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Ark of the Covenant

I.      Introduction

Our lesson today studies the Ark of the Covenant, so I would like to back up a long, long way in scripture.  I’m never sure how far I should go back to provide the right historical context, and it seems like every time I study this I want to go all the way back to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning.”  But I suppose I don’t have to rewind that far back every time.  So where do I start in a study of the Ark of the Covenant?

Click here: Raider of the Lost Ark

II.      History of the Ark

Ok, so let’s turn to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning…” I’m just kidding.  We’ll start the famous crossing of the Red Sea, after Moses has led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, and heads for Mt. Sinai.  Three months after crossing the sea, the people of Israel are camped at the bottom of Mt, Sanai, and Moses goes up into the mountains where God etches the Ten Commandments on stone tablets for Moses to bring to the Israel people.

Exodus 24 says that God Himself engraved the stone tablets with His own finger, verse 12,

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”

The Lord God promises to dwell among the people, and the Ten Commandments are to be stored in the Ark.

So make yourself an Ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out.  This is how you are to build it: The Ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.  Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around.  Put a door in the side of the Ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.

Sorry, that’s the wrong Ark.  That was Noah’s Ark in Genesis 6, let me try again from Exodus 25, where we first read about the Ark, and God’s precise description of it to Moses:

“Have them make an Ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.  Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it.  Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other.  Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold.  Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the Ark to carry it.  The poles are to remain in the rings of this Ark; they are not to be removed.  Then put in the Ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you.

“Make an atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide.  And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover.  Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends.  The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking toward the cover.  Place the cover on top of the Ark and put in the Ark the tablets of the covenant law that I will give you.  There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the Ark of the Covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.

Here is what it looks like:

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Click here: Raider of the Lost Ark

Actually, this is a pretty good representation of the Ark of the Covenant, and many parts of this movie got it right.  Let’s take a look –

Some were exaggerations, like Brody saying it “leveled mountains.”  That’s probably a reference to Joshua at the Battle of Jericho.  Blowing horns and carrying the Ark, the Israelites circled the city, and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.  And remember the scene where Indiana tells Miriam, “Don’t Look!”?  The Ark was considered holy and dangerous, and only those specified by the Lord could touch it or look in it, and then only after they had been purified.  Coming into direct contact with the holiness of God was instant death.  In Leviticus 10, Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron, brought a foreign flame to offer a sacrifice in the Tabernacle, they were devoured by flames from the Lord.  In 2 Samuel 6 while moving the Ark, the oxen stumbled.  A Levite named Uzzah steadied the Ark, and Uzzah was struck dead instantly.

The Ten Commandments were placed inside and sealed with the cover.  The Ark was then placed inside the Holy of Holies inside the tabernacle and later the Temple of Jerusalem, and when the Levitical priest made his annual sacrifice for the people of Israel, he shed the blood of an innocent, unblemished lamb and sprinkled it on the top of the Ark, which call the Mercy Seat.  The shekinah of God rested on this holy seat.  This was the most important piece of furniture in the Tabernacle.  It is where God sat when He dwelled among His people.

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The location of the Ark today is unknown.  Centuries later, when the Babylonians sacked Israel, led by Nebuchadnezzar, they hauled off a great deal of religious artifacts from the Temple and made detailed lists of what was taken, but the Ark was not listed among them items.  One of the final kings, Josiah, may have buried it beneath the temple mount, beneath the Holy of Holies, and sealed it in stone.  One Jewish archaeologist, Leen Ritmeyer, has identified a section of bedrock below the Temple Mount cut out in the dimensions of the Ark.  It is unlikely any excavation will ever be allowed by either Muslims or Israelis.

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III.      The Ark is Taken

So it is within this history that we examine a time where the Israelites, in battle with the Philistines, gain a new understanding of the power and holiness of God.  Approximately 300 years after the battle of Jericho, in 1 Samuel 4, the Israelites went to battle against the Philistines.  The Philistines are mentioned as far back as the days of Abraham in Genesis 21, and they’re mentioned in the books of Samuel over 150 times.  These were originally a seafaring people from the Aegen Sea who sought to control the land we know as Palestine.  The word Palestine is derived from Philistine, and this conflict over territory continues to this day.

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Scripture says that at this battle, 4000 Israeli soldiers were killed.

The Israelis must have been perplexed.  Wasn’t this land given to them by the Lord?  Then why were the idol-worshipping Philistines defeating them?  When the remaining Israeli soldiers returned to camp, the Israeli elders conclude that the reason Israel lost is because they didn’t carry the Ark of the Covenant into battle like they did at Jericho.  If the elders had read their scripture, though, they would have read in Deuteronomy 28:25 and Leviticus 26:39 that their defeat was not caused by the Ark, or the lack of the Ark, but by their disobedience to the Lord.

So instead of searching their hearts and confessing their sins first, they decided to imitate Moses and Joshua and take the Ark into battle before them.  Rather than seek the will of the Lord, the people of Israel attempted to use the Lord to fight their battle.  In 1 Samuel 4 the people of Israel brought the Ark out of the Tabernacle and let out a mighty roar, so loud the ground shook.  The Philistines were afraid, look at verses 6-8 –

Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”

When they learned that the Ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before.  We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness.

The battle began, but the battle did not end as expected.  The Israelites were slaughtered, this time 30,000 Israeli soldiers died, and the Ark of God was captured by the Philistines.  Israel was crushed, and the Philistines rejoiced.  The spiritual leader of Israel, Eli, mentor of Samuel, was so distraught by the capture of the Ark that he falls out of his chair and breaks his neck and dies.

These are dark times indeed for Israel.  It appears to the Israelites that God has been taken hostage by the Philistines.  They’ve lost their battle, their soldiers, their land, their spiritual leader, and worst of all, they’ve lost the Ark of the Covenant.  But we will see in today’s lesson that there is far more at play here.  God is not an idol.  God does not need for men to carry Him about.  God is the One who carries Israel.  They have forgotten who their God is.  In fact, the terms of their covenant with God was that God would sit on the mercy seat when the people were obedient and submitted to God’s will.

The Philistines took the captured Ark with them to Ashdod, one of 5 major cities the Philistines controlled.  In Ashdod, the Philistines worshipped their god Dagon, and they take the captured Ark of the Covenant and lay it prostrate into Dagon’s temple in a position of submission.  Rejoicing, no doubt that the God of Israel has been captured and forced to bow before Dagon.  But the next morning, they were astonished to see the roles reversed.

1 Samuel 5:1-3,

After the Philistines had captured the Ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod.  Then they carried the Ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon.  When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the Ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place.

They put their god Dagon back in his place.  Dagon is an idol that does have to be carried by man.  The next morning is even worse – not only is Dagon back on the floor in submission, but his hands and head had been broken off, with only the body remaining.

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Is Dagon in the hands of an angry God?  Dagon is prostrated before the Ark of God, but Ark of the Covenant is not a god.  It is not an idol like Dagon.  The Ark is a symbol of God’s presence among His people.  It has great symbolic value, but it is not an idol.  Dagan, the man-made God, has to be picked up, glued back together, sent to the shop for repairs.

Verse 6 says the Lord’s hand was heavy against the Philistines and brought affliction and tumors.  The people of Ashdod want nothing more to do with this captured Ark, so they send it to the next Philistine city, Gath.  In Gath, immediately the same tumors and afflictions affected all the people.  So the people of Gath decide to send it to a 3rd Philistine city, Ekron.  And the people of Ekron see the Ark arriving and they cry out, “They brought the God of Israel to kill us!  Send it away!”

I find it incredible how the Philistines don’t get it.  Earlier before battle, they heard the Israeli roar so loud the earth shook, and the Philistines were afraid of the God who brought the plagues upon Egypt.  Now, their idol God Dagon is hacked to pieces and lies prostrate before the Ark.  And the Philistines are dying of some sort of plague with tumors as long as they keep the Ark.  Their man-made god is powerless against the Almighty, but they still choose to worship their idol.

Send it back.  Send it back, they say.  With the presence of the one true living God in their midst, they want to send it away.  It is too hot to handle.  Send it away.

IV.      The Ark is Returned

For seven months, the Philistines hold on to the Ark and are plagued with tumors.  They know they have to get rid of it.  At first, it was a political problem as they passed it from one city to another, but now it’s a religious problem.  The want to return the Ark to Israel, but they don’t want offend Israel’s angry God.

1 Samuel 6:1-3,

When the Ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the Ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.”

They answered, “If you return the Ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.”

The Philistine priests come up with a guilt offering, a really weird one.  They make five gold tumors.  Yes, tumors, modeled after the tumors that afflicted their bodies.  They make 5 gold tumors, and also make 5 gold rats for carrying this plague.  Look how well the Philistine priests understand the Jehovah God in verse 4-6 –

The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?”

They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers.  Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land.  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?

Again, it’s interesting that they know the power of God but they refuse to worship Him.  Instead, they continue to worship their idol Dagan who, as I understand it, doesn’t have any hands anymore.  Or a head.

They Philistine priests devise a plan in verse 7 to see if the Ark is really the source of their problems, and if the Lord will be appeased if the Ark is returned.

“Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up.  Take the Ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, but keep watching it.  If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.”

So they take 2 cows that have never been yoked, pen up their calves, and load the Ark on the cart.  Their thinking is that the natural inclination of the cows is to return to their young, but if the Lord is in control, He will guide the calves back to the Israelites.

Which is exactly what happened; the cows didn’t even look to the right or the left.  The Philistines followed the cows and the Ark to the end of the town of Beth Shemesh where the Israelites were harvesting their wheat.

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A big cry of joy from the Israelites when they see the Ark being returned on the cart of two cows.  So excited they were, they took the Ark down, chopped up the cart for firewood, and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering.  The Israelites of Beth Shemesh lined up to look inside the Ark – some manuscripts say 70, others say 50,070.   Was the Lord pleased?  God responded by striking the Israelites dead.

