Thursday, September 18, 2014 0 comments

Out of Zion the Deliverer


Paul has some things to say about how Israel would eventually be brought to believe in the gospel after having rejected it in Paul’s day.

25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written,
There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer,
and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. (Romans 11:25-27)

I was really curious about this quotation Paul used.  I wanted to know where it came from.  The footnote pointed to Isaiah 59:20, and that’s where I discovered something really interesting—it looks like Paul was quoting Isaiah but there are some significant differences between Isaiah and Paul’s quotation.

20 ¶And the Redeemer shall come to Zion,
and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the Lord.
21 As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever. (Isaiah 59:20-21)

In Isaiah, Zion and Jacob seem to be used parallelistically and meant to mean the same entity, although you could argue that mentioning them twice indicates the possibility that they are separate there.  At best it is ambiguous.

The way Paul renders Isaiah, Sion is considered a different entity from Jacob, such that the Deliverer comes to Sion first and then goes to Jacob!

Another difference between Paul and Isaiah is that Paul states the Deliverer will go from Sion to Jacob, implying a previous time when Jacob will not have this Deliverer and will need redemption.  Yet Isaiah says the Redeemer will come to Zion and Jacob, as if it happens at the same time (which adds to the sense of parallelism).

Another difference is Paul’s rendering making it known it is the Deliverer who turns away ungodliness from Jacob.  Isaiah makes it seem like the Redeemer is coing to those of Jacob who have already turned away from their transgressions, implying the visit is a reward for previous repentance.  Paul, on the other hand, makes the point that the visit is what brings the repentance.

What are we to make of this?  Usually Paul is very careful with his quotations.  It makes me think that there might have been a big change made to that part of Isaiah in order to try to bury the implications that there would be a time when Zion would be a separate entity from Jacob.

I also went looking to see if there were any other scriptures from the Old Testament that supported Paul’s rendering and I found Psalms 14:7:

Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion!
when the Lord bringeth back the captivity of his people,
Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.

Here too we see the idea of salvation coming out of Zion then going to Jacob and Israel, implying Jacob/Israel is separate from Zion and that salvation in the latter days comes from Zion to Jacob/Israel.

This essentially prophesies of the restoration of the gospel that would come to the gentiles, create Zion, and then go from Zion to descendents of Jacob.  Paul knew the apostasy would occur even after the gospel had gone to the gentiles in his day.  He knew it would be restored and then spread to gather Israel.  


Tuesday, September 16, 2014 0 comments

On Wiping out the Amalekites


One of the controversial parts of the Old Testament is the Lord’s commandment to wipe out the Amalekites so that their memory is erased.

The impetus for this command is after an occasion when a group of Canaanites called Amalekites attack the part of the Israelite camp with the sick, weary, and slow.  The strictness and severity of the command to wipe out the memory of the Amalekites is often questioned because of our distance from the offense they committed, when it was essentially an atrocity against noncombatants and civilians who could not defend themselves, about on par with attacking a hospital and slaughtering all inside.

One of the puzzling things is that even though various successive generations of Israelites destroy what they claim is “all of the Amalekites,” somehow enough Amalekites manage to survive for later generations to have to wipe them out too.

Saul is commanded to destroy the Amalekites, and he does, except for their king Agag, and Samuel has to finish the job.  Yet in the Book of Esther, we run into Haman, who is labeled an Agagite, which makes us thing Agag’s posterity still survived.

David returns home from the battlefront to find the Amalekites have attacked his hometown and carried away captive everyone, and he has to go rescue them.  Earlier than that, he goes on a raid against Amalekites and wipes them all out, presumably following that ancient command of Moses.

Even more interesting, occasionally editors of papers in Israel call for people to take up arms against the Amalekites around them who threaten their families.

How can Amalekites be wiped out generation after generation and still spring up again? 

Another interesting part of that story of Saul killing the Amalekites is that before he attacks, he finds Kenites living among the Amalekites, and he warns them to get out from among them so they aren’t destroyed too.  So the Kenites leave.  How did Saul know who was Kenite and who was Amalekite then? 

For that matter, how did any Israelite know an Amalekite from any other people?  Did they inquire after their genealogy and then attack?   Or was there a characteristic that instantly identified a group as Amalekite?  

Another question that troubles us is: Why did successive generations of Amalekites deserve to die?  If they deserved it, why weren’t their crimes recorded so that future generations could be sure their deaths were merited?   We place much importance on justice being done and in order to mentally exonerate the ancient Israelites of the charge of genocide, we feel we have to put the Amalekites on trial and hear the evidence that they were worthy of death.  But since there is very little evidence in the Bible, we conclude that no such evidence existed and that the executions were unfair.

