November 13 – A King is Coming – Ichabod

Read 1 Samuel 4:1-22

Ichabod!

This was a tragic day in Jewish history!  Thirty thousand Israelite soldiers fell in battle.  Three spiritual leaders and a wife from the same family died.  But as sad as the loss of life is, there was still something even more heartbreaking.  The Ark of the Covenant had been taken.

God had given clear instructions about its construction in Exodus 25.  Inside, the people of God had placed important articles (a sample of manna, the tablets of the 10 commandments, and Aaron’s rod that budded) that reminded them of special encounters with God.  As God’s people moved during the Exodus, this special box was carried on poles.  No one was to touch it directly.  When God’s people came to a stop, the Ark was placed into the tabernacle of God . . . in its innermost part, the Most Holy Place.  It was here that a special sacrifice for sin was made and here that the presence of God was manifested in a unique way.  The Ark of the Covenant was a critical part of Jewish life.

As the people of God found themselves losing in battle to the Philistines, they came up with this great (at least they thought it was) idea.  “Let’s carry the Ark of the Covenant into battle with us!  After all, it represents the power and presence of God.  There is no way that the enemy can defeat us, if we have this good luck charm along!”  Although it may have seemed like a great idea, they had never sought God about the reason for their defeat or their next strategy for battle.

Indeed, even the Philistines shook in their shoes when they realized that the Israelites had brought the Ark of God to the battlefield.  But, at the end of the day, not only were the Philistines victorious, but they were also the possessors of the treasured Ark.

Ichabod!  This was a tragic day, because it was the day when the glory departed from Israel.

Ichabod compromises are only a step away from any of us.  A foolish decision made without consulting the Lord can lead us to tragic outcomes where we have abandoned our God.  Instead of revealing and basking in His glory, we can find ourselves wallowing in the ashes of abandonment.

Guard yourself from your own Ichabod!

Steve Kern

November 12 – A King is Coming – Hearing Voices

Read 1 Samuel 3:1-21

“Do you hear voices that no one else hears?”

That question is not uncommon as counselors gather intake information from new clients.  Let’s face it, the average one of us would probably steer clear of those who would answer “yes.”  Indeed, some mental illness and even some medications can cause individuals to “hear things.”

How about Samuel?  Would you have kept a safe distance from him?  He was likely an adolescent or young adult when he first heard “a voice.”  Attributing it to Eli, Samuel went to him repeatedly asking why he had called.  But it wasn’t Eli.  No, this voice had a different origin.  This was God speaking to Samuel.  The Lord wanted Samuel to understand in advance the judgment He was going to bring on Eli, his family, and his heirs.  He wanted Samuel to realize that He was up to something . . . that He would not put up with the nose-thumbing blasphemy that had characterize the priest’s sons.

This was not the only time that Samuel “heard voices.”  God in His sovereign grace, you see, had selected Samuel as a prophetic mouthpiece to His people Israel.  His prophetic calling was confirmed by the fact that God let “none of his words fail” (v. 19, cf. Deut. 18:21, 22).

How about you?  Heard any voices recently?  I am guessing that you would be reluctant to give a “yes” answer?  I am too.  Meanwhile, part of me hopes that we have.  In fact, part of me would be surprised if we haven’t.  Sound scary?  It shouldn’t when we remind ourselves of the words of Jesus from John 10:27:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”

How might you hear the voice of your Shepherd today?  Well, it may not be as dramatic as with Samuel.  It may not be as prophetically predictive as with this prophet of old.  But it will be real nonetheless.  You might “hear” it as you tune into a sunset or a star filled sky that speaks of His power and glory (Ps. 19:1, 2; Rom. 1:19, 20).  You might “hear” it through the written word of God that bears witness of Him.  You might “hear” it in a less clearly explainable prompting that comes from His Spirit, Who dwells within you (Rom. 8:16).

Are you listening?

Steve Kern

November 11 – A King is Coming – Solid Faith or a Mere Veneer?

Read 1 Samuel 2:12-36

The boy Samuel had been dedicated to the Lord.  Even before his conception, his mother, Hannah, had vowed to give him to the Lord and to His service.  As a young lad, then, he was left in the hands of Eli, in close proximity to Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas.  Although Samuel’s mom and dad, made regular visits and dropped off care packages for their son, the influence of those around him on a daily basis was certainly strong.  I suppose his proud parents could have reasoned, “What could be better?  Our son is learning to serve the Lord with godly mentors!”

