Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
French Countryside near Bannalec

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Mar 31, 1 Sam 15-17

Today's readings are 1 Sam 15-17.

Saul's independent nature begins to rise up again when God tells Saul to go up against the Amalekites with precise instructions to execute everyone in Amalek. The first thing Saul does is to number his army, a task God did not tell him to perform (1 Sam 15:1-4) The text gives us no clue as to why Saul did this nor whether or not it was a good idea. All we can derive is that Saul is acting on his own.

The Amalekites were the first people to come against Israel in the wilderness. At that time, God promised to “…utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” (Ex 17:14). In an act of mercy and appreciation for past kindness, Saul spares the Kenites (1 Sam 5-6). Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, was a Kenite (Jdg 1:16). Jethro and his son had helped Israel more than once (Ex 18; Num 10:29-32). Using some extra-biblical resources, some biblical scholars believe Rahab and her family (Jos 2:12-14) were Kenites, as well. So, Saul’s act of mercy appears to be appropriate in this case.

Israel scores a decisive victory over Amalek, but Saul fails to do everything God told him to do. Saul kills everyone except the king and some of the choice livestock as well as “all that was good.” Saul’s infractions begin to multiply when he sets up a monument to himself after the victory (1 Sam 15:12). When Samuel confronts Saul, Saul’s initial reaction is to lie (1 Sam 15:13). Then when Samuel further confronts him, Saul tries to sugar coat his disobedience, saying he was saving the best for the Lord (1 Sam 15:15). Ultimately, after unsuccessfully attempting to rephrase his actions to make things sound more favorable for himself, Saul blames the people (1 Sam 15:21). Samuel will have none of Saul’s excuses. Samuel prophesies judgment on Saul and his kingship (1 Sam 15:22-31).

In 1 Sam 15:11, God says He "regrets" making Saul king.  We should understand this godly regret is a grieving heart over the state of Saul and His children. This is not to imply that God thought He had made a mistake and was changing His mind about Saul. Some folks read a verse like this and try to anthropomorphize God, give Him human attributes. God makes it clear that this is a mistake a few verses later in 1 Sam 15:28-29. Keep in mind that God had already signaled that Saul's days as a king were limited. What God's regret reveals in vs 11 is that God does indeed grieve over the lost state of His people, even as He is working out His plan of redemption to save them. Samuel expresses the same type of grief in 1 Sam 15:35. We should never allow ourselves to think that God does not grieve over our sin, even as we experience His grace, the same way He grieves over Saul's sin while showing Him grace. 

The Lord removes the kingdom from Saul, and Samuel anoints David as the new king (1 Sam 16:1-13). Note, Saul was anointed with a flask of oil, a small amount (1 Sam 10:1) while a large volume, a horn similar to a shofar, is used to anoint David (1 Sam 16;13). God has anointed both kings but makes it evident that David is receiving a greater blessing.

God sends a harmful spirit to afflict Saul (1 Sam 16:14). This challenging truth bears some thought and meditation. While it is not clear as to the origin of this harmful spirit or how it came to be harmful, the text boldly states that the spirit was sent by God and was under His control. This clearly reveals the sovereign nature of God.  He sits in authority over all things in creation. But, it is also a sobering look into the terror of rebelling against Him. Ironically, the remedy for Saul’s torment is to bring David to him to soothe him with music (1 Sam 16:18-23). The image portrayed is one of Saul in torment and David being treated with favor, both prophetic.

Up to this point, Saul has been dethroned spiritually but not physically. David has been anointed king but has not yet ascended to the throne. Like the image of David’s favor and Saul’s torment, these are prophetic events, but neither have yet to be made manifest.

When everyone in Israel cowers before Goliath, a 9 ft tall Philistine (again, the Philistines!) giant, David miraculously defeats him handing Israel a decisive military victory (1 Sam 17).

While a predominant modern notion of David and Goliath is to relate it to standing up to the giants in our lives, there's much more to this vignette than that. On one level, we see that the king Israel wanted - the good looking, tall one - wasn’t handsome enough or big enough to handle everything the world would throw at Israel. That he was more self-reliant than trusting of God and seeking His counsel only exacerbated the problem. Furthermore, he was overshadowed in every area by a small shepherd boy using no armor, no sword, and no shield. The king that God quietly chose was superior to the one Israel asked for and celebrated. It is true that God had Samuel anoint Saul (1 Sam 10:1) as well as David (1 Sam 16:13) but, when Saul was anointed, God was concisely clear that Israel had rejected Him in favor of this new king (1 Sam 8:6).  Despite Israel's rejection and Saul’s disobedience, God sends a champion and redeemer, David. He is empowered by God and given victory by His hand.


David stands before an unconquerable foe in a hopeless situation. David's confidence in God and his absolute faith in God (not David's own capabilities) brings the impossible victory. In the same manner that David stands against Goliath, Judah stands against the world who wants to invade and defeat them. It's just the same for us as we stand against a world that wants to invade and defeat us. Yet David, Judah, and we are God's chosen children. We are His representatives. Our confidence in God and faith in His power to defend His name will ultimately bring victory. Like Judah, there will be times when a battle is lost but the most important battle, the eternal one, is won by God. Ultimately, God gets the glory, we get peace and an eternal home.

God seldom accomplishes His purposes in the manner we expect Him to. He frequently challenges us to set aside our preconceptions, our reasoning and our logic to embrace Him and what His word says about Him. He tells us, “…My thoughts are not your thoughts…neither are your ways My ways.” (Is 55:8-9). We have a prime example of this in David’s story. God uses him to defeat Goliath so that everyone will know it was by God’s hand, not man’s.

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