SOAP Journal – 31 August 2017 (1 Samuel 12)

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way.

1 Samuel 12:23

On the heels of Saul’s victory over Nahash, Samuel takes a moment and reminds the Israelites that this victory is a blessing in spite of the Israelites’ choices and actions, not because of them.

Samuel begins with challenging the people to step forward and bring an accusation against him if they have one and the Israelites say that they have no accusation to bring against Samuel (vv 1-5). Samuel continues by giving the Israelites a brief overview of God providing judges to deliver them from their oppressors (vv 6-11) and concludes, in verse 11, that God delivered you from the hands of your enemies all around, so that you lived in security. He concludes his exhortation by telling the Israelites that their choosing of a human king is a rejection of God’s Kingship over them (vv 12-25).

In the midst of the rebuke, the people ask Samuel to pray for them because they recognize that they have made a bad decision. Samuel responds with this morning’s verse.

Samuel sees praying for the Israelites as something God has told him to do and that to not do it would, for him, be sin. This sounds, to me, like a foretaste of what is written later by James (James 4:17): Therefore, to one who knows [the] right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. Which jives with the fact that the Ten Commandments come in both proscriptive and prescriptive flavors, “do not”s and “do”s. It is just as wrong to not do the things I should as it is to do the things I should not.

Samuel gives a second part to his response which is that he will instruct the Israelites and their new king in the good and right way. Not only will Samuel continue to do the right thing himself, but he will instruct the Israelites on what the good and right way is for them to conduct themselves. Even as he is doing at that very moment.

Samuel’s response leaves me, as a follower of God, with two responsibilities. First, I am to pray for those for whom God tells me to pray. Second, I am to instruct as many as will listen in the good and right way. And these are challenging responsibilities. God tells me to pray for my enemies and those hurt me and misuse me as well as to pray for my fellow believers and those who love me. Jesus gives the best example of this when He prays for the soldiers crucifying Him. Their actions could not be any more heartless or abusive toward Him, yet He prayed that the Father would forgive them. And so should I pray for those who misuse and abuse me.

Father, thank You that Jesus gave Himself as an example of praying and for whom. Thank You that Samuel also desired to pray for those You had put on his heart and that he saw it as wrong not to. Please give me a heart that sees failing to pray for those You lay on my heart as just as wrong as every other sin. Please give me a heart that wants to speak the truth in love and so instruct others in the good and right way.

SOAP Journal – 30 August 2017 (1 Samuel 11)

Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is he that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death.” But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the LORD has accomplished deliverance in Israel.”

1 Samuel 11:12-13

Saul has been anointed as king and publicly proclaimed to be king of the Israelites, but there has not been an instance of him needing to go out before them and fight their battles (cf 1 Samuel 8:20). Now an Ammonite by the name of Nahash shows up and wants to maim every person in an Israelite city. The people of the city send messengers to ask for help and Saul answers the message.

Saul rallies all the fighting men among the Israelites — including, presumably, those worthless men mentioned in the previous chapter, since verse 7 says that [the Israelites] came out as one man — and replies to the message that deliverance is coming for that city (Jabesh-gilead).

After the victory is won, the Israelites tell Samuel that they want names of those who questioned Saul’s ability to deliver, which is the first of this morning’s two verses. Saul, as written above, says that the LORD has accomplished deliverance. Not Saul. Not the Israelite army. The LORD.

Afterward, Samuel suggests that everyone head over to Gilgal and renew the kingdom. The skeptics are convinced and it seems a good time to get everyone together in that moment and have them pledge their allegiance to the new king. The people listen to Samuel and head down to Gilgal to pledge their allegiance and to offer sacrifices. It is a celebration. And rightly so.

Saul is still in his “Good Beginning” phase of being a king. He sees the victory for what it is, the LORD saving His people, and gives credit where credit is due. And that is a good lesson for me.

I need to see things as they are and give credit where credit is due. Not just to God, but to anyone and everyone who contributes to the success of an endeavor. Seldom will any success in life be the result of my efforts alone and I need to be mindful of that and credit those who contribute.

