Good, Highlighted by Evil.

“You have been singing about my goodness. Do you really understand goodness as it refers to Me? Every part of the motivation for Me to act is driven by My goodness – it is impossible for Me to do evil. It is impossible for Me even to think evil thoughts. Every thought and every act that flows from that is focused on good. How does that affect you? It means you can have every sense of security in My love, in My relationship with you. The difficulties and the evil that may impinge on you do not arise out of My goodness – though I may and do allow some of that it is so that it will highlight my goodness in contrast. So today appreciate My goodness, enjoy it and know that in everything I am for you and if I am for you who can be against you?”

The second part of 1 Samuel ch 2, comes at a great shock. In ch 1 and the first part of ch 2 we are introduced to this lovely, sweet devout woman, begging and believing God for an offspring. She follows the answer to her prayer with a beautiful psalm. and then we we follow her as she fulfils her vow to place Samuel in God’s service.

Then we are confronted by the two evil sons of Eli. It seems that this story serves two purposes. Firstly it links us with and reminds us of what the state that Israel was in at that time Cf Judges 21:25: “In those days Israel had no king, everyone did as he saw fit”. Secondly by using a huge contrast the writer brings the devotion of Hannah and Samuel to the fore.

Look at what is said about the two, Hophni and Phinehas. 2:12 “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord”. 2:17, “They were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt”. (and of course they were thereby treating the Lord with contempt.) 2:25 “His sons , however, did not listen to their fathers rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death”.

Notice in the next paragraph that Eli is complicit in his son’s evil ways: “Why do you honour your sons more than me?” The Lord reveals His anger and sadness at how the priesthood had sank since it was instituted and He pronounces a curse of lives cut short on the priestly house.

So here at the beginning of this book we see that God plans a new beginning against the background of this wickedness. 2:35 “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do what is in My mind……He will minister before my anointed one always”. At first thought one thinks He is speaking of Samuel. And so He probably is. However the faint picture looms on the horizon of a priest who also would be a king. As I read this I was taken back to 2:25 b “If a man sins against the Lord who will intercede for him?”

So here in this book we see how God is steering history onto His path again. The evil is going to be dealt with. However there is still a lot of water that must flow into the sea,

I was struck in this piece again at the major influence parents have on their children. On the one hand we have Hannah who through her devoting was able to guide Samuel in the direction God wanted him to go. One is reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and I am persuaded now lives in you also” 2 Tim 1:5.

On the other hand we have Eli who clearly was not able to influence and discipline his two sons. In the process they were taking him down as well.

This passage reminded me again of how important it is to remain faithful to God’s calling. The difference between Hannah and Eli clearly seems to have been their own personal devotion to our Lord. We cannot be reminded of this too often. God bless for the next week.

Hannah’s Song.

“Being known and loved by Him.”

“The deepest form of intimacy is to be known and loved by somebody. That is what I am doing with you – it is not about knowing about Me it is getting to know Me personally on a daily basis. Equally I know everything about you because I created you to be like you are – but I created you with a purpose – That you should seek Me and in that moment I will be found of you. I will open up to you in a way you could never have experienced if I did not invite you into my daily presence. So Ian, let us continue to build this intimacy as I make myself known to you and you have the opportunity to respond by faith. Believing trusting and loving Me. It goes against your nature so you need daily to use the bridge Jesus built on the cross. So come, let us walk together into the day to face whatever meets us.

We come now to Hannah’s song in ch 2 of 1 Samuel. As we read it we can see echoes of Mary’s song in Luke 1. Both act as a sort of prologue to what God is going to be doing in the future. Both authors are barren when they were touched by God. Their offspring were therefore a supernatural product who would be important as history unfolded.

Hannah reminds us that this part of history which is going to be unfolding is all about God. It is His story even though we said last time that there are three main figures which appear in this book. Can you remember who they are? There is Samuel the last judge, but also a prophet of the Lord Almighty. Then there is Saul the people’s choice of a king which would the Israelites believed made them to be like the people around them, with an imposing king to rule them. Then there is God’s choice of a king. David who would be the youngest, not imposing in stature, someone whom God could use to demonstrate that it was still He that was ruling.