The Israelites were ecstatic to have the Ark returned; now they are shocked that the Lord God would strike down so many worshipping Israelites.  The Israelites cry out, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this Holy God?”

Israel, in its exuberance, did not follow the law, and the punishment is death.  The book of Numbers, chapter 4, specifically says that those that look inside at the holy things inside the arc will die.  And the burnt offering of cows?  Leviticus 1:10 says that all burnt offerings shall be male.  In their exuberance, the Israelites disobeyed and were killed.

  V.      Conclusion

So what can we learn from today’s lesson?  We begin with Israel’s first battle with the Philistines, which Israel loses 4000 men and is defeated.  The priests of Israel are Eli’s sons at this time are corrupt and practicing evil.  1 Samuel 2:17 says the sin of the young priests was very great in the Lord’s sight.  And the Israelites decide to take their lucky rabbit’s foot, the Ark, into battle, for the Lord is undefeated.  Instead, their defeat is far, far greater, and 30,000 die and the Ark is taken.

When the Ark is returned, the Israelites celebrate the return of their lucky rabbit’s foot.  They celebrate the return but disobey the Lord’s instructions, and even more Israelites die.

As for the Philistines, they know about the power of the Lord and the plagues against Egypt.  After capturing it, they too mistake the Ark for the Lord God of Israel.  They try to place the Ark in a position of submission to another pagan idol god, not understanding that it’s not the Ark that has the power, but the Lord God Himself.

Before coming to Christ, at some point in our lives, we are like the Philistines.  We see the power of God all around us, we understand He is in control.  But we hold on to our pride, our lives of greed and gluttony, because seeing the power of God is not the same as following and trusting the power of God.  We think God, like the Ark, is too hot to handle, and we just want to move the Ark along to the next person or town.  We want to keep worshipping at the feet of the world, our reality tv, our social media, our idol god Dagon.  It’s comfortable, and our idol expects nothing from us except to occasionally glue him back together when he breaks.

In Mark chapter 5 we see the response of people who are uncomfortable with the power of God in their midst.  Jesus arrives by boat in Garasenes and a deranged man comes running out of the tombs at him.  The deranged man had been terrifying the local town, and chains and irons couldn’t hold him.  Jesus commands the demons to leave the man and go into a herd of pigs, and the man is able to sit there in his right mind and have a conversation with Jesus.  How do the people who witness this react?  They ask Jesus to leave.  The power of God is just too great to have in their midst.  They’d rather live among the demons.

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But sometime during our walk in the spirit, we become more like the Israelites.  But maybe we don’t fully understand what living by faith is all about.  We believe that we just have to give up smoking and drinking and start going to church more often, and our lives will be blessed.  We hold up our church attendance like the Ark in front of us and go into battle, like somehow our church attendance is a lucky rabbits foot.

Our God is not a god to be carried in front of us to win our earthly battles.  God is not a lucky rabbit’s foot.  If we expect nothing will ever go wrong when we hold out our crosses or rosaries or holy water in front of us, then we do not understand the battle or what God is doing with us.  God is less concerned about the challenge than He is with our response to that challenge.  Our battle has already been won for us by our Savior, Jesus Christ.

God doesn’t live in an Ark to be used for our personal gain.  God lives inside of us so that we may be used by Him.  We are the Ark of the New Covenant.  On our own, we have no power, but with the power of the Holy Spirit living inside us, the faith of a mustard seed will crumble mountains.

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To God be the glory.

Act on Revealed Truth

An Antebellum era (pre-civil war) family Bible...
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Introduction

Last week, Michelle taught from Isaiah 6. This week, the lesson covers Isaiah 7-23. When I first started studying, I though, whoa, we’re supposed to cover 16 chapters?

I spoke to Fred about this last Saturday; he said there was no problem covering all 16 chapters, he would enjoy a thorough lesson. So I thought we’d cover chapters 7-10 first, then break for lunch. Come back and read chapters 11-20 and then break for dinner. That would leave us plenty of time to cover 21-23 this evening.

Actually, I’ve noticed that the bible is an amazing book in that the closer or further away you get, there are different lessons. Isaiah 7-23 has many, many lessons for us. Isaiah 7-12 is a warning to political leaders; chapter 7 talks about hope, chapter 8 is a warning of judgment, 9 is a promise of mercy, and so on. Chapters 13-23 are prophecy and fulfilled prophecy, showing that the Lord is in control. Yet we can also focus on a single sentence and get a life-changing lesson from it, the Word of God is that powerful.

We’re just going to focus on Chapter 7 this morning. In Chapter 7, Isaiah reminds us that we are to trust in God in times of stress. We are God’s people, and we are to do things God way. God’s will be done; we can participate, or God will do His will without us. Yet, stubborn as we are, we often choose to be controlled by our circumstances rather than listen to the Lord. And that’s the lesson from the Lord today – to have faith in Him and not things of the world.

It’s time to make a decision. You can go one way, or you can go another. You can ask for help, you can go it alone. You can help a friend, but it means breaking a confidence. You can accept a new job, but it means moving away from church. What are some difficult decisions we face today, as a nation, as a church, as a class, or as a family?

Here’s a story from Los Angeles City College. In a class teaching public speaking, students were given an open assignment in public speaking. Here’s an excerpt from the news article –

On Nov. 24, 2008, Los Angeles City College speech professor John Matteson reportedly interrupted and ended Jonathan Lopez’s presentation mid-speech and called the student a derogatory name in front of the class for speaking about his faith, which included reading the dictionary definition of marriage and reciting two Bible verses.
Instead of allowing Lopez to finish, Matteson reportedly told the other students they could leave if they were offended. When no one left, Matteson dismissed the class. Refusing to grade the assigned speech, Matteson wrote on Lopez’s evaluation, “Ask God what your grade is.”

One week later, after seeing Lopez talking to the college’s dean of academic affairs, Matteson told Lopez that he would make sure he’d be expelled from school.

What are Mr. Lopez’s options? How would you respond?

Obviously anti-Christian, the teacher inadvertently asked a very appropriate question. “Ask God what your grade is.”

In Isaiah 7, King Ahaz is faced with a similar dilemma. He’s faced with a threat and has to make a decision. David’s kingdom had long since split in two after the death of Solomon. Israel to the north had routinely strayed from the lord. Judah to the south, sometimes followed the Lord and sometimes they didn’t, depending on the king at the time. Northeast of Israel was the nation of Aram (also called Syria), and north of that was the rising Assyrian Empire.

Under King Uzziah, Judah flourished. Aram and Israel had wanted to form an alliance with Judah, but Uzziah had resisted. Isaiah preached that the Lord would save, and Judah should remain neutral. Uzziah was dealing with raids from the Philistines from the west and the Edomites to the south, and if Uzziah moved troops to face the Assyrians, the southern attacks would succeed. Uzziah stayed neutral, and under King Uzziah, Judah flourished.

Uzziah died, and his son Jotham took over. Jotham was also a strong leader and kept Judah neutral, but died young. And Ahaz, 20 years old, took over. It’s now about 735 B.C.

Isaiah also spoke to Ahaz about relying on the Lord to save, but Ahaz didn’t listen. Ahaz was not a righteous king; in 2 Kings 16:2-3 we’re told Ahaz offered sacrifices to Baal and pagan idols. As a weak king, Israel and Aram gave up on the alliance idea and decided to attack Judah. Their goal was turn Judah into a puppet kingdom and become large enough to defend themselves against the Assyrians. Isaiah brings Ahaz a message to depend on the Lord and remain neutral. Isaiah tells Ahaz that Israel and Aram are too weak to be a threat, and that the Lord will protect Judah. Instead, 2 Kings 16:8 says Ahaz gave away treasure from the temple of the Lord to the Assyrians as a bribe to protect him from Aram and Israel.

Instead of listening to Isaiah’s word from the Lord, Ahaz tried to appease evil. How well did this work out? Assyria used the treasure to finance the war to conquer Aram and Israel, and then in 2 Chronicles 28 we’re told the Assyrians continued their march and conquered Judah, too, with the help of the Edomites from the south.

Isaiah told Ahaz to trust in the Lord. As Christians, we’re also taught to trust in the Lord. Like Ahaz, though, we attempt to resolve problems using our own human strength. Ahaz made several mistakes we can learn from.

I. Misplaced Focus

Let’s look at Isaiah 7:1-2.

When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.

Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

Ephraim was the largest of the ten northern kingdom, and is used here to represent all of Israel being united. Ahaz gets word that Israel and Aram have become allies, and Ahaz is scared, shaken by the wind. Ahaz has been given the word of the Lord, but he fears men. He has misplaced focus.

Oswald Chamber wrote, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else.” We face many fears in a world of sin and uncertainty. Finances, disease, natural disasters. We may face danger. We may face fear that someone we love will be hurt. Something may challenge our emotional or spiritual strength. We are tempted to give in to fear, to find a worldly solution.

Our focus should be on the Lord. What would the Lord have me do in this situation? How do I obey His commands in this time of trouble? When we turn to the Lord, fear of the world is replaced by faith in a faithful God. Our God is a powerful God. Why should we fear anything else? In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus teaches us to remember that the Lord knows our needs, that He will take care of us. Do not worry about what we eat or drink, or what we should wear. Put the Lord first, and He will provide what we need.

What was Ahaz’s fear? Was his fear justified? Have you ever been in a circumstance where you were afraid? Have you ever asked for someone’s advice and wish you hadn’t? At what point did you turn from your fears and turn toward the Lord for strength?

II. Misplaced Confidence

Isaiah 7:3-9 –

Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood — because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says:

“‘It will not take place,
it will not happen,

for the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.

The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.'”

The Lord says to Ahaz that the attack from the north will be unsuccessful. The leaders of those countries are only men, and He is the Lord God. The Lord knows the plans of evil men, and the Lord tells Ahaz that He is in control. The Lord says that these two countries are like sticks that have burned up, and there’s nothing left of them. Their flame may have once been bright, but now they’re dying. Both kings would be dead within two years.

