Samuel, Day 15: It’s About God’s Holiness

1samuelDAY FIFTEEN

Read 1 Samuel 13 – 14:23

It’s important to read this entire section in one sitting to appreciate what is happening and see the mind of God.

First, the context. Saul is the new king with one victory under his belt. He decides to send much of his army home but keeps 3000. It doesn’t say why. Overconfidence? Maybe.

Jonathan takes out a Philistine outpost and that gets their attention. They rally with the full force of their army staring down at them. The Israelites freak out. All but 600 of them go running for the hills. Some hide. Some flee the country. Some join the Philistines.

The tradition was to offer a sacrifice before battle to ask for God’s favor in battle. Samuel said he’d be there to offer the sacrifice but he didn’t show. So Saul got desperate and offered it himself. Bad decision.

Just then Samuel shows up and is shocked to see what Saul has done. He tells him that he and his son Jonathan and his sons sons would have held the kingdom for years. But this one act of disobedience proved that he wasn’t worthy of being king.

It’s About God’s Holiness

Harsh? Here’s the deal: when God appears to be harsh in the Bible, it almost always has to do with his holiness. There is no compromise with God’s holiness. To us, mere mortals, it does seem harsh, like an over-reactive temper tantrum on God’s part. But that’s only because we don’t understand that God is not like us. He is pure in every way. We need to respect that.

God established an elaborate system for worship, involving priests and sacrifices showing that you don’t just come tripping into the presence of God. But that’s what Saul did. He felt like he could break all the rules of worship because he was going to lose his battle. He put his concerns ahead of God’s.

There are few lessons in the Bible more important than this. I think this might be THE problem at the heart of the church: not appreciating the holiness of God. It takes us off track and out of God’s will every time.

After reading what Saul did, you’d assume that the army would have been crushed as punishment for Saul’s behavior. But God used Jonathan’s solo mission as a springboard to reveal his glory. It’s like God was showing Saul that he should have trusted him more. If God could route the entire army through Jonathan and his armor bearer, how easy would it have been to route them with Saul and 600 men?

The point here is that we often compromise our faith and morality because we think we “have to.” We see no other option. We have to help God out. But with God, obedience to him is the only option. And when you honor him, he will honor you.

Prayer: Father, help me to get this one thing right. Help me to understand your holiness and honor it through my obedience. Holy Spirit please challenge my justifications and poor excuses for why disobedience is the right path. God, you are worthy of my obedience. Help me to trust that you will show up on my behalf if I have the courage to trust you today. Amen.

Samuel, Day 14: Do You Need a Do-Over?

1samuelDay Fourteen

Read 1 Samuel 12

Samuel’s ministry is drawing to a close. You can tell that he’s still pretty mad that the people asked for a king. I can appreciate that. No leader likes to pour out their life only to be ignored.

Imagine being Samuel. You literally grew up serving God because your mom dedicated you from birth. You knew God’s hand was on you. As just a boy God used you to confront the corruption in the priesthood around you. But you were steadfast. You held true to God even though everyone else strayed.

Then you led one of the greatest revivals in the history of Israel. You got people to tear down their idols and bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Shiloh. God even gave you victory over the more technologically advanced Philistines. There was peace in the land.

You are now in your golden years, feeling good about your legacy, and your people decide to ask for a king. Geez people…really? After all that Samuel and God had done to get them on the right track, they want a king to be like the other nations?

So, in this dramatic speech, Samuel compares the people to their forefathers who also rejected God and bore the consequences. Their lives became so miserable from their bad choice that they cried out to God. Samuel is implying that they will do the same thing. The only way things won’t go bad is if both the people AND the king serve God 100% of the time, and he knew that would never happen.

God Gives You a Do-Over

But the surprising thing in this speech is how his tone softens towards the end. He basically says, “You guys really screwed up. But what’s done is done. There’s no going back on this king idea. But if you serve God, I will still bless you.”

“Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. 1 Samuel 12:20,22-24

The good news here is that the same offer extends to you today as well. There is a good chance that you made some decisions that you regret. You can’t “unscramble the egg,” as they say. You can’t go back and undo your mistakes. And maybe you’ve wondered if God can still love you after a mistake with a permanent consequence. Since you can’t  hit “rewind,” does that mean you are living in sin and God will never forgive you?

Samuel’s words imply that God will absorb your wrongdoing and give you a “do-over.” Don’t beat yourself up about the past. Learn from it to make sure you do a better job of serving God in the days ahead. Thank God every day for his grace to you. And offer that same kind of grace to others.

