Synopsis 1Sam 9:4-11 8/29/2018
Saul was the son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin. Kish had a herd of donkeys that broke loose. So, Kish sent Saul with a servant to search for them.
The two men searched in the tribal lands of Benjamin and Ephraim without success. Low on food, Saul started to return to Gibeah. But, because they were near to Samuel’s home, his servant suggested going to Samuel to see if the prophet could assist in their search.
Although Saul had no money to offer the prophet, the servant offered his own “quarter shekel of silver”. So the two agreed to use this money as a gift for the prophet and inquire concerning the donkeys.
Saul Was Not “All In” Kind of Guy
Saul was introduced as the son of a great man – a man with property. Kish was a successful man. And in the ancient world, a herd of donkeys was no small treasure.
So Saul was out looking for his father’s lost treasure. He obeyed. He complied. But he didn’t bring any money with him. He took only what was provided to him by his father. Even his servant carried more cash than he did.
Saul was not all in. He was ready to quit the search when he had completed what could be reasonably expected of him. In fact, his servant showed more initiative than Saul did by suggesting they visit Samuel and offering to pay for it himself.
The Danger of the Perfunctory
Doing the minimum conveys a lack of passionate commitment.
I live my life without passion when I don’t feel the intuitive desire to achieve but I do feel compelled by some sense of moral obligation to keep going.
“Be fully committed.”
I can say that without difficulty. But what if I’m not feeling motivated? And, if motivation is a felt response to value, then what can I say? I don’t value the given. So, if I can, I’ll slack. If I can’t, then I’ll do the minimum required.
But there is a way out of the perfunctory – out of the habit of doing the minimum. The trick is in learning to value what the other person values. Saul could have passionately searched for the donkeys because he valued whatever his father valued – out of love for his father. I can look deeper and see the purpose of the people and things around me and agree with God to deliver value to others by the way I respond.
It’s a measure of love. So, do it for the other.
“When you offer a blind animal for sacrifice, is there no wrong in that? When you offer a lame or sick animal, is there no wrong in that? Present it to your governor! Will he be pleased with you—or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.” Malachi 1:8
Synopsis 1Sam 8:13-9:3 8/27/2018
The people had asked Samuel to name a king to rule over them. Accordingly, Samuel consulted God concerning the request. So, God told Samuel to warn the people of the consequences of naming a king.
Samuel enumerated the many costs. He pointed out that a permanent leader meant an expensive administration and an even more expensive standing army. A king would tax them and require service from their children. But, Samuel could not dissuade the people. And so, God directed Samuel to name a king for the people.
The scene shifted to the tribe of Benjamin. Kish the Benjamite, was a powerful man. And, he had a son named Saul. Saul, it was mentioned, was much taller than any of his peers, and he was exceptionally handsome.
Wanting What is Wanted When It Is Wanted
This wasn’t an argument. This wasn’t even a debate. The people were certain of what they wanted. So, they did not attempt to reason with Samuel. Or even refute what he was saying. They wanted what they wanted when they wanted it.
The Competition Between Knowledge and Perceived Value
I experience value. It is visceral. In other words, I feel value. And I almost automatically respond to the value feelings that I have. This is how we’re made. And, because this is how we find ourselves, it takes an extraordinary intervention of my “self” to stop the chain of natural value response.
This is why it can be so hard to argue with someone once they are determined to do something – even if what they intend is counterproductive.
This is also why I sometimes ignore what I “know” to be the right answer in favor of what I hope will bring an experience of value. Within the range of my freedom, I choose. The physical satisfaction of pleasure competes with what is reasonable and rationally known.
There, I said it. I have chosen pleasure over what is truly good. And, this is too often how my habits are formed.
It’s a little sobering. O Lord, there is clearly still much work that needs to be done.
“What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” Rom 7:15
Synopsis 1Sam 8:1-12 8/26/2018
Samuel grew old. As he did, he appointed his sons as judges over Israel. But like Eli, his sons did not follow the Lord. So, the elders of Israel gathered with Samuel and asked him to appoint a king.
Samuel felt rejected. His ministry would be the last to judge Israel. It was the end of an era that had begun with Moses and Joshua. But God consoled Samuel. He reminded him that the people had rejected not Samuel alone, but God’s way of ruling.
They Wanted a King
God directed Samuel to remind the people of the implications of their request. The king would change everything. He would take their children away from their farms and businesses. He would make them a part of a permanent army.
God did this deliberately. Otherwise, the Israelites would eventually cry out against God. When they realized what they had demanded, they would blame God for not warning them. Or they would blame their king for doing what kings ought to do.
The Authentic Community and the Political Community
This was a huge moment in history. Not just the history of Israel, but the history of the world. God’s Authentic Community was subsumed under the synthetic forces of social contract politics. It has never since been freed again.