Father, thank You for not giving victory in isolation, lest I grow prideful. Thank You that You so often bring success through the efforts of several of Your children working together in Your strength. Please keep me mindful of that and give me a heart that is ready and willing and glad to credit those who contribute to the success of any endeavor.

SOAP Journal – 29 August 2017 (1 Samuel 9:15-10:27)

But certain worthless men said, “How can this one deliver us?” And they despised him and did not bring him any present. But he kept silent.

1 Samuel 10:27

After being introduced to Saul in chapter 9, we get a whirlwind of events in the rest of that chapter and on into the next that all lead up to Saul being publicly chosen as king. Saul eats a meal with Samuel and stays the night at the prophet’s house. The next day, Samuel prophesies to Saul about what will happen to him and every word of it comes to pass, right down to Saul prophesying. The prophecies are not recorded, but the fact of their occurrence is. From there, the story transitions back to Samuel and him gathering all of the Israelites together to choose their king. The lot falls to Saul, who happens to be hiding in the luggage.

This portion of the narrative wraps with some valiant men following Saul (1 Samuel 10:26) while some worthless men question God’s choice (1 Samuel 10:27). The objection seems to center around how Saul can deliver the Israelites from the oppression of their neighbors.

This questioning puts aside the fact that the entire book of Judges is filled to bursting with unlikely heroes and heroines: housewives who drive tent pegs through enemy generals’ heads and left-handed swordsmen, lady prophets and deliverers hiding in wine presses to thresh grain. And all of that was recent(-ish) history for the worthless men who wondered, probably out loud, how this one could deliver.

This morning, I am not drawn to Saul’s response, though the fact that he kept silent is admirable. I am drawn to the questioning and the ramifications of it.  In the very next chapter, Saul does, in fact, begin to deliver the Israelites and those who were on board with God’s choice from the get go want to find these questioners and put them to death. Saul stops it, but it tells just how severe the consequences might have been.

These men questioned Saul’s ability to deliver, but Saul did not choose the kingship for himself, he was chosen. Ultimately, the questioning comes around to the men questioning God’s choice.

Am I questioning God’s choices in my life? I cannot say for certain, but it is possible and The Bible is clear that the consequences of such questioning can often be death. Maybe not physical death, but it will most certainly kill my reliance on God and my trust in Him if I am questioning His choices all the time. And those, in turn, will kill the relationship in its entirety. I need to trust God and the choices He makes in my life. He only wants the best for me.

Father, thank You for the regular reminders in The Bible to trust You. Please search me and see if I am not trusting and teach me to trust in those areas where a lack of trust is found.

SOAP Journal – 28 August 2017 (1 Samuel 9:1-14)

He had a son whose name was Saul, a choice and handsome [man], and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people.

1 Samuel 9:2

1 Samuel 9 introduces Saul. At his beginning, Saul seems like he will make a good king. He is an obedient son (vv 3-4). He listens to good counsel (vv 6-10). And the favorable indicators keep coming throughout the rest of the chapter and on into the next.

The trouble comes in knowing how Saul ends.  For all of the good indicators and early positives in Saul’s reign, he does not end well. He begins the race strong, but falters as things continue.

This is the king that the Israelites thought they wanted. This was a man that was taller than any of the people … from his shoulders … up. Saul stood head and shoulders taller than everyone else. To put that in context, a person who is 6 feet tall stands head and shoulders above a person who is 5 feet tall. He was choice and handsome. In fact, The Bible says that there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel. Saul was an impressive specimen.

The trouble with all of that is that physical strength and attractiveness will only carry a person so far. Worse, in matters of faith, physical aptitudes and strengths can become an area of weakness. Strong people can become reliant on their strength instead of the God Who gives it to them. For reference, see Samson. Attractive people can become prideful about their appearance. See almost anyone in Hollywood as an example.