Prayer: Father, your grace is truly amazing. You continually bear with our turning away and invite us to begin again. Help me to start fresh with you today. Show me how to make amends for my past sin, but if there is nothing left to do, help me to move on without constantly living in regret. Help me to accept your forgiveness and live the new life you have for me. Amen.

Samuel, Day 13: Finding God’s Will

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Read 1 Samuel 9 & 10

This section gives an oddly detailed account of how God led Saul into the path of Samuel. My guess is that people wanted to know the full story of how Saul came to become king, so thus the detail. They wanted to know it was God’s idea and not Samuel’s.

Heavenly Connections

God used the loss of donkeys to bring Samuel and Saul together. Samuel got a heads-up from God that Saul was coming his way and that he was God’s pick for king. But Saul seemed to be confused at all the fuss being made over him. He just wanted to find his donkeys!

If you ever worry about finding the right job or finding the right spouse, etc. this story should encourage you. God knew exactly where Samuel and Saul were and how to cause their paths to meet. God knows how to connect you with the right people if you are careful to look and listen for them.

It’s interesting that Saul was seen to be the most handsome man in the land, yet we’ll soon see that he didn’t have the greatest character in the land. It makes me wonder what God was doing. Was he just giving the people what he knew they wanted: a tall good-looking guy that they could be proud of having as king? Possibly.

Finding God’s Will

After Samuel and Saul returned from the country, Samuel called the people to select their king. He didn’t tell them it was Saul. He used the process of “casting lots,” which was similar to “drawing straws” or “rolling dice.” They trusted that God would show them his will through this process. And what do you know? He did. It was a confirmation of what Samuel already knew. God revealed Saul to be king personally to Samuel but also in the traditional way, publicly.

This is a good lesson for us in seeking God’s will. You shouldn’t just “go with your gut” assuming that God is speaking to you. Subject your hunch to a more objective process to make sure you’ve found God’s will. If you have found God’s will you can be confident that he will confirm it through other people. You don’t have to manipulate the process to get what you want. This will also bring wider support of your idea.

Prayer: God, you know all. You know what’s best for me. And you are happy to lead me in your way if I will only listen. Direct my paths to cross with the people you want me to know. Help me to trust that you will show me what to do. And please confirm your will through others so I can be confident that what I heard was truly from you. Amen.

Samuel, Day 12: The Price You Pay for Turning Away

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DAY TWELVE

Read 1 Samuel 8

But Samuel’s sons made the Israelites nervous. Since they were not the moral or spiritual equivalent of Samuel, and Samuel was aging…what would the people do when Samuel was gone?

Rather than start praying for God to raise up a new Samuel, they decided to ask for a king. A king is what the other nations had. Kings had armies and governments. A king would save them! Yes! That was a great idea!

The Subtle Shift Away from God

They probably didn’t realize it, but by asking for a king they were rejecting God. Please take note: we don’t see things how God sees things. That’s why these stories are so helpful to give us a peek into God’s mind.

We are often so casual about our decisions to shift our trust away from God. It’s never one big move, like, “I will now reject God and trust in others.” No, it’s much more subtle than that. It’s little by little, trusting in people, or the government, or insurance policies, or pension plans. None of those are bad…that’s why it’s so subtle. But when you pad your life with substitutes, then suddenly, it doesn’t matter if God shows up or not.

Have you shifted your faith away from God to people?

The Price You Pay for Turning Away

God made it clear how substitutes take more than they give. Take a look at the list in verses 11-17. Take a minute to consider how shifting your trust away from God can have the opposite effect than what you had hoped.

Surprisingly, God gave the people their wish. He gave them a king. And he will give us what we ask for too if we insist on it. It will happen. But you may come to regret that you got what you asked for because it took more from you than it gave back.

Have you ever insisted on having something, that you eventually got, but it cost you dearly? Maybe it’s time to admit that to God and ask his forgiveness. Clear the air so you can move on.

Prayer: Father, show me how I’ve shifted my trust away from you. What or who am I relying on instead of you? Give me eyes to see this and then the faith to redirect my faith back to you. Amen.

 

Samuel Devotional: Have You Put God on the Shelf?

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Day 11

Read chapter 7.

After the seventy people died from their mishandling the Ark, the Israelites took the Ark to a distant town and left it there…for twenty years! It’s like, “We don’t understand what just happened, but it’s freaking us out, so let’s just put God on the shelf. How can it be any worse than what just happened?”

