Synopsis 1Sam 15:23-35 9/24/2018
Saul had disobeyed God’s command concerning the Amalekites. As a result, Samuel rebuked him. In his speech, Samuel equated rebellion to the “sin of divination”.
Saul acknowledged that he had sinned. He feared his men’s desire to retain the banned spoils. So he allowed them to keep it. He begged for Samuel’s forgiveness. And, he implored Samuel to offer sacrifices to God on his behalf. He desired to show the Israelites that there was no breech between him and Samuel.
Samuel eventually agreed to go. And he offered sacrifices on Saul’s behalf. But not until after he prophesied to Saul that God had determined to rip the kingdom out of his power and give it to someone more fitting.
Finally Samuel called for King Agag. He executed him in Gilgal. After this, he departed from Saul. The two men never saw each other again.
Saul was a desperate man. He was desperate to retain his position. Above all, he didn’t want to lose his kingdom. And so he begged Samuel to offer sacrifice on his behalf. He wanted all Israel to know that he still had the respect of the great prophet Samuel.
Saul was willing to privately acknowledge his guilt. But he did this with the intent of maintaining Samuel’s support. His plea for forgiveness wasn’t motivated by repentance. Instead, it was nothing more than an effort to regain Samuel’s favor.
Samuel was unwilling to go along with the farce. But as Saul persisted in begging, Samuel began to realize that he was in danger. If he didn’t do as Saul asked, Saul could simply decide to kill him. So, Samuel decided to take the pressure off of Saul. And so, Samuel offered sacrifices on Saul’s behalf, supporting his kingship. But he killed the Amalekite king with his own sword, which was itself a not-so-subtle rebuke to Saul. Samuel never again allowed himself to fall into Saul’s power.
My Desperate Effort to Avoid Outcomes
“I’m sorry.” My youngest sons just turned four. “I’m sorry is their favorite expression when they’ve done something they know is wrong.
They are identical twins. Their identicality has taught me much about human nature. They learn so much faster than any of our other children. I think this is because they validate their experiences one against the other. They have quickly come to realize that “I’m sorry” is nearly as powerful as a “get out of jail” card on a Monopoly board.
The result is, they use it to cope. In most cases, I do not observe that they are actually “sorry” for the wrong they’ve done. Usually, they are “sorry” they have a problem. Or, perhaps even more directly, they recognize that simply saying, “I’m sorry” restores favor and evokes mercy. For them, it’s like a magic spell.
I’d like to say that they learned this from reading about the unfortunate king Saul. But the reality is, they’ve learned it from me. They’ve learned it from the way I expect my wife to forgive me when I’ve been selfish or thoughtless. They’ve learned it from me when I’ve failed to follow through on a promise.
So now, I’ll hear this challenge as I examine my conscience. I’ll learn to hate my sins and do them no more.
“Those who conceal their sins do not prosper, but those who confess and forsake them obtain mercy.” Prov 28:13
Synopsis 1Sam 15:13-22 9/23/2018
Saul won a great victory over the Amalekites. But he did not destroy the spoils of the battle as God had directed. Also, Saul captured the Amalekite king alive and allowed him to live.
Samuel sought Saul after the battle. When he found him, Saul enthusiastically greeted him. But Samuel questioned Saul sharply. And he rebuked Saul for not following the commands of the Lord completely.
Despite Saul’s claims that he had fulfilled the commands of the Lord, Samuel challenged him. He observed that God is more pleased with obedience than with sacrifices.
Saul’s Good Intentions
Saul experienced an extraordinary victory over the Amalekites. He routed the nation and destroyed almost everything – just as the Lord had commanded.
But something about destroying the best of the animals seemed wrong to the people. Perhaps, the soldiers were thinking that many of the sacrifices offered to God in Israel were not as of such high quality as what had been captured in the defeat of Amalek. Maybe, in this way, their intentions were entirely understandable, if not even honorable.
But only Samuel could see it for what it really was.
Good Intentions and Best Intentions
“Obedience is more important than sacrifice.” It’s obvious enough that this is what God really wants.