But, as you saw in today’s reading, that was far from the truth.  Even though Hophni and Phineas seemed to “serve the Lord,” in reality they “had no regard for Him!”  They were more concerned about filling their own stomachs than they were honoring the Lord.  They were more concerned about satisfying their own lustful urges than they were pleasing God.  To borrow the words of the NIV in verse 12, “Eli’s sons were scoundrels!”

Let’s pause here for a moment and pose an important personal question.  Is your spirituality a mere veneer placed on the surface of an otherwise self-serving life?  Do you even try to leverage your so-called commitment to God in order to get the things that you want?  Or is it your objective to honor God independent of sacrifices you may have to make?

Back to the story . . . apparently, the fruit did not fall too far from the tree!  Now let me be quick to say that many children choose paths of rebellion in spite of their parental influence.  But that was not completely the case here.  As the man of God spoke to Eli (verse 27), we learn that he too had scorned the sacrifices.  He had been guilty of preferentially honoring his sons over God, and the consequences would be felt for generations to come.

There is no denying it.  Our deep and sincere commitment to Christ is essential!  The consequences of anything short of that are significant and far-reaching.

Steve Kern

November 10 – A King is Coming – Honor God With What He Grants

Read 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11

The opening verses of 1 Samuel took place during a low point in Israel’s history.  God had extended a promise of people, land, and blessing to Abraham (Genesis).  Those people had experienced exile and return (Exodus-Deuteronomy).  After conquering and driving out enemy peoples (Joshua), God’s chosen nation cycled through periods of disobedience and difficulty until He placed a judge over them to rescue them.  But their obedience and resultant blessing never seemed to last long.  Soon, the cycle started over again (Judges).

The opening chapters of 1 Samuel introduce for us a transition.  Whereas God’s people, the priests, and even the judges that served them often made choices detrimental to the nation as a whole, they were about to move to a leadership system characterized by kings.

But this national low point also coincided with a personal low in the life of a seemingly insignificant woman by the name of Hannah.  Although Hannah was married and loved by her husband, a pressing desire in her life had gone unsatisfied.  She yearned for a child.  There was nothing she wanted more, and yet God had not allowed her to become pregnant.

What have been some of your greatest disappointments in life?  What have been some of your desires that have gone unfulfilled?  What did you do about them?  If they have still not been realized, what are you doing about them?

Hannah prayed.  That is always a good place to start!  Prayer causes you to remember that God is the giver of every perfect gift (Js. 1:17).  If your desire is to be realized, it will be because God has permitted it.

But part of Hannah’s pray was also a vow.  It was an agreement with God.  If He would grant her a son, then she would dedicate him to the Lord.  While we could spend much time talking about making bargains with God, it is important to evaluate your desire.  Is this something I want just for me?  If I receive it from the hand of God, am I willing to place it back in His hands?  How can I honor him with it if He grants it to me?  This Hannah sort of prayer forces you to evaluate whether your desire is a godly one.

How do your desires stack up?

Steve Kern

January 25: Enemies

Read 1 Samuel 31:1 – 2 Samuel 1:27

Saul died . . . and his three sons with him.

If you are familiar with the story of his life, you may have mixed emotions, especially about Saul’s passing.  He had, at times, disobeyed God, evoking divine anger.  Meanwhile, his jealousy toward David had created within him a bitterness that caused him to want to see David dead.

What kind of emotion, then, would David feel about his death?

The Amalekite who came bearing news to David of Saul’s death must have thought it would cause David joy . . . or perhaps that he would be rewarded for the role he played.  Although his participation in the final moments of Saul’s life is not outlined in 1 Samuel 31, he claimed to have been the one responsible for giving the final life blow to the former king.  (If that is indeed the way it happened, it is somehow ironic that an Amalekite would take his life.  After all, God had instructed Saul to totally kill off the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15, but he had refused.)  At a minimum, this man brought David the royal crown and armlet.

David’s response was much different, however.  Rather than finding joy in the death of Saul, he grieved deeply.  He respected Saul as the Lord’s anointed.  David found value in him in spite of how he had treated David.   Similarly, rather than rewarding the man who claimed responsibility for the ultimate death of his “enemy,” David had the Amalekite executed.