Isaiah’s specific prophecy was that within 65 years, Israel would be too shattered to be a people. In 722 BC, Assyria conquered Israel and deported the people. 2 Kings 17:24 says foreigners came into the land to replace them, and Ezra 4:10 says later even more foreigners arrived.

Ahaz had misplaced confidence. His confidence is in himself. Ahaz puts his trust in a political alliance with Assyria. God is with Judah, but only if Judah is with God. Ahaz is trusting in the strength of an enemy to save him from other enemies. Where is Ahaz’s faith in God?

If we do not place our faith in the Lord when times are tough, then we have no faith at all. That’s what the Lord says – if you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all. But God is infinitely stronger than any problem we face. He is aware of our needs, and He is aware of those that plot against us. And God will help, but we must place our faith in Him first. Our primary confidence must be in Him, not ourselves, not other people, not worldly wisdom. God allows us to be tested in order to increase our faith in Him, and we demonstrate that faith when we give Him control and do not worry.

I notice also that Isaiah the prophet is faithful to share God’s word. But I also note fulfillment of prophecy that Michelle taught last week in Isaiah 6. Isaiah’s message falls on deaf ears, and Isaiah’s vision is unintelligible to blind eyes.

III. Missing Integrity

Isaiah 7:10-12,

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”

In Matthew 4, Satan tempts Jesus. Satan takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple of Jerusalem and tells Jesus to throw himself off. Satan says this will prove Jesus is the Son of God because scripture says angels will protect Jesus from any harm. And Jesus answers, “It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Why is Ahaz’s response wrong, but Jesus’ response was right? Ahaz was exhibiting false religiousity. Ahaz wasn’t testing the Lord; the Lord was testing Ahaz.

Both Ahaz and Jesus quote Deuteronomy 6:13. There’s a difference though – God wants to protect Judah, and all Ahaz has to do is place his faith in the Lord. Here is the kind of man Ahaz was, from 2 Chronicle 28:1-4 –

Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.

The Lord commanded Ahaz to ask for a sign. Ahaz refused. Ironically, Ahaz probably had been asking for signs from Baal and other deities; the Lord God says, “ask for a sign from me.” When Ahaz said he wasn’t going to test the Lord, what he was really saying was that he wasn’t going to trust the Lord. Ahaz used scripture to keep from obeying the Lord; he had missing integrity. While calling for Isaiah’s counsel, Ahaz had no faith in the Lord. To ask for such a sign from God required a faith from Ahaz that he didn’t have. He gave the appearance of being a religious person, but he was willing to sacrifice to idols, sacrifice his sons, make political alliances with enemies, anything at all. He had no integrity.

Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is saying you believe or feel one thing, but then do something else. You are two different people; you do not practice what you preach. Integrity is being one person. You are the same person on the outside as you are on the inside. When we are a hypocrite, we are not being honest with God. We’re not even being honest with ourselves.

IV. Misplaced Faith

Isaiah 7:13-14,

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Through Isaiah, God challenged Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refused. Pious, fake religiosity; Ahaz refused to test God. In truth, Ahaz didn’t want a sign from God, because then Ahaz would have to be obedient to God or expose his own hypocrisy. Ahaz had already decided to place his faith in men; Ahaz had already requested help from Assyria.

God’s answer is to the entire house of David. Notice also that Isaiah refers to “my God,” perhaps recognizing that Isaiah’s God is not Ahaz’s god. God provided a sign anyway, even though Ahaz would not ask. God’s ultimate sign of His authority will be His Son, Jesus. The Hebrew word for virgin is complex; for Isaiah’s time, it probably means, “young woman of marriageable age.” In the next chapter, Isaiah chapter 8, Isaiah is talking about his own child, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, which meant “Quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.” Partial fulfillment of this prophecy meant that Assyria would plunder the Aram and Israel before the child was old enough to know right from wrong.

We know there’s more to the prophecy, though. There is partial immediate fulfillment, but there is eventually ultimate fulfillment. Isaiah’s wife, the prophetess, was probably a real nice lady, but she wasn’t a virgin. She and Isaiah already had one child together. Also, Isaiah’s prophecy is not given to Ahaz, but the House of David, and he uses the plural “you”. The literal and ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is in our Lord Jesus in Bethlehem. The apostle Matthew 1:22 says that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.”” The Greek word used here is not ambiguous; it means virgin, a woman who has never had sexual relations.

Our faith should be in the Lord, not in people, places or things. In 2 Samuel 7:16, the house of David was assured that David’s house and kingdom would endure forever, yet Ahaz placed no faith in that promise. God teaches us through trials to trust in Him and Him alone.

God will work out His plan, whether we participate in His plan or not. Ahaz certainly didn’t; Ahaz had faith in himself and in the world, and placed no faith in the Lord. As a result, Judah eventually fell and was plundered by the Assyrians. But look at Matthew 1:9 at the genealogy of our savior. The lineage of Jesus begins with Abraham through the line of David, then through Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz. God provided a savior; God fulfilled prophecy. God is faithful, even when we are not.

When a crisis comes, don’t misplace your faith; learn to place your faith in God. Don’t misplace your confidence; our God is bigger than any crisis that comes. Be honest with the Lord, ourselves, and other; when we respond in faith, it pleases the Lord and encourages others when they see how the Lord responds in our lives. If we do not stand firm in our faith, we will not stand at all.

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Responding to Loss

We’ve been studying the rise of David as King of Israel. David is an interesting man, full of failures, yet David is a man after God’s own heart. What makes David different? How is David different than Saul?

As we studied in 1 Samuel, the people of Israel demanded a king and God gave them what they asked for, even though God knew it wasn’t in their best interests. Saul, as king, has actions that outwardly display his obedience to God, but we know his heart isn’t right. Saul is full of himself, and his actions are inconsistent. They do not speak of a man fully committed.

At the end of 1 Samuel, David knows he has been anointed by God as the future king of Israel, but he has to wait. Wait and wait and wait. David waits for 15 or 20 years for Saul to die so that David can be king. Who can identify with waiting on God? It’s easy to become impatient, but God’s timing is perfect; it’s our timing that gives us angst.

For these 20 years, David has to deal with everything the human heart is exposed to. Tragedy, romance, family conflict, madness, hate, betrayal. What makes David different is not his righteousness, but his faith. David made his share of mistakes, but he placed his faith in an Almighty God that was bigger than David. As a result, David becomes the king that leads God’s people through peace and prosperity in the land that God promised Abraham.

The first book of Samuel reads like a prime-time television thriller. In Chapter 22, Saul goes on a killing spree, killing off the priests of God. Chapter 23, Saul almost catches up to David to kill him, but has to veer off because of an attack by the Philistines. Chapter 24, Saul’s reliving himself in a cave when David sneaks up and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, scaring and humbling Saul… for a while anyway. In Chapter 25, David has a run-in with Nabal, but Nabal’s wife Abigail averts a battle. The next morning, Abigail tells Nabal what she’s done, and Nabal has a heart attack, so David marries Abigail. In Chapter 26, Saul’s trying to kill David again, but David again spares Saul’s life, and Saul again promises to stop trying to kill David. Chapter 27 is when David finally decides to remove himself from Israel so that Saul will stop trying to kill him.

David’s in an interesting spot; Saul has alternated between trying to kill David and vowing not to kill David. David has had more than one opportunity to kill Saul, but David knows that Saul has been placed as king by God, and it will be God’s actions to remove Saul from the throne, not by David’s hand. David is to respect authority and will have no part of killing Saul.

Chapter 27, David flees to the land of the Philistines. Since the Philistines are at war with the Israelites, David’s logic is that Saul won’t follow him there. David lived there for a year and four months, becoming the right hand man of the king of Philistine by day, slayer of Philistines by night. Chapter 28, Saul goes to a séance at the Witch of Endor’s place to seek advice from Samuel, who died a few chapters back. Samuel shows up and he is not happy. Samuel tells Saul that because of Saul’s disobedience to the Lord, Saul and his sons will be joining Samuel the next day.

Then, when the Philistine army gathers their forces to invade Israel, the Philistine generals don’t trust David to lead his small army against Israel, so David is dismissed from service. David uses this time in Chapters 29 through 30 to destroy the Amalekites, the people that Saul should have destroyed years earlier. While David is destroying the Amalekites, the Philistines invade Israel and destroy Saul’s army at Mount Gilboa. As the Philistines close in on Saul, in chapter 31 Saul and Jonathon fall on their swords and commit suicide to prevent the Philistines from taking them prisoner.

We’re tempted to breathe a sigh of relief at this point; the long saga of Saul’s attempts to kill David has come to an end. We might even be tempted to celebrate. Ding dong, the witch is dead, which old witch, the wicked witch. Ding dong, the wicked king is dead.

But this is not a celebration. This is a day of sadness in the history of Israel. Israel’s first king is dead.

As 2 Samuel opens, David is unaware that Saul has died. David is in Ziklag in Philistine territory after destroying the Amalekites, when a man arrives to tell David of Saul’s death. 2 Samuel 1:5-15 describes the encounter; the man says he was there at Mount Gilboa and Saul was injured. Then the man says that Saul begged the man to kill him, so he does. But we know from 1 Samuel 31 that Saul fell on his sword and killed himself. Why would this man claim to David that he had killed Saul?

The man is obviously trying to buy favors from David, but it doesn’t work out the way the man expects. He tells David he is one of the Amalekites that David has been destroying and admits to killing the Lord’s anointed ruled of Israel, so David find him guilty of murder and has him put to death. David does not reward the man for doing what David has resisted doing for the past 20 years.

David begins a period, not of celebration, but of mourning for the passing of Saul. 2 Samuel 1:11-12 says,

Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.

