SOAP Journal – 28 September 2017 (1 Samuel 25:1)

Then Samuel died; and all Israel gathered together and mourned for him, and buried him at his house in Ramah. And David arose and went down to the wilderness of Paran.

1 Samuel 25:1

I find it curious that this is the first book of Samuel, but Samuel dies with another 6 chapters left in this installment and before the second installment even kicks off. It makes me wonder who the actual writer of the book is. But that is not the point this morning.

I wanted to pause and remark the passing of Samuel as the Israelites did. Samuel was the last of the judges and the first prophet to anoint a king over Israel. His life was marked by firsts and by intercession for the Israelites and their kings.

Despite his righteousness, his children did not choose to walk the same way. In a real way, he lived out the example that the best and most righteous people can raise children as best they can and those children will make their own choices about how to live. It is the kind of reality and truth that drives parents to their knees regularly.

Samuel’s passing was mourned by all Israel. This, I think, is the measure of a leader. The Israelites demanded that Samuel give them a king (God noted to Samuel that this was a rejection of God’s Kingship over them, not a rejection of Samuel’s leadership), but every last Israelite turned out to mourn him at his passing. I cannot think of the last leader or cultural icon that so unified my nation that every last one of us paused for a moment in whatever we were doing to mourn that person’s passing. Ronald Reagan’s passing is the closest I can think of in my memory.

I also note that David leaves Samuel’s house after the prophet dies as if the protection afforded is also gone. It seems that God will sometimes remove people from our lives in order to make us step further into our faith. David will go to increasingly dangerous places to stay away from Saul until he gets news of Saul’s death.

This leaves me with two challenges. First, let me live a life that will cause all who know me to mourn my passing. Second, let me not rely on any human leader for a sense of safety or guidance, but let me lean entirely on God, as Samuel did.

Thank You, Father, that You are far more than enough to lead me through anything and to keep me safe in Your hands no matter what. Please enable me to rise to the dual challenges I see in this morning’s verse: to live righteously and to rely entirely on You. In doing the second, I will accomplish the first.

SOAP Journal – 27 September 2017 (1 Samuel 24)

May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you.

1 Samuel 24:12

Saul’s pursuit of David was interrupted by the need for Saul to go defend the kingdom from the Philistines, but Saul went right back to hunting for David when the Philistines had been dealt with.

During this pursuit, Saul steps into a cave to relieve himself and David happens to be hiding in the depths of the cave. Saul does not notice David, but David and his men see Saul. David’s men tell David that it is time for him to kill Saul and take the kingdom, but David refuses. He cuts the edge off of Saul’s clothes and sneaks back over to his men to talk them down from wanting to kill Saul.

Afterward, David shows Saul the bit of fabric and lets Saul know that he (David) could have killed him (Saul) and the army could not have stopped it. David said quite a bit in his talk at Saul and Saul received it, but this morning’s verse hit home for several reasons.

First, David calls for God to do the avenging. David says May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD avenge me on you. He had the perfect opportunity and he walked away from it, preferring to leave vengeance to God. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, God says that it is His place to take vengeance and repay (Deuteronomy 32:41). And Paul would tell the Roman believers to vengeance to God and quote the verse from Deuteronomy (Romans 12:19). The writer of Hebrews also quotes Deuteronomy (Hebrews 10:30). Clearly, The Bible indicates that vengeance is God’s domain.

My part is the same as David’s. David says my hand shall not be against you. In essence, David will not pursue vengeance against Saul. He had every reason to do so. Saul had chased David through the wilderness trying to kill him even though David had done nothing wrong. If anyone ever had a reason to kill someone, David had one with Saul. Yet David preferred to leave things to God to handle.

People will wrong me. I have the choice to take vengeance or to leave vengeance to God. Let me leave it to God.

Father, thank You for David’s heart toward vengeance. Those who  have wronged me have done nothing by comparison. Please give me a heart that seeks to leave vengeance in Your hands and to do nothing against those who wrong me.