David, you see, is one who exemplifies for us what it means to “love our enemies.”  He lived out Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5:44, 45, “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  He demonstrated what it is like to practice the words of Proverbs 25:21, 22, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

How do you treat your enemies?

sbk

January 24: Loyalties

Read 1 Samuel 29:1-30:31

Where did David’s loyalties lie?  Remember that David, out of fear for Saul, had gone with 600 men, their families, their livestock, and their possessions into Philistine territory.  These were the same people group from whom Goliath had come.  These were relatives of the people that David and others had conquered years earlier in the Valley of Elah because they taunted the Israelites and mocked their God.  Yet, now David and his soldiers lived among them.  In fact, he had a very cordial relationship with them and their king, Achish.  Theologians have questioned this move wondering if David had failed to seek God in this decision and had compromised.

But theologians were not the only ones questioning his loyalties and his intentions.  Other Philistines were concerned that he would turn on them in battle.  As a result, David and his men were instructed to return to their residences and families.

But imagine their thoughts as they saw smoke rising on the horizon as they neared their hometown.  Imagine entering to find their wives and children gone.  Imagine the sense of anger that burned within them as they discovered that their livestock and possessions had been taken as well.  Amalekites had invaded and raided Ziklag taking the spoils with them.

Where did David’s loyalties lie?  Clearly with their families.  While homes could be rebuilt, families could not be replaced.  This time he sought the Lord and then pursued the enemy and all they had taken.  With the help of an abandoned Amalekite, they found the enemy and, more importantly, their families and possessions.  Thankfully, they recovered everything!  Nothing was missing.

Where do your loyalties lie?  When it came right down to it, David’s had become clear.  He was loyal to the Lord and to his family.  I am not suggesting that is an exhaustive list of all of David’s priorities.  But clearly, those two were at the top of the list.

What is at the top of your list of loyalties?  For what . . . for whom would you “go to battle?”  I trust that God and family top your list!

sbk

January 23: Desperate Situations . . . Desperate Measures

Read 1 Samuel 27:1-28:25

What would you do out of desperation?  Where would you run?  To whom would you turn?  What compromise would you make?

I suppose those are questions we cannot fully, or at least accurately, answer until we are in a desperate situation.  Before we are there, we can only give an answer that we would hope would be true.

David was faced with such a situation.  For months, he had been fleeing from an angry Saul.  Saul was bent on killing this younger man destined for the throne.  To this point, Saul had been prevented.  Still, David was convinced that Saul would one day succeed . . . unless he took desperate steps.  Those desperate steps took him into Philistine territory.

After hearing of David’s flight to Philistine dominated Gath, he initially gave up the search.  But, as his frustration grew, Saul selfishly sought the Lord about next steps.  But, his attempts were met with silence.

Now, clearly Saul should have sought the Lord . . . but not selfishly as he was doing.  Instead, he should have sought the Lord’s forgiveness.  He should have come to the Lord in repentance for his jealousy towards David.  Saul should have sought the Lord’s pardon for his anger that had boiled into bitterness and overflowed into sin.  But, because he didn’t seek the Lord in humble repentance, the God of heaven did not respond.

In desperation, then, Saul sought out a spiritual medium.  If he couldn’t get his information, why not compromise.  He sought out the very type of person he had earlier eliminated from the kingdom.  He went to the very type of person that the Old Testament law said should be executed.  Many, in fact, refer to this woman as the “witch of Endor.”

“Desperate situations call for desperate measures.”  That’s what the old adage tells us.  Indeed, that is correct.  But the desperate measures always include humbly seeking the Lord.  Desperate measures never merit things like compromise and disobedience . . . just so we can achieve a desired outcome.

sbk

January 22: Nabal or Abigail?

Read 1 Samuel 25:1-44

Even though Nabal claimed ignorance of David’s identity (v. 10), knowledge of him was widespread.  His reputation had circulated after his victory over Goliath.  In his early days of battle after Goliath, the word on the street about him was, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7).  In addition, it seemed to be known throughout the nation that David had been anointed as the next king and future replacement for Saul.  Meanwhile, Nabal had personally been on the receiving end of blessing from David and his men.  They had protected his shearers and shepherds from harm.  In spite of all of those factors, Nabal pretended to not know anything about David.  This wealthy man refused to extend a gracious hand to this man who had served Him and been selected by God.

Ouch!  Thankfully, Abigail recognized the sin of her husband and chose to serve David and his men.

