SOAP Journal – 08 September 2017 (1 Samuel 15)

Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, to heed than the fat of rams.”

1 Samuel 15:22

God speaks to Samuel and tells him to let Saul know that it is time for the Israelites to make war with the Amalekites. Samuel tells Saul, informing him that God wants this to be an instance of total war, i.e. every living Amalekite thing — people, livestock, the works — was to be killed.

Saul gets the army together and heads over to the territory of the Amalekites where he warns another group, the Kenites, to get out before the fighting starts. Nothing wrong so far. Saul and the army are victorious over the Amalekites. Still nothing wrong. Then Saul and the people decide to keep the king of the Amalekites alive and to spare the best of the livestock. It is at this point that they have done something wrong. It comes down to what James writes in James 4:17 Therefore, to one who knows [the] right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. Saul knew what he was supposed to do and he did not do it.

God speaks to Samuel again, letting the prophet know that Saul has grieved God with his pattern of disobedience. So, Samuel heads down to Saul’s camp and asks why he hears livestock making noise when Saul was supposed to kill every living thing in Amalekite territory. Saul makes an excuse about wanting to sacrifice the best to God and Samuel responds to that with this morning’s verse and more. Samuel asks a pointed question: Is God as pleased with sacrifice as He is with obedience? The answer is “No. He is not.”

Sacrifice, if I understand The Law correctly, is only really necessary because of our disobedience. We disobey and this disobedience interferes with the relationship between us and God. So a sacrifice is made to restore fellowship with Him. But no sacrifice is necessary if we simply obey. Obedience does not interfere with the relationship, it strengthens it. What Samuel tells Saul is not some theological mystery, but a common sense conclusion that anyone might reach if they took the time to understand what God has said.

Which brings me to the question: Am I obeying or sacrificing? If I obey, then my relationship with God grows stronger and healthier. If I do not obey, then the sacrifice of Christ on the cross is sufficient to cleanse me from my disobedience and set things right between God and me. But to obey is better. Obedience was better for Saul and obedience remains better still.

Thank You, Father, for the forgiveness supplied by the cross. Please give me an obedient heart and mind and will; a self that delights to obey and finds disobedience repulsive.


SOAP Journal – 09 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

I have read these verses before. This is familiar ground on which to tread. But I had not noticed that the verses are connected. There is no full stop between them as there is with other verses to signal the end of a thought. Tee only full stop appears in the middle of one of the verses. The punctuation might be inserted by the translators — I do not know enough about Hebrew to be able to comment intelligently — but I agree with the notion that these are linked thoughts.

Moses calls heaven and earth to witness. Wrongs, according to The Law, had to be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. So Moses calls in two witnesses: heaven and earth. This could be the physical heaven and earth, as in the sky and dirt, or the spiritual Heaven and Earth, as in the abode of God and of humanity respectively.

The part of these verses that I want to zero in on is in the middle of things: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days.

Moses had gone over God’s promises — the pleasant and the terrifying — and God’s commands — even those that are difficult to understand — and what the consequences of obedience and disobedience are. Moses had set before the Israelites life and death, the blessing and the curse. God does the same thing for me through His Word and through those who teach it.

What this presentation should do is prompt me to choose life. The consequence of which is that I and my descendants will live. How do I choose life? I choose lifeby loving the LORD [my] God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him.

To love is a simple complexity. For example, I love my wife, but to live in such a way as makes that clear to her requires deliberate action on my part. I cannot blithely wander through life and expect that she will understand that I love her. Experience and available data do not support this idea. I must do things that she understands as loving her. Likewise, loving God is more than a feeling (now I have that song in my head), it is a deliberate choice to live out love as The Bible describes it.

Obedience is straightforward, but not always easy. I understand that God wants me to speak the truth in love, but some truths are difficult to take and trying to frame them in a gentle and loving manner requires a great deal of effort on my part.

Holding fast to God is a necessity if my faith is to survive the modern Western world. Everywhere, there are distractions and enticements that try to lure me away from the simplicity of the gospel and of my faith in God. There are outright assaults on the senses: billboards and advertisements of various kinds, music with earwormy lyrics and sounds and punditry blaring in almost every quarter. The Western world is an audio-video assault on my senses and my sensibilities. The only way to keep from being carried away by the waves of all this is to hold fast to God.

This is my life and the length of my days. If I want a full rich life and days that I can take pleasure in, then I must love, obey, and hold fast to God.

hank You, Father, for loving me first. Thank You for being dedicated to me before I was even aware of You. Please teach me to love and obey and hold fast to You so that I might walk in Your blessing rather than in the alternative.

SOAP Journal – 03 April 2017 (Numbers 28:1-2)

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be careful to present My offering, My food for My offerings by fire, of a soothing aroma to Me, at their appointed time.’”

Numbers 28:1-2

In the portion of Numbers immediately preceding this, a group of women had come to Moses to receive their father’s inheritance and ended up with some clarification on the laws governing inheritance for everyone. From there, it appears that God segued into talking about the offerings.