SOAP Journal – 26 September 2017 (1 Samuel 23:9-12)

Now David knew that Saul was plotting evil against him; so he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” Then David said, “O LORD God of Israel, Your servant has heard for certain that Saul is seeking to come to Keilah to destroy the city on my account. Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down just as Your servant has heard? O LORD God of Israel, I pray, tell Your servant.” And the LORD said, “He will come down.” Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the LORD said, “They will surrender you.”

1 Samuel 23:9-12

As I read over this passage, I was struck by what I am currently thinking of as “The Unspoken If.” David inquires of God. He asks God two specific questions: (1) Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? (2) Will Saul come down just as Your servant has heard? And these questions are excellent examples of how I should ask God things. The questions are specific and timely and relevant to David’s next steps. And those next steps are where The Unspoken If comes in.

One of David’s questions is predicated on David staying put. Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? assumes that David is there to be surrendered. What if he is not? What if David is long gone by the time Saul arrives? The Unspoken If to this inquiry is “If I (David) stay put.”

And this Unspoken If got me to thinking about how people can look at portions of the Old Testament and see God say “I will <insert judgment here>.” and forget that God can also have Unspoken Ifs. Every judgment of God is predicated on “If the people do not repent (turn away from the wrong thing being done).” For a wonderful example of people understanding God’s Unspoken If, read through Jonah prophesying to the people of Nineveh. He gives no hope; no promise of mercy if the people will repent. The people just reach the conclusion that it would make sense to give a warning if something could be done about it. So they do. And God does not judge them at that time. The nation will return to its wickedness and it will be judged, but those who understood the Unspoken If lived.

I need to be aware that God’s promises can also carry an Unspoken If: obedience.

And I need to be aware of my own Unspoken Ifs. What am I predicating my questions on and my requests on? Jesus predicated His requests while on this Earth on whether or not they aligned with The Father’s will (Not My will, but Thine be done).

Father, thank You for this reminder of The Unspoken If. Please make me aware of Your and mine and to pray accordingly.

SOAP Journal – 22 September 2017 (1 Samuel 19:18-24)

He went there to Naioth in Ramah; and the Spirit of God came upon him also, so that he went along prophesying continually until he came to Naioth in Ramah.

1 Samuel 19:23

In the midst of Saul looking for David to kill him, Saul is told that David has gone to Samuel and is staying with him. Saul sends messengers three times to get David and bring him (David) back to Saul so that he (David) can be killed. Each time, the messengers join in with the prophets that are in Samuel’s company and become prophets, too, for a time. So, Saul heads out to where they (David and Samuel) are staying. Saul, as this morning’s verse indicates, is overcome by the Holy Spirit and begins to prophesy. And he keeps right on prophesying all the way into Samuel’s presence. Needless to say, Saul does not kill David.

It is interesting to me that the Holy Spirit comes on a man who has his heart set on murder and causes him (Saul) to prophesy instead of committing the transgression on which he had set his heart. It is almost as if God is saying that He will use any and all means necessary to keep people from sin and from thwarting His plans. After all, God had chosen David as the next king of Israel and David could not become king if he was dead.

There is no word on whether or not Samuel or David was prophesying. The Bible is silent on that count, but it seems likely that they were not. But David is kept safe by God’s intervention on his behalf.

On which side am I this morning? I might find myself on the side of Saul, seeking to thwart God’s purpose and being defeated in my goal by God Himself. I might find myself on the side of David, just trying to keep myself out of trouble and obedient to God in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Father, please examine me and show me where I am this morning, whether working against Your will or trying to stay in it despite difficulties or anywhere in between. Please show me and guide me to the place where You want me to be.

SOAP Journal – 21 September 2017 (1 Samuel 19:1)

Now Saul told Jonathan his son and all his servants to put David to death. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, greatly delighted in David.

1 Samuel 19:1

Two things are at play for the next couple chapters in Samuel.

The first thing at play is Saul’s renewed desire to kill David so as to prevent David from becoming king and to establish Saul’s lineage as kings. This will be a running theme for several chapters, with Saul going so far as to take the army out and chase after David all around the countryside of Israel. Ultimately, this desire is born of fear. Saul knows that David has been anointed to take the throne after him (Saul) and that God’s Spirit is no longer with Saul as He (the Spirit) had been previously.

