Tuesday, September 2, 2014 0 comments

King Saul Starts to Take the Initiative (in a good way)


King Saul tends to get such a bad rap with commentaries about lack of initiative and hesitance (not to mention disobedience) that it is cool to read that he wasn’t always like that.  This little bit is almost an afterthought at the end of the incident where Saul is prevented from executing Jonathan for eating some honey.

46 Then Saul went up from following the Philistines: and the Philistines went to their own place.
47 ¶So Saul took the kingdom over Israel, and fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, and against the children of Ammon, and against Edom, and against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines: and whithersoever he turned himself, he vexed them.
48 And he gathered an host, and smote the Amalekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of them that spoiled them….
52 And there was sore war against the Philistines all the days of Saul: and when Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he took him unto him. (1 Sam. 14:46-48, 52)

In fact, these verses describe a period when Saul seems to have taken the initiative and conducted what looks like a hit-and-run campaign against Israel’s hostile neighbors.  His army was small and hard to keep together when facing large forces, so it looks like he decided it would be better if they just made surprise attacks and left before the enemy could gather a sufficient force to oppose them.  Guerrilla warfare, perhaps?

Also, it looks like Saul figured out how to deal with the tendency of the Israelites to slip away and leave the army in tough times—by near constant recruiting efforts and looking for strong or valiant men who wouldn’t desert when things looked bad.

So Saul eventually learned how to adapt his tactics to the constraints put on him by the rawness of his army, and he was able to figure out what measures to adopt that would eventually turn his raw army into a force to be reckoned with.  In that respect he was a good leader. 

This was not without cost though.  By adopting a hit-and-run campaign against so many of Israel’s neighbors, Saul made lots of enemies, and if they had decided to retaliate in a coordinated effort, Israel would have had too much border to defend all at once and be stretched extremely thin.  As it was, their war just with the Philistines kept them very busy, since it is described as “sore war all the days of Saul.”   I can’t help but contrast this with Samuel’s life as a judge when Israel had peace with all their neighbors.

Also, recruiting every strong, brave man he could find eventually brings Saul to promote David.  It is only when David is acclaimed more than Saul that Saul becomes afraid of losing his kingdom and begins to feel threatened by David rather than seeing him as the asset he really was.

Sunday, August 31, 2014 0 comments

The Israelites' Deeper Problem with Wanting a King


When the Israelites come to Samuel asking for a king and a displeased Samuel prays for direction, the Lord says some interesting things that indicate Israel has a deeper problem.

7 And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. (1 Samuel 8:7-8)

If you remember, the people used as a cover the excuse that Samuel’s sons were perverting judgment, but Samuel had not stepped down as judge and he could deal with his sons, and in that respect the current system was not faulty enough to require a change. 

Rather, this was a case where the system was working well and the people didn’t like it because it was working.  They had to really watch their Ps and Qs and it was strenuous.  Living the Law of Moses carefully made them more conscious of their fallen nature and need for a Redeemer and they didn’t like that.

I like that the Lord shows Samuel that it is not Samuel that was rejected, but the Lord Himself.  Again, Samuel was the judge, but he wasn’t laying down his own law; he was following God’s law in the Law of Moses, and if they didn’t like that, then they didn’t like God’s law and they didn’t like having God rule over them.

Also, the Lord shows Samuel that this rejection was nothing new, but it was of a piece with all the rebellions the Israelites had done against God ever since they had been brought out of Egypt—the times they had murmured over food, the times some parties aspired to the higher priesthood and leadership, the time they had refused to go up to conquer the land and then when told not to go up, they decided to go up anyway, the time they had made a golden calf instead of waiting for Moses, and all the times they had forsaken God and worshipped Baal.   Their problem is sin, and changing government systems is not going to address that.  What they need is a national call to repentance (and they get it in 1 Samuel 12).

One of the things this teaches me is that things are no different today and I am no better.  I tend to wander and I have to repent.  If I don’t listen to the counsel of my church leaders, I’m just like those people who wanted a king.  Trying to avoid keeping commandments is outright rejection of God as ruler over me.  If I don’t follow God, I’m following something else and making that thing or person my god.