The reality that Saul drives home is twofold. First, not everything I think I want is best for me. As Saul’s reign begins, things will look good. But things will steadily decline as time passes. Second, I need to keep a watch on the areas in which I am strong, lest they become weaknesses. There is nothing wrong with Saul being a strong man or a good warrior. But he becomes self-reliant and neglects the God Who gave the strength and skill in the first place.

Father, thank You for these examples and reminders. Thank You for being our strength. Please keep me mindful that You are my strength and my victory in the spiritual battles I face. And please remind me that not everything I think I want is actually the best choice.

SOAP Journal – 25 August 2017 (1 Samuel 8:10-22)

Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

1 Samuel 8:19-20

The Israelites have, at this point, demanded a king to rule over them. Samuel was upset about the demand and took his upset to God. God let Samuel know that it was not Samuel that the people were rejecting as their leader, but God. So Samuel goes back and warns the Israelite leadership what sort of mischief their king is going to get up to.

The warning is specific. The king is going to take their land and their money and their servants and their children and … well, just about anything that is theirs becomes fair game. Despite being warned that the king will do such things, the leadership comes back at Samuel and God with this morning’s verses.

The people start off with denial. They begin their response with No. God has told them, via Samuel, what will happen. God is not guessing. God is not making hypotheses. God is telling the Israelite leadership what will happen when they get the king that they are demanding.

Once the leadership has rejected reality, they substitute their own, beginning with but…. The reality that they see comes in four parts: (1) they will be like other nations, (2) their king will judge them, (3) their king will go out before them, and (4) their king will fight their battles for them.

Right off the bat, the Israelites have a problem. They want to be like all the nations and have a king over them. God’s covenant with them included the promise to make them a special treasure; something unique among the nations of the world (Exodus 19:5-6). They did not want to be special or unique. They wanted to be like everyone else. This same problem has plagued believers in all ages of history. It plagues believers today.

The leadership is desirous of inferior things. They are demanding a flawed, corruptible, human being to judge them instead of the perfect, incorruptible God. They are demanding the localized glory of man to go out and represent them instead of the glory of the LORD which can be anywhere at any time. They demand a human — with all our limited abilities and flawed tactics and limited resources — to fight their battles for them instead of the limitless power and knowledge of God Almighty. I, too, as a believer sometimes find myself desiring inferior things.

And those are the two problems at the bedrock level: believers sometimes want to be like everyone else and exchange the omnipotence and omniscience and omnipresence of the LORD for a human leader who is limited in power and knowledge and only present in one place at a time. Sometimes, we exchange God for a religious leader. Instead of Christ being the head of the church, we put someone else in Jesus’ place, be it pastor, priest, or pontiff. Christ is the head of His church (Ephesians 4:14-16, 5:23) and no other belongs in that role.

All of this comes down to me examining myself. Am I putting anyone or anything in God’s place? Am I rejecting God’s unlimited for something limited; pushing away the infinite for the finite?

Thank You, Father, for writing these things down that I might learn from them. Please examine me and see if I am rejecting You for something less. If You find that in me, please make it known to me that I might cooperate with You in rejecting the lesser things that I might obtain the greater: You.

SOAP Journal – 24 August 2017 (1 Samuel 7:15-8:9)

The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.”

1 Samuel 8:7

1 Samuel 7:15 says that Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life which means that Samuel represents a transition from one period in Israel’s history to the next. Samuel’s ministry connects the time of the judges to the time of kings. Samuel’s ministry is one of integrity and dedication to the LORD, but his sons did not walk in their father’s ways. 1 Samuel 8:3 says that they turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice. It is in light of this that I read that the Israelite leadership asked Samuel for a king. And that brings me to this morning’s verse.

God tells Samuel that the rejection is not of Samuel’s leadership, but of God’s. When I am doing what God has called me to do and others are rejecting that, the problem lies in them, not me. 1 Samuel 8:6 tells me that the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel and that he prayed to the LORD. Samuel took the thing that was bothering him to God. This whole debacle comes to the point where God tells Samuel to let the people have their way, but to warn them of the consequences of that way. That is not the end of the thing, just where I am going to leave off for this morning.