The second thing at play is the friendship between Jonathan and David. Jonathan is a rare man in that he knows he would have inherited the throne, but David was anointed to be the next king and he is not bitter about the loss of the throne or angry at David for becoming the next in line. Instead, he and David form a friendship to which men could still aspire today. More, Jonathan has a faith in God that acts as a parallel to David’s own faith. These two men both trust God implicitly. It is this faith that allows Jonathan to shrug off the apparent disappointment of being denied  a chance at the throne.

The next few chapters will be marked by fear, friendship, and faith. And I am confronted with the question of which of these moves me. I must examine myself to see if I am driven by fear or motivated by faith in God and friendship toward my brethren.

Father, please examine me and show me what drives me. If I am driven by fear, please perfect Your love in me so that it casts out that fear. If I am driven by faith and friendship, then please confirm them in me that they might continue to push me forward.

SOAP Journal – 20 September 2017 (1 Samuel 18:10-30)

David was prospering in all his ways for the LORD [was] with him.

1 Samuel 18:14

At this point in Saul’s reign, things are actually good. Saul worries that God is with David and that bad things will happen if David is around Saul too much — after all, Saul did try to pin David to the wall with a spear … twice (v. 11) — so Saul appointed David a commander in the army.

As it turned out, appointing David a military commander served to put him more in the public eye and to increase his fame, because God continues to be with him. This also means, by extension, that Israel’s armies are victorious in their battles and that Saul appears to be a brilliant ruler. David becomes a household name in Israel and Judah (northern and southern parts of the kingdom) and does well on the battlefield.

Saul tries, twice, to make David his son-in-law. This is not, however, altruistic in motive. In both instances, Saul thinks that the hand of the Philistines may be against [David] (v. 17, 21) if David marries one of Saul’s daughters. When Saul offers his younger daughter, Michal, to David, Saul adds that she may become a snare to him (v. 21). There are no good motives lurking anywhere in all of this. The one positive is that Michal loved David, so she would actually get what she wanted if David married her. And marry her he does.

This morning’s verse is a reminder to me. It is tempting to look at the words and see only David’s military success or his marrying the king’s daughter. But prospering in all his ways means all his ways, including in his walk with God. Things can be going well for me in most areas of my life and I can be tempted to think that God is blessing me. But it could just as easily be a feint by the enemy trying to draw me out into dangerous waters. The only way to differentiate, that I can think of, is to look at my walk with God. Am I growing closer to God? Is my devotional time increasing in intimacy with God? Do I find myself more frequently victorious in the spiritual battles that come my way? Do I find myself resorting first to prayer and The Bible when things get difficult or confusing? If my answers are uniformly “Yes.”, then there is a good chance that the other areas of my life in which I am doing well are blessings from God. If the answer is “No.”, then I might want to take a serious look at where the pursuit of those material benefits is leading me.

Sun Tzu, one of the most famous tactical writers in history, said (I paraphrase) that the victorious general must seem like he is about to lose when he is ready to secure his complete victory. One’s enemy must always think he is secure and winning until the moment he loses. The same is true of my spiritual enemy. He will employ tactics like this (because they are sound strategy) and lead me to think that everything is awesome because of the material blessings on my life — good pay, a comfy house, favor at work with my boss and colleagues. There is nothing inherently wrong with those things, but they undermine my walk with God if I have done things that damage my relationship with God in order to get to that place.

What is the application? Only what Paul wrote to the Corinthians: Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Father, thank You for this reminder that material blessing is not an indicator of a good walk with You or of a healthy relationship with You. Please keep me mindful of the pitfalls around me. There seems to be good favor at work and things moving in a mostly positive direction, but things are challenging in other areas of life. Please give me insight to know if there is something wrong that needs to be addressed or if this is just a difficult time.

SOAP Journal – 18 September 2017 (1 Samuel 18:6-9)

Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on.

1 Samuel 18:9

This is a small chunk of a much larger narrative, but it warrants the slow treatment. David had killed Goliath and Saul was okay with that. There was victory in the battle and Saul had not led the charge and Saul was okay with that. Everything that kept Saul safe and secured his kingdom was okay with him. And I cannot really fault either of those motivations. All of us want to be safe and secure.

