SOAP Journal – 07 December 2017 (2 Samuel 18:1-18)

6 Then the people went out into the field against Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. The people of Israel were smitten there before the servants of David, and the slaughter there that day was great, 20,000 men. 8 For the battle there was spread over the whole countryside, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.

2 Samuel 18:6-8

When Absalom catches up with his father, David has divided his company in three. Those three companies go out and defeat those who have sided with Absalom. In fact, 20,000 die on the battlefield that day. Absalom’s long hair got tangled in some low-hanging tree branches as he rode underneath and left him dangling. He could have been taken prisoner — and would have been, if David had been on the battlefield — but Joab knew that David would extend mercy and there would be even more war. So Joab grabbed a few spears and stabbed Absalom to death. Without their upstart king, those who had been backing the coup scatter.

Where my attention was drawn is the statement that the forest devoured more people that day than the sword devoured. This is a piece of mercy on the part of God, Who spared the loyalists — those who had remained faithful to the king that God had chosen — from having to kill many of their kith and kin. The forest itself seemed to become a weapon of war and those who opposed God’s anointed were in bad shape.

The episode reminds me of Jesus’ statement that the rocks would cry out if His disciples stopped praising Him. The created world is often given anthropomorphic characteristics in this way. Paul writes of creation groaning for redemption and the psalmist writes of the trees of the fields clapping their hands in God’s praise. I am not one to put much stock in the idea of the Earth being alive in the same sense that I am alive, but I admit that there is more between Heaven and Earth than is dreamt of in my philosophies. And I have read, more than once, of God using creation as a weapon against those who oppose Him and His. The ground swallowed those who tried to set themselves up in opposition to Moses as God’s chosen representative. A bear came out of the woods and mauled young men who mocked a prophet. The lions in the den sat quietly and left Daniel alone until morning, then tore his accusers to pieces before they touched the ground.

If God can so use the rest of His creation, how much more could He do through me if I would be completely yielded to Him?

Father, thank You for this quiet reminded, tucked away in the midst of a battle between men, that You use anything and everything to accomplish Your goals. Please fill me with Your Spirit of submission that I might yield more fully to You and be of greater use in showing the world what You can do in and through a yielded life.


SOAP Journal – 07 September 2017 (1 Samuel 14:47-52)

Now when Saul had taken the kingdom over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, the sons of Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines; and wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment.

1 Samuel 14:47

This verse and the other verses that round out chapter 14 are all straightforward. Saul took up the mantle of king and fought with the neighboring kings who wanted to conquer, oppress, or otherwise harass the Israelites. There is a brief aside telling us the names of his children, daughters included, and his wife as well as the name of the commander of his army. And the chapter rounds out with the comment that Saul added any capable person he came across to his retinue.

This morning’s verse sounded, to my ears, like a softly-spoken reminder. Now when Saul had taken the kingdom over Israel, he was doing nothing more than answering the call of God on his life. Samuel had anointed him king and that calling had been confirmed. Saul taking over the kingdom is, simply put, Saul submitting to God’s call on his life. And an interesting thing happens when Saul does this: the fighting seems to get worse. The verse tells me that he fought against all his enemies on every side. Saul did not receive peace and prosperity when he answered God’s call. Instead, Saul was given conflict on every side. There is another item of note: wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment. Not only did he submit to the call of God on his life and the conflict that came with that call, but he caused his enemies serious losses.

From there, I generalize out into a principle. That principle is that submission to God’s call on my life will not bring peace with those around me (or the old nature within me), but conflict, and the promise that I will enjoy victory so long as I remain submitted to God and His call on me. The very next chapter involves God giving Saul a chance to be submitted both to God and God’s call, but Saul is not submitted to God in that instance. Saul still wins the victory over the foe, but Saul shows that he is ruled by the people, not ruling over them. Likewise, it is possible for me to demonstrate that I am not ruled by God, but by other things — people’s opinions, my feelings, my lusts, and so on — and thus ruin something that God is trying to build.

Let this be a call to reflection for me. Am I submitted to God? Am I submitted to His call on me? If the answer to either one is anything other than an emphatic “Yes!”, then I know the source of defeats in my walk.

Father, thank You for this reminder that submission to You and Your call on me and my life is the only way to walk in victory. Thank You for the reminder that You did not promise peace with my adversaries or with the old nature within, but with You. Please search me and reveal those places where I am not submitting to You and to Your call on me and work in me to bring about submission.

SOAP Journal – 04 August 2017 (Judges 13-16)

Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have borne no [children], but you shall conceive and give birth to a son.”

Judges 13:3

Samson may be the single best-known judge in the book of Judges.

The first recorded thing he did is that he saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines and said to his father, “Get her for me, for she looks good to me.” (Judges 14:1, 3). After that, he makes a bet over a riddle and ends up killing 30 people to keep up his side of the wager and walks out on his wife because she gave away his secret. He later goes back and finds that she married someone else and Samson ties together 300 foxes with torches between their tails and sets the poor animals loose in the Philistines’ grain fields. When the Philistines come to capture him for his arson, he takes a donkey’s jawbone and kills 1,000 men. Later in life, he visits a prostitute and carries away the city gates when people lie in ambush for him. At the tail end of his life, he loves Delilah and is betrayed by her. He loses his God-given strength and his eyes are gouged out. He grinds grain for the Philistines and is brought into their temple to amuse them before he pulls down the pillars and crushes 3,000+ Philistine lords and their wives to death, killing himself in the process. With a biography like that, does he have anything in common with Christ? Yes, actually.