The connection is not quite so odd as it might appear at first glance. The Levites and the priests receive no inheritance. God goes so far as to tell Aaron and the priests that He, Himself, is their inheritance. With that in mind, the transition from laws governing inheritance to making sure that those who receive God as their inheritance are provided for brings things into focus a bit more. God goes on, in chapters 28 and 29, to outline what should be offered when. This is not news to the Israelites. God has given these statutes more than once before.

The reason for the repetition is, as far as I can see, at least threefold.

The first layer is to remind the Israelites of what they already know. When I was taught to write a basic essay, it was broken into three parts: (1) tell the audience what you are going to tell them in the essay, (2) tell the audience, (3) tell the audience what you told them. The repetition is not because human beings are unintelligent or because we are incapable of remembering things, but because it is easy for us to miss information in the midst of receiving information. If God is telling me something and I get distracted, even by some facet of the information being given, I will miss something else that is said. The repetition is for my benefit, that I might catch the fullness of what is said.

Repetition is also a major feature of literature in the oral tradition. Repeating information serves the same purpose when recounting a story orally that it does in writing: it makes sure I have not missed vital information.

The second layer is the payer of provision for the priests and Levites. Since God is their inheritance, they must get food and necessaries in some fashion and God reminds the Israelites that their offerings need to be on time. He does not state it explicitly, but there is the implication that lateness in the offerings means that the priests and Levites will be going hungry in the meantime.

The third layer is one that links to the notion that the calendar of feasts and festivals and whatnot is actually a pre-record of what God was going to do and now has done. If some of the feasts and sacrifices were meant to point to the Messiah and His work (and they were), then making sure they happened at the right time and in the right order was of vital importance. To miss the feasts and festivals and offerings would mean changing the message communicated. And Moses was prevented from entering the Promised Land for that very sin.

What has all of this to do with me?

First, let me pay attention when God repeats Himself. I have a tendency to skim across the test when I know that I have read about this thing before, so I sometimes miss information that was present the first go around, but is emphasized the second or third.

Second, let me give as God directs me to and support those who minister. If God tells me to give more, then let me give more. If God asks me to step back for a while, then let me be obedient in that. Whatever God says in my giving, let me obey.

Third, let me do what God bids me in the way and time He bids me do it. There is a reason for God’s timing, even if I do not understand what that reason is this side of Heaven.

Thank You, Father, for Your provision of food and shelter and all the needful things as well as many of the things of which I have no need. Please give me ears to hear Your instruction and a heart that is ready and willing to obey Your instruction in Your way and in Your time.

SOAP Journal – 09 March 2017 (Numbers 9:8)

Moses therefore said to them, “Wait, and I will listen to what the LORD will command concerning you.”

Numbers 9:8

In the wilderness, the Israelites are observing the Passover. When the date rolls around, there are some folks who recently handled a dead body — probably burying a loved one — and are therefore ceremonially unclean. These folks come to Moses and ask why they cannot observe the Passover. I suspect the question was phrased more along the lines of wondering why they should not observer the Passover. From these folks and from Moses’s response and their subsequent actions, I take a few lessons.

First, they wanted to be a part what God was doing. The Passover rolls around and they are ceremonially unclean and, instead of just shrugging and concluding that they will catch the Passover train the next time it rolls through, they go to Moses and ask if God would have a problem with them celebrating Passover with everyone else. They wanted to be involved in the things of God.

Second, they sought guidance. These folks did not just run off and do what they thought was right, but brought the matter to Moses. This happens after the whole system of leaders judging less involved matters had already been established, so the question had been filtered up to Moses through the normal process. By the time Moses heard the question and took it to God, I am certain that a small group of interested individuals had formed. More, I am reasonably sure that there was a small crowd of people wanting to know the answer present. And, when God hands down the answer, He tells Moses to take the answer to the whole congregation. The guidance sought by a few brought direction to the many.

Third, they waited on God’s answer. Moses tells them to wait while he asks God and gets an answer to their question. And they wait. There is no account of them deciding to go rogue and observe the Passover anyway. They asked their question, then waited for an answer.

Finally, they did what God said. This is not explicitly stated in the account, but can be implied based on what has gone before. These people wanted to be a part of the Passover. They came looking for guidance. They waited for the answer. For them to not do the thing they had asked permission to do seems absurd.

This is how I should handle “gray areas” in my walk with God; all those places where The Bible does not say anything about my situation explicitly. If I want to be a part of what I see God doing and think myself disqualified for some reason, let me seek guidance from God and wait on His answer. Once I get that answer, let me obey.

Thank You, Father, for this reminder that there is a way that You have given to deal with the places where something seems good to me, but may not be. Thank You that You want to guide me through my uncertainties and that You are willing to answer if only I will ask.

SOAP Journal – 26 September 2016 (Genesis 6:22)

Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.