And 2 Samuel 1:17-27, David composes a lament in honor of Saul and Jonathan.

Society teaches us, especially men, how to react in situations of grief. We’re supposed to be stoic. We are to control our emotions. And the news provides so many examples of horror in our society, and the movies we watch provide so many examples of death and destruction, that we become numb, calloused, and uncaring.

But I don’t believe that God’s plan for us is to learn to be stoic and uncaring. The only way we can avoid the grieving process is not to become attached in the first place. God wants us to become attached and involved. After loving God, the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Scripture supports that we are to spend extra effort loving Christian brothers and sisters, family and friends. And if we get attached, then certainly we will grieve when we experience loss.

God wants us to grieve such losses. Grief is a God-given emotion, a gift to deal with the pain. God doesn’t want us to live in grief; he wants us to use grief as an appropriate tool. It’s important to realize that, whether a believer or a non-believer, we will all experience grief. The issue is not whether we experience grief, but rather how we respond when we feel these emotions. It’s important to remember that, even when we don’t get all the answers we seek, that we can seek comfort in the Lord, that He understands the grief we experience. Be honest with God and He will help you work through your crisis. He may not tell you the answers to your questions, but He will remind you of His love for you. You can find comfort in Him.

Psychologists teach that there are five stages of grief that we go through when we experience a serious loss of a loved one, of a parent, a child, a spouse or sibling. The grief cycle is –

• Denial (shock, numbness). This is a protective reaction and it’s temporary. We’re not ready to deal with it, so we don’t. “This isn’t happening to me.”
• Anger. The actual root of anger is usually hurt or fear, but it’s expressed through anger. It’s normal, part of the fight or flight response. “Why” is the common question when we’re going through the anger phase.
• Bargaining (shame, guilt, or blame). “I promise I’ll be a better person if…” We try to find answers, we try to fix blame on somebody, maybe on ourselves. Sometimes we blame God.
• Depression (sadness). “I just don’t care anymore.” This is the hardest part of grief to overcome, it’s anger, but now it’s turned inward. Professional help is often necessary.
• Acceptance (forgiveness). This is just the way things are. When our desires, our expectations, our needs and wants are not the same as reality, we go through the first four stages. To get to acceptance, we get to a realization that we’re not going to change reality, so we’re going to have to change our expectations.

I’m not a psychologist; I don’t pretend to know all there is to know about grief. As an engineer, I can plot your grief stages in a spreadsheet if that’s helpful. If that’s not helpful, then we need to find some appropriate help in a friend, a confidant, or professional help. If you’re going through this now, Second Baptist offers qualified counselors free through the Barnabas Center to help you deal with issues like this.

But what we can do today is look at David’s responses to grief as a way of working through grief. In 2 Samuel 1:11-12, David goes through the anger and sadness phase by mourning and fasting. In verse 17, we can see the depth of David’s emotions as he composes a lament in honor of Saul and David’s best friend Jonathon. It’s important to find a way to express the sorrow we feel.

Horatio Spafford was born in 1828 and became a successful lawyer in Chicago. He was a deeply spiritual man and devoted to the scriptures. He amassed a great deal of wealth by investing in real estate near Lake Michigan. In 1871, Horatio Spafford’s only son died, and while he was still grieving the loss of his son, the Great Chicago Fire burned up much of his real estate and wiped him out financially. Two years later, he and his wife and four daughters planned to assist Dwight Moody in an evangelism campaign in Great Britain. Spafford got delayed by business for a few days, so he sent his wife and daughters ahead on the S.S. Ville du Havre. On November 22, 1873, his wife’s ship was struck by an English vessel and sank in a few minutes. When the few survivors landed in Wales, Spafford’s wife telegraphed two simple words, “Saved alone.” Spafford had lost all four daughters.

When Horatio Spafford followed by ship a few days later, as the ship was passing through the area where his daughters had perished, Spafford wrote his own lament of personal grief, life’s pain and suffering, and finally, Christ’s redemptive work in his life. You’ve heard these words –

It Is Well With My Soul

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Refrain:
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trumpet shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Horatio Spafford

Both Horatio and David went through periods of intense grief. Both expressed their grief in powerful ways that gave thanks and glory to God. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the sun, including a time to mourn. We don’t have to be embarrassed or hide the fact we are in mourning; on the contrary, it shows the deep love God wants us to have for another. But we can learn something else from David’s lament; David had many reasons to be angry with Saul, yet, David’s lament in 2 Samuel 1:19-27 mentions not one word of criticism. Saul is described with beautiful words such as “How the mighty have fallen” and “in life they were loved and gracious,” “they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.”

One thing David does not mention, however, is Saul’s godliness. David knew that Saul failed as a spiritual leader of a nation. David praised Saul for the strengths Saul had, and did not resort to embellishing his praise with lies. Saul had his strengths, and David praised those honestly. What I find most amazing is that David’s grief and lament is about a man who made David’s life miserable, a man who hunted him into exile. But David acted in a godly manner, and it didn’t matter whether Saul did. Proverbs 24:17 says,

Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice

God is displeased when we rejoice in another person’s troubles. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. David loved Saul out of compassion and without malice.

Sometimes we have a love / hate relationship with someone; often I hear it’s about a father, one full of stern discipline and sometimes harsh treatment that we nonetheless respected and loved. Once they’re gone, it is not the time to remember what we disliked about them, but to celebrate the strengths and positive characteristics they possessed.

I’ll confess that I feel uniquely unqualified to teach much more about grief; the Lord had blessed me with a wonderful life with little grief, and one my life’s biggest reasons for grief, my divorce from Diane, God gave me the chance to do it over in His way. But I know there are many of us that have recently experienced grief, and some of us are expected to experience grief. I would like to give us a chance to express a lament for those we may grieve for. I’d like to open up for discussion some thoughts about the grieving process.

First, what are some of the ways that Christians can respond in times of loss that honor God?

Why is it important for people to express grief after a loss?

How does acknowledging a loss help us grieve and help us ultimately move on with our lives?

What are some of the ways a believer can acknowledge loss in a relationship that had problems?

Perhaps you’re not currently going through a season of grief, but it’s likely that somebody you know is. What can we learn from David about other’s grief? When others grieve, sometimes it’s difficult for us to know how to respond. When the Philistines captured Saul’s lifeless body, they mangled and mutilated it, and his remaining men had the grisly task of burying what was left of the body. In 2 Samuel 2:5-7, David meets with these men who buried Saul. Look at the beautiful, encouraging words from David –

The LORD bless you for showing this kindness to Saul your master by burying him. May the LORD now show you kindness and faithfulness, and I too will show you the same favor because you have done this. Now then, be strong and brave, for Saul your master is dead, and the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.”

As we go through anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, we will all react differently. Sometimes when a difficult person passes away, we feel relief and then guilt at feeling relief. We might hide the grief with a joyful exterior. We might put ourselves to work and lose ourselves in our jobs or in service. We might shut down and withdraw. We might even use humor to ease our grief. We can be kind to others in their grief. Professional counselors can help individuals in dealing with their grief, but there is no substitute for the love and care from others to help the healing process. Our church, our bible class, is our spiritual community to do just that.

If you’ve recently been through a grieving process, what are some of the things that people have done for you that helped?

The reason God wants us to express our grief to a community of believers is because we are uniquely positioned by God to be here as support to our Christian brothers and sisters that need us. David grieved with others and shared his thoughts through prayers and service to others. It’s tempting to withdraw into ourselves and suffer alone, but that’s not God’s plan. We need to share our losses with others so they can strengthen us. I don’t know why we feel the need to suffer alone. Pride, maybe? That somehow suffering a loss or the fact that we’re hurting somehow makes us look weak? But if we share our grief, we can be encouraged by those who care for us.

Who here has recently experienced a reason to grieve or expects to experience one soon? Pray silently for just a moment, and if you feel led, tell us who you grieve for and a positive quality about their life you can share with us.

(Prayers and thoughts from the class)

Another lesson we can learn from David after his lamentations is to look at his actions in 2 Samuel 2. In verses 1-4, David seeks the Lord’s advice on how to respond. Our first priority in life must be to seek God’s guidance, whether in joy or pain. This includes big questions such as “should I take a new job” or “should I move to a new city,” but smaller questions such as “should I continue to serve on a particular church committee.” What process do you follow in making decisions?

I think David was able to deal with his grief over the death of Saul and Jonathan because he could see God working His plan for Israel. Instead of focusing on Saul’s faults, David focused on God’s sovereignty and grace. After a loss, we want to ask why. Why did she die? Why did I lose my job? Why did I get cancer? But I’m convinced God wants us, instead of asking “why,” to ask “how” or “what.” What do you want me to do in my life, Lord? How shall I respond to this loss, Lord? We know that God promises that in all things, He works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. In all things. We have to have faith that when God says all things, He means it. Even in times of grief.

So our time of grief is a season that we go through, but grief is not a place where we stay. We should express our grief to others so they may strengthen us. How long do we spend grieving? That’s up to each of us individually. 2 Samuel 2 begins with the words, “In the course of time, David.” David had a destination as king of Israel and he had to get on with his life. In the course of time, we, too, must get on with our lives. God has prepared a destination for us, too. Let us give thanks to Him.

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The Many Ways We Disobey

Map of Canaan
Image via Wikipedia

Let’s recap the history in 1 Samuel so far and then continue reading in 1 Samuel 13-15. Today we’re going to focus on Saul, appointed by God and a man who gives every appearance to fear and obey the Lord, yet the Lord is displeased with him. Saul gives only the appearance of being obedient, yet we’re going to see how instead he is disobedient.

Last week, Fred taught us how the people of Israel asked Samuel to appoint a king over them; the elders wanted Israel to have a king just like their neighbors had. By appointing a king, the elders felt they felt that this would eliminate the organizational advantage their enemies had. Samuel warned them that the absolute power of a king held dangers, but the people wanted a king anyway. The Lord gave the people what they asked for, but considered this request just another of their rebellious choices. Samuel appointed Saul as the first king who had been hiding in baggage claim for some reason. The people of Israel eventually had to seize him and force him to be king.