Still, my tendency is to think it was easy for Samuel to call out the king. Or, for that matter, that it was easy to go against the obvious good intentions of 200,000 soldiers.
Speaking truth to power. Being honest. Honoring God more than I honor men. Honoring God more than I fear men.
This is the work. Allowing the best intentions to have their place against a manifold tapestry of good intentions.
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers.” Psalm 1:1
Synopsis 1Sam 15:2-12 9/22/2018
Samuel the prophet came to King Saul. The prophet told the king to attack Amalek. God’s intention, he explained, was to punish the Amalekites for having attacked the Israelites during the exodus. The command to Saul was to utterly destroy it, leaving nothing.
Saul called up his army. He assembled more than two-hundred thousand men for the attack. He positioned them for the attack. And then, Saul warned the nearby Kenite people to get away from the battle.
Saul totally defeated the Amalekites. But he allowed King Agag to live. And, contrary to God’s command, he did not destroy the best livestock of the nation.
After this, God spoke to Samuel. He expressed His regret for having selected Saul as king. Samuel became angry. He cried out to the Lord all night. And then he went in search of Saul to confront him.
The Amalekites were a nation of people descending from its Amalek. Of course, Amalek was a descendant of Esau – Jacob’s estranged twin brother.
In the bible, the Amalekites are often seen as a symbol of utter evil. Their attack during Israel’s exodus was unprovoked. As a result, they were cast as a murderous, immoral and opportunistic people. This was an evil that God intended to cast out from the land.
But Saul did not complete the work. Although God gave him victory in battle, he failed to follow through with all of the Lord’s command.
There is a sneaky disposition in my heart. I find myself sometimes thinking that God should be grateful for the things that I have done for Him. To tell you the truth, I feel foolish just writing that down. Of course, I don’t really say any of these things out loud. It’s just my attitude. It’s a reflection that emerges through my behavior.
But when I’m honest with myself, this is what I find:
I go to mass. And I go to reconciliation. I read my bible. I even pray with my children. So, I’ve given God enough. He needs to be reasonable about His demands. Really, I think to myself, “He should be grateful – all these things I do for Him.”
Yet, on the way home from church when we encounter someone known to us walking on the road, I do not stop to offer a ride. Instead, I secretly pray my wife won’t suggest it. But she almost always does. And I almost always have an excuse about why it’s not “prudent” to offer the ride today.
Eventually I wake up and realize what I’ve done.
But the point isn’t to burden myself with a load of guilt and shame. God has forgiven me. He “gets” my failure. He gives me another chance.
A new day.
A clean slate.
But He also wants to be able to trust that I can deliver when He calls me to love.
A bad tooth or an unsteady foot—a trust betrayed in time of trouble. Pr0v 25:19
Synopsis 1Sam 14:44-15:1 9/21/2018
As the battle of Michmash wound down, God stopped communicating to King Saul. Through a process of divine discovery, God revealed that Jonathan was the cause of breach between God and Saul.
Saul demanded Jonathan’s confession. And so, Jonathan acknowledged eating honey before the battle was complete. Although, he had only eaten the honey before being told about Saul’s ill-advised edict.
So, Saul determined to kill Jonathan for the offense. But the Israelite soldiers saved Jonathan.
After the battle, Saul consolidated power. The kingship became formal. Saul built up the standing army. And Israel entered into a period of near constant military engagement. They fought in turn with most of their historic enemies as the Israelite hold on the Promised Land became more firmly established.
Israel Took Power The Way Anyone Takes Power
Saul learned to recognize political power. Unlike the judge Jephthah, who sacrificed his innocent daughter because of an ill-advised oath, Saul was prevented from sacrificing Jonathan. He deferred to the political power of the soldiers.
This is the way of Saul. He consolidated his power by building up a standing army. As Samuel had predicted, he took the best of the young men and women from around Israel, and pressed them into his service. He paid for it all through conquest over the surrounding nations. In other words, for the most part he led Israel the way any king leads any nation.
He kept up a relationship with God not out of devotion to God, but because he could use it to support his ambition to consolidate political power.
Personal Power and the Synthetic Community
The wisdom of God challenges me to work in the world from the inside out.
