DAVID (October 5, 2018)


Samuel had been a faithful leader in Israel and had been well respected by his fellow Israelites. But they had lived among the dwellers of Canaan who, without exception, were ruled by kings. For some unknown reason they had some strange urge to be like their neighbors. They demanded that Samuel find a king to rule them.

God was obviously aware of their intention, perhaps long before it was expressed, and had already chosen an appropriate Royal for them. But, as was their custom, they refused to exercise godly patience, and demanded a king. And they got Saul. He was a specimen of physical perfection, but they failed to consider what was under that attractive skin. After centuries of God’s direction and instruction they still had a lot to learn. Some of us have been under God’s instruction for decades and still have a lot to learn. Learning must be life - long activity for believers.

Saul was a disaster for Israel. He spent a good bit of his reign trying to kill the one God had chosen to be Israel’s king. Samuel had the responsibility to anoint the one who was to replace Saul and he was led to the sons of Jesse. The eldest son, Eliab, seemed to Samuel to be the chosen one. But God gave him special instruction to avoid the mistake they had made with Saul. “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature  .   .    .   man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (I Sam. 16:7). Samuel obeyed God’s instruction and anointed the youngest to be the King of Israel.

Perhaps the best way to get to know David is to consider his writings. And a good place to start is with the psalm that was placed at the beginning of the Psalter. It really encapsulates the overall message of the Psalms, presenting basic truths that will be enlarged on in the rest of the Psalms.

The psalm begins by listing three attributes, or activities, that should be part of the life of a follower of Jehovah, and are especially crucial in the life of a Leader. It is hard to tell whether David listed these as necessary qualities that he should follow as he began his kingship, or whether they were things he had learned during his office as king of Israel.

The first thing mentioned as being extremely important is where we look for counseling. We can put up with a President who may not be a genius if he is able to assess and chose capable counselors. I am not sure where we would rate our President Trump in that category. There are trained and capable professional counselors whom we should probably listen to. But they have their limitations. Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah who would be a “wonderful counselor” (Isa. 9:6). That is where we need to look for counseling. God provided David with godly counselors but he didn’t always listen to them (Bathsheba? II Sam. 11), placing himself and the entire nation in jeopardy.

Where do you turn for counsel?

Not only should we not walk in the counsel of unbelievers, nor should we stand in the company of sinners. I think the Psalmist was stating we are to choose our friends very carefully. The people we hang out with have a significant influence in what occupies our minds and how we spend our time. What is the subject of our conversation? Our discussion of the weather and the social and financial and political problems we face should  soon merge into conversations about spiritual matters. If that rarely happens perhaps we should find other friends.

Finally,  David warns us, and reminds himself, not to get too comfortable with those who have problems with the truth. Do not sit “in the seat of scoffers” (Psa. 1:1). Our relationships with unbelievers should primarily be to expose them to the Gospel (can’t seem to type the “Gospel” without capitalizing the first letter. Should probably capitalize all the letters. What is more important than the GOSPEL.)

David has a lot more to teach us!

SAMUEL (September 25, 2018)


As we leave the very pleasant book of Ruth and enter Samuel, the pleasantness continues. The book opens with “There was a certain man .   .    .   .   . whose name was Elkanah,” I find this a little interesting because it was his wife who was the main character of this incident. Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Hannah was his greatest love but Peninnah bore his children. This was a great grief to Hannah who longed for a son. She would accompany her husband on his annual trek to Jerusalem.
On one of those visits “She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.” (I Sam. 1:10). She was so disturbed that Eli, the priest, who was seated near the doorpost of the house of worship, thought she was inebriated. After she had explained her anxiety to him his response was, “Go in peace, ad the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him” (I Sam. 1:17).

In “due time” Hannah did conceive and bore a son and called his name Samuel. After he was weaned, Hannah took him, along with what was needed to present a special offering to the Lord. After arrival in Jerusalem, and the offering had been made, they brought the child to Eli. And Hannah explained to him“And she said, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” (I Sam. 1:26-28) And Samuel remained with Eli and his parents returned to their home.