When the Ammonites attacked, Saul finally acted, mobilizing an Israeli army and winning a decisive victory. During a national celebration at Gilgal, we see a transfer of political leadership. What used to be part of the judgeship and priesthood of Samuel now belongs to the monarchy of Saul. There is a division between Samuel and Saul that reflects their individual goals. Samuel is responsible to listening to the Lord and advising Saul what to do, and Saul is responsible for obeying the commands of the Lord and protecting the people. The prophet would receive instructions from God and relay them to the king; the king’s role was to protect the people from external enemies.

The Philistines mostly ignored the happenings within Israel, but the formation of a monarchy is about to renew the conflict with the Philistines. The Philistines totally controlled Israel from strategically placed garrisons. Saul divided his army and put his son Jonathon over one division. Jonathan was a devoted follower of the Lord and he faced a decision; the Lord had long commanded that the people of Israel occupy the land of Canaan, but the Philistines were intent in controlling the Israeli territory. And Jonathan displays fearless devotion to God and immediately attacks a Philistine outpost in 1 Samuel 13:5. While the victory was small, the confusion was great, and in the panic, the Philistines began to attack one another and the Philistine army was routed.

Israel has been repeatedly defeated in small battles against the Philistines, so a victory here over the Philistines is significant. Losing this garrison was not only humiliating to the Philistines, it also threatened the Philistine’s control of the region. While before small skirmishes erupted from time to time, this time the Philistines decide to eradicate the people of Israel. Now it’s war.

The Philistine outmatched the Israelis in numbers, strategy, organization, and weaponry. Let’s look at the Philistine army in 1 Samuel 13:5 –

The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore.

Some manuscripts say 30,000 chariots. Either way, this is the largest chariot force mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament. 1 Samuel 13:5-6 –

The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven. When the men of Israel saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns.

Whew. Israel expected some sort of punishment or military retaliation for their raid on the outpost, but this is a full-scale invasion that appears intent on eradicating Israel forever.

The Philistines had iron weapons and chariots; the Fighting Farmers had bronze pitchforks. Worse, Israel was dependent on Philistine blacksmiths for making and repairing tools they needed to farm. This was a strategic decision by the Philistines; it says in verse 19 there was not a blacksmith to be found in Israel to prevent them from making swords and spears. So the Philistines arrive in overwhelming numbers and defeat seems inevitable.

What are the Lord’s instructions? Let’s back up to last week’s lesson in 1 Samuel 10:5a,8; Samuel takes a flask of oil, anointing Saul in the name of the Lord, and then says –

After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost… “Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.”

But what does Saul actually do? 1 Samuel 13:7b-13 –

Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings. ” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.

Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

“You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.

God’s instructions through Samuel told Saul to Gilgal and wait seven days for Samuel to sacrifice burnt offerings. Faced with overwhelming odds from the Philistine army, Saul acts by assuming the role of the priest and offering a sacrifice. Saul foolishly disobeys God’s command out of fear, and his disobedience reveals that Saul has no comprehension of his responsibility to God. Saul feared the loss of his soldiers and he feared losing the battle. And what’s more, sacrificing a burnt offering indicated absolute dedication to God, so Saul’s offering had absolutely no meaning. If Saul was truly dedicated to God, he would have obeyed and waited on God.

FEAR

After Saul has completed his sacrifice, Samuel arrives and asks, “What have you done?” It’s not like Samuel didn’t know, the aroma of burned meat was still in the air. Ever come home at the end of the day and your neighbors are barbecuing? Samuel knows, but he asks Saul anyway to get the disobedient king to think about what he’s done.

But instead, Saul comes up with excuses, justifications for his disobedience. The 7th day was not over, yet Saul didn’t wait until the evening for Samuel to arrive; therefore, it must have been Samuel’s fault. Saul was forced to do what he did. When scholars write of Saul’s disobedience, they discuss failures ranging from taking on the role of the priest to failing to wait the full amount of time. But the real reason is Saul’s character. He didn’t trust the Lord to do what he was supposed to do. He feared the consequences of failing to sacrifice more than he trusted in the Lord to whom he was offering the sacrifice.

Proverbs 29:25 says that fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whover trusts in the Lord will be kept safe. Saul was afraid of the battle, afraid of the enemy, afraid his own men were not up to the task. And so out of fear, Saul was attempting to summon the Lord’s power with his sacrifice, to pull a miracle out of a hat. But one cannot conjure up a miracle from the Lord. One commentary called this “theological blackmail.” The Lord will save His people, not because He has been summoned through our actions, but because it is in His nature to do so. We cannot compel God. God acts because He loves us.

We still do this today, don’t we? How often out of fear, out of panic, out of lack of trust do we go to the Lord in prayer? Hurricane Ike bearing down on Houston; how many people went to the Lord in prayer for the first time in weeks or months or even years? Yet to seek the Lord’s favor only in times of panic is futile. God wants us to seek Him always. Fred also taught us last week that God does not want us to live in fear; 2 Timothy 1:7 says –

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

Samuel tells Saul that if he had obeyed, the Lord would have established Saul’s kingdom over Israel for all time, but because of his disobedience, Saul’s kingdom will not endure. Unfortunately, Saul doesn’t learn from his disobedience; I think Saul is in denial about his disobedience, especially since we’re about to see this disobedience continue.

REDEFINE OBEDIENCE

Let’s turn to 1 Samuel 15; the Lord has put Saul in charge of punishing the Amelekites; you have to go all the way back to Exodus 17; Moses, leading the Israelites out of Egypt in the Desert of Sinai, are attacked from the rear by the Amelekites who are picking off women and children that are straggling. You may recall Joshua led a battle against them while Moses held his hand in the air, held up by Aaron and Hur. Joshua wins that battle, but our God of infinite mercy is also a God of perfect justice. Exodus 17:14-16,

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”

Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

Now is the time God has chosen for Saul to wipe out the Amelekites; 1 Samuel 15:1-3,

Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “

The time for justice to be delivered to the Amalekites has come, but listen to how Saul carried out these instructions in 1 Samuel 15:7-9 –

Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword. But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

Of course Saul obeyed the Lord, *if* you redefine what obedience means. In 1100 BC, capturing the king during a war meant riches for the winner. The king could be ransomed off for a handsome profit. And it would be a shame to kill all the animals, too, when there were so much better uses for them.

DENIAL

In verse 10, the Lord tells Samuel that He is grieved because Saul didn’t carry out His commands, so Samuel goes to see Saul, who is verse 12 is told that Saul is building a monument in his own honor. And Saul says in verse 13-15 –

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”

But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.”

It’s like Saul is saying, “Hey, not only did I obey, but I improved upon the Lord’s instructions! I did so good, I awarded myself a trophy!”

But did Saul obey? Saul is in denial about his obedience. “The Lord bless you, I have carried out the Lord’s instructions,” he says. As Christians today, we have specific instructions, too. “Forgive one another, up to seventy times seven.” And our response? Oh, I forgive him, I don’t hold any grudges. I just want to talk to him or ever see his face again. Sacrifice for our wives, submit to our husbands, love one another as Christ loves us. Are we really being obedient? Or are we in denial, too, redefining what it means to be obedient?

PARTIAL OBEDIENCE

One method of denial, a method of disobedience, is to be partially obedient. Samuel’s question – if you obeyed, why do I hear cows? – is a telling one. First in denial, Saul then explains that partial obedience is more than enough. Look at verse 20 –

“But I did obey the LORD,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king.

The Lord said to destroy the Amalekites; Saul said he destroyed them except their king.

Colossians 3:5-6 says –

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

Those are the Lord’s instructions to us, these are the Amalekites of sin to us. Yet, too often, we believe that we can pick and choose among God’s instructions, and then we act as though God should be appreciative of the bits and pieces that we do. God defines obedience as total obedience. We obey most of this, but leave kingdoms of sin in our lives.

Let me offer a question for you to ponder – rather than asking yourself how you obey God, ask God to show you where you do not obey. Husbands and wives treating each other the way God commands? Holding captive every thought so that we do not sin? Impure or critical thoughts about another? Being slow to speak so our tongue does not cause us to sin? We cannot think ourselves as obedient to God when we redefine to ourselves what it means to be obedient. If we’re partially obedient, we’re still disobedient.

BLAME OTHERS

Another way we are disobedient to is to blame our disobedience, our partial obedience, on somebody else. I could forgive him if he wasn’t such a jerk. It would be easier for me to be faithful if she wasn’t always, you know, that way toward me. Of course I respect and submit to my husband as long as he does what I tell him to. Verse 21, Saul says, “But I did obey the Lord” –

The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal.”

… but the soldiers didn’t do right. I had a great plan to obey the Lord, but somebody else messed it up. Of course I made a covenant with my spouse for better or worse, but I didn’t mean that. You don’t know my spouse. Sometimes we even blame God. I lost my temper, sure, but God made me that way.

This disobedience is literally the oldest trick in the book. Adam blamed his disobedience on Eve. Eve blamed it on the serpent. But we cannot blame our own disobedience on somebody else. God will see through that every time.

RELY ON RITUALS INSTEAD

And finally, we disobey because, well, that’s the way we’ve always done it. There’s no need to change if nobody’s complaining. Besides, as a Christian, I attend church, I go to bible study, I tithe, I serve, I pray, I teach. So those things cover up what little disobedience remains, right?

Verse 22-23, Samuel answers that question.

But Samuel replied:
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has rejected you as king.”

The Lord expects and receives sacrifices, but He does not delight in them. Sacrifices in the Old Testament atoned for sins. Sacrifices in the New Testament further the Kingdom of God. Those things are good, but God does not delight in them. God delights in obedience. God delights in the righteous who seek after Him. Jesus tells us that if we bring a sacrifice to the temple but we have something against our brother, we are to leave that sacrifice there and make amends with our brother. Only then are we to return and offer our sacrifice.

