Friday, April 30, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - April 30 - David Versus Saul

One of my college professors forever changed the way I look at the story in 1 Samuel 17. In my Bible, the heading says, "David and Goliath." And for years that it was I thought this story was all about - the epic battle between David and Goliath. But as my teacher (Phil Roberts) pointed out, the real contrast in this account is not between David and Goliath, but between David and Saul. Goliath is merely a foil to highlight this contrast.

Remember how Saul was described in 1 Sam. 9:2 and 1 Sam. 10:23? He was taller than anyone else in Israel. He was Israel's giant! Who better to take on the Philistine giant? Further, the very reason Saul was king to begin with was because the people wanted a king who would go out and fight for them (1 Sam. 8:20). They have their king, they have their battle. But their king has proven to be a coward. Indeed, Israel has the king it deserves. "When Saul and all Israel heard these words [of Goliath's], they were dismayed and greatly afraid" (1 Sam. 17:11).

Enters David. And the contrast between him and Saul could not be more stark. Saul was the tallest man in Israel; David was the smallest man in his family (the Hebrew word translated "youngest" in verse 14 also means "smallest"). Yet as soon as David heard the noise of a potential battle, he "ran" to see what was going on (v. 22).

The real contrast between David and Saul, of course, was not they looked like outwardly, but what their character was like inwardly. Saul demonstrated in the episodes in 1 Samuel 13 and 15 that he does not have the faith to obey God's word and trust in His promises. Ironically, Saul's estimate of David is pretty much the same as the heathen Goliath's - you are too young and too small to fight (compare 1 Sam. 17:33 with 17:42-43). David, on the other hand, was supremely confident that God could deliver Israel from this monster just as He had delivered his flock from predators (17:34-37). And that is exactly what happened.

There is an old expression that says "it's not the size of the dog in the fight; it's the size of the fight in the dog." What 1 Samuel 17 teaches is that it is not the size of a person's stature, but the power of the person's God, and the depth of the person's faith, that makes all the difference. Dagon was no match for Yahweh, and Saul's fear and Goliath's bluster were no match for David's faith.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - April 29 - "But the People..."

When Israel made its way out of the oppressive land of Egypt, a fierce people called the Amalekites attacked the long caravan of the Hebrews (Ex. 17:8-16). God made a promise that some day the Amalekites would pay for this attack, and in Deut. 25:17-19 we learn why the Lord was so angry. Amalek attacked the "tail" of Israel, the end of the caravan, which would have meant the elderly and sick, women and little children. For that outrage, Amalek was to pay the price of retributive justice (1 Sam. 15:1-3), and Saul was the be the instrument of God's wrath.

God gave Israel victory, but "Saul and the people" (1 Sam. 15:9) spared the Amalekite king, Agag, along with the best of the livestock. In spite of this insubordination, Saul had the audacity to build a monument to himself! (1 Sam. 15:12)

The sad story that unfolds in 1 Samuel 15 is one of stubborn refusal to admit wrong doing.
  • In 15:13 Saul declares that he has performed the commandment of the Lord.
  • In 15:14-15 when God's prophet, Samuel, asks Saul why he hears animals, Saul blames the people for sparing the flock (even though the text plainly says he did this in v. 9), and once again asserts he has been obedient.
  • In 15:16 Samuel essentially says for Saul to "Shut up!" ("Stop!"), rebukes him for his disobedience.
  • In 15:20-21 Saul has the gall to disagree with Samuel and again say he was obedient, and once again blames the people for the spoil.
It is not until 15:24 that Saul finally says "I have sinned," and even then he still blames the people for what happened ("I feared the people and obeyed their voice").

God can forgive and use even the chiefest of sinners. But what can be done for a person who repeatedly refuses to acknowledge they are in the wrong, and constantly blames others for their mistakes? There is nothing left for the Lord to do but to reject them - because such an attitude shows that they have rejected Him (1 Sam. 15:26).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - April 28 - By Many or By Few

I love the story of Jonathan and his armor-bearer in 1 Samuel 14. During one of Israel's recurrent conflicts with the Philistines, Jonathan decided to do some scouting, and came upon a Philistine garrison. Undaunted, Jonathan said to his armor-bearer:
"Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few." (1 Sam. 14:6).
Jonathan was willing to take on an entire detachment of Philistines - not because he was arrogant and cocky - but because he had total faith in the power of God to grant victory, even through the hands of just two Israelites. Later he expressed complete confidence that "the Lord has given them into our hand" (1 Sam. 14:10). And sure enough, Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed about twenty Philistines, and in the process sent the camp of the enemy into a panic (1 Sam. 14:14-15).