But the celebrating crowds got a little overzealous in their praise of David’s accomplishment. People are prone to exaggeration — just ask any fisherman how big the fish that got away was — and the women that were literally dancing in the streets were exaggerating David’s accomplishment. They ascribed thousands of kills to King Saul and tens of thousands to David. In truth, the people were likely just happy that the giant was dead and that they were safe. And it was David stepping out in faith that had accomplished it. So the people praised his valor.

And Saul listened. Saul listened to what the exuberant crowd said and grew bitter. His words sound almost like a petulant child — They have ascribed to David ten thousands, but to me they have ascribed thousands. Now what more can he have but the kingdom? (v. 8) — pouting that he did not get his way. My four-year-old daughter sometimes does this. She will sometimes tell me that she “never” gets whatever thing it is that she is trying to cajole me into buying. In reality, she likely has a half dozen of that very thing at home.

From this, I have two bits of application.

One, I should not listen to closely to what people are saying when they are extremely excited. Excitement has a way of making things seem more than they actually are and we, as people, often exaggerate when we are in a moment of excitement.

Two, I should guard my tongue, particularly when I am in a moment of high agitation. When emotions are running high, I am more likely to exaggerate or run to extremes and neither of these serves my brother and sisters or me.

Father, thank You for this reminder that my words need to be kept in check. Please bridle my tongue and harness it to Your purposes.

SOAP Journal – 15 September 2017 (1 Samuel 18:1-5)

Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.

1 Samuel 18:3

The first few verses of chapter 18 sketch out the friendship between Jonathan, the son of King Saul, and David. These verses happen right on the heels of David killing Goliath and Saul finding out who it was that did it.

It might seem strange to some that Jonathan would love David as himself on only the strength of that one moment, but there are things that must be considered.

First, I know that David has been playing his harp in King Saul’s house for a while. To be more exact, since shortly after David was anointed as the next king. There has been time for Jonathan to have gotten to know David.

Second, even without the time to become acquainted, the two men shared something major in common: they both loved and trusted and relied heavily on God. Jonathan, I recall, went sneaking into the Philistine garrison to see if God was going to give victory. David stepped out in front of a giant to challenge the giant’s defiance of God. These two men had something in common that will later bind together fishermen with tax collectors and insurrectionists: love for and reliance on God.

And, since I have heard people claim that this was a homosexual relationship, I am going to say that I disagree with that notion. God’s Law states that one is to love one’s neighbor as himself (Leviticus 19:18). God also states that homosexual acts are detestable acts (Leviticus 20:13). There would be an internal inconsistency to that book by itself if loving my neighbor as myself meant violating the prohibition against homosexual actions, so there must be something else at play. And there is. Aristotle said, “A friend is a second self.” He understood. The best friendships we have; the closest friendships we can experience are those in which we love our friend as we love ourselves. That is to say that we care for them and make sure that their needs are met and defend them to others and so on.

I have, over the years, been privileged to experience this level of friendship on occasion. Not often, but it has happened.

The application is difficult. Jesus summed up The Law in two commands: love God and love my neighbor as myself. Jesus commanded this level of concern and interest in the well-being of my neighbor, not just my friend. What happens between Jonathan and David is to be the norm for Christians. Can I say that it is true of me? If no, then God and I have some serious work to do in me.

Father, thank You for this illustration of true friendship. Thank You that Jonathan and David lived out loving another person as I love myself. Please help me to learn from their example and to love others as I ought.

SOAP Journal – 13 September 2017 (1 Samuel 17)

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted.”

1 Samuel 17:45

The story of David and Goliath is so well known that a retread of it seems superfluous. The brief synopsis of the story goes this way: The Philistines and Israelites mixed it up. Out from the Philistines came a champion named Goliath. Dude was huge — 9-foot-something (1 cubit = 1 1/2 feet :: 6 cubits = 6 × 1.5 = 9) — and he defied the Israelites and their God … the LORD. This goes on twice a day for 40 days until David hears it and decides that the Philistine is done mocking the LORD. So, David goes out to battle in his shepherd’s gear, slams a stone right into Goliath’s forehead, then chops the giant’s head off.