So now, Christ-followers everywhere find themselves as dual citizens. Our first home is the transcendent Authentic Community; a measure in heaven, and a measure on earth. Our dual association is here, with some synthetic, social contract that we were most likely born into.
But in all of this, God is not surprised. More than that, it is a clear part of His plan. For we cannot all be biologically the children of Abraham – nor would that satisfy God’s purpose or plan.
Your job, Christian, is to bring your synthetic brothers and sisters into the possibility of an authenticity and sense of community that they could scarcely believe is possible in this or any life.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendant, heirs according to the promise” Gal 3:28-29
Synopsis 1Sam 7:7-17 8/24/2018
With the return of the ark of the Covenant, the Israelites once again began to seek the Lord. At Samuel’s direction, they gathered as one nation at Mizpah and rededicated themselves to the Lord. This was the beginning of Samuel’s formal ministry as Judge over Israel.
The gathering of the nation was an affront to the Philistines. So the Philistine rulers reacted to Israel’s national gathering by sending an army to confront them. However, the Lord intervened with thunder and threw the Philistine army into confusion. Disoriented and trapped in a foreign land, the Philistines were defeated by the Israelites.
During the battle, Samuel prayed and sacrificed to the Lord. Samuel’s reputation was cemented. He judged Israel from that day forward. He judged by making an annual circuit around the countryside of Israel. And, he also judged from his home at Ramah.
The Coming Together
Samuel called the people together knowing that this would most likely provoke the Philistine rulers. But he weighed the possibility of a Philistine invasion against the necessity of all the tribes coming to see themselves as one nation.
His purpose was to reconstitute the people’s awareness that they were one nation under the protection and authority of the one, true God.
Christian Don’t Stop Meeting as a Community
They say the best way to keep a group of people from uniting is to keep them from meeting. Any mass meeting by a subjugated people is a natural threat to their rulers. Rulers will work to prevent meetings. And, that’s a hardship. But, it’s also a validation of the necessity of physical community.
The forces of evil work to isolate the individual. That’s how I remain powerless and vulnerable and lonely. Preventing me from meeting – or keeping me from wanting to meet – in an open and honest community is the #1 best way to keep me powerless.
In faith, in life, in all things – your possibility and potential is inseparable from the context of your Christian community.
So, Christian don’t stop meeting in community.
“We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near” Heb 10:25
Synopsis 1Sam 6:19-7:6 8/23/2018
The Philistines released the ark to see where it would go. The ark arrived at Beth-shemesh. And initially the people rejoiced. The people there offered sacrifices and celebrated its return.
But some of the inhabitants did not reverence the ark. And God struck them down. As a result, the people of Beth-shemesh looked to find a community more willing to take the ark. The people of Kearith-jearim accepted the ark and transported it back to their city.
Under Samuel’s leadership and judgement, the Israelites returned to following the Lord earnestly. Samuel formally began his ministry to the people at Mizpah.
Irreverence, Death and Distance
The people of Beth-shemesh were Levites. They knew how to reverence the presence of God at the ark of the Covenant. And yet, they looked upon the ark irreverently. This caused some sort of outburst that killed many of the people.
And so, they became afraid to be near the ark. They inquired to see if another community would take up the ark. And finally, the people of Kearth-jearim stepped up.
Putting Distance Between Myself and Holiness of God
When it comes to the prospect of encountering God, many people have voiced to me their sense of condemnation. They feel condemned – like they’ll never be worthy to be in God’s presence. Meeting God, they imagine, would cause them to be overwhelmed by their sense of guilt and shame.
For whatever reason, when I think about encountering God my sin isn’t what comes to mind. I can imagine that kind of awareness might be a part of such an encounter. I’m a big sinner. Bigger than most.
But what makes the prospect of encountering God fearful to me is the overwhelm of His power. How do I come to terms with the God of all creation?
Our universe is filled with an unimaginable amount of energy distributed over an unimaginable distance in space and time. And even this doesn’t define Him. He made the universe. But His power remained unabated despite His act of creation. So, this infinitely powerful being calls me friend.
And I’m wondering: How am I supposed to be friends with that?
And I’m thinking: This might be easier if I just put my head in the sand. That’s what they did at Beth-shemesh. That’s the lesson.
When it comes to God, I’m intimidated. But He knows. He knows that I’m overwhelmed. So He comes to me in a way that I can relate. He entered time. He came as a man with a father and a mother. And, He comes to me with a story that I can relate to. And He says, “I call you friend”.
I’m still a little afraid. But, in truth, it’s hard to argue with God.