I finally came up with a theory that explains why Amalekites continued to exist and continued to require destruction.  It also explains why their crimes were not recorded after the first inciting atrocity. 

My theory is that the classification of “Amalekite” may have begun as a particular culture, but didn’t have to stay that way.  Instead, it lived on as a behavior profile and the characteristic that identified someone as an Amalekite were the same actions that got the Amalekites under holy death sentence from God in the first place—attacking the weak, the sick, and those unable to defend themselves.   This is extremely predatory behavior.  Thus, anyone who did such a thing was to be considered an Amalekite and worthy of being wiped out. 

This is why Samuel commanded Saul to kill the Amalekites.  It meant that some group of people was being called Amalekites because of the atrocities they had just committed, and their acts required a response.   For Saul to leave Agag alive was to fail to punish the instigator of those atrocities.

This is why David went on raids against the Amalekites.  We are merely told of those raids and are meant to understand and take for granted that they happened because some group of people (labeled Amalekites) had committed atrocities against the weakest citizens who were unable to defend themselves.    This is also why David, when he comes back to find the city Ziklag looted and his women and children kidnapped, has to go chasing down more Amalekites to rescue his people.

The man who claims he killed King Saul is identified as an Amalekite.  Coincidence?   No.  If you read the account, you start to see that the man was predatory and taking advantage of the weak.

Haman, by plotting the death of the entire Jewish people in such a way that they were not allowed to defend themselves, is easily identified as a predatory type.  You don’t have to look at his genealogy to see that he fits the Amalekite profile.

So what do we learn from this?  In the commandment to wipe the Amalekites from the earth, we start to see not irrational cruelty and genocide as many often suppose, but an ancient measure to moderate war before there was ever thought of such a thing as the Geneva Convention.   It also bit both ways.  It was a command to put an end to any other people who commit such atrocities as the Amalekites had once committed, and implicitly a strict command to confine military aggression to those who can actually fight back (lest one become an Amalekite oneself).

Now..  you make the call.

Can Hitler be called an Amalekite?
How about suicide bombers?
What about terrorists?
Sunday, September 14, 2014 4 comments

David & Goliath: Factors in Goliath’s Vulnerability


When I read the story of David slaying Goliath recently I started asking myself some questions that I hadn’t thought of before:

--Was David the only slinger in the Israelite army?
--Why didn’t Goliath have anything to shield him?
--Why does Goliath so underestimate David?

I’ve read different things that say how slingers were an important part of ancient armies.  Judges 20:16 tells of 700 chosen men who could sling stones at a hairsbreadth and not miss, so they were a common part of armies.  So there would be slingers among Saul’s army already.

So why hadn’t some slinger already hit Goliath before David came?

The problem was Goliath had a shield bearer who went before him with a big shield.  The shield bearer wasn’t a glorified coat rack; he was supposed to keep Goliath safe from incoming sling stones.  And he was evidently very good at it because Goliath defied Israel for quite a while.

So how does Goliath go so wrong with David?  Why, if David goes to Goliath with his sling in his hand, does Goliath seem to completely underestimate him?  1 Samuel 17:41 tells us that as Goliath begins to come close to David, the shield bearer went before him, so his guard was still up at the beginning.  But Goliath makes a comment in v43 -- “Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves?”  This tells us that all Goliath could see at first that David had was David’s staff.   It is possible David had his sling in his hand all rolled up or folded up, or even just held in his hand with his staff, so that Goliath could only see the staff and not the sling.  To Goliath’s eyes, David looked inadequately armed, and maybe this is what gets Goliath out from behind his shield bearer so that David can get a nice clear shot.

The risk to David was that he might not be able to bring his sling into play in time before the Philistine got to him.  Nevertheless, he starts running toward Goliath and as he runs, he prepares his sling for action.  It seems that not only was David excellent with the sling, he was good at the “quick draw” and that too while on the run, with a moving target.

Thus, we can see where David’s courage and faith were.  He knew it was risky to get close to Goliath, but he trusted in God that he would be delivered.  He had previous experience because of the time he trusted in God to help him deliver a lamb out of the mouth of a lion and a bear in a close-up struggle.

Sometimes in our fight against evil we have to get up-close-and-personal in situations with great risk.   David’s story shows us that when we have to, we can depend on God to protect us and then use the skills and training we have. 
Friday, September 12, 2014 0 comments

Where is Christ in the story of David and Goliath?