Look, making it up to somebody when you’ve wronged them is a good thing. But wouldn’t obedience in not wronging them in the first place be better? Sacrifices are payments for disobedience, sacrifices are accepted by God, but it’s not what He wants most. He doesn’t want this for His benefit, because the Lord needs nothing from us. He wants us to obey for our benefit.

A man wanted to help his son understand the importance of making right choices. He put a post up in the back yard, and when his son made a bad choice, he’d give him a nail and have him put a nail in the post. When he made a good choice, he’d get to remove a nail. As the boy grew, there were always a couple of nails in the post, but as he grew and matured, one day he pulled the last nail out of the post. He felt pretty good about it, too. But his dad asked him to take a good look at the post. The nails were gone, but the post was full of holes.

We’re forgiven of our bad choices. But the effects of our sins leave scars.

Six ways we disobey. Fear, redefine, denial, partial obedience, blame others, rely on rituals. Saul performs a perfect hat-trick in verse 15; denial, partial obedience, *and* blaming others all in one sentence, so we’re not limited to disobedience in one category.

Discussion time. What are some examples of disobedience in a Christian’s life, and which category does it fall in?

The Lord calls us to obedience, and sometimes we’re own own worst enemy when we try to obey. We act out of fear instead of trusting in the Lord. We deny our disobedience or try to redefine it. We make excuses, or we try to make up for it afterword. Don’t ask yourself in what ways you’re being obedient to the Lord; in some small ways, everybody is partially obedient. Ask yourself instead how you’re not obeying the Lord. Are you following God’s commands? Are you living a life of partial obedience to God’s commands? Do you find it easier to be obedient when you know people are looking? Have you been struggling with some area of your life that you know needs to be surrendered to God?

Don’t try to answer the question by listing all the things you do. I go to church, I sing in the choir or play in the band. I teach a class. I serve God most of the time. That is not the standard God wants for us. Partial obedience doesn’t cut it. God wants us to trust Him and follow Him with all of our heart, our soul, our mind and strength. Don’t settle for less.

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Hearing God

I hear a story about a coach teaching his first soccer team made of seventh graders. The coach described the role of the goalie, how to setup offensive a defensive plays, and how to pass the soccer ball. When Saturday came for their first game, the kids all bunched up around the ball in a compact huddle, kicking at the ball for all they’re worth.

The next week, patiently, the coach again described offensive and defensive plays, took them out to the field to practice. Saturday came for the game… and again, the kids bunched up around the ball just kicking at it for all they’re worth.

The next week, frustrated, the coach again starts explaining how to run offensive and defensive plays, when one of the kids raises his hand. “Coach? You mean we’re supposed to do this during the game?”

It’s one thing to hear the message. It’s quite another to put it into practice.

Last week, Fred told us the story of Hannah and how she dedicated Samuel to the Lord. She kept her word and Samuel was delivered to the Lord’s sanctuary in Shiloh. Shiloh may have been a religious community, but it was a less than ideal place to raise a boy.

Samuel is growing up in the period between Judges and Kings in the bible. Judges is a period of failure for Israel. Spiritually, there was no direction. Religious leaders were corrupt. The Philistines oppressed the Jews and there was little justice for evil. And while there had been a few bright spots in the leadership of Israel like Samson and Gideon, the book of Judges ends on this note (Judges 21:25) –

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

I’m having a little difficulty drawing any sort of parallel between that statement and our society in America today. Anybody have any ideas?

1 Samuel provides a transition between Judges and kings. Later this year we’ll transition between the king Saul, a failure, with David, a success. Now we’ll transition between the priest Eli, a failure, and Samuel, a success. First, let’s look at Eli and see if we can see what is wrong with his ministry.

Let’s start with 1 Samuel 2:12-17

Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD. Now it was the practice of the priests with the people that whenever anyone offered a sacrifice and while the meat was being boiled, the servant of the priest would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand. He would plunge it into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot, and the priest would take for himself whatever the fork brought up. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. But even before the fat was burned, the servant of the priest would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.”

If the man said to him, “Let the fat be burned up first, and then take whatever you want,” the servant would then answer, “No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.”

This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt.

Now skip down to 1 Samuel 2:22-25

Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear spreading among the LORD’s people. If a man sins against another man, God may mediate for him; but if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death.

What I find interesting is that Eli’s knowledge of the Lord is very good. He has exemplary words and terrific advice. It’s his practice of God’s instruction that’s lacking. Eli’s sons are wicked men; verse 12 says “they had no regard for the Lord.” It more likely meant that they never gave God a second thought, much less a first thought. In the Book of Leviticus, chapter 7, the priests were entitled to a portion of the offerings brought to the Lord. The fat portions of the offerings were to be burnt as a sacrifice to God; the breast and right thigh were given to the priest, and the rest of the animal was cooked and eaten by the family of the person making the offer. Eli’s sons Hophni and Phineas sinned against the people by taking their share, but worse, they sinned against the Lord by taking the share that was dedicated to Him. Verse 17 says this was treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.

Eli gives very wise advice in verse 25. If man sins against another man, God may mediate for him. If man sins against the Lord, who will intercede for him? This is similar to the question in Job 9; if you get into a disagreement with God, who would be the referee? Who would you ask to settle the argument? It’s a rhetorical question, because we know that the almighty God is the dispenser of perfect justice. You cannot win an argument with God.

We know that Eli was unsuccessful at persuading his sons to change their ways. His sons not only stole the Lord’s portions of the offerings, but they also slept with the women at the Tent of Meeting. The disobedience of the sons to the Lord and their reprehensible acts could not go unpunished. In Romans 1:24-32, Paul writes that God “gave them up” to their sinful desires. Eventually, if we disobey God long enough, God will let us have what we want. He will let us have our selfish pride, our wanton lusts, our every kind of wickedness, greed and depravity. He will let us have death.

The book of Samuel continues, 1 Samuel 2:27-36. A man of God, an unnamed prophet, comes to Eli. This prophet tells Eli that Eli and his sons were chosen by the Lord to be His priest, to offer sacrifices to the Lord, and the Lord asks, “Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?” The prophet goes on to say that since Eli’s family has not served the lord faithfully, the Lord has passed judgment on Eli, and verse 34-35 says,

“And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you—they will both die on the same day. I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always. “

Basically, the Lord has given Eli’s sons over to their wicked ways. The Lord’s will, however, will still be done. It always is. But Eli and his sons will not be part of it. God will choose a new faithful priest to do His will.”

As for the people, “everyone did as they saw fit.” People of God are limited by the teaching, the discipleship, and the pastors of the church. One of the reasons for the mediocre spirituality of the people of God today is the low level of spirituality among pastors. God’s warning is that He will only tolerate this for so long, and then He will replace them. Eli and sons failed as spiritual leaders, and God took away their priesthood and promised to establish a new dynasty of priesthood from 1 faithful priest. God prepared a new leader and prophet in Samuel. Let’s look at 1 Samuel 3:1.

The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.

Without faithful leadership, the people did as they saw fit. In response, the Word of the Lord was rare. God was silent. He’s given them over to their ways. Silence from God is horrible. Silence is deafening. Because they were unfaithful, God was silent.

We should remember this when we go to God in prayer. If we will not walk in obedience to Him, we cannot be sure we hear Him. He may be silent. Often before God answers our prayers, He has an expectation that we will do our best to obey the Words He has spoken. If we are willfully disobedient, we may not be able to hear Him. He may be giving us over to our wicked ways. If we want God to hear us, we had better be listening to what He has already said. Sometimes we pray for God to light our paths, but we have no intention of ever moving our feet.

That’s the prophetic warning to Eli and to us that our obedience matters to a most Holy God, and that He will only tolerate our willful disobedience for so long before He passes judgment on us. While Eli’s sons led people astray, let’s look at a future man of God that the Lord has already put in place.

In the last chapter, 1 Samuel 2:18, Hannah’s son Samuel has been dedicated to the Lord. Samuel, who is about the same age as our 7th grade soccer players, is ministering before the Lord, despite the poor examples of faithful leadership around him. And in 1 Samuel 3:4, it says, “Then the LORD called Samuel.”

Our parents may have prayed for our salvation, and we may also pray for our children’s salvation, but it’s the Lord who finally speaks to a willing heart. Samuel’s mother had dedicated him years before to the service of the Lord, but now is the time for the Lord to call Samuel. And Samuel, obedient and faithful, answers the call. Except… he’s not sure where the call is coming from.

Verse 2-5 –

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. 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.

Something to notice here is Samuel’s surroundings when the Lord calls him. Samuel is near Eli, who despite having raised disobedient children, is still the priest of the temple. The lamp of God is still shining, and Samuel is near the ark of the covenant. If we’re to hear the word of God, not only do we need to be obedient, but we need to surround ourselves, immerse ourselves, in godly situations with godly people. It is at this point that God calls Samuel.

And Samuel mistakes the calling of God. When we are listening to the world, there are so many voices that speak to us. The voice on the news, on the television. Voices from work and from family and from friends. The truth of God can get lost among the voices if we are not attuned to Him. It would me so much easier if God called us on the telephone. I have caller ID. I could look down when my phone rings and says, “Sorry, I have to take this. It’s God calling.” Or perhaps the UPS truck driver delivering a package that has a return label, “FROM GOD.” But God speaks to us in a still, small voice. He speaks to us when we read our bibles. He speaks to us through the wise counsel of others. He speaks to us through good experiences, and He most definitely speaks to us through bad experiences. The point is that God speaks quietly and we can easily mistake God’s calling if we’re surrounded by noise.