Yes, following the Lord requires discipleship and sacrifice day after day.  It’s a struggle.  Seeking to subdue the sin that dwells in the flesh is a struggle.  But it is cool to me that effort doesn’t just show my allegiance to the Lord but it also is meant to help me become like Him in grace-filled increments.

It's also a good message for around election time.  New leaders aren't going to help if the same old nation-wide sins continue.  Only nation-wide repentance will bring real change.

There’s something else I notice in what the Lord says to Samuel.  I notice that the Lord is willing to take from Samuel that feeling of being rejected and take it upon Himself.  Feeling rejected is not pleasant.  It hurts.  It touches me that this story has a type of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and sufferings here, even to cover the hurt of rejection.  That means that anytime we are in a leadership position and our righteous direction is ignored or our counsel is rejected, we can turn to the Lord for comfort.

Friday, August 29, 2014 0 comments

1 Samuel 8: Israel asks Samuel for a king and their surface problem


In 1 Samuel 8, we see where Israel’s monarchy came from.  Samuel the prophet was getting old and his sons were judges, but they were perverting judgment—turning aside for money, taking bribes, and so forth, so they would not be good successors to his righteous judgment.

The elders of Israel got together and went to Samuel with their concern about this issue and their solution was to make a king over Israel.  The text gives their reason—“now make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (v5).  Another version of their reason is, “That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles” (v20).

We usually jump on that reasoning that is repeated that they want to be like all the other nations and we point to that as their problem, but I think it is not that simple.  We have to understand their society and take into account their history.

Reading through Judges, we see that Israel had these men that the Lord raised up to deliver Israel from their difficulties, difficulties that were often caused by their unfaithfulness to God.  This rise of deliverers was good, but if we can imagine life between judges, how uncertain it was when the next judge would be raised up or who it would be.  If there were competing voices about this, how easy would it be to tell who to get behind? (Consider Abimelech, who campaigned against his 70 brothers, all sons of Gideon.)

They really needed a prophet, but it doesn’t seem like there was any spiritual line of succession of who that would be.  It should have gone with the priests at the tabernacle, but we get no hint that they were involved in anything like that.  (Of course, there may someday be lost records that come out about that era and we may get a different picture altogether.)

The surface problem Israel seems to have been anxious to solve is the problem of leadership succession—who are they people going to get behind when war threatens?  Kingship can solve that problem—it’s hereditary.  Unfortunately, another problem they had was the problem of judges (and priests) with wicked sons, and monarchy did not solve that problem, but made it worse.  An efficient election process would solve that, but considering the only governments around them were monarchies, it might be hard for them to imagine what that would look like.  It would have been easiest to just get rid of Samuel’s sons as judges and put in better men.

Again, what they really needed was a prophet to lead them in battle or to pick someone to general for them.  (But they already had that.  They had Samuel. So there's a deeper problem as well.)

The Lord told Samuel to warn the people of the disadvantages of having a king, and we have the list preserved for us.

Notice all the times Samuel says “he will take” about what a king would do.  The things the king will take represent nearly everything the Israelites have that is most valuable and productive.

He will take your sons and appoint them as charioteers and horsemen and runners. (v11).  This is a warning of how a king would create a standing army, which would have to stay in readiness all the time, require pay and supply, and a place to stay.  Men standing constantly at readiness to train and fight aren’t cultivating the land.  They also require weapons to be made for them, necessitating an arms industry. 

This might have sounded good to the Israelites, making it seem like their children would have opportunities for advancement (or even prestigious positions), but in reality their scope for growth would be limited by their superiors’ perception of their merit and the number of openings available.  Real merit might be passed over for any number of reasons, whereas at home their advancement would depend upon their ingenuity and how hard they could work.

He will appoint captains over thousands, fifties, and tens, and set them to harvest his crops and make his weapons (v12).  This is about the creation of bureaucracy and permanent military hierarchy.  Large numbers of helpers leads to need for chains of command.  With systematic organization, you will also get passing the buck, red tape delays, and turf wars. 