Samson’s birth is announced by the angel of the LORD (Judges 13:3) to both his mother and father (Judges 13:11-14) and Jesus’ birth was announced to Mary and to Joseph.

Samson comes to his own (his wife) and his own does not receive him (Judges 15:1-2). In a similar way, Jesus came to His own (the Israelites) and His own did not receive him (John 1:11).

Samson was betrayed by one close to him … on more than one occasion. His riddle was betrayed by his first wife (Judges 14:16-17). The best man at his wedding is the person his first wife married when Samson walked out (Judges 14:20). And Delilah betrays Samson in ways for which I cannot find adequate description (Judges 16). Jesus was also betrayed by one close to Him (Matthew 26:14-16).

And my last observation is that Samson’s death brought deliverance (Judges 16:30). In his death, Samson killed more of the oppressors than he did in the entire rest of his life. It is by Jesus’ death and resurrection that I am saved.

There is more that could be discussed: the meaning of the names and how Delilah feels a bit like a parallel to believers, but the focus this morning is on Samson and the parallels between his life and that of Christ.

I do not want to apply this in the wrong way. It would be a simple thing to look at this and think that God can use any life, no matter how mangled and marred it might be and to use that reality as a license to go about twisting my life and my self into all the wrong shapes. It is true that God can use any life and that Samson is an excellent example of that. It is also true that this cannot be used for license to mess my life up and expect God to make good of it. As Paul wrote, What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2) The entirety of Romans 6 is an excellent read on the subject of license.

So, yes, God can use any life. It is also true that some lives are more effective than others. Samson delivered by killing. Jesus delivered by dying. Samson did what his desires told him and was constantly caught by his circumstances. Jesus did what His Father told Him and was Master over every circumstance. Samson ended his life maimed, miserable, and crushed. Jesus triumphed over death and ascended into glory. Which life would I rather live?

Thank You, Father, that You give us the judges for our instruction. Thank You for sending Your Son, the ultimate Judge, to show us what the other judges only hinted at. Please make my life like that of Your Son: a life submitted to You and lived for Your glory.

SOAP Journal – 23 May 2017 (Deuteronomy 17:18-20)

Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel.

Deuteronomy 17:18-20

These verses round out a portion of Moses’ instruction about the future king of Israel. There are a few things said that bear note.

First, Moses states that the king must copy down The Law of God in the presence of the priests. There is good reason for this. The priests are the keepers of The Law, so the master copies would be with them. The priests are also responsible for studying and understanding The Law, so they would be able to answer the king’s questions as he was copying and he could make notes off in the margins.

Second, the king is to keep that copy of The Law with him and read it all the days of his life. This keeping and reading comes with purpose. In point of fact, the rest of the verses are the promise that comes from keeping God’s Law with him and reading it daily.

The effects of daily reading of The Law and keeping The Law ready to hand constantly is threefold: (1) that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, (2) that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, (3) that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left.

The Bible tells me that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Keeping The Law with him and daily reading it will cultivate wisdom in the king. And kings need wisdom to rule well. So [fearing] the LORD his God is a good place for the king to begin.

The second effect is humility. The verse says that constant contact with The Law and daily reading will yield the result that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers. The king needed to remember that he has been chosen by God from among God’s Chosen people to lead them. He was no better than his brothers and sisters. He was entrusted with an office.

The third effect is obedience. It is stated that the daily exposure to The Law may have the result that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left. In God’s view, the ruler must be ruled. In context, the king must submit to the authority of God and of The Law. By submitting himself to God, he becomes one to whom others can readily and willingly submit themselves.

While this may seem woefully disconnected from me, as a believer, it is not. Revelation includes a moment when those redeemed by Christ sing a song that includes the declaration that Christ has made the redeemed kings and priests (Revelation 5:10). Peter’s first letter calls the believers a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). In short, the instructions given to the king can be applied to me. And they are excellent practice, regardless of where I sit in the social hierarchy.

This morning, the focus is on having The Law ready to hand at all times and reading it daily. I have the daily reading part going on Monday through Friday, but I only read it the one time in the morning and I tend to skip Saturday and Sunday (unless I count reading during the church service). So I could do with more consistency in my reading.

But I need to watch for those three effects mentioned: fear of the LORD, humility, and submission to God.

Does God’s Word produce a holy fear in me or do I walk away thinking that I read something wonderful every morning? I am told to work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). There is a fear that is holy and right and I must have it.

Does God’s Word humble me and remind me regularly that I am a sinner, just the same as every other sinner I see around me? If not, then I am reading my Bible wrong.

Do I submit myself to what I have read or do I nod agreement then go off and live in contradiction? Submission is active, on my part. While I can learn to fear God without any real action on my part and can be humbled without doing much, submission requires me to do something. Submission requires me to recognize my will and God’s will and to voluntarily pursue God’s will, even and perhaps especially when my will disagrees with it.

Fear of the LORD. Humility. Submission.

Father, thank You that these traits are not limited to kings and priests and people with a special calling on their life, but are the province of all believers. Please foster these in me. I know that I have room to grow in each and every one and that my life will only be better and more blessed by pursuing them.