Jonathan’s Faith.

The word I have from God is, “Be still and know that I am God”.

”In a world in tumult, when the general tempo is rush and restlessness, where everyone seeks instant answers, it is time to take stock, to be still and ask yourself ‘who are you trusting in? Are you looking to the world to give you the answers to your questions? Are you in disarray when everything does not work out exactly as you planned it?’ When you find yourself waiting and unable to change things, waiting on answers, waiting for things to happen, then it is time to be still and with My help, clean the slate of your mind and focus on me and my total Providence over the world, Over all around you and especially on you and your loved ones. Allow My word to suffuse into your mind and heart and become the great resting place for your mind and soul. You have trusted me to here and I have never failed you, so once again place your full trust in Me.“

As we ended Ch 13 in 1 Samuel, Israel was in disarray. No-one, except Saul and Jonathan had weapons. The Philistines were on their doorstep and aggressive. ‘What was going to happen to them?’ Is the question hanging in the air. At the beginning of ch 14 a little story unfolds, a story as astounding as David’s confrontation of Goliath, but not known as well as his.

Between the Israelites and the Philistines was a pass and in this pass were two precipitous cliffs called Bozez and Seneh. (14:4) Geography will tell that they were very steep and difficult to climb. Above the cliffs on the mountain was a Philistine outpost. The story does not exactly reveal Jonathan’s plan to us, except that, as he stood beneath the cliff he indicated that he was trusting the Lord to save.

“Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or few,” (14:6c) is his thinking and revealed to us in what he says to his armour-bearer and companion. Feeling guided by the Lord they scale the cliff. Arriving at the top they must have found the Philistine outpost relaxed in the false security of their position, without their arms at hand. In no time Jonathan and his armour-bearer kill 20 men.

This action sends a panic wave over the Philistine army and they are routed. Note 14:15c “It was a panic from God”. Let us stop there and consider. This act was any time as impossible as David’s facing Goliath, which we will read about later. So although the way it is written does not tell us this exactly, it is an example of someone trusting completely on God’s ability to act and save. And acting upon that God honours that. It is also an act not focused on Jonathan himself, but on doing something in an impossible situation to save a whole nation.

What follows is a comparison between the trust of Jonathan and his bravery and the bungling of King Saul as he tries to capitalize on the panic of the Philistines. He calls for the ark then tells the priest to back off (withdraw his hand), as he probably changes his mind. The ark here was simply a superstitious desire to get God to act further.

However 14:23 makes it clear that it is “the Lord that rescued Israel that day“.

It then appears that Saul, in a further superstitious religious act decides to call the whole army to fast as the battle continues. The consequences of this foolish superstitious act are dire and Jonathan the actual hero is almost put to death. The rest of the chapter is a summary of Saul’s family and rule and could have been given elsewhere.

The main message of the chapter is that God put the Israelites into an impossible position in a battle situation, to cause them to turn and call on Him for help. Jonathan shows his trust in the Lord and the Lord rescues Israel. Saul is clearly outside the line making one mistake after the other. Surely not trusting God in a personal way.

This chapter was a stark reminder to me of the two realities of our Christian walk. In His process of building our faith God regularly allows us to be in a situation where we are actually powerless to bring a result. This causes us to turn to Him in trust and dependence. Often keeping us waiting for the answer which deepens our awareness of our helplessness and dependence on Him. Ultimately when He does respond it is often not even in the way we expect, but is a great encouragement to our trust in Him and is one of the usual ways God builds our trust in Him. In reading a passage like this we are reminded of His dependability over all the years as well as in our own lives.

May the Lord bless you and give you peace when you are facing trials, especially now as we approach Christmas.

Saul’s Heart Revealed.

All the angels cry holy, all creation cries holy!

”Do you really understand and embrace my Holiness? There are many twisted views of My Holiness out there – giving it almost a negative slant in many people’s eyes. Yet it is an integral part of who I am – My very being, My everything is holy – from the beginning of time, forever more. It describes My total otherness in size and power, in the total influence and control I hold over the universe apart from my total purity. Yet within that a deep heart of mercy for those of My creation, mercy and love so deep that I endured the cross to open the way for every person to participate in my Holiness. If you have chosen to follow Me you will be enveloped by My Holiness – it will protect you and change you to become more and more holy like Me – and remember the word, “without holiness it is impossible to see the Lord”. So Go out and worship Me in My holiness and enjoy it as it envelops you.”

Now to 1 Samuel 13. The story of King Saul and his reign as he becomes the central figure in the story. When I say central figure the real central figure is, of course Yahweh Himself. Saul will reign for 42 years. War is in the air. There seems to be a constant conflict between Israel and its neighbours (sounds familiar), especially the Philistines at that time.

The focus of the chapter however is 7b to 11. Can you see what this is and why Saul failed totally as a true king? The key lies in the words in vs 14 “the Lord has sought a man after His own heart”. The situation is dire, surrounded and outnumbered by the enemy Saul waits anxiously for Samuel to come and offer sacrifices to God, which Saul felt would give them the victory.

However God tests him as Samuel does not arrive at the exact time he promised so Saul takes things into his own hands and offers a fellowship sacrifice to the Lord.

To us it may sound as a minor slip or sin, but the words of Samuel, as he opens with “What have you done?” warn us that something serious has happened here. can you see why this act is so serious and carried the serious consequences it did?

Well the words of Samuel where he says “the Lord sought a man after His own heart“, in vs 14, reveal the problem. The problem lay in Saul’s heart, His actions, usurping the role of a prophet and priest revealed that his heart was not devoted to God. He saw this act as a sort of almost superstitious significance, to get God to act. He was not seeking God’s fellowship or God’s heart, he was carrying out a ritual which he saw as carrying significance in itself.