Sound familiar? Maybe not in your life, but in the life of someone you know? I can think of someone right now who suffered a tragedy and it was unacceptable to them. They blamed God and totally went off the spiritual radar. They wanted nothing to do with God or God’s people. That was their way of  “payback.”  That’s so sad to me because they are running from the only One that can give them true comfort.

Many people who give up on God go from one heart ache to the next, never realizing that maybe there’s a connection: maybe pushing God out of their life hasn’t made things any better, but worse.

Taking God Off the Shelf

Thankfully, in our story, Samuel helped the people see their error. He helped them decide to bring God back to the center of their lives, and with it, the Ark back to their place of worship. When God moved back to center stage, what do you know…the Israelites had success over their arch-enemies, the Philistines.

When worship was restored, peace finally came to Israel and the towns that had been lost to the Philistines were restored. This was a high point in the entire history of Israel. This was the way God meant Israel to be, with God leading his people with priests and prophets.

Today I’d like you to consider if you’ve been offended by God and put him on the shelf. Be honest. It’s easy to go to church and go through the motions of faith while you still hold a grudge against God. The Israelites did it for 20 years. Hopefully you won’t make that mistake. Tragedy is the time to draw near to God. Let him bring you peace and restore your soul, the way it was meant to be.

Prayer: Father, help me to see how I distance myself from you in subtle ways. Help me to see how easy it is to drift away from you at the very time I should be taking steps toward you. I want to trust your goodness and allow you to bring the peace and restoration that you alone can bring. And please show me people that I might encourage to come back to you as Samuel did with the Israelites. Amen.

Wrestling with the Holiness of God: Day Ten

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The Philistines return the Ark

Congrats on finishing the second week of our walk through the books of 1 & 2 Samuel. I’ve gotten good feedback from people. I hope you will stick with it. Use the weekend to get caught up! – Remy

Day Ten: Read 1 Samuel 6.

It had been seven months (a number of completion in the Bible) that the Philistines had the Ark of the Covenant after capturing it in battle with the Israelites. But it had become a curse to them. The Philistines sent the Ark around to all five of their cities in a version of “Hot Potato” (You take it, no YOU take it…). They were finally done with it. Bad idea. It was time to send it back to Israel.

But how should they do it? They don’t want to make any more mistakes and incur even MORE wrath from the Israeli god. The Philistines asked their priests and diviners what to do. They didn’t know either, but they told the rulers to return the ark with five golden rats and five golden tumors to appease this god.

These gifts give us a clue to how they were being afflicted. Scholars tell us that the people had a bad case of hemorrhoids and the rats were carrying a disease throughout the country.

Return from Exile

A key verse in this chapter compares the situation to when God poured out plagues on Egypt in order to force Pharaoh to let his people go:

Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?

So, the Philistines sent the Ark back to Israel on a cart with the gifts. It was a joyous scene that quickly turned sour:

But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them. And the people of Beth Shemesh asked, “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?” 1 Samuel 6:19,20*

God is Holy

I preached on this text in the Spring of this year when I spoke on “Restoring the Awe.” These kinds of events often throw us for a loop. We have a certain notion of who God is and who he should be. But what we often fail to include in our concept of God is that he is holy. He dwells in unapproachable light. His holiness is the reason Jesus needed to die for us, to make us acceptable in his sight. It’s only because of Jesus that we can enter his presence.

The Israelites forgot this. They got curious and looked in the ark. You can’t treat holy items in an unholy way. And then when people died because of it, they gave up on God. They didn’t want anything to do with a wrathful god. So they took the Ark to a distant city and left it there for twenty years! But it wasn’t God’s fault that he was holy. It was the people’s fault for not respecting his holiness.

What about you? Do you understand and appreciate God’s holiness? Are you careful to honor God in how you live your life? Or does a story like this offend you and push you away from him? This issue of God’s holiness is something that every believer has to come to grips with.

A story like this tells me that God is very different from us…and that’s a good thing. That’s who I WANT God to be. I don’t want him to be like me. In Isaiah God tells us:

My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8,9

Prayer: Father, help me to not fear your holiness but may it cause me to cling to Jesus that much more, knowing that it’s in Christ that I’m acceptable in your sight. Thank you for making an impossible situation (a relationship with you) possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Help me to grow in my understanding of your holiness and how I might increasingly set myself apart for you. Amen.

* Note that the text doesn’t say that God sent these people to hell. They were his people. He loved them. But they mistreated his holiness and God used them as an example to all the people that he was not like other gods. He was holy and should be treated as holy.