I control my attention. I control what my mind engages in the world I experience. God’s wisdom meets me there, at every moment of choice.
This is natural. God created me with a unique essence. But He also created me in a unique time and place. So, I meet the challenges of my life moment-by-moment. And I do this in a way that only I could.
Political power is the opposite. It works to control the outside, no matter what is happening on the inside. It produces a synthetic kind of community where the glue that binds people together is not the Holy Spirit of God, but the imposition of political power through force of more-or-less arbitrary laws.
God did not call me to be a culture warrior. I am not called to impose from without, even what is evident as natural moral law. Reality is what it is. I don’t have to defend it to other human beings.
But, I am a Christ follower. So, I am called to love in truth. This is essential. And it will always be true in every time and place.
“For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” Eph 6:12
Synopsis 1Sam 14:35-43 9/20/2018
The Israelites defeated the Philistines in the battle of Michmash. Saul built an altar to the Lord. And then, he expressed his desire to pursue the Philistines throughout the night. The high-priest recommended asking God.
So Saul inquired. But God did not answer. Saul interpreted this to mean there was a breach in the relationship. He understood that this was caused because of some sin.
As a result, he arranged the men of his army opposite himself and Jonathan. Through a series of questionings, God revealed that the problem resided with Jonathan. Saul questioned Jonathan. And Jonathan revealed that he had unwittingly eaten some honey in the course of the battle. At the time he ate, he did not know that Saul had made an oath against anyone eating before the battle was finished.
Saul Adding a Law
Saul’s goal was to keep his men focused on the battle. He wanted to prevent them from being distracted by anything, including even their need for food. So he invented a law.
Let the Law Be the Law
It’s one thing for me to make a mistake. But, it’s another thing to make a mistake into a moral failure.
A mistake means that I’ve inadvertently failed to convert some possibility into an actual accomplishment. When I see a situation wrongly, it’s likely I’ll take the wrong action. That’s what it means to fail.
For example, “let’s keep everyone focused on the battle” translates into not allowing anyone to eat so they aren’t distracted. Of course, that’s just dumb. It’s poor thinking. But the truth is; this is common. I often misunderstand my circumstances. And when this happens, I usually fail to enter into the success I might have known. But it’s still not a moral failure.
However, it’s different when I misunderstand my circumstances and then make some moral declaration about how I should act. We are, after all, creative human beings.
So think about the creative power of a human being. With my lips, I have the power to create a moral obligation. For example, I can say, “I promise to pay….” and I am really, morally, bound to pay.
Now combine my power to create moral obligations with a situation that I don’t understand very well. A lot can go wrong.
For example, I make an oath against eating during battle. Now my error in judgement takes on a moral implication. If I eat then it is suddenly a sin against God.
So, have structure. You need structure to live well. But don’t worship your structure. Resist the temptation to create your own system of unsupportable laws. In the end, it’s a poor imitation of God’s mandate to love.
In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I am commanding you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it” Deut 4:2
Synopsis 1Sam 14:26-34 9/19/2018
The battle of Michmash was raging. The king’s son Jonathan had started a great rout of the Philistines with a surprise attack on a remote outpost. The unexpected attack, in combination with a strong earthquake, caused the Philistine army to panic and flee.
The Israelites pursued and killed many Philistine soldiers. While pursuing the enemy, Jonathan stopped at the site of a honey comb that had broken open and was flowing with honey. He ate some and felt energized.
However, his soldiers informed him that his father had made an oath that no one from Israel should eat anything until the battle was complete. Jonathan noted that this was an ill-advised edict.
As a result of Saul’s order, the men were so famished at the end of the day that they began taking captured domestic animals for food. They slaughtered them and ate them without first draining the blood. Saul recognized their error and made a place to properly slaughter the animals to avoid the sin.
An Army Fights on Its Stomach
Napoleon said, “An army fights on its stomach”.
When Saul made this vow, he thought his edict would focus the attention and resolve of the Israelite forces to completely destroy the enemy before doing anything else. It was the modern equivalent of saying, “we don’t have time for supper”.