So Hannah starts by praising God, by mentioning His power and His victory and deliverance over her enemies. I take it her enemies were the enemies of the people as well, although there is the other wife who was mistreating her. She places God on a rock pedistal, to remind of His steadfastness and remembers His Holiness. His complete otherness.

Even as she speaks she is reminded of her finiteness and filled with care that her words should be few and there be no arrogance. She understands that God knows everything about us intimately and weighs all actions. This is a true picture of humility and we are reminded of the importance of this trait. Remember 1 Peter 5:6; “Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

The next vv stand as a prediction of one of the main themes of this book. God is interested in those who recognize their need. Those who feel they have everything and don’t perceive any need actually continue to seek more. They never have enough. This is a hugely important fact in our interaction with the Lord. So much of our growth as Christians is aimed at us realizing our need. Remember Paul in 2 Corinthians: When I am weak then I am strong”. So we hear Hannah “It is not by strength that one prevails”. The whole focus is on God and His omnipotence and control of the destiny of the world.

Finally there is a surprising turn. When we read it we don’t see the the massive implications which arise from the statement in the last vs., because we are not in the context of that period. Remember up to that time there had been no King, because God was Israel’s king. Now Hannah sees a king in the future and even further down the line the king is not just a king but the anointed king. Remember that the word Christ means “Anointed one”. Yes all the kings of Israel were “anointed” when they were formally appointed. But the very fact that she mentions the anointing shows a far deeper prediction.

There is more in this song so why don’t you go through it prayerfully, asking the Lord to apply it to your heart.

This then acts as a sort of prologue for the book, as I have said and we will now proceed to unravel the actual happenings of that important transitional period.

There was much food for thought for me as I went through this passage. Important was a reminder again of how God seeks to keep us weak and dependent on Him. Of course there is also a vivid reminder of the attributes of God, His omnipotence, holiness, victory over His enemies, His provision etc. In the background one can’t help mentioning the repeated reference to enemies. This life is an acute reminder that we are part of a cosmic battle. Thank the Lord Jesus won the victory on the cross. However we are still part of what remains.

May the Lord bless you this coming week.

The Plan Unfolds.

“ Amazing Grace, my chains fell off”; “My Shepherd and my king yet my friend”; “the Lord is by my side – when I look back I will see my lord who died for me, the Lord is by my side”. Encouraging and challenging words in these beautiful songs, a wonderful reminder that my time here in the early morning is taken up expressing my relationship with the living God – what a privilege!

“It is good that you see all these relationship concepts in the light of the first one. My Grace is amazing and should continue to amaze you every day. You should never get tired of being overawed that I, the king of the universe have reached out to you and billions like you of finite expressions of My creation. Yet to Me each one of you is totally precious in your own unique way and my joy is filled when you respond and enjoy Me, wandering between awe and the sense of calm assurance of My love for you. True joy is only experienced as you take that in and make it part of your moment by moment default thinking.”

1Samuel; There was an opinion column in Die Burger this week, written by a well-known Christian philosopher and theologian, one of the lecturers at the seminary in Stellenbosch. The theme of his message was that, looking back in history there have been a number of what could be described as amazing coincidences. He mentions several on which history pivoted from time to time. His suggestion, not expressed too boldly was that there was a Higher Hand” guiding these moments. However at the end of his column he makes a very strong statement that he refuses to believe we are all marionettes being driven to behave in a certain way.

This view of the enigma of God’s guidance, which many people struggle with shows a huge underestimation of God’s ability to create people for a purpose, to give them a “free will” to make decisions and act as they would like and yet to use all the different building blocks of society and history to accomplish His precise purposes. Even those, acting under their own free will and behaving contrary to the greater plan, are fully used by God to continue accomplishing His purpose. It is way beyond our normal ability to grasp and understand how He uses umpteen factors and people to fulfil His amazing, unfolding plan. Yet we can observe it and be hugely encouraged as we see how all the people and events unfold and interact to achieve exactly what He wants.

This is no more apparent than in this book of 1 Samuel. Up to now the Israelites have been led by leaders who acted under the guidance of God. Moses, Joshua etc. His bigger plan was for there to be a king, who would foreshadow the future Messiah. Yet the people wanted a king, not of His choosing, but like the other nations around them. This results in a whole chapter of God’s story deviating via Saul who God then gives them, before David, God’s truly chosen king comes on the scene. Many times it would appear that God’s plan had failed, yet there was never any doubt of the ultimate outcome. This should not puzzle us or lead us to doubt, but rather fill us with awe as we realize how much greater God’s wisdom and power is than we could ever imagine.