He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers (v13).  This warns of girls taken from their families and having to work around strangers who may exploit them or mistreat them, and teach them highly specialized skills of concocting luxurious foods and other things beyond what is needed for normal life such that normal skills of running a household are neglected and only the richest can pay for their skills.   And instead of becoming queens of their own households, they would be servants in another’s.

He will take the best fields, vineyards, and olive yards to give to his servants (v14).  This warns about how resources would begin to be concentrated in the hands of a few and an increase in social stratification.  It may also be an early mention of eminent domain in the scriptures.

He will take the tenth of seed and fruits (v15) and tenth of sheep (v17) to give to his officers and servants.  This is warning of taxes.  For a king to have something to pay his servants, he has to have a source of revenue.  That revenue has to come from somewhere and unless he takes office with great wealth already, he won’t have time to earn it because of his other duties.  Thus it has to come from taxes.

He will take your servants and best young men and your beasts of burden and put them to his work (v16).  When royalty wants to hire good servants, they generally get them from somewhere, but the people they take them from have no way of competing to keep those human resources because everyone thinks it is an honor to serve royalty.  Good servants are hard to find and hard to replace, so they’d lose their best workers, while the king might not have openings to best use the talents of the people serving him.

And this is if the king is still trying to be just.  Injustice makes the taking even worse.

So basically, serving royalty is a big diversion of people and stuff and labor because for the king to do his job protecting he has to have resources to protect and govern with.  To have their standing army ready, they have to have something to pay them, or lots of farms to feed them with.  The kings also have to negotiate with other heads of state and their bargaining position is strengthened if they have prestige that comes from a wealth of resources at their disposal.  However, that means all those resources are either sitting around, or they need bureaucracy to work them, so waste and inefficiencies are introduced and monarchy becomes a resource suck.

In the past, Israel made do by having someone blow the trumpet and summon everyone to come do their bit for the country and they just had to trust that it would be enough and people would come.  And it worked, but it was so uncertain and always looked upon as a miracle that it worked, but I guess they really wanted something they could automatically resort to. 

What is cool about this chapter is that the people saw the problem with Samuel’s sons as judges and brought the matter to Samuel’s attention and proposed a solution.  The solution wasn’t a good one, but they were at least involved.  What is also cool is that three times the Lord says to Samuel, “Hearken unto the people.”  Even as the people want the wrong thing as a solution, the Lord is honoring their collective agency.  We get a hint of that principle more fully mentioned in the Book of Mormon that the voice of the people and what they want is a bellwether about the direction society is going.  When the voice of the people want what is good, great!  But when they don’t, it is a very sad thing and indicates destruction is coming.

I have to wonder if the Lord’s instructions to Samuel, “Hearken unto the people” is also for Samuel on a personal level as well as a political level.  He may have felt very unhappy about being rejected by the people wanting a king.  It is hard to make wise decisions and react appropriately when you’re feeling attacked or rejected, especially by many people.  (I’ve had a little dose of that myself and it is painful.)  It’s possible that hearkening to the people and putting energies into understanding their view would help Samuel get over his personal feelings.  (Actually, I know that is true because I’ve had recent experience where listening more closely to my husband’s concerns helped me get over defensive and resentful feelings.)

I also have to wonder what would have happened if, after Samuel warned the people, the people had relinquished their desire for a king.  If they had said, “Okay, no king.  What should we do instead?” what would have happened?  Would they have created more judges in a more systematized way like the Nephites in the Book of Mormon?  Would they have created some sort of representative government?  Would they have gotten more of a prophetically chosen system of executives?  Who knows?

I like how this chapter shows us a sample of dialogue between the Lord had His people through the prophet.  The people ask Samuel, Samuel goes to the Lord, the Lord answers and tells Samuel what to say, Samuel passes the message on, the people answer, Samuel takes that answer to the Lord, and back and forth.   It shows the people at least have the faith that Samuel really does speak to the Lord and for the Lord, and that seems like an improvement from the time of Moses.  It’s just too bad that the people have already made up their minds about what they want no matter what the Lord tells them.   Hopefully we can learn to be smarter with our prayers and be willing to take “No” and “Not a good idea” answers when they come.