When Samuel first learned that God was speaking to him, he received a message he was to deliver to Eli. He was fearful to transmit this message because it was not good news for Eli. Later in the next day Eli convinced Samuel to convey God’s message to him. The message was that God had rejected the house of Eli. His sons had been extremely wicked and Eli had been remiss in restraining them. (Read II Sam. 2:12-17) This was actually the second warning to Eli. A “man of God” had appeared to him earlier with the same message. (I Sam. 2:27-36) It was not long after that that Israel was in a battle with the Philistines and the two sons of Eli were there with the ark. They were both killed in that battle. When Eli was told that his sons had been killed and the ark had been taken by the Philistines he fell backwards off his chair and died.

Eli’s daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was about to give birth. And after her son was born she died. But before she died “she named the child Ichabod, saying, ‘The glory has departed from Israel.’” (I Sam. 4:21)

But all was not lost. “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.” I Sam. 3:19,29) The length of Samuel’s leadership is not recorded but he served Israel for some time after he anointed David as king.

I find it interesting that God seemed to use barren wombs to get the attention of His people, as in the lives of Sarah and Abraham, And extraordinary joy accompanied the birth of a son. And what a beautiful picture of what we experience as we are “reborn” and enter into the family of God by reason of Christ’s death as punishment for our sins.

There is an additional lesson to be learned from the neglect of both Eli and Samuel in the discipline of their sons. (I Sam. 2:12, 8:5). Many of us fathers would have to plead guilty in neglecting the evangelizing of our children. Too many of us may have thought by some spiritual “osmosis” our children would share our faith. We parents must evangelize our children! Fathers, that is your responsibility!

REPRIEVE (September 15, 2018)


In our last episode we reviewed the life of Israel during the period of the Judges. While God was always merciful and over and over forgave their straying and provided leaders to guide them, the story was not always that edifying. That period was marked by “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Ju. 21:25) which is not how God wants us to live.

At this point, how fitting that God would insert a beautiful love story to grant us renewed encouragement. The story began in Bethlehem during a famine which was probably while Israel was without faith. Elimelech decided the take his wife, Naomi, and his two sons and move into the land of the Moabites where there was food.

After ten years in Moab Elimelech and both sons had died and Naomi decided to resettle in Bethlehem. She urged her sons’ wives to remain in Moab, but one, Ruth, was determined to spend the rest of her life with her mother-in-law, whom she must have loved dearly.

When Naomi arrived in Bethlehem with a Moabite maiden in tow she must have created quite a stir. She reintroduced herself to her former friends not as Naomi (pleasantness) but as Mara (bitter). She complained about God’s treatment of her, unaware of the undeserved favor she was soon to enjoy. Is this getting close to home? Very human!

Their first order of business was to find a means of support. Ruth offered to go out to the grain fields and pick up grain the reapers had missed. You may recall that according to the Law, land owners were required to leave some grain in the field, especially at the edges, so those in need could gather something. So Ruth took advantage of this law and was able to support herself and Naomi.

“And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who belonged to the clan of Elimelech.” The word “happened” probably isn’t the right word. She found special favor with Boaz who made her gleaning fruitful.

There was another part of the Law that made provision for a man who died before he could produce children. His brother, or nearest relative, would marry the widow and the first son would continue the line of his deceased father. This person was referred to as a “redeemer”. Boaz was obviously attracted to this maiden and decided to become her redeemer. There was a nearer relative that Boaz contacted who chose not to be the redeemer. So Ruth became Boaz’ wife and soon Naomi had the joy of holding the great grandson of King David in her arms.

What an incredibly wonderful story. Makes up for enduring the not-so-wonderful stories of the times of the judges. And even more  wonderful, it introduces us to the ultimate REDEEMER who has become our redeemer. We, like Ruth, had nothing in our lives that would commend us to God’s favor. But like Ruth, on the basis of grace alone, as she was accepted into the royal line, so we are transferred from the family of Adam and into the royal line of which Christ is the king.

THE JUDGES (September 9, 2018)


Episodes are getting too numerous, time to change the name and we are now in the time of the judges. After Gideon, Israel was overrun by the Ammonites because of her sin. The judge who was to be their next savior seems to have come up out of nowhere. Jephthah Was the son of Gilead and a prostitute. He was therefore rejected by his brothers. But the elders seemed to see some special ability in him and invited him to lead the army against the Ammonites and he reluctantly became the leader. “And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, ‘if you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the door of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.’” (Jud. 11:30,31).