“I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” John 15:15
Synopsis 1Sam 6:12-18 8/23/2018
The Philistine leaders desired to return the Ark of God to Israel. So, they loaded it on a special cart made for the purpose. Then, they yoked two milking cows to the cart and put their calves away. And then, they let the cart go to see what would happen.
The cows immediately walked down the road to Beth-Shemesh. Now, Beth-Shemesh was a Levite city. So, the people there knew what to do. Accordingly, they placed the Ark of Covenant and the Philistine’s golden offering on a rock near where the cows had stopped. They used the wood of the cart for fire and offered the cows as a sacrifice. They also offered other sacrifices.
The Philistine leaders observed all of this before returning to their homes.
God Is In Control
Israel was experiencing one of the lowest moments in its history. The Ark of God had been captured by the Philistines. They had little hope of ever seeing it again. And with this loss, the people struggled with real questions about what the future might be like without God in their presence. They felt powerless and feared that the glory of God’s presence had gone forever.
Suddenly and unexpectedly the ark showed up. On the back of a cart built by foreigners who knew virtually nothing about the God of Israel. And, the cart arrived in Beth-Shemesh without anyone guiding it. No Israelite had anything to do with the journey. It was God alone, who chose once again to dwell in the Promised Land with His Chosen People.
If God Is in Control Then Life Isn’t Out of Control
Israel was anxious about the future. They had made most every mistake they could have made. And they ended up feeling the absence of God.
There are days when I feel the same. I can be so self-sufficient that my need for God isn’t obvious. It’s like because I read the bible, I somehow think I have God all figured out.
And then, all of the sudden, a single event happens and I feel lost. I sense my separation from God. And I find myself wondering whether I’ll ever again experience the awareness of God’s presence. I find myself in a wondering lament, questioning whether my sin and arrogance have forever separated me from God.
It’s time to confess my sin.
And it’s exactly then, when the reality of absolution sets in. It’s then, in the moment when I regain the possibility of Eucharist, that I realize He always had me. And, it’s then that I realize He was always in control and never needed my “help” at all.
He comes to me not out of necessity. And, He comes back to me though the failure was entirely mine. He comes back to me.
“Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last” Rev 1:17
Synopsis 1Sam 6:4-11 8/21/2018
The Philistine leaders were struggling. They weren’t sure what to do with the Ark of the Lord they had captured at the battle of Aphek. However, the people were afraid because whichever city received the captured ark, a plague broke out.
So, their religious leaders devised a plan. The Philistines made an offering of golden tumors and golden mice, to commemorate the plagues that had beset the people. And, they placed these beside the Ark as their commemorative offering.
And then, they built a brand new wagon. They hitched two milking cows to pull the wagon and separated the cows from their calves. After this, they placed the Ark of the Lord on the wagon and set it on its way.
Testing the Supernatural
One part of the Philistine plan to get rid of the Ark was really a test. On the one hand, they were wary enough to reverence the mysterious power of the God of Israel. They were aware of all that had happened to the Egyptians centuries earlier. On the other hand, they wanted to be sure that it was truly the God of Israel that they were dealing with.
So, they offered the reparation offering and made a cart sacred to the purpose of transporting the Ark. But they hitched it to two milking cows. They knew a milk cow would never naturally walk away from its calf. So, if the cows pulled the cart back to Israel, then they could be sure the God of Israel had acted in a supernatural way.
Nothing had been revealed to the Philistines. They were not a party to the Mosaic covenant between God and the Israelites. They were figuring things out for themselves.
Taste and See that the Lord is Good
Maybe you feel unsure about God. Maybe you doubt His existence. Or, maybe you doubt that it’s possible to know Him. You need to know that God’s OK with your legitimate questions. He understands your honest doubts. And, He is never intimidated.
Instead, His encouragement is to test Him. Hence the passage that says, “Put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, And see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven for you”. (Mal 3:10)
So, do like the Philistines. Do an honest experiment. Follow Him in accordance with His word. And see if He doesn’t bless you. See if He doesn’t make Himself known to you.
“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the stalwart one who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:9
Synopsis 1Sam 5:8-6:3 8/21/2018
The Ark of God dwelled with the Philistines. But as it did, the people in the various cities where they placed the Ark became ill with different kinds of diseases. In the end, no city was willing to keep possession of the Ark.
As a result, the Philistines decided to return the Ark. So they assembled diviners. These men instructed them to make amends to the God of the Israelites through a reparation offering.
Not Easily Tamed
It’s hard not to read this story and wonder about the Philistines. They recognized the power of God working in their midst. But that did not draw them into a relationship with God.
But for the Philistines, like for most ancient cultures, the God of Israel was one God among many. The plague was one plague among many. So, they had no special reason to seek relationship with the one, true, God. The Philistines didn’t desire to have a relationship with Him. Instead, they perceived God as a powerful entity that should be avoided.