What can we learn about Christ from the story of David and Goliath?  We might see Him in the question David asks of the soldiers when he sees Goliath mocking:

“What shall be done to the man that…taketh away the reproach from Israel?” (1 Samuel 17:26)

Christ took away our sins, and thus took away our reproach.

Interestingly enough, the answer is given in the verse before:

…the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father’s house free in Israel.” (1 Samuel 17:25)

Christ’s reward for taking away the reproach of Israel would be:
--Great riches from Heavenly Father (all the Father hath)
--Marriage to the king’s daughter.  This could be both literal and spiritual.  Spiritually the Father has given the whole church to Christ as part of the new and everlasting covenant.
--Freedom of all Heavenly Father’s family.  All are made free from death by the gift of the resurrection, and all who believe in Christ and repent can be made free from their sins forever.

It is neat to see this parallel where I didn’t expect it.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014 0 comments

Thoughts on Learning the Lord’s Way of Looking


But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance,
or on the height of his stature;
because I have refused him:
for the Lord seeth not as man seeth;
for man looketh on the outward appearance,
but the Lord looketh on the heart. (1 Sam 16:7)

It’s a very well-known scripture and it might be hard to engage it because we have heard it often.  However, I want to take another look at it here.

How does this scripture actually help us?

To me it reminds that the Lord sees much more of a person than man sees.  The Lord has the advantage of knowing each of us before we were born and knowing each of us as we progress through life.  We, however, do not.  We know very little even of ourselves!    The Lord has the advantage of knowing our thoughts and feelings, whereas we do not know those things of another person, except as they are revealed honestly through words and actions.

The context of this verse is one of a religious leader choosing a future king even before those qualifications for rule could be discerned by others.  It takes revelation to do this, and we are reminded that priesthood leaders only need to have revealed to them who when extending a call; they don’t need to know how or why.  (This is not to say that the Lord can’t reveal the how or why; He can and He does what He thinks best.)

To me this verse also suggests that we can learn to look on our hearts more in the way the Lord does.  Perhaps if we do, we will be less likely to excuse ourselves in committing sin or procrastinate our repentance.  Maybe we will be more likely to take satisfaction in doing good.  If we were to know ourselves, we might be more likely to humble ourselves without beating ourselves up.  We might be better able to appreciate our talents and strengths without boasting or puffing ourselves up.  We might be more interested in seeking opportunities for personal growth.

This verse also suggests it would be wise to be more slow to take a person’s measure when I meet them, but wait to see how their character is revealed in time.  It might help me be more interested in learning about other people and try to know them as God knows them.

A final note: Samuel’s anointing of David was a great act of faith.  He did not live to see David ascend the throne of Israel, and at the time of Samuel’s death, David was still a fugitive from Saul.   Yet as far as we know, Samuel did not go out and anoint anyone else to be king, just because he did not see David progressing toward kingship.

Monday, September 8, 2014 0 comments

Temple Architectural Symbolism: Octagons

-->
From time to time, you may have noticed that temples occasionally have octagons worked into the architectural elements.  You may have wondered what those mean. 

A few years ago, I read a book about temple architectural elements that said that octagons with their eight sides symbolized the 8th day of creation and also progression toward perfection. 

I think Hansen skillfully unpacked the reasoning for how it communicates progression toward perfection (so I’ll let you buy the book and learn about that and all the other fabulous goodies that come in it), but I want to focus a little more on that idea of the 8th day of creation because this is one that foreign to us.   This one took me a while to grasp.

Being baptized at age eight, the year of accountability, is familiar to us, but eight days in creation is strange.  Creation was done in six days, God rested on the 7th, so what need for an 8th day? 

Consider that we all need to be born again into the kingdom of God.  Wouldn’t that constitute an act of creation—the spiritual creation of a new creature?   It would be a further refinement and continuation of our creation that would be in line with the change and development that happens in the previous 7 days.

Thus, the 8th day of creation is about spiritual rebirth and refinement, and so you will find octagons in the temple in places that should remind of spiritual rebirth, like around the temple baptismal font.   It may be the font itself.  It may be in the ceiling shape.  It may be in the stonework around the font.   You may find it other places as well, so you’ll know that is an opportunity to think about how that place is associated with spiritual rebirth and creation. (Also, don't forget that it can be associated with progression toward perfection as well.)

http://www.religiousforums.com/forum/latter-day-saints-dir/32153-what-lds-temple-looks-like-inside.html
Notice the ceiling  (http://thetrumpetstone.blogspot.com/2011/09/lds-temple-glass-trees.html)

http://www.ksl.com/index.php?sid=5273003&nid=460&page=2
http://www.pinterest.com/garrettdad2/lds-temples/

This one is from the Boise, Idaho temple.  Interesting that the octagon is associated with garden imagery.  http://www.pinterest.com/christmasfamily/temples/




Saturday, September 6, 2014 4 comments

How Jesus’s Water-to-Wine Miracle can Help Us Today


I was reading in James E. Talmage’s book Jesus the Christ recently and ran across his commentary on the miracle when Jesus turned water into wine. 