Israel did not always win such dramatic victories because the nation was not always faithful to God. Without God's help, it did not matter if Israel had overwhelming numbers on its side - it would lose (see Josh. 7:3-5). Their strength was the Lord. As the psalmist said:
If it had not been the LORD who was on our side—
let Israel now say—
if it had not been the LORD who was on our side
when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
the raging waters. (Psalm 124:1-5)

But with God, His people are unstoppable. Two courageous Israelites can defeat a fortress of Philistines. One young shepherd can vanquish a giant. Twelve apostles can turn the world upside down with the message of the gospel. The Lord can save by many or by few - and that includes me and you.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - April 27 - The Lord's Anointed Savior

King Saul isn't a very likely model of what the Messiah would be, given how rebellious to the word he turns out to be (as in 1 Samuel 13). However, the language used to describe him in 1 Samuel 10-12 is very similar to the language describing the Messiah. Saul was the one "whom the Lord has chosen" (1 Sam. 10:24). In 1 Sam. 12:5 he is called the Lord's "anointed," which is a translation of the Hebrew term for "messiah" (the Greek term is christos, "Christ"). So think about these parallels between Saul in the account of 1 Samuel 11 and Jesus, the Christ.

1) We need savior to defeat a vicious enemy.

Israel needed someone to save them from Nahash the Ammonite (1 Sam. 11:1-4). We need someone to save us from the Devil (1 Peter 5:8; John 8:31-34; Revelation 12:17; Acts 4:26-27).

2) Only the Lord's anointed can save us from the enemy.

King Saul was God's anointed, and through him God secured a great victory for Israel (1 Sam. 11:5-11, 13b).

Jesus is the Lord's anointed, and through Him we have victory over the Devil (Matthew 1:21; Luke 4:18; John 12:27-33; Colossians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 15:56-57).

3) The saving work of the anointed should lead us to serve him more.

In the case of Saul, the people renewed their commitment to follow his leadership (1 Sam. 11:12-15).

We should be even more ready to serve our Anointed One who has delivered us (Luke 1:68-75).

Monday, April 26, 2010

Daily Bible Reading - April 26 - A Tale of Two Sauls

In the reading plan that I am following, the introduction to the Saul of the Old Testament (1 Samuel 9-10) and the introduction to the Saul of the New Testament (Acts 8, including Acts 7:58) occur on the same day's reading. So naturally I have been thinking about how the two Sauls compare to each other. I even wonder if Paul's parents may have given him the Jewish name of Saul in honor of the ancient king, considering that Paul's family descended from the same tribe as Saul - Benjamin (Phil. 3:5).

The Saul of the OT is presented to us as the epitome of what a great king should be. He was good looking, and was an impressive physical specimen, standing head and shoulders above all Israel (a fact that is stated twice - in 1 Sam. 9:2 and 1 Sam. 10:23). On this basis he appeared to be the perfect match for Israel's desire for a king who could go out before them and fight for them (1 Sam. 8:19-20). But as we will see, after some initial victories, Saul quickly reveals an inner character of a completely different quality than his outward appearance. He lacked faith in God and failed to obey His word, and as a result his reign proved disastrous to Israel and ultimately fatal to him and his family.

In contrast, the Saul of the NT is introduced to us as a violent opponent of Christianity. He endorsed the brutal murder of Stephen, and then took matters into his own hands to ravage the church. On the surface, it was as unlikely that this Saul would become an apostle of Jesus as it was that his OT namesake would become a maniacal failure. Both Sauls were radically transformed, though in vastly different trajectories.

I have known people who had every possible reason to turn out to be great servants of the Lord - godly and caring parents, supportive and nurturing congregations, faithful and dedicated friends - only to make shipwreck of their faith. And on the other hand, I have known people who had every possible reason to be hostile to the faith or reckless in their way of life, only to become tenacious disciples of the Lord. We all have tremendous capacity for transformation, and if we are to make sure that transformation is from glory to glory, like the Saul of Acts we must always have a clear vision of Jesus in our heart.