What is also kind of cool about this story is how Samuel serves as a mediator between God and the people, taking messages between them and sharing his own concerns with the Lord.  It is neat to realize that we have a prophet today who does the same thing.

It’s good to remember that the Lord knew what was going on in Israel without the people having to go to the prophet and the prophet having to tell Him everything.  He doesn’t need prayers to know.  Rather, it is the people and the prophet who need it.  Prayer is for us to help us learn honesty, to learn trust in the Lord, to learn spiritual sensitivity to the Lord, to learn how to follow the impressions received.  It is the way our will is brought to correspond with the Lord’s, and if that doesn’t happen, then our prayers are vain.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 0 comments

The Divine Sign that Wanting a King was Bad

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After King Saul was anointing king, after he had already led the people to great victory over the Amorites, Samuel has the people come to Gilgal where they renew the kingdom.  Samuel challenges the people to tell him of any injustice he has done and they can’t come up with anything, which exonerates him as a judge.  He also reminds them of the great things God had done for them and their ancestors and he warns them that although they have what they wanted –a king—they have to remember to keep the commandments.

Then Samuel does something rather unusual. 

16 ¶Now therefore stand and see this great thing, which the Lord will do before your eyes.
17 Is it not wheat harvest to day? I will call unto the Lord, and he shall send thunder and rain; that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking you a king.
18 So Samuel called unto the Lord; and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day: and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.
19 And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king.
20 ¶And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart;
21 And turn ye not aside: for then should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver; for they are vain.
22 For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake: because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people. (1 Sam. 12:16-22)

Samuel declares a sign the Lord will do to show them Israel’s wickedness was great in asking for a king.  The sign is that Samuel will pray for the Lord to send thunder and rain in the middle of the wheat harvest that day.  (As a reader I get the impression that in the natural course of things it was unlikely for it to rain at that time of year, so that would be an effective sign.)

The sign happens as Samuel said, and all the people realize their wickedness and begin pleading with Samuel to intercede for them to God so that they wouldn’t die for adding this national sin to their individual sins.

Samuel reminds them to keep following the Lord and serve with all their hearts and assures them that the Lord would not forsake them for his own name’s sake.

The question that came to me as I was reading this was, “Why does the Lord give them this sign now once they already have a king and can’t get rid of him?  Wouldn’t it have been better to give it before they had a king?”

I have several thoughts about this.  First I recall the principle that signs follow those that believe and that signs can condemn the unbeliever.  It may be that if the sign had been given in addition to the arguments against having a king it would have condemned the Israelites if they had continued to go against it.

To give the sign afterward reinforced the message of “wanting a king is bad” to show that just because the Lord gave them a good man for a king and just because the king had helped them STILL did not mean that the Lord had changed His stance that wanting a king was bad.

The sign also demonstrates that even if the people thought Samuel was going to take a backseat to Saul’s leadership, Samuel continues to speak for the Lord.  Samuel is still a prophet and he’s not going away just because Saul is a king chosen by God.

This is going to sound obvious, but the most important thing the sign demonstrates to the people is that they have all sinned, so it becomes a dramatic call to repentance.  You can see that they instantly feel the need and they ask Samuel to intercede for them to God.  (This makes Samuel a type of Christ here.)   Yet while the sign shows the people their estrangement from God, it also demonstrates that God has not given up on them.  If God had forsaken them, He would not take the trouble to tell them where they had sinned.  Samuel reminds them of this.  “For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake: because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people” (v22).

I hope I can see the signs I have sinned before it comes to dramatic displays of thunder and rain.  One of the easiest ways is to listen to conscience and read the scriptures.

Another thing this shows us is that switching leaders or government systems doesn’t negate the commandments of God.  In the church, if we think we need new leaders it is usually because we are the sinful ones.  Our disobedience isn’t changed by a change of leaders.  Sin is the problem.

You can also see that Samuel has an understanding of the perfect love of God when he says, “The Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake.”  God doesn’t stick with Israel because of anything Israel has done to deserve it; Israel may be humble enough to answer the call, but Israel is prone to wander.  God sticks with Israel to show His unfailing love.  It is who He is. 