As we come now to the first chapter, a few thoughts. Eli, the priest is unknown with a low profile. He had two sons who we find to be wicked disgrace later. As you read this first chapter, what story does it remind you of? Another girl who was a virgin and has a miraculous conception and writes a similar poem to the one in Ch 2? There are several instances where God uses this type of scenario to herald a supernatural turn of events. Think of Sarah and Rebekah.

Although it was allowed, it is clear that the presence of two wives was really not ideal. The emphasis of the story though is on the miraculous birth of the young boy Samuel (meaning “heard of God”.) We read in Psalm 73 of David “fulfilling his vows” and here we have an intense example of that. Hard to imagine after all the prayers and the response to that with a lovely boy, that Hannah would go through with her vow, giving this precious answer to her prayers back to God. The stage is set for the next move of God.

What has really struck me as this passage unfolds is the way that God is using these various people and events to push His plan forward. I had several messages on my birthday reaffirming the fact that God has a plan for each one of us and that He is not finished with me yet.

I also questioned myself as to how I interact with God in my prayers. How serious am I? What can I learn from Hannah’s prayer and her later response to God’s answer?

Next week we will unpack some of Hannah’s song. One commentator has suggested that it is ta table of contents for 1 and 2 Samuel. In the mean time, God bless you all.

A King for Israel.

After a restless night with many thoughts chasing each other through my head, I wake up to analyzing symptoms, trying to make plans etc – then a little later, as I sit down at my desk I start singing, “my Redeemer lives!” and the whole day starts taking on a new colour.

“ Yes I do indeed live – not in a far away abstract way – but in a very intimate, personal way. I live to complete the work I have been doing from the beginning. But remember by calling Me your Redeemer you are acknowledging that I have bought you with My blood – you belong to Me and as My treasured possession these things you fret about should be brought to My feet so that I can take up the battle on your behalf. ‘Not by might nor by power – but by my Spirit says the Lord’. So focus your mind and thoughts away from yourself and fill your mind and heart with Me instead.”

Last week I said I was going to start reading through 1 Samuel. Before we plunge into the detail of the book, let us stand back and just get everything in perspective. This book comes after the book of Judges and Ruth. Israel had entered the Promised land, described in Joshua. Unfortunately he had not completely removed all the pagan tribes, as God had intended. There followed a period, reported in Judges where there was no over-all ruler and various figures, often only local, were active as ‘judges’. The book ends with a sad statement which prepares us for Samuel: Judges 21:5. “In those days Israel had no king, everyone did as he saw fit”. The book of Ruth is strategically placed next and ends with a genealogy which in turn ends with the words: “Obed the father of Jesse and Jesse the father of David”.

This prepares us for the next great step in God’s plan. The coming and anointing of David, the king after God’s own heart who would prefigure Jesus. But the transition and appearance of David is accomplished only through a series of very human struggles. The two other figures which feature prominently are Samuel, the prophet, priest and last judge. and Saul, the one that the people choose initially as their king. The book ends with Saul’s death, setting up the story of David in 2 Samuel.

This process of moving from Judges and prophets leading Israel to a king must be seen against the background that God had intended there to be a king, but one of His choosing (Deut 17:14,15). The people however wanted a king, “like all the other peoples around“. So God gave them Saul who caused a lot of pain. Like Romans 1 where Paul writes that God gives people over to their sin as a way of judgement if the persist in it.

The great theme in the background of this book is the same as through the whole bible. God uses the small, weak, unlikely, to accomplish His purposes. This is to show that it is He who is doing it, not the the strength and wisdom of the people. There are places in this book where the Lord acts on His own without even using anyone, like when the ark is stolen and put in Dagon’s temple.

Remember also as you start reading this magnificent book that the whole OT prefigures and points forward to Jesus, As we progress we can continue to learn how to listen to His voice and apply this Old Testament text to ourselves correctly. Hold the text lightly, like you would a bird and let God lead you to understand what His message is for you.

In pondering the overall picture of the book there were several thoughts that came to my mind that are powerful lessons for us.