Genesis 6:22

What God had commanded Noah was a gargantuan undertaking. God told Noah to build an enormous container (the word translated “ark” is also used in Exodus when talking about the “basket” into which Moses was placed) and to fill that container with animals and food. People were still, presumably, vegetarian at this point, as the same food Noah consumed would be consumed by the animals and Noah is not told that it is okay to kill and eat the animals until after The Flood. Also, I find out later that it had not yet rained. So Noah is building a huge container and filling it with food and animals in a time and place when rain has never been seen. Another portion of The Bible tells me that Noah was a preacher, so he not only built this box and filled it up as God had commanded him, but also let other people know why he was doing what he was doing and tried to get them to repent and join him in the box.

All of that context is important. God commanded Noah to do something that seemed, on its face, to be absurd. But Noah knew better. Noah knew that destruction was on its way and that the only way of salvation was that container he was building. It is, perhaps, telling that Noah only gave the container one way in and out, just as there is only One Way into Heaven. But that is a digression for another time.

God has, over the years I have walked with Him, commanded some things that seemed a little odd to me. When I have obeyed, I have found blessing. I have not always found peace outside, but I have consistently found God’s peace within when I obey.

It seems to me that God’s pattern is to command the most seemingly absurd when He is going to effect the greatest victories and most astonishing deliverance and preservation. God preserves Noah and his family through The Flood and delivers them and the animals with them in what is basically a box built by an amateur. When God gives Gideon victory, He does so with clay pots and trumpets and torches and three hundred men against an army almost three hundred times that size. God knocks down the walls of Jericho with marching and trumpets blasts. God wipes out the armies threatening Jehoshaphat and Judah with no army at all … Jehoshaphat actually went out to the battlefield with the singers. God delivers all who would come from death by allowing Himself to be crucified. Over and over the oddest command effects the greatest deliverance and victory. Over and over, the only reason it happens is because the person does what Noah did in this morning’s verse: Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did.

What has God commanded me to do? The more absurd it looks on its face, the more likely it is to be something miraculous waiting on the other side. It may not be. It may be nothing more than a command that I do not understand. But I will never know unless I do according to all that God [has] commanded.

Father, thank You for these faithful examples of what You can do when we obey Your command. Please show me those places wherein I am not obedient and teach me to obey.

Up to the Brim (John 2:7)

Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim.

John 2:7

This interaction takes place during Jesus’ first miracle. Jesus is at a wedding celebration and Mary, Jesus’ mother, tells Him that the wine has run out. She then tells the servants to do whatever He tells them. This verse is what He tells them to do and how they carry out His instruction. The water contained within these waterpots will shortly become wine.

These waterpots were, John notes, huge. Two or three measures apiece which means twenty or thirty gallons apiece. With six waterpots, this works out to between 120 and 180 gallons in total. That is a lot of water that is about to become a lot of wine.

It struck me that the servants filled them up to the brim. They could have filled the containers most of the way up or even just filled one or two, thinking that Jesus wanted to use it for its intended purpose. They did not know why He instructed them to fill the waterpots, only that He had told them to do so. They did not exploit the ambiguity of the command — Fill the waterpots with water —so they could slack off and get back to other things. Rather, these servants obeyed the most complete version of the command that could be conceived. They filled them up to the brim.

In God’s commands to me, am I exploiting loopholes so as to do as little as possible or is my obedience up to the brim? Jesus’ provision for this wedding feast was in direct proportion to the obedience of these servants. Had they obeyed less, then there would have been less wine for the party. Since they obeyed as they did, there was as much as 180 gallons — gallons! — of the best wine ever.

Let my obedience be up to the brim and I will see God’s blessing poured out according to the measure of my obedience.

Perspective (Luke 11:27-28)

While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.” But He said, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

Luke 11:27-28

For the believer, this is the time of year in which we remember the birth of our Savior. It is important that things be kept in perspective during this season. There will be nativity scenes in plenty and some will become overly focused on the young mother kneeling beside the child she bore, but no less than Jesus Himself shifted that focus.

This morning’s verse comes at the end of Jesus’ remarks on what happens with regard to demonic possession and His ultimatum that whoever does not gather with Him is scattered. In light of His profound insight and His ability to state, categorically, that to stand against Him is to be scattered, a random woman in the crowd shouts out that His mom is a blessed woman.

Mary agreed with this woman’s sentiment. In the passage commonly called The Magnificat, Mary exalts God for condescending to use such as she and praises Him for fulfilling His promises to Israel. Mary counted herself blessed. Gabriel called her highly favored. Elizabeth called her blessed. There is no doubt that Mary was blessed.

But Jesus flips it around. Jesus says that those who live in obedience — as Mary did, incidentally — are blessed. Was she unique? In that she was the vessel chosen to bear my Lord, yes. In that she was obedient and faithful and blessed, no. Myriads of believers through the ages have submitted themselves and found the blessing therein.

Will I be counted among those? There are times when I doubt. I am not good at obeying. I am frail and faulty and fumbling. I look more a fool in motley than a child of the King in purple. Does this phase my Lord? Not a whit. He is undeterred by my failures. So long as my desire is to submit myself and to be obedient, no matter how feeble my attempts or sadly lacking my obedience, He continues to work and to increase His grace in me so that I might become fully submitted; fully obedient to Him and enjoy the blessing therein.