It’s taken a long time for me to learn that.  And like Israel, who is prone to wander, so I also forget it from time to time and begin to worry that this time I have gone too far and the Lord will hold a grudge against me if I try to repent, like some people I’ve known.  And then somehow the Lord shows me that He is more willing to forgive than I give Him credit for.  That gives me the courage to repent and try again and again and again.  
Monday, August 25, 2014 0 comments

Examining Consequences of Saul Offering the Burnt Offering in 1 Sam. 13


The beginning of King Saul’s fall is when he offers the burnt offering instead of waiting for Samuel to arrive and do it.  When Samuel finally gets there, he chastises Saul and pronounces some consequences.  It is worth looking at these consequences to see what we can learn.
13 And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.
14 But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee. (1 Samuel 13:13-14)
It sounds like Saul’s kingdom would have been established forever if he had kept the commandments and not offered the sacrifice, but because he had, his kingdom would not continue.  That is quite a big consequence hanging on a single act.  Why was this the case?

I think one possibility is that Saul showed he couldn’t handle the pressure of being in a tight spot without deciding to break commandments.  And he was in a tight spot.
1)    His people were scared and were deserting the army.
2)    Samuel didn’t come when he said and there was no indication of how long he’d be delayed.
3)    They were facing a humongous Philistine army that looked like it would attack at any moment.

That’s a very tense, high pressure situation.  If I were in that situation, I’d be so stressed I’d be ready to have a litter of kittens or something.  (Yes, I am a type-A personality.)
It is only natural to want to do something to escape that tension somehow as quickly as possible.  But Saul broke the commandments to do it.

The trouble is, that wasn’t going to be the only high pressure situation King Saul would face, and if he couldn’t learn to face it the right way, it would be very hard to hold the kingdom together without continuing to break commandments out of expediency.  Soon every situation looks one where it is expedient to break commandments of the Lord.  That’s the kind of thing that destroys a king’s moral authority.  But if he could keep the commandments and make it through, then he’d become stronger and more capable of keeping stability, even in the most tumultuous times.

This has a good lesson for us too.  If we can learn to keep the commandments even when in tight spots and under pressure, then we become stronger and more capable and our little kingdom (as small as it is) will be established.  If parents can keep the commandments in family crisis, then their family will be more firmly established.

As a final note, we can notice that when Samuel anticipated “a man after [the Lord’s] own heart who would be commanded to be captain over the Lord’s people, we can see that as a dualistic prophecy.  It anticipates the rise of David as king, but also the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ.  Christ was a man after God’s heart and was made captain over God’s people as the captain of our salvation.  (Samuel says little things like this that anticipate and prophecy of Christ throughout his ministry and they are always worth noticing and marking.)



Saturday, August 23, 2014 0 comments

What Hindered You?


7 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?
8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.
9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
10 I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. (Galatians 5:7-10)

This block of verses resonates with me right now.  I feel like I’ve been a little hindered in my gospel run because of internal negative self-talk in my head.  I like that Paul points out this persuasion doesn’t come from the Lord.  It helps to have that discernment.  Satan is the one who tries to create obstacles for us, and a little corruption, like leaven, affects our whole spiritual life.

Also notice the words used for the problem – hinder, persuasion, troubleth.  Sometimes it is obstacles, sometimes it is persuasions from Satan, sometimes it is just troubles.  And trouble could be circumstances, or it could be persecution.

I also like that Paul points out that “he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.”  That means that the people who try to hinder, persuade away, or trouble us to keep us from enduring faithfully to the end will someday stand before God in judgment and be held accountable for those actions.  Yes, there is opposition in all things, but there is no call for anyone else to be someone’s opposition to doing good.

But what about those of us who struggle against ourselves?  Paul says, “I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded.”  He is assured that our thoughts are all towards choosing the right and being true.   Having good desires is very important.  (I suppose that means if my thoughts are not that way, then that is an indication there are internal yearnings toward sinning, and that means I’d need to repent and seek to be born again.)
Thursday, August 21, 2014 0 comments

Divine Signs in Saul’s Call to Kingship


In 1 Samuel 9 -10 there are a lot of signs shown to Saul of Samuel’s foreknowledge.  These signs just seem to come thick and fast.