Firstly we are reminded of the magnificent plan of God. He is going to see His plan accomplished. However because of the disobedience of many folk the plan often seems to be derailing. However God always brings it back on line to accomplish His purposes. This is a powerful lesson for each one of us. As much as God has a greater plan, He also has a plan for each one of us eg Ephesians 1:11. That plan can be taken in various directions due to circumstances and sin but ultimately He will achieve what He intended.

Secondly there is this theme of God using the small and insignificant to accomplish His purposes. It is not the tall handsome apparently powerful Saul which is the hero, but small, youngest sibling, not particularly attractive David that is ultimately the forerunner of Jesus. We need to learn this lesson. I need to learn this lesson. It is God through His Spirit that accomplishes. What a relief!

There are other lessons, but let us stop here. They will come out as we proceed. So, unless I say otherwise, let us take a chapter a week. Read it and consider it carefully within its context and allow Jesus to speak to you from it. God bless.

Be at Rest My Soul.

In my feeble frame I remember who you are – Jesus Name above all names.

“ It is good to pause and let Me remind you of who I am. I have so many facets to My personality and My character. But one thing stands out, My Name is above all names: blessed Redeemer, glorious Lord, bright morning Star, Lamb of God, your friend and yet your King. In all these names is wrapped up one overwhelming fact – My grace and My love towards you and My whole creation. That is the attribute which holds sway in every relationship I have. Yes many are under My judgement but My grace and love are there always waiting for them to turn to Me and seek Me. May you and your readers each experience intimately My grace and love – so that it may continually transform them.“

As I read Psalm 116 a while ago, the opening verse grabbed my attention, that is why I decided to revisit it. It is not that I didn’t believe God hears my cry for mercy at all times. But that fact sometimes becomes dimmed when we experience a season in which God does not seem to be hearing our cries. When He allows us to go through tests and trials. So such a clear reminder is a great boost to my faith. As I re-read the psalm I recognized a key verse which stands out showing the effect of knowing that God hears us. I wonder if you can see which verse that is.

The author of the psalm has clearly been going through some severe trials. Even facing death. He was almost overcome by trouble and sorrow v 2. It brought him to his knees and all he could do was to “call on the Name of the Lord”. v 4 It is interesting that in many places in the bible we find this description of our interaction with God. It is a a cry which we are told is all that is necessary for our salvation. It is a heartfelt cry which places our full trust in a God who hears and responds. Even in our darkest moments when we have no other words we can “call on the name of the Lord.

In this case we are told the author did this because he remembered that: “the Lord is gracious and righteous; full of compassion. ….protecting the simplehearted when they are in need of salvation. vv 5,6.

Then comes the key verse which I mentioned earlier. Because of what he has written up to now. Calling on a Lord whom he believes hears and saves – his soul is at rest (v 7). His soul is at rest because he is reminded that the Lord has always been good to him. And the one fact that brings him to this state of rest is mentioned in v 10 “I believed”.

Now there is a continuing conundrum. He called on the Lord when he was faced with a situation which affected his very life and God rescued him. Now what about all the times when saints call on the name of the Lord and they are not rescued? Well there is a sense in which every one of us is going to reach a point like that. God may and does choose to intervene in the troubles and struggles we have in life. Yet at the end there is a beautiful statement which the psalmist mentions in v 15: “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints”. It is the most precious moment in every saint’s life, the moment when we leave this world and come into the presence of our Lord and Saviour.

The psalm ends, as do many of the psalms with a resounding praise to the Lord. One thing grabbed my attention there too though. In vv 14 and again in v 18, he repeats the same promise: “I will fulfill all my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people”. I wondered at this statement for a while. Then it occurred to me how often Christians, maybe you or I have promised God something if He would only answer your desperate pleas. It is perhaps easy to forget these promises when the relief comes with the answered prayer. Here the psalmist is affirming that whatever promises he made in the time of his distress, he would undertake to fulfil them publicly before the whole congregation. One has to be careful here that we do not find ourselves bargaining with God.

The psalm ends with a resounding “Praise the Lord”. Let that be our ongoing attitude during this coming week.

Next week I have decided to start reading 1 Samuel. I feel it is about time to go back into the historical narrative of God’s Word and see how He speaks to us from there. May God bless you as you join me there.