I could relate instances wherein I have felt that I was rejected when it was actually God’s choice of me for a role that was being rejected. I could relate instances of taking things that are bothering me to God and of God sorting the whole thing out in such a way that I see the reality of the situation clearly. It is sufficient to say that I can empathize with where Samuel is. He wants the best King for the Israelites: God. But the Israelites want to be like the nations around them and have a human king rule over them.

The application is bound up with the text. Sometimes, the rejection that seems to be of me is actually a rejection of God’s choice. Sometimes, the thing that bothers me also bothers God and He is going to allow it to play out as the people involved in it think that they want it to. Sometimes I will be the one rejecting and yearning for things that I would actually rather not have if I truly understood what I was asking for.

Thank You, Father, for not always giving me what I ask. Thank You for choosing me for things that others would not choose me for. And thank You for forgiving me when I am the one who rejects Your choices or stubbornly demands something that You know is not what I really want. Please soften my heart to hear You and understand what You are saying when You explain to me that I am not the one being rejected or that I do not really want the thing I think I do.

SOAP Journal – 23 August 2017 (1 Samuel 6:13-7:14)

Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Mizpah and Shen, and named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”

1 Samuel 7:12

The Philistines returned the Ark to the Israelites and everything looked good for a moment. The people of the town had the Levites handle the Ark and offered a burnt offering on a massive stone, but some men of the town looked inside the Ark and things started to go badly.

People died. The leaders of the city called to the next city over and asked them to take the Ark. Those people did, but 7:2 says that all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD. They wanted things to be right, but seemed unaware of how to make them right.

Along comes Samuel and tells them to return to the LORD with all [their] heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among [them] and direct [their] hearts to the LORD and serve Him alone (7:3). So they do. The Israelites get rid of all the idols and go so far as to fast and pray and wait on the LORD at Mizpah.

The Philistines see this and decide that it is an opportune moment to attack. The people briefly freak out (7:7). They respond appropriately, asking Samuel to keep praying to God on their behalf and God answers. Samuel makes an offering and God makes some noise and the sound confuses the Philistines so much that the Israelites are able to utterly defeat them and chase them for a while.

At the place where the Israelites could no longer pursue the Philistines, for whatever reason, Samuel sets up a stone as a reminder. And that event is this morning’s verse.

In several places in the Old Testament, people set up stones and piles of stones as reminders and “witnesses” to things that happen. As an example, Joshua has the Israelites grab massive river rocks when they cross the Jordan and make a pile of them next to the river as a reminder that they crossed on dry ground and took those stones from the river bed.

It is good to have reminders of the goodness of God toward us. Some suggest that keeping a journal is a good habit to get into. I do not disagree, but not everyone is willing to take the time to journal. I make the time to keep this journal, but that is about as much time as I am willing to give. Perhaps it might be better to keep a log of the times that God steps in and acts on my behalf. At the end of each day, it might do to review the day and just jot down notes of the times that God has intervened and the progress He has made in areas of my life. Was there a situation during the day in which I would have responded in a way that did not please God but found that I responded in a way that pleased God? If yes, I should note it down. And I should return to this log frequently so as to see the progress God is making in the same way that the Israelites who passed by the stone that Samuel set up would see it and remember that God had helped them.

And that, I think, is my application. I need to find ways to give myself reminders of the progress that God is making in my life. It is easy to lose sight of just how far God has already brought me when I can clearly see how far I have yet to go. It is like standing on a mountain top and looking at the road stretching down the mountain and across the valley and not looking at all the road already traversed behind me. Both are necessary for context so I can be encouraged at how far I have come and be challenged to keep going.

Father, thank You for all of the progress You have made in my and in my life. Thank You for all of the times that You have directly stepped in and down great things on my behalf. Please help me to know the right way to mark those occasions and to keep myself encouraged by the road already traveled and challenged by the road still ahead.