The focus is, often, the underdog little guy defeating the giant and the story is used to encourage teams and companies and whatnot that are less likely to win in the contest. But that focus overlooks a key component: Why David went out.

It is not enough to say that the little guy went out and defeated the big guy. That works if we are trying to encourage the underdog, but it misses David’s motivation.

What David says is telling. He notes that Goliath comes out to fight with a sword, a spear, and a javelin. The giant is relying on his martial prowess; his fighting skill to see him through. When you are over 9 feet tall and your weapons weigh as much as some of the people you fight, we might forgive you for thinking that your skill could carry you through. King Saul notes that Goliath was a warrior from his youth (v. 33). Long experience and a proven track record all seemed to be on Goliath’s side. And I can fall into the same trap. I, too, might have a record of success and be tempted to rely on my own abilities.

David, in contrast, comes out to the fight in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel. This is not David’s fight, but God’s. David does not come out on his own merits, but in the reputation and authority of the LORD. And David also notes that it was God, not the Israelites, that Goliath had been taunting. Goliath had set himself up for failure. He just did not know it.

From this familiar story, I take away the following applications.

One, I should not rely on my own abilities to carry me through the battles in life. To do so is, like Goliath, to set myself up for failure. It does not matter if I have a track record of victory in that particular battle. Overconfidence has undone more armies and warriors in history than almost anything else.

Two, I need to rely on God to fight the battles in life. If I am truly living my life so as to please Him, then the battles are His anyway. It is His reputation on the line and He will see to it that His Name is glorified.

No reliance on self and total reliance on God. Simple, but not easy.

Father, thank You for the story of David and Goliath. Thank You for the reminder that self-confidence is a path to defeat and reliance on You is the path to victory. Please give me eyes that see where my reliance is and a will that seeks to rely on You.

SOAP Journal – 12 September 2017 (1 Samuel 16:14-23)

So it came about whenever the [evil] spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play [it] with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.

1 Samuel 16:23

Passages like this one have never sat well with me. At the beginning of the passage, the Spirit of God departs from Saul and another spirit — from the LORD, according to the author of Samuel — takes His place. This new spirit makes things difficult for Saul and the people around him suggest finding a skilled musician to help calm him down. He takes their advice and David ends up serving in that role. This morning’s verse summarizes the state of things as we move into the next chapter. The spirit from God would come and David would play his harp and everything would be just fine.

The answer that is often given is that the spirit was evil and from the LORD from a human perspective. This might work as an explanation, but there is nothing stopping God from editorializing on His Book, so the answer feels to facile for me. Since this passage troubles me — the idea of God sending an [evil] spirit seems at odds with what I know of God from the rest of scripture — I did some digging.

First, I learned that the word translated as evil can mean quite a few things, including disagreeable, unpleasant, sad, and unhappy. The adjective form of the root rendered as evil here, is rendered as adversity when used as a noun in Job 2:10. It may just be that God “sent” adversity. In the book of Job, I am granted glimpses into what is actually going on and see that God is not sending the adversity, but is permitting it. So that facile explanation of the author of Samuel just stating things from his human perspective starts to seem a bit more legitimate.

In addition, the word spirit can mean several things including breath, wind, disposition, and temper, among others. So, it is possible that this was meant to communicate that Saul received a disagreeable or sad or unhappy disposition. This is something that might be rectified with music.

Whether this is an instance of human perception or unfortunate translation, Saul found relief from the affliction bought on by this evil spirit through David playing music on his harp.

My thought on application boils down to this: when God departs, it leaves a vacuum that is likely to be filled with someone less desirable. The Spirit of God left Saul and a new spirit moved in to take up residence. I I push God out of the various parts of my life, what will replace Him? If I push Him out of my entertainment, then I am likely to find spirits of lust and violence and fear waiting to fill the void. If I push Him out of my decision-making then I am likely to find spirits of greed and envy and selfishness ready to take up residence. I am an earthen vessel made to be filled. The question is not if I will be filled, but with what I will be filled. And what fills me will become known, because it will also be poured back out and splash over the rim when I am shaken by circumstances.

Father, thank You for this reminder that I am filled with one thing or another. Please fill me with Your Holy Spirit and the fruit that He brings.