Why he would make such a foolish vow and it was recorded with no negative comment is difficult for me to understand. It is quite obvious that only humans would emerge from his house and human sacrifice was condemned in Israel. When he returned from his victorious battle, and was greeted by his only daughter, he recognized his foolishness. Why he did not acknowledge his foolishness and offer appropriate repentance I don’t understand. The only purpose I can imagine is the total submission of his daughter to what she had no control over. She became an honored example to her contemporaries. During those days when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jud. 21:25) there were perhaps also many disobedient children.

The final judge, Samson, was also a very interesting individual. Having read the account of his life in the book of Judges, I was not a little surprised to see his name in Hebrews 11 along with Gideon, David, Samuel, the prophets “who through faith conquered kingdoms” (Heb. 11:32) and were “commended through their faith” (Heb. 11:39). In Judges he is presented as one who was totally involved in satisfied his own desires. Read Judges 13 thru 16. Even in death his activity at least partially was, so “that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” (Ju. 16:28). God must have seen faith somewhere in Samson’s soul. He had allowed his hair to grow again which must have reminded him of his Nazarite beginning. Perhaps as his hair grew, his faith in God also grew. And in his final act of life he killed more of the enemy that in all the years of his prior life.

There are several important truths to be found in this rather exciting account of Samson’s life. To start with it reveals the amazing grace and mercy of our God. Israel had abandoned God over and over and He continued to provide a means of forgiveness. And in mercy he had overlooked the many failures in Samson’s life and given him another opportunity. And, perhaps influenced by my age, I am impressed that in the last moments of his life, Samson was afforded a special opportunity to serve God. May God afford me that special delight.

Even while “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” (Ju. 21:25) God had not abandoned them. And God’s endless mercy continues to be available to all who will avail themselves of His GRACE.

EPISODE THIRTY (September 3, 2018)

 
Before Joshua died he gathered all Israel together at Shechem. He reviewed the history of Israel and how they had enjoyed the blessings of God’s direction through the centuries. And he exhorted them to continued faithfulness to God to continue to enjoy His leadership and protection. Their response was “the Lord our God we will serve and his voice we will obey” (Jos. 24:24). However, this declaration was “short lived” and life after Joshua, the period of the judges, was known as “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jos. 17:6, 21:25). This characterizes our current secular culture and its influence is much to visible among those who claim to be part of the Church.
 
This era of the judges began with Othniel and seemed to end with Samson more than 3 centuries later. Samson was followed by Samuel but Samuel seem to fulfill the office of priest more than as a judge. Perhaps he took the place of Eli’s sons who were rejected by God because of their wickedness. Samuel presided over Israel until God used him to introduce the Monarchy.
 
Israel’s pattern of life during the period of the judges was, 1) Israel sinned, 2) they were judged by God (Usually in the form of servitude by stronger neighbors), 3) they repented, 4) God was merciful and provided a leader who lead then to victory over their enemies.  The great value of the record of this era was learning the extent of God’s mercy and getting to know the men God used in this crucial time in the history of Israel.
 
From the chronology given in the book of judges this period lasted about 350 years. About 59 of those years they were totally under the control of their enemies. So for about 280 of those years they enjoyed at least some measure of freedom. The first judge was Othniel, a nephew of Caleb. He must have been a godly man because “The Spirit of the Lord was upon him” (Ju. 3:10). Under his leadership “the land had rest forty years.” (Ju. 3:11)
 
The next judge was a lefty, Ehud, who rescued Israel from the Moabites. The Moabite leader was Eglon who was grossly obese. Ehud killed him by plunging a dagger into his stomach which then disappeared in Eglon’s fat. Ehud then mustered the men of Israel and went to battle against Moab. “So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.” (Ju. 3:30). I wish we had some information about life during those eighty years. Perhaps that was the longest rest period in the following life of Israel.
 