--When Saul came to Samuel to inquire of him where he could find the donkeys that were lost, Samuel was told by the Lord that he was coming, when he would be there, and that he was to be king.
--When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him Saul was to be king.
--Samuel told Saul without being asked that his donkeys had been found.  This demonstrates foreknowledge of Saul’s problem and the answer.
--Samuel had already saved some food ahead of time specifically for Saul.
--Samuel also told Saul about who Saul would meet on his journey home, what those people would do and say.  1) People would tell him the donkeys were found and of the worry of his father 2) People would give him provisions for his journey back, since he had exhausted his supplies. 3)People would prophesy and he would prophesy with them and be given a new heart by God.

We might well ask ourselves why so many miracles and so much seership demonstrated?

I personally think these miracles were meant to impress upon Saul that his calling to kingship was real.   He was inclined to doubt the calling because he didn’t see himself or his family as the clear choice for this honor.  In fact, he saw his family as the least of the tribe of Benjamin and Benjamin as the least of the tribes of Israel.

But when the man who gives the calling can tell you what you’re worried about and give you the answer before you even ask the question, that person is not to be dismissed when he tells you other things to come, even something as far-fetched as a call to kingship.

The miracles also build Saul’s confidence that the Lord knew him and knew what would happen and would guide him.  They taught in various ways the foreknowledge of God. 
1) The Lord knew what Saul was looking for and had taken care of the little things because there were bigger things for Saul to do. 
2) The Lord knew of Saul and could help others recognize him as king too.  (In fact, the drawing lots among the tribes and the battle Saul fights to save the Israelites at Jabesh-gilead in 1 Samuel 11 are divinely orchestrated as well and help convince Israel Saul is the one chosen by God.)  
3) The Lord could provide for Saul the things he needed.
4) The Lord could change Saul to fit the role he was going to have.

I think it is interesting that when Samuel finishes telling Saul all the things that will happen on the way home, he also tells him he will have to wait.

And thou shalt go down before me to Gilgal; and, behold, I will come down unto thee, to offer burnt offerings, and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace offerings: seven days shalt thou tarry, till I come to thee, and shew thee what thou shalt do. (1 Samuel 10:8)

After all the miracles, Saul will have to wait seven days while nothing happens.  To me this exemplifies the principle that sometimes there is a bunch of miracles happening in our lives where we see quite clearly how the Lord is working, and other times we have to wait patiently and keep the faith.

Lucky Saul was given a time limit to wait, but we often are not; we just have to hang on.  There is a time for doing the hard work to show our faith (and we don’t often know how long that will be), and there is the time of miracles that confirm that faith.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014 0 comments

Saul and Samuel Brought Together by the Lord


One of the things that is neat about 1 Samuel 9 is that it shows how the Lord brought Saul to Samuel to be made king.

Saul goes on this journey because some of their donkeys are missing and his dad wanted him to go look for them.  The timing of the loss of those donkeys shows it was the Lord behind it.

There’s another circumstance that indicates that the Lord has a hand in bring them together.  See if you can find it in v6 and v12:

And he said unto him, Behold now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is an honourable man; all that he saith cometh surely to pass: now let us go thither; peradventure he can shew us our way that we should go….
12 And they answered them, and said, He is; behold, he is before you: make haste now, for he came to day to the city; for there is a sacrifice of the people to day in the high place:

In v6 the servant seems to think that Samuel is permanently at that city, but the girls at the city show that Samuel is not permanently there, but that he just got there that day.  Perfect timing.  The Lord brought both Saul and Samuel on converging paths to meet.

Yet another circumstance is that Saul has this servant with him who gives him the direction he needs, and Saul also runs into people who help him on his way with good directions.

How often does the Lord use the instrumentality of other mortals – strangers or servants or friends or employees or family or leaders -- to give us little bits of guidance to get us to the place He wants us to be?  Probably more often than we realize.