But the reality was that the army was weakened and less effective because they were denied food. One interesting, brain-science fact is the restorative power of glucose after acute stress. Honey is more than 50% glucose. Eating the honey would have actually given Saul’s army the physical ability to achieve his purpose. But his edict had just the opposite effect.
The Body’s Role in Achieving Your God Given Purpose
Gandhi famously asked, “Do you eat to live or live to eat?”
So, it’s unwise for me to be led by my appetites. I can accept that. It’s unwise for me to be enslaved by any bad habit.
But it remains important to recognize fundamental truths. One of these is that I am a bodily being. I have a body. And it has its needs and demands.
It’s a big mistake to believe that you can disregard the legitimate needs of your body and still enter into the possibility of your life. Eating is a part of the process of actualizing your potential.
So, if you want success, then let your eating habits align with your God given vision.
“It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.” Matt 15:11
Synopsis 1Sam 14:15-25 9/18/2018
Jonathan was King Saul’s son. He was general over half of the limited Israelite forces. In the battle of Michmash, he and his armor-bearer attacked a remote Philistine outpost after scaling a crag. This, in combination with a well-timed earthquake, set off a panic amongst the Philistine forces.
The main Israelite force under Saul was aware that there was confusion in the Philistine camp. So, Saul counted his army to see if the Israelite forces were engaged. He found that only Jonathan and his armor-bearer were missing.
At this point in the battle, Saul was uncertain what to do. So, he made an inquiry through the priest. However, it quickly became clear that the Philistines were in disarray. And so, he withdrew from the priest and immediately ordered his forces to attack. He even made a vow that no one should eat until all the day’s fighting was done.
The momentum of the battle shifted toward the Israelites’ favor. As a result, men who had previously deserted Saul returned to the battle. Also, Hebrew mercenaries who had been fighting for the Philistines, turned against them in the midst of the battle.
Saul’s Victory is Really God’s Victory
Saul’s behavior was uncertain and reluctant. His forces were down to only a few hundred men. So, he adopted a survival strategy. His goal was to “not lose”. As a result, he only engaged his forces when it seemed obvious that he wasn’t likely to lose.
Jonathan, however, was aggressive. He recognized that God controlled the outcome of every battle. So, from his perspective, engagement was the most important thing. He recognized that God could only work through him if he was willing to engage the enemy in his present circumstances.
My Purpose, Victory and Destiny
God created me with purpose. So, I have a purpose.
I can respond to this foundational belief in one of two ways. Either, I can play to “not lose” or I can play to win. I can wait for God to make circumstances so obvious that they cannot be misinterpreted. Or, I can meet the challenge of the present moment by engaging in God’s work, and then allowing God make clear the next step.
Of course, the danger in waiting is in the need for certainty. Because, the only time I will ever be absolutely certain I understand my circumstances, is after it’s too late to do anything about them.
“Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.” James 1:22
Synopsis 1Sam 14:5-14 9/16/2018
In the midst of the battle of Michmash, Jonathan discovered a path to engage the Philistine army. But, it involved climbing a steep crag. His armor-bearer willingly assisted him. But otherwise, he didn’t tell anyone else about his plan to raid.
So, Jonathan made a simple plan. He realized that climbing the crag would expose their position to a small Philistine outpost. He reasoned, if the men of the outpost waited for them to climb up, then they would continue climbing. Otherwise, if the Philistines came down to them, they would stop.
As it turned out, the two men were actually told to “come up” by the Philistines. And as they did, they surprised the outpost because they were armed. So, Jonathan was able to kill about twenty men from the outpost.
Jonathan was Aggressive but Wise
Jonathan was a general in Saul’s army. And he was the king’s son. So he was the heir apparent. Everyone expected him to be the next king. This was his God-given purpose in life.
But also, Jonathan’s natural disposition was to be aggressive. He wanted to attack. And, he wanted to engage the Philistines where he might have some limited advantage.
So, Jonathan made this plan. And, he shared the plan with his armor-bearer, who agreed. Finally, he set a clever milestone. By making his attack dependent on how his adversary responded, he was prepared for the engagement to unfold in multiple different ways.
Be Aggressive But Wise
God created you with purpose. You’re on earth to do something that only you can do. So, give everything you can to excel at your purpose.