But even though Samuel mistakes the calling of God, it’s remarkable that Samuel heard Him at all. Only because Samuel was faithful, Samuel could see and hear clearly, both spiritually and physically. And he reports to Eli, who tells Samuel to go lie back down.

2 Samuel 6, the Lord calls a second time, and again, Samuel go to see Eli, and again Eli tells Samuel to go lie down. And again in verse 8. This time, Eli realizes that the Lord is calling Samuel. Why did it take so long for Eli to recognize the calling of the Lord? I think we can get a better understanding by re-reading verses 1 and 2.

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.

Eli wasn’t expecting to hear from God. The Lord rarely spoke because men weren’t willing to listen. Eli’s eyes had grown weak; Eli’s spiritual eyes are probably not much better.

But Samuel has been faithful; now we also see that Samuel is obedient. Eli gives appropriate spiritual advice to Samuel; when the Lord calls again, Samuel is to tell the Lord he’s ready.

In verse 10, the Lord calls Samuel yet again, and this time Samuel asks the Lord to speak, for His servant is listening. The Lord’s message to Samuel is that He will pass judgment on the house of Eli. Verse 11-14 –

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. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family — from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’ “

And with those words still ringing in his ears, Samuel went back to bed.

In the morning, Eli asks, “Oh, by the way. I meant to ask. What did the Lord say to you last night?” You know Samuel must be nervous. He was afraid to tell Eli that the Lord was going to judge Eli’s family and make an example of them before Israel. But bless his heart, Eli does the right thing. He tells Samuel to give it to him straight and not to be afraid. Samuel should be more afraid of the Lord than afraid of men. Samuel should give the world the Lord’s message, and not water it down to tell the world what it wants to hear. Pastors, teachers, and all people of God should pass along the Lord’s word, even if the world doesn’t want to hear it.

We know some of the harder words that the world doesn’t want to hear. That we are no inherently good people; we are sinners in need of a savior. That there are not multiple and many ways to heaven; Jesus says that no one comes to the Father except through him. That casual Christianity is insufficient; lukewarm Christians will be spit out of Jesus’ mouth, and wide is the path to destruction. People don’t want to hear those words. They’re harsh. They’re judgmental. But they’re God’s words and they reflect His perfect judgment.

Many commentaries discuss the Lord’s call to Samuel and about how to hear His voice. They discuss the Samuel’s upbringing in the temple of the Lord, maintaining his witness, preparing through obedience, growing in godly character. Few commentaries discuss Eli’s response to hearing this devastating news about his family. Eli says in verse 18 in response to Samuel’s prophecy, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

He is the Lord. God will do what is good in His eyes, not ours. The message was hard, yet Eli wants the truth from Samuel. He asks Samuel to be open and honest about God’s word, and not try to please him with a watered down message, to resist the temptation to edit or moderate God’s word, or even try to be a mediator between God and the one receiving the word. Just give him the truth.

I’m encouraged by Eli’s response; it is one of surrender. It’s a response of peace. It’s a response of acceptance. Let the Lord do what is good in His eyes. Eli surrenders to the word of God and recognizes that Samuel is the new leader that God has chosen. Samuel will be leading the people of Israel; Eli has no further role to play except to witness the death of his sons and to witness the capture of the ark next week.

Samuel became leader with these words in 1 Samuel 3:19 through 1 Samuel 4:1 –

The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the LORD. The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.

These words bring the story of Samuel’s birth, Samuel’s spiritual growth, and Samuel’s call. Samuel will return in our studies when we get to Chapter 7, but for now, the work God is doing in Samuel, from prophecy, character, and obedience, are enough to grow Samuel’s reputation from Dan to Beersheba. That’s like saying, “from California to the New York Island; from the redwood forests, to the gulf stream waters.” This is a time of Samuel’s maturing, as verse 19 says, “Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.”

The word of the Lord is hard to hear when you are doing your own thing, but if you’re obedient and listening, God can use you, just as He called Samuel. Not for our own interpretation, but for us to spread God’s word truthfully and faithfully. The key is to be faithful when God calls us.

Almost Persuaded

JUDAEA, Herodians. Herod Antipas. 4 BCE-39 CE....Image via Wikipedia I almost made coffee last week.

I’m a cheerful riser. Happy to talk and visit, happy to greet the new day. I’m almost always in a good mood first thing in the morning. But my brain isn’t exactly working at full speed. I need a routine to follow in the morning or I do goofy things.

And a week ago, when Diane and I came back from a little festival near Brenham, we came in the back patio and something spelled wonderful. Like fresh ground, vanilla roasted coffee beans. See, early that Saturday morning, Diane was still asleep, and I tried to do two things simultaneously first thing in the morning. I tried to walk our dog, Bella, and I tried to make coffee.

The coffee maker has a grinder on top, so I got the bag of beans out of the freezer, and put them in the top of the grinder. Yum, vanilla roasted beans, my favorite. Then I put the bag back, and put in just enough water to make a half a pot of coffee. Then I pushed the start button.

Now it’s time to get Bella. I get the leash out just as the coffee grinder starts grinding, clip the leash to her collar, and step outside… and I can still hear the grinder. It’s grinding a whole lot longer than I expected. Suddenly I realize I forgot to turn this little knob on the front of the machine, and it’s grinding enough beans for a whole pot of coffee. And this will be combined with a half pot of water and be some very strong coffee indeed. I come rushing back inside, tell Bella to stay by the front door, and find the off button on the coffee maker. Whew.

Ok, I can still save this pot of coffee. I don’t know how much beans have been grounded, but I can restart the brewing cycle without further grinding. Push this button, turn off the grinder… ok, I think I got it. Push the button to start brewing. Go back, get Bella who is very confused about this walk so far, and walk out the front door.

But something doesn’t seem right to me. I can hear the gurgling from the brew cycle starting, but something’s not right. And it dawns on me I forgot to put a filter in the coffee machine. And the next most reasonable thing for me to do in my cheerful and completely inept morning state is… to pull the filter basket out to look to see what’s inside.

Which dribbles hot coffee sludge, a mix of hot water and soggy coffee grounds down the front of the kitchen cabinet. I… put my hand under the basket to keep from dripping on the floor… hot! Hot! Hot! I push the basket back in.

Ok brain, try to get it together. Ok, first, unplug the coffee pot. I’m still creating hot coffee sludge. Open the back door. Pull the basket out *and* the coffee pot simultaneously, carry them both outside. Find some lucky plant that wants some vanilla fertilizer, dump the whole mess out.

Where was I? Oh yeah. I was walking the dog. Later that day, after the sun had been out and we came back from our festival, our patio had that lovely, vanilla-roasted coffee fertilizer smell. Diane asked me what it was, and I said… “Look! A dragonfly!”

I almost made coffee that morning. But you know, “almost coffee” isn’t good enough to drink. Lot’s of things aren’t good enough if they’re “almost” right. Skydiving, for example. Skydiving “almost” done right sounds horrible.

And this week, we’re going to look at another example of “almost” good enough. We’re studying Acts 24-26 this week, and let’s setup the situation. First, Paul is in jail. Again. Seems the last few weeks, Paul’s always in jail. Why is he in jail this time? Well, we have to go all the way back to Acts 21 and Paul is in Jerusalem. Paul is speaking at the temple, and some Jews stirred up the crowd, the crowd mobs Paul and begins to beat him with the intent to kill him. This mob attracted the Roman troops in the city who came down to see what the fuss was all about. When the Roman troops showed up, the crowd, of course, stopped beating Paul, and the Roman commander has Paul arrested. He asks Paul what all the rioting is about, and Paul says, “well, let me show you; may I speak?” Then in Acts 22, he stands in front of the temple and gives his testimony to the crowd, and the crowd erupts again.

And then, oddly, the Roman commander orders that Paul be arrested and flogged to find out why the people were yelling at him. Just before they flog him, Paul asks them if it’s legal to flog a Roman citizen. Alarmed, the commander withdraws and decides that perhaps beating a Roman citizen isn’t such a good idea.

By Acts 23, the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees decide that if the Romans aren’t going to kill him, they will. They ask the Roman commander to setup a meeting with Paul on the pretext of gathering information, but secretly they’re arranging an ambush. Paul’s nephew gets wind of the plot and tells the Roman commander who has had enough of all this rioting and plotting. He decides to transfer Paul to Caesarea with 200 Roman soldiers to protect him.

The commander also writes a letter to the Governor of Cesarea, Governor Felix. It basically says, “Governor, I can’t find anything this man did wrong. But because there is a plot against him, I’m sending him to you and ordering his accusers to present their case to you.”

Everybody up to speed? We’re in Acts 24, in front of Governor Felix, along with the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and a whole bunch of lawyers. The lawyers present their case first; Acts 24:5-8, they say,

“We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.”

It’s like the Olsteen trial all over again. Anyway, Paul gives his defense, saying that even his accusers know he’s done nothing wrong. At the end of Acts 24, we find that Felix is a piece of work. He knows Paul is innocent, and he’s even interested in Christianity, but what he’s really interested in is money. He wants Paul to give him a bribe. Paul spends two years in prison teaching about righteousness, self-control, and judgment, and at the end of two years, Felix leaves him there.

He’s succeeded by Festus in Acts 25, and in Acts 25:13, Festus gets a visitor, King Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice. King Herod Agrippa II is the grandson of the Herod that killed all the newborn males in Bethlehem when Christ was born. Agrippa was the nephew of the Herod Antipas who beheaded John the Baptist. Agrippa was the son of Herod Agrippa the 1st who executed the Apostle James and would have executed the Apostle Peter had not the angel of the Lord rescued him. For Agrippa, this was a chance to meet a celebrity, so Festus sets up a meeting. Acts 25:23 says,

The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with the high ranking officers and the leading men of the city. At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in.