The other thing we can notice is that Saul and Samuel’s paths converged as they went about doing their best to do their duties.   Saul was serving his family looking for lost animals.  Samuel was serving the Lord by overseeing sacrificial worship at various cities.   This teaches me that if I am dependable about doing my duties, then the Lord will bring me to the people I need to meet by giving me duties that put me on that path.  So in a sense, doing our duties allows the Lord guide us to where we need to be.
Sunday, August 17, 2014 2 comments

What can Baptism Metaphors Teach Us?


I taught a Relief Society lesson last Sunday about Baptism from the Joseph Fielding Smith manual and in the process of preparing, I noticed that there are a lot of metaphors used in the scriptures to describe baptism and what it does for us and what it means for us. 

I decided I wanted to collect them together to see what I could learn from them.  And it was neat enough that I wanted to share what I found. (I didn't have time to share these in my lesson, so this is bonus material!)

The straitness of the path (2 Nephi 31:9)  Strait does not mean not crooked here.  It is another word for narrow.  Drawing attention to the narrowness emphasizes that a correct baptism has be done in a certain way otherwise it isn’t valid or efficacious.  A path implies steps we have to take and if you learn about the requirements of baptism, you learn there really are steps (see D&C 20:37). These same steps are also applicable to preparing to take the sacrament, so it’s not like we leave this path once we’ve been baptized.

Narrowness of the gate by which they should enter (2 Nephi 31:9) – Baptism is called a gateway we should enter.  This implies it is an entrance into something.  Entrance is required, so everyone needs to be searching for this gate.  Using a gate implies that it is an entrance into a place with walls where we could otherwise not get in.  This makes me think that the gate is to the kingdom of God and we might surmise that there is no other way in besides this one.  Again, narrowness implies the specificity of baptism and the way it is done and by whom. 

A witness and a testimony (Mosiah 21:35) – This makes me think of court witness and certifying to the truth of something.  Baptism is a way that we testify to the truth of our repentance and that we have covenanted to serve the Lord.    Witness also communicates how baptism demonstrates an inner state by an outer act.  I suppose that is part of bringing the body into subjection to the spirit.

Wash away thy sins (Acts 22:16) – This gives us the sense that after baptism the dirty past that has clung to us is gone.

Washed their garments in my [Jesus’] blood (3 Ne. 27:19), cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten (Moses 6:59) – This gives us additional symbolism of the baptismal act.  The water we are immersed in symbolizes being washed in the blood of Christ.  (Being dunked in blood is kind of a disturbing image, so I’m glad we don’t do that literally…)  Just like it would be a miracle if anything washed in blood were to come out clean, it is similarly a miracle that we are cleansed by Christ’s vicarious sacrifice.   The idea of being washed and cleansed by Christ’s blood also communicates how Christ’s sacrifice sanctifies us in baptism.

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us (Col. 2:14) – This one takes a bit of effort to unpack.  “ordinances that was against us” refers to the law of Moses and it means all the laws of God we’ve broken.  It’s our rap sheet, all the things we’ve done wrong.  “Blotting out the handwriting” refers to how people would erase writing on parchment or leather scrolls in an age without erasers.  They would sponge the writing with a damp or wet rag until the ink had been moistened and drawn up and out.   

So, this communicates that baptism is a wholesale erasure of the big list of our offenses on our official record, and the result is we don’t have to live in fear of judgment any more.  When a rap sheet is erased, we can walk free and not worry that we’ll be dragged to court at any moment.    Likewise, after baptism, all the list of things we’ve done wrong is erased and we don’t have to live in fear of dying and being suddenly brought to the judgment bar of God.

For the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) – Remission is an odd word.  It’s hard to get your mind around it unless you start thinking about it in medical terms.  If cancer goes into remission, then that means there is an absence of disease activity in the body.  So maybe we can think of remission of sins as an absence of sin activity in the body.  I’ve read that cancer isn’t cured unless it has been in remission long enough.  There is still potential for relapse.  Likewise, we aren’t cured of sin until we’ve been in remission long enough.  There is still the potential for relapse there too.   Remission also is used to convey the sense of cancelling a debt or a penalty. 

Our old man is crucified with him that the body of sin might be destroyed (Romans 6:6) – Crucifixion is torture.  When we begin to repent, that is torture to the natural man.  The repentance process tortures the natural man to death and destroys it, with baptism giving the coup de grace. 

