powers’ and all of these sorts of things were hidden powers that excluded God and were thus clearly forbidden by God. There is no question in Scripture that spiritism or spiritualism (whichever you prefer to call it) is forbidden by God, but here we find Saul contemplating this very thing.

Now we don’t need to go into the detail of what followed; we are more concerned with Saul’s walk of rebellion against the will of God as decreed in the word of God. Later on king Manasseh’s activities were described: “He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger.” (2 Chron 33:6) His occult activity provoked God to anger. God IS angry with occult activity because such activity is a) demonic, b) deceptive and not truthful, and c) denying God. It was in the ensuing battle with the Philistines that Saul died. The record in Chronicles reads: “Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD ; he did not keep the word of the LORD and even consulted a medium for guidance, and did not inquire of the LORD. So the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.” (1 Chron 10:13,14) What a statement of condemnation and this episode of going to a medium is seen as a key factor in his death which was the judgement of God on him.

The warning is therefore very clear to us today. Whatever the reason, we may never consult mediums. It is a walk of outright rebellion and rejection of God. If God is silent, seek Him more. Isaiah was later to ask, “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God?(Isa 8:19) The Biblical message is quite clear. For the people of God who need guidance God, and NOT mediums, is to be their source.

It is an interesting point of note, that those who have consulted mediums find it more difficult to come to God. Why? Because they have been tainted by the demonic unseen powers and darkness makes it harder for them to receive the light. If you have consulted mediums in the past, seek God’s face in sincere repentance and ask Him to cut you off from any lingering influence that activity may have left in you. This is one of those times when John’s words are particularly important, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). We need purifying from such occult darkness. If you have never been down that path, don’t ever be tempted to go down the path of rebellion. Stay clear, stay clean.

Walk of Disclosure

WALKING WITH GOD. No.18

1 Sam 16:7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “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.”

We live in a world that functions on ‘appearances’. New buildings have to look modern and innovative. We have TV makeover programmes, whether it be buildings, gardens or people where the end product is something that looks good. When we go for a new job, we try to make ourselves look good, because we know that first appearances count. The fashion industry is based on the concept of looking good and, of course, they make you think that looking good one way only lasts for a season! Pretty girls and handsome boys are at the top of class popularity. People with big ears, big noses and big teeth are at the bottom end. That’s life in a sinful Fallen World, and we’re all prone to it.

The prophet-priest-judge, Samuel, was no different, but let’s get the background first. The Lord had rejected Saul because Saul was so self-centred and disobedient he had shown he really wasn’t up to the job of righteously leading God’s people. When Saul abused his position, Samuel told him, “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.” (1 Sam 13:14). God had a replacement in mind! When Saul was disobedient a second time the word came: “To obey is better than sacrifice…. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD , he has rejected you as king… The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbours–to one better than you.(1 Sam 15:22,23,29)

The next thing that happened was that God told Samuel, “I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” (1 Sam 16:1). The only problem was that He didn’t tell Samuel which one of Jesse’s sons He had chosen, and there were a number of them. We’ll keep the story short. When Samuel gets to Bethlehem and the sons are being lined up for him, Samuel has now to decide which of the sons is the one to be chosen next king of Israel.

Samuel walks along the line of sons, all seven of them. This is a walk of assessment. Who is the one? Well, it’s fairly obvious really. He goes back to the beginning of the line. Here is the eldest, Eliab, and he looks big and strong. That’s who we need, isn’t it, an elder son, the son of authority in the family, and a guy who is big and strong, who can beat up the enemy and inspire courage in his followers? This has got to be him! But the quiet word form the Lord comes to Samuel, “Wrong!”

Ooops! And the Lord speaks our verse above. Not this one; I don’t look at the things you look at, I look at his heart. Of course, why hadn’t Samuel remembered that? After all he had prophesied just that: the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart! God looks at hearts, not what is on the outside! God looks for those who will join their hearts to His, who will allow their hearts to be moulded to become like Him. This is to become a walk of disclosure of heart condition. Who of these sons has got a heart that will please God? He walks down the line, sensing the heart of each son. He gets to the end of the line. None of them! Something is wrong here! I’m sure I sensed their hearts aright and I’m sure God said it was one of Jesse’s sons. Are there any more sons? Yes, one more out on the hills looking after sheep, killing bears and composing songs – but he’s a bit young! He’s the one!

Have you ever encountered a prophet who sees through you and obviously knows all about you? It’s a scary thing to stand before God’s representative who has been given the gift of insight. How do you think you would fare if you were standing in the line as the prophet makes his walk of disclosure? Your answer reveals the nature of your life. Do you have little patches of guilt that have not been dealt with? Do you have little areas of your life that are unsanctified, behaviour, habit or speech, that you would not want God to know about, things you would be ashamed of if you had to stand before Him in a public forum and be revealed? We all fall short in some way, but the things that concern Him are the things you know about and have tolerated or allowed to continue, things that you know sadden Him, grieve Him, and spoil your life. This is not to create condemnation but to suggest you WILL stand before Him and He does know anyway, so perhaps it’s time to go to Him for forgiveness and help with them, now.