Archive for March, 2012
Jonathan and David had a unique relationship. Here was the king’s son (and potential heir to the throne) befriending the only legitimate threat not only to his father’s crown, but to his as well. But there was obviously something about David. After all, even Saul, who was concerned about David from the beginning, kept promoting him and drawing him closer, rather than just sending him back to his father’s house. The people of Israel, it seems, were absolutely smitten with David – partially from his military prowess, but also because of something else. David had something of God in him that was incredibly attractive to those he encountered.
And yet, Saul, though he knew that God was blessing David, was intent on killing him – so much so that he even tried to kill his own son out of anger over his allegiance to David. It’s incredible just how far Saul has fallen. He’s gone from a reluctant, humble king appointed by God to a spoiled, entitled dictator who has absolutely no respect for God’s will, but is wholly consumed with his own plans and purposes.
Where did Saul stumble along the way? When did his pride swell so much that he began to put himself before God? And, perhaps more importantly for us, why did it happen? Unfortunately, I think the answer to the question of “why” stares us in the face almost every day.
Greed, pride and selfishness taunt us around every corner. We watch as others get the praise, accumulate the wealth and achieve the heights of success that we wish we had attained. We struggle as our neighbors, friends, family and even perfect strangers live what we perceive as a life of privilege while we struggle. And, for some of us, like Saul, we watch as our star begins to fade and the younger and more energetic begin moving into our territory.
This cycle has been going on since the beginning of creation. It is the way God ordered the universe. And yet, in each generation, there are those who think that they can stop, or at least slow the cycle. And so, they hold on to that which God gave to them – that which he now desires for them to give away to the next generation. And when I say “they,” I mean “we.” Every one of us wants to hold onto our gifts a little tighter and a little longer than we were ever meant to.
We make excuses for our “hoarding,” “They just aren’t ready,” we say. “They could never handle it.” And while “they” may not have all of the experience or knowledge that we do, we also know full well that somewhere along the way, someone older and wiser and more experienced than us gave us a chance (maybe against their own will) that allowed us to achieve what we have achieved.
In fact, God, the oldest, wisest and most experienced, gives us a chance every day. He gives us a chance to help him in his work – a work that he could more efficiently and effectively accomplish without us – for the purposes of seeing us grow and mature. He values us over perfection. He sees us as his primary work. So, let’s take a cue from our great teacher and learn to pass on what he has passed to us. And let’s pass it on with a measure of grace and humility that may or may not have been afforded to us by others. After all, nobody wants to be like Saul!
God’s hand is always at work. Very often, however, we are unable to see it in our own lives in the present moment. It is only upon reflection that we recognize God’s constant guiding presence in every situation. Likewise, though we know he is working his plan, we rarely get to actually see the pieces of the puzzle coming together and falling into place.
Today’s reading is one of those rare exceptions. In these three chapters of the book of 1 Samuel, we see, through a series of otherwise unrelated incidents, God orchestrating the end of one king’s reign and the beginning of another. In just three chapters, we see God reject Saul as king, anoint David as future king, then (this is where it gets interesting) cause David and Saul’s paths to cross and David to become one of Saul’s attendants and, ultimately, for David to step in and solve Saul’s biggest problem (pun intended) – a beast of a man named Goliath.
This is one of those “peeling back the curtain” moments where we can actually see God at work. We see God, through Samuel, choosing David, rather than his older brothers. We see that David’s time spent in Saul’s service was not merely a coincidence. We also see that Saul, who was prone to collect strong warriors, was allowed by God to witness David’s prowess first-hand. All of this, it seems was part of God’s plan to get David “on the inside”. And though Saul was somewhat jealous of David, we’ll see in future chapters that God’s plan worked amazingly well.
In fact, that’s how it works with God. He uses the everyday events of our lives for his purposes. Sometimes, those events are mundane things like the job we have or the friends we make. Other times, those events are the momentous ones in our life that we’ll never forget (you know, like killing a nine and a half foot tall warrior with a rock and a sling.)
The thing is, we don’t usually get any insight into which moments are “God-moments” and which ones aren’t. That’s why it’s important to seek God in our daily lives. I mean, what if David had never taken up music as a kid? Would he have had the opportunities he did? What if Saul had not been so desperate to defeat the Philistines? Would he have ever put his country’s fate in the hands of an untrained boy?
For David, everything in his life had been leading up to this moment and no part of his life – not being a shepherd or a musician or an outspoken teenager – carried any marks of being God-ordained. And yet, in the moment when all the pieces came together, David made a bold statement that charted the course for his future. Who knows what might happen to you today that will chart the course for yours!
Saul just couldn’t seem to catch a break. You get the sense that he was truly trying to do what is right, but somehow, he always managed to mess it up. First, he offered a sacrifice that he wasn’t supposed to offer. The reason? The guy who was supposed to offer it (Samuel) was late. It seems that God doesn’t value punctuality over obedience!
Then, toward the end of today’s reading, Saul tried to do the right thing again by vowing to kill his son Jonathan for breaking the oath made by the army. Again, Saul was misguided. In this case, not only was Jonathan not aware of the oath, but he was actually out destroying a bunch of Philistines when the oath was made. And so, the other men came to Jonathan’s rescue and convinced Saul not to kill him.