Buried with him [Christ] by baptism into death (Romans 6:4, Mosiah 18:14) – This teaches us that the old natural man is meant to die and be buried during baptism.  Baptism is a likeness of the grave.  From this metaphor I get the idea that the sinful life is not prolonged, but ended, and the visible remains are placed where it will not be seen again. 

Planted together in the likeness of his death (Romans 6:5) – Paul noted that a seed can’t grow unless it dies first and is buried.  The death of the natural man in baptism is compared to a seed that is planted and then yields something much different and much better, something that sprouts and grows!  

Fruits meet for repentance (Matt 3:7-8) – Baptism is compared to fruit.  Fruit is the thing we all want from a fruit tree and we see that fruit trees go through a process before fruit ripens on them.  Fruit trees bud and flower and fruit.  That fruiting process teaches us there is a process to repentance that is meant to end with baptism. 

Born again  (John 3:3, Mosiah 27:25) -- This gives us a sense that baptism is starting over.  We get to have innocence back again without losing the knowledge we’ve gained so far.  We become a different person. 

Enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5) – This helps us think of baptism in terms of becoming a citizen in a different country.  You take an oath of loyalty and service to the king, who is Christ.  You will be a participating citizen and help build the kingdom.  You will help defend the kingdom if called upon. 

Translated in the kingdom (Colossians 1:13) – This one is unexpected and very much overlooked.  Translated evokes the idea of changing between two different languages.  We are changed and transformed into something different. 

come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism (1 Nephi 20:1) – This is Nephi quoting Isaiah and Joseph Smith inserted that “out of the waters of baptism” as prophetic commentary.   “Out of the waters of Judah” is a strange phrase for baptism, but if we remember that baptism is meant to adopt an individual into the house of Israel, we have our first clue.  The second clue is that by the time Isaiah wrote this, the northern tribes of Israel had gone apostate after idolatry, so efficacious baptism could only be found in Judah.   Today because of the restored gospel, we can speak again of baptism as coming forth out of the waters of Israel.  This conveys how baptism is an adoption into the house of Israel and joining a group who enjoy great spiritual privileges and responsibilities.

As you can see, each of these baptism metaphors teaches something special about baptism—what it does for us, how our status changes, how we prepare for it, the importance of how it is done and how that relates to its efficacy, how it relates to the atonement of Christ, how it is an ending and a beginning all at once.

Baptism is a true principle and is necessary for entering into the kingdom of God.  These metaphors are meant to persuade us to toward repentance so that we bring forth those fruits, and they are also meant to remind us of the privileges we have received as members of the kingdom of God and to remind us of our covenants.   I’m glad the prophets and apostles worked so hard to think of these metaphors to share these truths so succinctly and powerfully.

Friday, August 15, 2014 0 comments

Time to Rethink Job

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 I just ran across a book about the Book of Job by Michael Austin called Rereading Job: Understanding the Ancient World’s Greatest Poem from Kofford Books. 

There’s a 30-page preview here and it was just enough to give me a sense of better ways to think about the story of Job. 

When I read the preview, I found myself nodding to myself, Yes, I’ve noticed that.  Yes, I’ve noticed that too!  In short, if you’ve ever read the Book of Job all the way through and have wondered about all that philosophical debate that goes on between Job and his friends, you’ll get some very useful perspective from this preview.

Just to give you a hint, Austin notes that Job is like a reading of the Disney story of Cinderella and halfway in, there is an enormous poem in which Cinderella laments and complains about the obnoxiousness of the patriarchy and royalty and the values that allow people to think that a prince can be in love with a girl whose face he can’t remember or that a shoe fitting can really help someone identify the right girl, and then there is a big debate between her and her stepmother and stepsisters until the fairy godmother appears and threatens to turn Cinderella into a pumpkin if she doesn’t just chill out and marry the prince.

See?  Interesting.  And helpful.  Because that stuff is in there and we totally miss it in Sunday school because we don’t spend time talking about the middle chapters!

I’m putting this book on my “to buy” list.

If you want to buy it, here’s the publisher’s page that haspaperback and ebook links.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”