Are you a “Nabal” or an “Abigail?”

In my estimation, the number of Nabals is on the rise.  Nabals fail to show respect for people.  They are blind to the benefits they experience from the service and sacrifice of others.  They choose not to honor people for the office or the position they hold.  Instead, disrespect, criticism, and even mocking seems to characterize them.

Abigail, on the other hand, bends over backwards to recognize the position held by David and to demonstrate gratitude for his service to her.  Keep in mind, God wants us to “be subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1) and to “show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Pet. 2:17).

Abigail is not the first person in 1 Samuel to demonstrate respect and honor to one in a position of authority.  Remember, that was one of the underlying reasons we saw yesterday why David refused to kill his enemy, Saul.  He would not allow himself to lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed.

Certainly, as Jesus followers, we will, at times, walk a tight rope as we relate to those in positions of authority.  God somehow invites us to honor them even when and if we find their decisions to be contrary to God’s plan.  That is a real tension that requires wisdom and sensitivity.

sbk

January 21: Let God Settle Accounts

Read 1 Samuel 23:1-24:22; 26:1-25

If you are like me, you have lost track of all of the times that Saul has attempted to take the life of David.  Although Saul had been initially blessed by the fact that David had conquered Goliath in battle and soothed his own spirit with music, that sense of blessing had turned to jealousy.  The jealousy had grown to animosity resulting in murderous attempts.  From spear throwing to vulnerable placement in battle to personal cross country pursuit, Saul seemed almost unable to rest until David was dead.

David, meanwhile, was like a refugee running to save his life.  Although there had been many close calls, still he had successfully eluded Saul.  And then, quite unexpectedly, the opportunity of a lifetime was afforded him.  While David and his men hid in a cave, Saul, the very man who was bent on killing him, stepped into the cave to . . . (Well, you read it, didn’t you?)  With David’s men whispering to him words of encouragement to take Saul’s life, David responded:

“The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.”  (24:6)

Faced with a golden opportunity for revenge, David did not follow through.

When tensions rise between you and someone else . . . when injustices are committed against you . . . when false accusations are made and hurtful action is taken . . . revenge is the natural response.  It seems like the other person is deserving of painful words or spiteful actions of at least equal intensity.  And, frankly, it may also seem as if your own spirit will only find rest when such words are spoken or such action is taken.

But David’s decision was the right one – both for him and for you!  God is the One who will ultimately judge.  He is the One who will ultimately bring about justice.  He is the One who will ultimately take vengeance (Rom. 12:17-21).  Instead of seeking revenge, we can relax and surrender the situation to Him.

sbk

January 20: Problems for People Pleasers

Read 1 Samuel 21:1-22:23

Sometimes our life situations force us to make choices that put us at odds with other people.

Although we read it earlier, Jonathan made such a decision in chapter 20.  Jonathan had received inside information about Saul’s intentions to execute David.  Jonathan finds himself in a real pickle.  This information must have been coupled with strong emotion.  After all, Saul was the king of Israel.  And, perhaps more difficult, Saul was his own father.  That sense of blood loyalty must have run deep.  Meanwhile, David was Jonathan’s best friend.  This relationship also represented a strong loyalty.

Although Jonathan must have felt torn between two now competing relationships, he chose not to ride the fence.  One of these men was God’s choice.  The other had been rejected.  The one man represented righteousness.  The other represented self-serving sin.  One man was committed to the ways of God.  The other pursued his own desires.  So, Jonathan made a choice . . . a difficult decision . . . that ultimately put him at odds with Saul, the very man who had been responsible for giving him life.

If you are one who tends to be a people pleaser, realize it is not always possible or desirable.

Although one of the characters is different in chapters 21 and 22, the storyline is similar.  A man . . . this time the priest Ahimelek . . . is faced with the difficult decision of offering aid to David, knowing full well that Saul had intentions of putting David to death.  But, once again, Ahimelek knew that the hand of God was on David and that it had been withdrawn from Saul.  Knowing that, Ahimelek offered David assistance.  Though he likely did not realize it at the time, that act of compassion would cost him his life and the life of 84 other priests in Nob.

Again, if you are one who tends to be a people pleaser, realize keeping everyone happy is not always possible or desirable.  In making a stand for righteousness, you may experience negative repercussions.  But even the bad outcomes do not mean you have made the wrong choice!

sbk