Samuel Devotional: Day Nine

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Day Nine:

Read 1 Samuel 4:21,22 and all of chapter five.

Chapters 4-6 are a special story within 1 Samuel that’s known as the Ark Narrative. See Day Six for a description of the Ark. It doesn’t talk about Samuel at all in this section. And God never speaks, but his presence is powerful. In the NIV version of 4:22 it says that the glory of God “departed.” It literally says in the Hebrew that the glory went “into exile.”

The word “glory” means “heaviness” or “weight” in Hebrew. The idea is that God has substance. Authority. Power. But by saying that he went into exile, some might wrongly think that God had lost his power. He didn’t show up for the Israelites. He didn’t give them what they wanted. It made people question God.

The Glory of God

What happens in chapter five negates that thinking. God is anything but powerless. The Philistines put the Ark next to a totem-pole like image of their god, Dagon. In the morning the statue had fallen over. They set it back up, but the next morning it had not only fallen over, but the hands and head of the statue were broken off. In ancient times, the hands and feet were often cut off of captives.

In contrast to handless Dagon, the “hand of the Lord” was mentioned several times in this chapter. In fact, the hand of God was “heavy” against them. Remember that the word “heavy” is the same word for glory (see vs. 6 and 11). God revealed his glory among them.

God Does Not Abandon Us.

So what’s the point? The point is that sometimes bad things happen and we make the false assumption that God has abandoned us, or that he’s powerless to change anything. But this story proves that theory to be wrong. God’s glory may have left Israel, but it didn’t leave God. He is shown to be actively moving with power, even without the religious workings of the Israelites priestly system. Other gods couldn’t even stand in his presence.

If you ever are tempted to think that God has left you, or that he is unable to help you, think again. God is always at work. We are wise to join him in what he’s doing rather than trying to manipulate him (through religious acts) to join us in what we are doing.

Prayer: Father, forgive me for ever thinking that you are absent or powerless. Help me to see your glory and respect it. Help me to join you in what you want to do in my life and may I never try to use you to serve my agenda. Amen.

Samuel Devotional: Day Eight

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Day 8

When God Doesn’t Show Up

Before you move on from chapter four, I want you to notice something that’s easy to miss. It says:

The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. 1 Samuel 4:2

The Israelites were defeated, with no comment as to why. There was no cause and effect. It just happened.

Bad things happen. Just like the bumper sticker says: Stuff Happens. Or something like that.

There doesn’t have to be a cause. Sometimes the only cause is the broken world we live in. War happens. Cancer happens. Lightning happens. Don’t be so quick to assign blame or guilt. There’s not some grand cosmic design against you.

It’s fair to reflect on what happens to see if there is any correlation to what you did. You definitely want to learn from your mistakes. But I’ve met too many people that read “signs” into every bad event and assume that God is out to get them. Not true.

What’s important is that you respond well when bad things happen. Israel failed that test. As mentioned in Day Six, they got religious. They brought the Ark into battle. They treated God like a rabbit’s foot.

When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the Ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.” 1 Samuel 4:3

It didn’t pay off. They returned to the battle and lost 30,000 men that day.

God would have preferred that they simply come back to camp and seek him in prayer. Ask him to comfort them. Ask God to give them wisdom. Ask God to use them to bring glory to his name. Their religion may have looked good and felt good on the way to battle, but it did nothing for them.

The same is true for you. I’m sure bad things have happened. News flash: bad things will happen again, some time, some where in your future. That’s life. Don’t assume that God has abandoned you, that he’s judging you, or worse yet, that he doesn’t exist. Getting more religious isn’t the answer.

Bad events are not God’s way of telling you that you should go to church more or read your Bible more. How can we think of God as being that petty and punitive? Instead, when bad things happen, that’s your cue to draw closer to God than you’ve ever been. The Bible tells us that God draws close to the broken hearted.

Prayer: Father, help me to respond well when bad things happen. I don’t want to live in fear of evil. I don’t want to deny it either. I don’t want to jump to the conclusion that you are judging me or have abandoned me when it happens. Help me to turn to you for both comfort and wisdom. Might those times be times when I am closer to you than ever, just like when a parent holds their child tight as they run through a storm. Amen.

p.s. Consider sharing this with someone who might need to hear it.

Samuel Devotional: Day Seven

2-ark-of-the-covenantDay Seven: Read Chapter 4

It’s a dark day in Israel. It’s the day that the prophecies against Eli and his sons are fulfilled in spades. Not only do all three die, but the Ark of the Covenant is captured in battle.