The next judge, Shamgar, was no light weight having killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad. His length of leadership is not recorded. After him Israel’s disobedience brought twenty years of cruel oppression by the Canaanites. “Now Deborah  .   .   .   . was judging Israel at that time,.” (Ju. 4:4) She summoned Barak and directed him to gather an army to fight Sisera, the general of the oppressors, assuring him that God would “give him into your hand.” (Ju. 4:7). Barak demanded Deborah accompany him into battle yielding the victory to her. Sisera fled from the battle seeing shelter in the tent of the wife of a former associate. She offered him refreshment and shelter, but while he was sleeping she hammered a tent peg into his temple. After Deborah and Barak “the land had rest for forty years.” (Ju. 5:31).
 
There were fourteen judges who ruled Israel during this period. About some of them we know very little because little more than their names were listed. Of some of them we have a good bit of information. One of these is the judge who followed Deborah and Barak; Gideon. I assume we have a lot of information about him because his life has a lot to teach us.
 
Not long after Joshua died Israel sinned and as a result they came under the yoke of the Midianites. They attempted to function in hiding. Gideon was threshing grain while hiding his activity. An angel appeared to him one day and stated “The Lord is with you O man of valor” (Ju. 6:12). It must have struck Gideon as strange, in view of his activity. But it obviously got his attention. When he was given the task of leading an attack against the Midianites he, like Moses before him, made numerous excuses. But after the angel authenticated his identity by setting fire to the meal prepared for him he reluctantly agreed. In preparing for the battle Gideon began with an army of 22,000,. When God finished in paring them down there were only 300 left. And none were  equipped with weapons of war. Each one had a trumpet in one hand and a torch enclosed in a jar in the other. Not only was Israel vastly outnumbered but Midian had all the weapons of war at their disposal, Israel had none? But Israel won!
 
There are many lessons to be learned from this story of Gideon. Referring to Gideon as a man of valor had two purposes. Coming as It did while Gideon was hiding from the Midianites, called attention to his weakness. He considered himself as anything but a man of valor. But perhaps it also stirred up the possibility that under God he could do something great. Which actually occurred. It should also occur to us that in our weakness, there is that possibility that God will use us to accomplish some special purpose. God has used many cowards to fulfill his will.
 
And God made it very clear that He brought about the victory that Gideon and his army enjoyed. The only thing they contributed to the battle was obedience. God made certain that there was no possibility they could get any credit for this great victory
 
And perhaps the greatest thing we can learn is that every battle we engage in, God’s glory is at stake. That seems to mean that every battle is God’s battle. The outcome of every battle affects us only in how our response produces glory for God. Therefore God is intimately involved in every conflict we are engaged in. How we are affected is of minor significance. I realize how difficult it is to accept since I have battled with health problems that have affected so many parts of my life in the past weeks.
 
Let us all strengthen our efforts to “Glorify God and enjoy Him forever!”  

EPISODE TWENTY NINE (August 21,2018)


The tardiness of this last (perhaps literally) episode is not because of technical glitches but of physical ones. I’m afraid old age has finally caught up with me.

The conquest of Canaan Probably kept Israel fighting for more than two decades. Near the start of the conquest Caleb gave his age as eighty-five (Jos. 14:19). I assume Joshua, who had served as a spy with Caleb, was the same age. At the end of the battle Joshua listed his age as 110. Thus the estimated length of the campaign would have been at least twenty years.

The lists of the many battles in the book of Joshua would have been of special interest to those involved and especially their progeny. I confess to having had not a lot of interest. But I was more interested in the life of the leader and the example he sets for us.

We first learn of Joshua in Numbers 13. In preparation for battle, Moses sent out 12 spies whose object was to assess the value of the land and the strength of the inhabitants. After 40 days the majority opinion was although the land is of great value, our forces are not strong enough to grant us victory. Only two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, affirmed “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it. (Num. 13:30 – see also Jos. 14:6-8). As a result of their disobedience no Israelite over the age of 40 would enter the promised land Except, of course, Joshua and Caleb, (Num. 14:38).

W meet Joshua again in Numbers 27. So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him, Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight.” (Num.27:18,19.) So Joshua evidently became Moses “right hand man” which obviously contributed to his preparation to assume leadership after Moses’ death.

Perhaps the description of the nation of Israel toward the end of the conquest of Canaan gives us the best picture of the character of  Joshua. “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did or Israel” (Joshua 24:31).