If you remember Jesus was asked by his mother to do something about the problem at a wedding in Cana when it was found that the wine had run out.  Jesus miraculously turned water into wine that tasted so good that it was considered better than the stuff that was served first.

 I was struck by a verse that was quoted at the end of the story that kind of sums it all up.

This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him. (John 2:11)

This brought me to wonder, “In what way did this miracle manifest Jesus’ glory such that his disciples believed in Him?”   And what kind of belief was it?  Was this a belief that whenever I need a miracle I can call Jesus and have him do it?  An even better question might be, “How did John (who recorded the story) hope that the story would help people to believe in Jesus’ atonement?”

At its foundation, this miracle was about how Jesus could make up for deficiencies in a miraculous way.  In short, it is about grace and Christ’s power to enable us.  It means when we see we are not enough to do something, we can call on Him.  It is the companion message to the call to repent and have our sins covered by Christ.  Faith in Christ is not just for sinners, but also for those Saints pressing forward, who can’t continue day after day without trusting God’s grace will uphold them.

Last Monday I had a humanitarian sewing project that I needed to work on and finish.  It was a little girl’s dress in pieces and it came with directions.  I hadn’t sewn in so long, and my head was just not there in Sewing Land.  I dreaded working on it, but I knew in my heart it would be good for me and it would give me confidence to work on another project that I wanted to do but had been afraid to try.  I was not enough.

So I prayed about it and told the Lord all about how I felt and how I wanted to want to do it and I wanted to do a good job.

And then I went to work on it.  Usually I’m pretty impatient about sewing, but this time I turned on some music and told myself I was going to take it slow and steady and (gasp) even iron the pieces. 

And I worked hard.

And everything went smoothly until I got to the point of sewing elastic to the inside of the sleeves.  My sewing machine acted up and I didn’t know why.  I think I must have tried at least three times to do one sleeve and each time I got wads and wads of thread tangled in the fabric and had to pick it all out.  (I’m sure those of you who are excellent sewers are probably shaking your heads right now.) 

Ordinarily I would have gotten frustrated and quit, or even just taken an extended break, but for some reason, this time my determination did not falter.  I remained absolutely undaunted.  I was about to try again for a fourth time and then happened to notice the thread in my sewing machine wasn’t threaded through correctly.   (I have no idea at what point it went wrong, since I know I threaded it right at the beginning.. but there you go.)

So I fixed that, and everything went much better.  The dress turned out So. Cute.

I can look at that experience and say I can see God’s grace helped me where on my own I would have quit. 

Grace makes up for our deficiencies so that we can meet our challenges.

Have you seen God’s grace in your life recently?
Thursday, September 4, 2014 0 comments

Some thoughts on Elder Nelson’s talk “Let Your Faith Show” from April 2014 conference


Here’s a part of Elder Nelson’s talk that stuck out to me recently:

“Problems abound in this world because it is populated by imperfect people. Their objectives and desires are heavily influenced by their faith or lack of it. Many put other priorities ahead of God. Some challenge the relevance of religion in modern life. As in every age, so today there are those who mock or decry the free exercise of religion. Some even blame religion for any number of the world’s ills. Admittedly, there have been times when atrocities have been committed in the name of religion. But living the Lord’s pure religion, which means striving to become a true disciple of Jesus Christ, is a way of life and a daily commitment that will provide divine guidance. As you practice your religion, you are exercising your faith. You are letting your faith show.”

Elder Nelson describes a number of ways that problems occur because of imperfect people with imperfect faith.  It is easy to just brush over these types of people and tsk-tsk over them, but I think it is worth looking closer and think about what caused those states in the first place. 

It is possible to see that they may be well-intentioned but hampered by ignorance, or confusion, or uncertainty, or overwhelm, feelings of inadequacy, or exposure to zeal without knowledge.  Understanding them can help us feel greater charity and find ways of speaking to their spiritual needs rather than to salve our own defensiveness.