This story is an interesting story in religiosity. The Ark of the Covenant was a gold covered box, about the size of a cedar chest. It had two gold angels on top, facing each other. The space in between the two angels was called the Mercy Seat, the place where the Spirit of God dwelt.

God commanded the creation of the Ark in the time of Moses. Inside the Ark were a copy of the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, and a jar of mannah to remind the Israelites of how God brought them out of Egypt.

The Ark was the focal point of worship in the Tabernacle, the elaborate tent that Moses made in the Wilderness. The priests served in this Tabernacle day and night offering sacrifices.

God is Not a Rabbit’s Foot

Now, the Israelites were not known for their army at the time. They were farmers. The Philistines were just the opposite; great warriors with weapons and chariots. So Israel felt like they needed a secret weapon. Someone got the great idea to bring the Ark of the Covenant into battle to use as a Lucky Charm or Rabbit’s Foot.

It worked at first, getting the men in the field excited and putting dread in the enemy. But at the end of the day, thousands of Israelites were killed and they lost the Ark.

The lesson here is that God is to be worshipped, not used for our benefit. We serve him, he doesn’t serve us. Yet humans have this knack of reducing God to a genie in a bottle. We are much more likely to do something religious in hopes of God blessing us (go to church, pray the Lord’s prayer, take communion, light a candle, etc.) than simply talking to God about our concern.

We mistakenly think there is some kind of mysterious trick to getting God on our side. It’s like doing a rain dance thinking we can manipulate God to hear our cry. But God is on our side already. That’s why he sent Jesus to die for us. You don’t have to do anything to earn his love.

God is a Person

God is a person. Not a human, but a person. He is not just a force or an entity. This means we need to relate to him personally. He can’t be manipulated with loud prayers, or long prayers, or certain words. He’s looking for us to express ourselves with honest, humble words that put him first in our lives. We invite him to walk with us just like you would invite any person.

So, my question today is: how do you relate to God? Is it personal? Or is it religious? Do you try to manipulate him with religious acts or in how you pray? Chapter four shows us that you can’t fool God. He knows your heart and if your heart isn’t right, no religious act will make up for it. But he can transform your heart if you ask him to.

Prayer: Father please reveal to me anything about me that approaches you with insincerity or manipulation. Show me how I put my trust in religious actions more than a humble heart. Might I not be so foolish as to try to trick you with my actions and use you for my benefit. Help me to have a servants heart that puts you first in my life. Amen.

Samuel Devotional: Day Six

 

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Day 6: Read 1 Samuel 3:19- 4:1 (below)

This is such a short passage that I’ll print it for you here. It might appear to be insignificant: just a little summary and transitional statement to end this opening section of 1 Samuel. But let’s see what we can find here:

19And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan (the northernmost city) to Beersheba (the southernmost city) knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the LORD. 21And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD. 4:1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

To appreciate this section you have to understand the context. The years leading up to the birth of Samuel were written about in the book of Judges. It was a time of lawlessness. The Bible says, “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” One of the last Judges was Sampson. God used him, but he was far from a model of righteousness. He was a reckless man in many ways.

So Israel hadn’t seen a godly man or woman for many years. But verse 19 said of Samuel that God was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. That means that all of his words were true. He never misrepresented God and God always did what Samuel said he was going to do.

It must have been refreshing to see someone walk with God without wavering. Can you imagine living back then, in the midst of so much corruption, and then have Samuel come on the scene? Imagine hearing truth when you only heard lies. Imagine experiencing compassion when you had only experienced indifference at best and violence at worst.

Do you realize that you can be the same kind of refreshing presence to the people in your sphere of influence? Your acquaintances may live in a world where everyone does what’s right in their own eyes. Your presence may be the only goodness they experience…the only person who offers a ray of hope and a word from God, no matter how simple.

So as you start your day, realize that you have more to offer your world than you think you do. We often take God’s reality and goodness for granted. It’s so much a part of our lives that we don’t always see it. But that’s not true of most people you will encounter today. So look for opportunities to shine the light of God’s Spirit into their world.

Prayer: Father, thank you for Samuel’s example. It gives us hope that people really can follow you and live a life of faith and integrity, even in a world of darkness. Give me eyes to see the opportunities I have to be a light for you and bring people hope. Might I be an example to others of your love and goodness. Amen.

p.s. I decided to keep posting these devotionals here in case they are easier for you to access than via email. They will also appear on our Facebook page. You may pastor(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)cedarbrookchurch.net

p.p.s. Be sure to download Sunday’s message if you missed it.