Be aggressive. But also be wise. Consider the ways that the world will respond when you begin to enter into your purpose. And be ready to meet each challenge with the conviction of Jonathan climbing his crag.
In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths. Prov 3:6
Synopsis 1Sam 13:17-14:4 9/13/2018
The Philistines and the Israelites massed troops in anticipation of battle. The Philistines sent three detachments to probe Israel‘s position. One of these took up a position near Michmash.
King Saul’s son Jonathan led the Israelite forces near Michmash. And so, he decided to personally reconnoiter the Philistine position. He did not tell anyone where he went. And, he took only his armor bearer with him.
In those days, there were no smiths (as in metalworkers) in Israel. The Philistine’s ruled over Israel. So, in an effort to prevent the Israelites from developing their own weapons, the Philistines did not allow them to do metal work.
Philistine Control Over Technology
The Philistines controlled the development of technology in Israel. This had two effects. The first was that it kept the Israelites dependent on the Philistines for access to even the peaceful use of technology.
For example, the Israelites had to go to the Philistines to have their ploughshares and other tools sharpened. This forced unnatural control over the marketplace. So, in practical terms, the Philistine smiths and merchants extracted too much of the Israelites wealth.
But the more intended purpose was to control the use of technology to keep the Israelites at a military and economic disadvantage.
The Good, The Evil and The Technology
Technology is neither inherently good or evil. In fact, technology is nothing more than applied wisdom. And wisdom is about process. And through understanding of processes people change the world.
By itself, perhaps we could say that technology is morally neutral. But technology doesn’t exist by itself. It is the product of human effort. It’s good and legitimate purpose is to advance human culture.
Of course, we all know technology can also be used for selfish, unloving and evil purposes. So rival people always work to gain a technological advantage over each other.
But as Christians, we consider technology from the perspective of Christ. So, the purposeful end of technology is to advance culture. And the purposeful end of culture is that men will love God and love their neighbors. As a result, technology used for any other purpose has missed the mark.
“Will the ax boast against the one who hews with it? Will the saw exalt itself above the one who wields it? As if a rod could sway the one who lifts it, or a staff could lift the one who is not wood.” Isaiah 10:15
Synopsis 1Sam 13:8-16 9/11/2018
The Philistines deployed their army in the high country at Michmash. Saul’s army was positioned in the valley below at Gilgal. The Philistines had massed an overwhelming army with the tactical advantage. Many of the Saul’s soldiers recognized the disadvantages of their situation. And so, they began deserting east across the Jordan. But, Samuel had given Saul instructions not to engage until after he came and offered sacrifices.
So Saul waited until the agreed upon time. But Samuel was delayed. And so, though he was not a priest, Saul offered the sacrifice himself. Saul completed the sacrificial offering just before Samuel finally arrived. Samuel rebuked Saul for his lack of patience and departed without offering the sacrifices – since Saul had already offered them.
Saul Couldn’t Wait Teach Me Lord to Wait
The Philistines had a better tactical situation. They greatly outnumbered the Israelite army. And they had the superior technology of iron chariots. So, Saul was perhaps naturally anxious. And Samuel was late.
By the time he counted the remaining troops, Saul had only six hundred men. But six hundred is exactly twice the number that Gideon had. And in Gideon’s case, God had deliberately sent away the fearful and cowardly. So compared to Gideon, Saul had way more than necessary.
But Saul couldn’t see abundance. He couldn’t see that God wanted to do something extraordinary through these circumstances – something only He could do. And so, Saul was moved by his anxiety to take matters into his own hands. He offered the pre-battle sacrifices even though he was not a priest. And this was his defining failure.
Teach Me Lord to Wait
It’s so easy to critique King Saul. He had so many obvious flaws. And he made so many poor decisions. And he had so little faith…
We have so much in common – Saul and I.
Anxiety is a thief. It convinces me that God is not faithful. It steals victory away from me moments before the victory is mine to claim. And it leaves me empty handed and powerless. It is the feeling of fear when there is actually nothing to fear.
There is nothing to fear. There is nothing bigger than God.
“They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.” Isaiah 40:31