“Many put other priorities ahead of God.” -- God’s influence isn’t noisy or flashy, and to the natural man God’s wisdom is foolishness, so some simply gravitate to the where they think the excitement is.   They need to hear people who are enthusiastic about what true religion has to offer.   Some have never learned to make decisions in a way that gives God priority.  The best age to learn to put God at highest priority is while young when habits for life are being formed, so change in the adult years is a struggle and a miracle.  They need to hear how believers have made sacrifices to put God first and what blessings have come from that.

“Some challenge the relevance of religion in modern life.”  -- If talking of angels seemed odd in the age of steam engines and railways, it may seem more so in the age of cell phones.  Many think the unexplainable doesn’t fit in the days of science and logical explanation of natural laws.  Happily, if our lives have been improved by a few scientists discovering and harnessing natural laws, the benefits can be just as great if not more if we can only learn to live by the spiritual laws God has laid down.  If GPS systems have made it easy to navigate road systems we’ve never been over before, divine revelation is still needed to help us navigate and make sense of life experiences. 

Also, modern life doesn’t yet have satisfying answers to match those that true religion provides to the deep questions of “Why are we here?” “Where did I come from?” and “Where am I going after this life?”  The answers to those questions and what they demand of us are profoundly relevant to modern life and actually help us order our lives well.

People who don’t see that relevance need people to share how true religion has affected their lives and made it better.

“There are those who mock…the free exercise of religion” – The mocking might come from those who do not have enough experience with expression of the sacred to be comfortable with it.  They may be afraid of what they might feel or do if they let themselves respond to it, so mockery is their way of defending themselves against something they sense is powerful but which they don’t understand.  

These people need it explained to them what they are feeling and need space to make the choice to respond.  They can’t be pressured.  They need to they are not alone, and I think deep down they want to know what they can expect and that it will be okay to be moved by the sacred.

Mockery may also come from those whose exposure to religious practice has been to wild, maybe indecorous, or seemingly irrational displays.  They need to hear about religious experiences that are orderly, reverent, and to know how the Lord works through the mind as well as the heart.

There are those who…decry the free exercise of religion” -- Decrying free exercise of religion usually happens because someone has seen some religious practice harm or infringe on someone else or perceives it as harmful or infringing.  Elder Nelson points out that there have been times that atrocities have been committed in the name of religion, but implies that living the Lord’s pure religion will make us disciples of Christ and thus we will not be guilty if accused of harm or infringement. 

People who decry the free exercise of religion may not understand where the boundaries of free exercise are.  They need to have explained to them how a particular free exercise of religion is beneficial.  If there is an instance where they are right, then that can have a corrective influence. 

One of the best responses we can make is to teach about Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tears. 

24 ¶Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field:
25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
26 But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.
27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?
28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?
29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn….
37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.  (Matt. 13:24-30)

It is natural to wonder where the atrocities come from if what was sowed was good religion and good doctrine.   Jesus wanted the disciples to know that false doctrine would be sowed by Satan and there would also be people claiming to be wheat but who would exhibit the worthlessness of tears and who would do evil things under a cover of religion and doctrine.  He assured his disciples (and all of us) that their deceptions would not protect the tears in the eternities.  

Also important in the parable to the discussion of free exercise of religion is the question about how to deal with the tears-- “Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?”  It is tempting to think that the solution to bad religion is to root it out and outlaw it and suppress it, but Jesus’s answer is, “Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.”  Trying to destroy false religion with violence is notoriously hard to do, hard to judge, gives too many false positives, and leads to a hollow appearances-only fear-driven religion devoid of saving power.  It is better to allow both true and false to exist together until the harvest.   We all have to take on faith that there will be a harvest when the Lord will separate the two.

“Some even blame religion for any number of the world’s ills.” – This comes from people who have thought about various society problems and try to trace the causes.  When they find that it leads them to a religion or church practice, they stop their search and declare that religion is the cause.  The problem is they don’t keep going and look for what beliefs cause those problems and behavior and try to find out the origin of that thing.  It may not be religion.  It may be traditions that have been folded into religion.  And religion isn’t a homogeneous thing; it has variety and shades and flavors, so to condemn all religion because of one religion is to pre-judge.  Also, to blame it for the world’s ills is to look only at the negative and to miss the number of world blessings that come from it.   These people need to learn the good religion has done for the world, and to be able to share that, we need to know about it ourselves.

For all these different types of people who Elder Nelson lists, I think we can learn to deal with them according to their spiritual needs.  Also, we’ve all had points in our life where we ourselves have been a part of these groups.  Remembering those experiences and how we changed will be very helpful as we share our faith.  It will allow us to show our faith in a way that blesses others and leads them closer to Christ.
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.