The Difference Between Superstition and Revelation
If a basketball player wears the same socks to every game because they are her “lucky socks” – that’s clearly superstition. But it’s something that we’re all subject to.
The human tendency is to reflect back on those times when things went really well. Or, sometimes we reflect on when things went really poorly. Either way, the tendency is to look for a “common denominator” that we associate with success or failure. And then, we build the associated behavior into our routine.
But revelation is different. It is given. And, it is given as a gift. The received gift becomes the power to live a changed life.
There is a world full of people. And almost all of us claim to want success – we claim to not want failure. And there is a revelation that makes the way of success absolutely obvious. Like the apostle said, “Love never fails”.
The Philistines knew God as powerful but did not appropriate the power. Instead they created a superstition. God became “the god of unusual tumors”. And so, they learned to avoid the power of God.
I do the same when I describe God as the “god of hellfire”. I’ve created a superstition. Not that He isn’t powerful. And not that there isn’t hellfire. But Jesus didn’t build a hell-avoidance club. He’s looking for an outcome from me.
So, success requires a revealing from God – and ears to hear.
“Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” Rom 10:17
Synopsis 1Sam 4:20-5:4 08/20/2018
Phinehas was a priest and the son of Eli. He was a married man. And, he died carrying the Ark of God into the battle of Aphek. Soon enough, his wife heard the news that the Ark of God was lost in battle. What’s more, she heard the report that both her husband and Eli were dead. So, she proclaimed, “Gone is the glory from Israel”. Now, she was pregnant and immediately went into labor. Her son survived but she died from the labor and grief.
The Philistines transferred the Ark of God to Ashdod. And they placed it inside the temple of their god Dagon. But the image of the false god could not stand in the presence of the God of Israel. So, it literally kept falling over. Also, the people of Ashdod began to experience strange illnesses. And so, the Philistines eventually transferred the Ark of God elsewhere.
The Lost Glory of Israel Was No Glory for Philistines
The wife of Phinehas lamented the loss of Israel’s glory. The presence of God no longer dwelled in the Promised Land with the Chosen People. God was the one thing that kept the people united. His presence gave them identity and brought meaning to their lives.
For the Philistines – the glory was in winning the battle. And their glory was evidenced by the Ark of God as a trophy of war. Only, this “trophy” proved to have a power of its own. And soon enough, the Philistines of Ashdod became eager to see the trophy gone and forgotten.
The Opportunity Is To Get Onboard
So you’ve used God. You used Him to feel better about yourself. You used Him to get into a better social circle. And, you used Him to gain respect within the community. You used him to get mercy for your transgressions. And, you used him to help raise your kids.
But you never really cared about Him. You never cared about His project.
Yet God’s project continues unabated. God’s will is done. Even if it sometimes feels like everything depends on you, it doesn’t. You can’t stop this train.
The opportunity is to get onboard – or not.
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Heb 10:31
Synopsis 1Sam 4:10-19 8/19/2018
Despite the presence of the Ark of God, the Israelites lost the second day of battle. In all, they lost thirty-thousand men including the sons of Eli. And, the Israelites lost the Ark of God.
A Benjamite escaped the battle and made the report at Shiloh. So, panic and lament set in. And so in time, Eli the High Priest heard the report. “The Philistines captured the Ark of God.” Thus, in a convulsion of grief, he fell over backwards in his chair and died.
Priests, Fathers and Sons
Although it seemingly didn’t start out that way, Eli had more regard for his sons than he did for God. When the younger two priest had first been born, Eli gave them strong names. Hophni means pugilist. And Phinehas after the great forbearer. It’s clear that Eli wanted his sons to grow up to be mighty men of valor.
But something went wrong. Somewhere along the way, Eli lost control of the priesthood. And he also lost his influence over his sons. In the end, he feared injuring his relationship with his sons more than he feared injuring his relationship with God.
Eli and his sons shared a preference for pleasure. This was their mode. For they had learned to prefer the subjectively satisfying more than the truly good.
Fathers and Sons and Adoption into the Kingdom
Now I am a father of four sons. And as they grow, I occasionally find myself shocked and saddened to see them exhibiting behaviors that I know I have.
There is in me the temptation to think all of this is hopeless. I remember the expression, “The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Are my children are consigned to live out the same moral failures and bad habits that I have lived? Is it genetic? Is it learned? Does it matter?
Somehow my generation is transmitting this to the next. Somehow I am infecting my sons. And knowing the influential power of fathers over sons, it might seem hopeless. But thanks be to God for our adoption as sons unto the Lord. For, because of this hopeful reality, I see for my sons a possibility for life that they could never learn from me. At least not without the power of God slowly taking root and working through me.
“So, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Col 2:6-7