What did Israel learn from following Joshua and what can we learn from the life of this powerful leader? He was a man of the book. He not only read all of the book to all of Israel but he patterned his entire life after the Scripture. He obeyed the law in every detail. Perhaps we ought to reexamine some of the details of the believers walk as seen in the apostles epistles. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12). Have we felt the sword of the Spirit perhaps attempting to remove some of the indifference in our lives?

And have we considered the perseverance that characterized his life? At 110 yoa he was as faithful as when his leadership of Israel began when he was 85. Scripture has a lot to say about perseverance. But unless we have that burning desire to persevere, words would be of little consequence. Let me just quote Jesus’ words to His disciples. We would do well to read them carefully and then respond to them. Jesus had warned the disciples of the persecution they would face and He said “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Mat. 10:22, Mk. 13:13).

After Joshua Israel would face more difficulties and they should have paid more attention to the life and leadership of Joshua.  And be certain that we also face persecution. Our culture becomes increasingly pagan and Christianity which once only faced indifference has become more and more the target of our culture.

 

 

EPISODE TWENTY EIGHT (August 6, 2018)


I think we can sum up the entire span of the human story with four words; Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. We began our STORY with the creation. God provided an environment for humans to inhabit and enjoy. Adam and Eve were placed in this environment with only one simple command. They disobeyed this one command which introduced the FALL. An animal was slain and blood was shed effecting the redemption of our first parents and looking forward to the redemption of all who believe in the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus. The descent of the New Jerusalem will usher in the Restoration. A new and improved Eden!

We enjoy life in God’s initial creation. The FALL is repeated in every one of Adam’s offspring. Redemption is the possession of every one of Adam’s offspring who place their faith in Jesus. Restoration will come at some unknowable point in the future.

Somewhere in this span of multiple Millenia each person takes up some space. The history of God’s special dealing with the children of Abraham takes up some centuries of time, from the call of Abraham until the captivity. They will, in time to come, take up additional space. And each one of us will occupy a space in this time span. Some occupy more time than others, but in relation to eternity our time here is very brief and as Paul instructed the Ephesians, we need to be “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:16)

Joshua had obviously been making the best use of his time. Several times God had encouraged him to be “strong and courageous” (Josh. 1:6,7,9). And at the start of his conquest of Canaan, God had explained their relationship. In one of his early battles was this statement made. “And the Lord gave it (Libnah, the enemy) into the hand of Israel. And he (Joshua) struck it with the edge of the sword,” (Josh. 10:30). This would be their working (fighting?) relationship.

This working relationship between God and man was understood by George Mueller. Mr. Mueller had started countless orphanages and had cared for probably thousands of orphans in 19th century England. He stated, probably in different words, “We pray as thought everything is dependent on God, and we work as though everything depends on us.”  He made his needs known only to God.

This was the modus operandi of the apostles. They gave themselves to unceasing prayer and then worked tirelessly to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. We are possibly deficient in both sides of this equation  and we would do well to follow their example more closely.

As God fought for Israel, and Joshua and the men of Israel were faithful in all their responsibilities they were successful in taking possession of the territory to the south of Gilgal.

When the kings to the north of Gilgal became aware of Israel’s victories in the south, they banded together and the battle for northern Canaan was engaged. God again fought with Joshua and the battle again produced countless more victories for Joshua and his army. God’s promise to Abraham was being fulfilled.

The tribe of Levi did not receive territory like the other tribes but were given cities and pasture land within the borders of the other tribes. Some of the cities were designated as cities of refuge. A person who had caused w death involuntarily could flee to one of these cities and after a hearing by the local elders which established his innocence he would be protected from vengeance by the family of the person slain.

Joshua was probably about 40 yoa when he and his fellow spies searched out Canaan in preparation for its conquest. Because of the disobedience of Israel they spent another 40 years wandering in the desert. So Joshua would have been just over80 yoa when he became Moses’ successor. When Israel possessed the land he was 110 yoa. For 30 years Israel had been at war.

The people, like those in the time of Nehemiah evidently “had a mind to work” (Neh. 4:6). Work is an honorable occupation and we have the ultimate example. “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (Jn. 5:17)

It is possible to overwork but most of us have the opposite problem. Now that we seem to be approaching the reaching of the ends of the earth, would be no time to slow down. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast. Immovable, always abounding in he work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (I Cor. 15:58)