In Acts 26, Paul begins, yet again, his message of redemption, repentance, and judgment. From Acts 26:1 through Acts 26:23, Paul gives his testimony. How he lived as a Pharisee, the promise given to the twelve tribes of Israel. Paul’s persecution of Jesus in verses 9-11, and then Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus from Acts 26:12-15, and the instructions Christ gave Paul to reach the Jews and Gentiles in Acts 26:16-18. Then Acts 26:19-23 –

“So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. But I have had God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”

At this point, Festus yells at Paul that Paul’s lost his marbles, his education has made him insane. And Paul keeps focusing on King Agrippa in Acts 26:25-29 –

“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

Agrippa’s response is a hypothetical question. The New King James translates it as, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”

And that is probably one of the saddest responses in the entire bible. “You almost persuaded me.”

What went wrong?

It wasn’t the messenger. Paul was a very powerful messenger, and apostle of Christ who had seen the risen Lord face to face. How much power did Paul have? In verse 22, Paul says, “But God has helped me to this very day.” And the messenger was passionate, so passionate that in verse 24, Festus leaps up and tells Paul that he’s lost his mind. And Paul was persuasive – in verse 29, Paul tells Agrippa that he wishes Agrippa were just like him, but without the chains. The irony is incredible here – Paul is free in Christ, even though he is in chains. It’s Agrippa that is in bondage to sin.

So the messenger was powerful, passionate, and persuasive. So it’s not the messenger. Perhaps it was the message?

I don’t think so. The message was the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. And not hearsay; Paul’s personal testimony was how Jesus had interceded directly on Paul’s behalf and proven to Paul firsthand. And the message was true. King Agrippa knew the words of the prophets and he knew the fulfilled testimony of Christ. Agrippa has no rebuttal to this; in verse 27, when Paul asks, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do,” Agrippa’s only response is that… “you almost persuaded me.”

Almost persuaded.

As we share God’s word with others, Paul has shown us that the message isn’t always received the way we would like it to be. Some people want to wait; we just keep talking. Some will ridicule us, but we’re called to show respect in our responses. Some receive the message with silence; we learn to ask open-ended questions to get them to talk. And some absolutely refuse, and all we can do is express concern. But there’s nothing sadder than somebody who hears a persuasive message from a persuasive messenger and is almost persuaded.

For those that have not accepted Christ, there are forces in opposition to the Word. Satan does whatever he can to keep people from giving themselves to Christ, and we can see almost all of these in Agrippa.

The forces include –

• Pride. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction; a haughty spirit before a fall.” It’s pride that tells us we can be good enough to get to heaven, that we can stand unashamed, on our own, before an almighty and holy creator. And Psalms 10:4 says, “In his pride, the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.” Pride blinds us to our need for a savior.
• Position. Agrippa was king of the Jews. Like pride, our position in society keeps us from being humble. We are too important to make ourselves low. But Jesus called a little child to him and told his disciples in Matthew 18:3, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
• Possessions. Agrippa was a very rich man. Matthew 19:23, Jesus says to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” And 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” People, like Agrippa, get attached to the things of this world and can’t give them up to save their own souls.
• Peer pressure. Felix and other Jewish leaders were looking at Agrippa to see what he would do. Galatians 1:10 says, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
• Procrastination. Agrippa was “almost persuaded” but put off his decision. He could always revisit this question tomorrow. But sometimes, tomorrow doesn’t come. Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” And 2 Corinthians 6:2 says, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

But Paul looks directly at King Agrippa through this exchange. Paul was persistent and told his personal testimony about how Jesus changed his life. While Herod Agrippa II and his family may have been persecuting Christ, Paul also confesses he once persecuted Christ. Agrippa’s sins are no different than Paul’s sins, except Paul’s sins are forgiven.

It’s true that in the bible (Mark 6:11), Jesus told the disciples that if they were not welcome in a town, they should shake the dust from their feet as they left. But that’s a matter of being a good steward of the time we have available. Jesus never counseled us to give up on somebody. Jesus didn’t give up on me, and I am so thankful He didn’t. If you have a family member or a friend you’re praying for, don’t give up. You don’t want them to be almost saved.

Michael Rodriguez is a man thankful somebody didn’t give up on him. He’s one of the “Texas Seven” that broke out of prison in 2000 and on Christmas Eve, killed a policeman. He was sentenced to death; unlike most people on death row, for the last 2 years he has been waiving every appeal opportunity, saying he deserved the death penalty. The sentence was carried out a week ago Thursday.

At 6:10pm, he began his last words. “I know this no way makes up for all the pain and suffering I gave you. I am so, so sorry. My punishment is nothing compared to the pain and sorrow I have caused. I hope that someday you can find peace. I am not strong enough to ask for forgiveness because I don’t know if I am worthy. I realize what I’ve done to you and the pain I’ve given. Please Lord forgive me. I have done some horrible things. I ask the Lord to please forgive me. I have gained nothing, but just brought sorrow and pain to these wonderful people. I am sorry. So so sorry. To the Sanchez family who showed me love. To the Hawkins family, I am sorry. I know I have affected them for so long. Please forgive me. Irene, I want to thank you for being with me on death row and walking with me and helping me find Christ’s love. These last few steps I must walk alone. Thank you and thank your husband Jack. I’ll be waiting for you. I am so sorry. To these families I ask forgiveness. Father God I ask you too for forgiveness. I ask you for forgiveness Lord. I am ready to go Lord. Thank you. I am ready to go. My Jesus my Savior there is none like you. All of my days I want to praise, let every breath. Shout to the Lord let us sing.

“My Jesus, my Savior, there is none like you,” he sang softly. “All of my days I want to praise, let every breath. Shout to the Lord, let us sing ….”

Among his last words were, “I’m ready to go Lord.” At 6:20pm, he was pronounced dead.

Michael Rodriguez is thankful that Irene and Jack, whoever they are, didn’t give up on Michael Rodriguez. And while the angels in heaven rejoice that another sinner has turned to God, non-Christians don’t understand why a murderer gets to go to heaven. They don’t understand that they can never do enough good to get to heaven, nor can they do enough evil that Christ cannot save him. It’s never too late.

Who’s been watching the Olympics the last week? Anybody here actually in the Olympics?

When it comes to the Olympics, most people are spectators. They don’t actually participate in the games; they watch some of the events on television. A few actually get to participate. The best of the best win medals – some win bronze, some silver, and the very best wind the coveted gold medal. Or like Fred said last week, perhaps a tin medal.

But the gold medal for all humanity is arriving in heaven in the pure and holy presence of God. The vast majority of people are spectators in this race. They see the lives of Christians, but they make no effort to join. They’re… almost persuaded.

The bronze medal for Christianity is being aware of Jesus. If you ask them what religion they belong to, they may even answer that they’re a Christian. But if you press them further, they don’t know why they’re a Christian. They know Jesus is a really good person, and they also want to be a really good person. And that means not being judgmental. They believe all roads leads to heaven, there are many paths. They don’t believe a loving God would send people to Hell, not realizing that God doesn’t send people to Hell, people go to Hell because they reject God. They are really only dimly aware of what Jesus said, and they make no effort to share their faith or go to church or grown in the spirit. They get a bronze medal for being aware of Jesus. King Agrippa gets a bronze medal. He had plenty of knowledge about Jesus.

Then there’s the silver medal, awarded to those who believe in Christ. They know He’s the Son of God. They’ve heard the Sermon on the Mount; they’re happy the meek will inherit the earth, because then they can beat up the meek and take it from them. Their actions don’t reflect the love of Christ; they do not model forgiveness, controlling their tongue, serving others, or loving their neighbors. But they believe in Jesus, so they win a silver medal. But they don’t grasp the concept that even the demons believe in Jesus. As Fred mentioned last week, faith and repentance are linked. It’s not enough to say you have faith without your life demonstrating your repentance.

But spectators and bronze medalists and silver medalist are almost persuaded to be disciples of Christ. Perhaps they have an idea that heaven will be like standing on the scales of justice – as long as you do more good than evil, you get into heaven. But Jesus says that isn’t enough. Jesus says to follow Him and He will make you fishers of men (Mark 1:16-17). Jesus says that if anyone would come after Jesus, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). And we may have heard Jesus say in John 8:32, “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” but what’s the line immediately before that? “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.'”

And what about the disciples that settle for “well, this is good enough?” Jesus tells the church in Laodicea what he thinks about “good enough.” Revelations 3:15-16 –

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Literally, it means “vomit you out of His mouth.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, except when I get to heaven, I don’t want Jesus to be looking at me like that.

The gold medal is a heart that yearns to follow God. Matthew 7:13-14 –

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

The gold medal is the narrow gate to heaven. Everything else is just “almost.” Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 just before his death –

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Thank the good Lord that He loves us. Thank the good Lord that He is our gold medal. Can you imagine if the scripture says that God so loved the world that He almost gave His only begotten son? That Jesus almost died on the cross for us?

Let’s yearn for that gold medal of righteousness, and not settle for merely being “almost” persuaded.

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PBS and the Separation of Church and State

When the US Government funds anything remotely Christian in nature, all sorts of “separation of church and state” groups get upset. The ACLU files a lawsuit and the “offensive” Christian material is removed.

So why is it ok for US tax dollars to be used to oppose Christianity? Shouldn’t the same standard be used? PBS, a government funded liberal and atheist propoganda tool (not that I’m opinionated on the subject) is funded by the US government and is producing a show that attacks the underlying tenets of the bible.

Among other things, this show says –

  • Abraham, Sarah and their offspring didn’t exist.
  • There is no archaeological evidence of the Exodus.
  • Monotheism was a process that took hundreds of years.
  • The Israelites were actually Canaanites.
  • The Israelites believed that God had a wife.

For me as a Christian, it’s bad enough when free speech is exercised to attack my beliefs; my right to free speech also belongs to others to say the opposite. Will my tax dollars also be used to fund a show friendly to my beliefs? Probably not; the ACLU will sue to prevent the use of tax dollars for Christian-friendly projects. So why is the government allowed to fund an attack on Christianity?