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?

57. My Cause

Meditations in Job : 57.  I can justify my cause

Job 31:5,6 If I have walked in falsehood or my foot has hurried after deceit– let God weigh me in honest scales and he will know that I am blameless

In his closing words in this final chapter of his speeches, Job goes through his life and justifies his actions to show that he is righteous. This is his central concern, that he has not strayed into unrighteousness. He starts with what he had determined: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” (v.1) He had determined a life of purity and righteousness. He explains his thinking: For what is man’s lot from God above, his heritage from the Almighty on high?” (v.2) After all, he says, our lives will be what God determines as He looks on who we are and what He sees in us. He deals with us according to what He sees:Is it not ruin for the wicked, disaster for those who do wrong?” (v.3) I know that is what He does, so I determined to avoid that sort of life.  Indeed, “Does he not see my ways and count my every step?” (v.4)  God looks on me and knows this is true.  That’s why, going on to our verses above, he asks the Lord to weigh his life and determine and declare that he is blameless.  He is so certain of this that he is willing to lay a curse on himself if it is not true: “if my steps have turned from the path, if my heart has been led by my eyes, or if my hands have been defiled, then may others eat what I have sown, and may my crops be uprooted.” (v.7,8) i.e. may others take what I have if I have been untrue!

In the verses that follow, he applies the same thinking, going through a series of wrongs that he is sure he has not done, and declares judgments if such things can be found against him. “If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have lurked at my neighbour’s door.” (v.9) and “If I have denied justice to my menservants and maidservants when they had a grievance against me.” (v.13) and “If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary,” (v.16) and “if I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless.” (v.17) and “if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing, or a needy man without a garment,” (v.19) and if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing that I had influence in court,” (v.20) and “If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, `You are my security,’ if I have rejoiced over my great wealth, the fortune my hands had gained,” (v.24,25) and “If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over the trouble that came to him.” (v.29) and “if the men of my household have never said, `Who has not had his fill of Job’s meat?” (v.31) and “if I have concealed my sin as men do, by hiding my guilt in my heart,” (v.33) and “if my land cries out against me and all its furrows are wet with tears, if I have devoured its yield without payment.” (v.38,39)

Thus he lists off all the things that he can think of that in his mind constitute unrighteousness, things he is certain he has not done! This is a very moral list and many of us might be challenged to wonder whether we could say such things.  All of these things he puts under a curse, so sure is he of his own right doing.

In it he makes a cry for God to come and give him an answer: “Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defence–let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing. Surely I would wear it on my shoulder, I would put it on like a crown. I would give him an account of my every step; like a prince I would approach him.” (v.35-37) i.e. if only God would come and lay out His claims against Job, then Job would be able to give an account for everything he had done and thus be able to show that he had not strayed from the path of righteousness.

Now if we ever go down this same path, we are on dangerous ground.  Job is going to be chided for speaking without knowledge. He has focused on his righteousness but this hasn’t been about that.  He has misunderstood because he doesn’t have the counsel of heaven.  If there is a wrong in Job, this is it, but he doesn’t realise that yet.

Perhaps our biggest difficulty in the Christian life is that spiritual realities are invisible and we are used to operating in a material visible world.  That’s why the apostle Paul declared, “We live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7). So much of the time our walk has to be purely on the basis of what we believe we have heard from God so far, and that is not always easy.  If we start focusing on our behaviour we fall into a variety of traps. There is the trap of only partial truth, so we think we are all right but in reality we are blind to bad thinking and bad behaviour and it needs to Lord to reveal it to us. There is the trap of pride whereby we start thinking how good we are – especially in comparison to others – and we don’t realise that that pride is a sin. There is also the trap of self-effort whereby, just like the apostle Paul before he was saved, we work at what is, in fact, self-righteousness and that is a form of ungodliness as we forget about God in our endeavours.

Job has been speaking rightly about his life, but wrongly about what has recently been happening to him. His words may be right – but not in this context! He would have done better to have said nothing. Solomon understood this when he wrote, When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” (Prov 10:19). The more we speak, the more likely we are to get it wrong. Listen up!

49. Warfare

Ephesians Meditations No.49

Eph  6:10-12 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Finally? When preachers say ‘finally’ they usually go on for another quarter of an hour! But this letter is drawing to a close and this is a key and crucial issue before Paul finishes. Remember the context has been the unity of the body of Christ, the church, and Paul has worked through a number of practical issues in the Christian life, things that should not be there and things that should, concluding with thoughts about family life and life working for another, all very practical stuff. Now, in the concluding paragraphs he wants to cover and remind his readers about spiritual realities, about the warfare that is constantly being waged and, as a good pastor, he wants to teach them how to overcome.

The overall call in the coming verses is a call to overcome and he tells us how to do that: “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” It is God’s presence and God’s strength that will help us overcome, not our own strength. This is the wonder of the Christian life, that God’s strength is available for us. However it is not like receiving an injection and suddenly feeling full of energy; very often God’s strength is there but until we get on and do what we are called to do, we’re not aware of the ability He gives us, His strength that always matches the need. That is the truth, His strength always matches the need that He gives us to do, and so we’re not aware of overflowing power, just power to do what needs to be done!

But then Paul uses the language of analogy. It is possible that he is in prison and in chains or at least (and I think this is more likely) that there are guards in the vicinity who wear armour and he likens the things we have from God to pieces of armour, as we’ll see when we move on in the next meditation. For now he gives us a simple instruction, which he will soon enlarge on: “Put on the full armour of God.” Note the word, ‘full’. Not just odds and ends, but the full covering that God has provided. When you put on armour you cover all parts of the body. God doesn’t leave us ‘uncovered’ in any way. He provides full protection for us in the things He has given us. Now comes the reason for this need of this armour: “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

Yes, this is the truth, that we have an enemy, an adversary.  In many places the Bible testifies to the fact of this fallen angel called Satan, the Accuser, or the devil. His activities are most clearly seen in Genesis 3 where he challenges the truth and tempts Eve and Adam to disregard God’s words.  He tempts, he deceives, he accuses and he attacks (see Job 1,2). He schemes to bring us down, he plots to get us to stop following God and he sows discord and discontent and seeks to get us to lose our perspective. We will see as we go on that our call is to stand, and the picture is of us having being given ground to hold – the truth, the truth about ourselves, the truth about God and the truth of the Gospel. In the fight our enemy seeks to push us off this ‘plot of ground’ so we give up believing the truth and from then on we are vulnerable and will fall.

If we are uncertain of our perspective, Paul spells it out: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We may think that the troubles we have, the situations we struggle against, are to do with people, but people are only the means that Satan uses to come against us outwardly. He also comes against us inwardly in our minds. This is a spiritual battle and the main part of it is fought in our mind. It’s not just people, it is all those who are ungodly and unrighteous, whether they be human or demon. When people come against us and challenge and oppose us with atheistic arguments, the origins for that are in the spiritual realm from our enemy, who rules their minds.

We need to be quite clear of this before we go on to consider the armour and the battle in detail: this is a spiritual battle, an unseen battle and therefore the answer is with THE Spirit, God Himself.  He is with us and He is for us and He will provide all we need. Remember, part of what we call the Lord’s Prayer says, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Mt 6:13). Do you see the need to pray that on a regular basis?  There is a very real need and we ignore it at our peril.