The moral of the story here seems to be that God’s timing, not our’s, is of critical importance (Saul wasn’t operating on God’s time, but Jonathan was) and that God’s instructions, not human’s, is of critical importance (Jonathan was following God’s orders, not Saul’s). You get the sense that God wanted to make it abundantly clear to Saul that he was not the “rightful” king. Saul never seems to feel comfortable in his own skin.
In fact, Saul is somewhat of a placeholder. God knows that he has a great man to be king over all of Israel and Saul is simply holding the spot while this boy David grows up. It kind of feels like Saul knew this even early in his stint as king. This was not the role he was made for and yet, he had been called and anointed by God to fill it.
Have you ever felt that way? I know I have. There have been times in my life and ministry where I knew I wasn’t in my “forever” place, but that I was equally as sure that I was exactly where God wanted me to be. It’s a weird feeling – kind of like Jr. High – when you aren’t really sure what the future holds, but you know (or at least hope) this isn’t it.
If you’re in that place right now, let me encourage you to hang in there. God doesn’t make mistakes, but sometimes he places you in a position for purposes way beyond your ability to understand. If that’s where he wants you, stay there until he says “go.”
The anointing of Saul as king is a pretty strange series of events. First, the people of Israel ask for a king and, though God doesn’t want to, he gives them a king. The king he gives them is Saul, a guy who never went looking for power, authority or kingship. Actually, he just went looking for his donkeys. Then, after choosing and anointing Saul as king, God, through Samuel, reminds the people of Israel how evil it was for them to ask for a king in the first place. But, Samuel says, everything will still be OK if they follow and obey God.
There’s a pattern found throughout Scripture of the people doing wrong and then God redeeming it – not only redeeming the people, but the act itself. Here, for instance, the people want a king (something that God deems as evil), then God redeems that desire by choosing a king for them and anointing him with power and prophetic gifting and the rest.
For Saul’s part, his lack of eagerness to be king can clearly be seen as he hides out among the supplies so that he won’t be identified by Samuel. I know of countless leaders, myself included, who have tried the “hiding out” technique to avoid being identified, plucked from obscurity and called out as a leader. Unfortunately (or, I guess, fortunately), when God has chosen someone, no matter how much they try to hide out, they’re going to stick out in a crowd just like Saul – head and shoulders above everybody else.
Who knows why or how God chooses to weave his good and perfect will into the broken, messed up decisions that we make? Why would God choose a king for the people when he didn’t want them to have a king in the first place? Why would he choose a guy like Saul? Why would he choose to bless Saul and Israel even though the people had sinned in even asking for a king? These are questions that only God can fully answer, but as we dig into the rest of 1st and 2nd Samuel, I think some of these things will become a little more clear.
As I said yesterday, Samuel was certainly a special child – one who grew into a special man. He would serve as prophet, priest and judge over Israel – the embodiment of God for those people. And the people of Israel weren’t stupid. They knew a good thing when they saw it. As long as Samuel was in charge, they had a good life and they weren’t grumbling about not having a king. But as soon as Samuel’s sons came to power and weren’t following the ways of their father, the Israelites started grumbling again. Presumably, they at least had some notion that the reason they were prospering was because of the faithfulness of Samuel.
And so begins this back and forth between God, Samuel and the people of Israel. The people really wanted a king – if for no other reason than just to be like all the other nations – and Samuel thought the idea was ludicrous. I think it’s interesting that 1 Samuel 8:6 says that it “displeased Samuel” that they asked for a king and “so he prayed to the Lord.” You’ll notice that it doesn’t say, “it displeased the Lord and so he spoke to Samuel.” No, this was initially Samuel’s beef with the people. He heard their request and thought, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” And so he consulted with God.
Now, there are a lot of directions to go here, but I think maybe the most fruitful is to understand that Samuel had grown up in relationship with God. He regularly heard from the Lord. He was a student of the law of Moses. He apprenticed under Eli the priest. He was, for lack of a better word, “soaked” in God his entire life. And so, it would stand to reason that something that was displeasing to God might also be displeasing to Samuel. Ultimately, Samuel sought God’s direction regarding a king, but even before praying to the Lord, Samuel knew that this wasn’t a good idea. He knew, because he knew the nature of God.
He knew that God was a compassionate monarch. He knew that God didn’t do things out of selfish ambition and always had the people’s best interest in mind. He knew that human kings could never hold a candle to God, the perfect king. He also knew that the people didn’t so much need a ruler as they needed to follow the rules they had already been given.
When Samuel prayed to God, his gut feeling was confirmed, but God inserted another layer of wisdom into the picture. God affirmed Samuel’s belief, but told him to go ahead and give them a king. This would be a lesson for the Israelites. God knew that no matter how good things were, they were never going to be satisfied until they tried out this whole “king thing.” And so, rather than arguing with them, he said, “Give them a king.” But, he told Samuel to let them know the cost of having a human king.
For me, this is akin to telling a child not to touch the hot plate in front of them. “It’s hot, no no, don’t touch!” “Don’t touch, no no.” It’s hot!” For some kids, though, they are going to have to touch the plate before they’re convinced. And so, God lets Israel “touch the hot plate” in order for them to discover that what he has been telling them is actually the truth. Of course, this is a lesson that the people of Israel would have to learn over and over again – and one that we’re still having to relearn today.