It is almost like someone taking communion while his life is in disarray and there is no heart connection with our Lord. It becomes a meaningless act which is actually so abhorrent to God that He says some have even died because of this.

The words in vs 14 ring out through the ages and the one who is described like that is none other than the future king, king David. Paul describes king David in Acts 13:22b “God made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David, son of Jesses a man after my own heart, he will do everything I want him to do’. You see David was devoted to God. His heart connected with Him. So when he committed sins, some grievous, his lament was ‘Against you and you only have I sinned’.

Ultimately the Real One who would delight the Lord was Jesus Himself of whom God said: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”, as the Spirit descended on Him at His baptism. He is the ultimate King from David’s line

The question I have to ask myself, “Where does my heart lie? Would God call me a man after His own heart because I would anything He asks?”

The contrast between the two kings will become more and more apparent as 1 Samuel continues.

The rest of the chapter shows Israel being completely disarmed in the face of the Philistine forces. With the chapter ending: “So, on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a spear in his hand, only Saul and and his son Jonathan had them”. Like any good tale we are left hanging for the next episode. What is going to happen to the Israelites now?

Are you a man or a woman after God’s own heart? If you are ‘In Christ” you are because when God looks at you He sees His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased.

May God bless you till next week.

Remember.

I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene and drink in the flood of love he is pouring out towards me.

”My Love is the most powerful force in the universe – manifested in My grace towards My creation. My common grace which keeps the universe running and My special grace which fills each one of my precious children giving them a sense of My presence and My power, enabling them to live remarkable lives despite the difficulties which face them and are common to all men. As you look out over My creation and see different people in different positions, some flourishing some struggling, know that they are under My common grace, but only those I have chosen and sanctified through the death of Jesus have the privilege of experiencing My love through My special grace. May that motivate every part of your life as I empower you to live the gospel life.“

Now to 1 Samuel 12. The chapter opens with Samuel’s farewell speech, in which he presents his life, a life of righteousness, as he sees it. He challenges the people to speak out if they have found any fault in him. He ends with vs 5 calling the Lord to witness that they had not found fault in him or his behaviour.

He then turns to remind the people of everything God has done for them vs 7 “I am going to confront you with evidence before the Lord as to all the righteous acts performed by the Lord for you and your fathers.

Against this background he turns on them and puts his finger on their great shortcoming vs 9 “But you forgot…” In their forgetting all that God had done for them they forgot God Himself and turned to their own wicked and selfish ways. I am afraid this is a constant human problem, this forgetting. In the warmth of receiving God’s blessings in whatever form, it is easy to remember, but when the reality of life returns it is just as easy to forget. That is why Jesus instituted the whole communion service, as a reminder to us of the centrality of His death to our faith, who forget so easily.

A symptom of their forgetting that God is their real king they are demanding a king like the tribes around them to rule over them. So Samuel gives them God’s promise of a king. with this great proviso, vs 14,15. To receive the blessing of God’s king both the people and the king have to be totally obedient to God, otherwise God’s hand will be against them. What a terrible prospect, which they don’t seem to take too seriously.

To emphasize his words God sends rain in the harvest time, a sign of His judgement and power. The people, who may not have taken Samuel’s words too seriously respond in terror at the Lord’s power when He shows it practically.

To end the chapter Samuel again reiterates the promise that God will not abandon them, but this is dependent on their continuing to fear the Lord and demonstrate this by remembering all He has done for them vs 24. The chapter ends with a final warning of what will happen if they persist in doing evil. vs 25.

Just one or two more points. The fact that God will never completely abandon them is not because of their value as such but because God will defend His own name at all costs vs 22. The focus of our lives is not on us it is on our Lord who has created us and redeemed us. He keeps us going primarily for His Name’s sake.

The second vs which really convicted me was vs 3 “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you…” Not remembering to pray is here pictured as a sin in itself. quite a challenge!

This chapter is a summary of the repeated story of the whole Old Testament which is shown repeatedly playing itself out in the same circle. God acts, the people respond, yet they soon forget and turn away making it necessary for God to act in judgment to bring them back to Himself. This powerlessness lays the whole platform for the coming of Jesus and the New Covenant where His selfless act on the cross deals with our sin and empowers us to live gospel lives. But our sinful nature is nevertheless still lying there and we still tend to forget so easily, hence God’s desire to keep us remebering.

God bless for this coming week and keep remembering all God has done for you and us and the whole world.

A Saviour King.

I feel weak and vulnerable this morning, then the words of this song come to me, “By Grace I am redeemed, by Grace I am restored”, and I am reminded of the endless supply of Gods grace towards me.

“My Grace is much misunderstood and often forgotten or underestimated, yet it is always there, always surrounding you and covering all your weakness and stumbling. it is so much more than just an attitude towards you and all My children. It is a powerful force to pick you up and change your life, change your perspective on your life and your current circumstances. My grace lifts you up into the heavenly realms to bring you really close to Me so that you can grow and move on from moments of weakness and stumbling. No matter what is happening and how you feel – My grace is always constant and complete in all its power and joy”.

Now to 1 Samuel 11. In our last reading God’s choice of Saul as king is described. He is described as having an outstanding appearance but weakness, as he is hiding away during this choosing and as he returns home there are many who reject him as their new king. In chapter 11 where is he and what is he doing? He was in his fields behind his oxen, certainly not ruling the nation.

Remember that Israel at that time was more like a bunch of loose tribes living in proximity to each other. It was going to need a work of God to unite them as a nation under one king. So how does God set about this? We are introduced to Nahash the Ammorite king. His name actually means serpent or snake. and he has a diabolical plan to humiliate the people living in Jabesh.

God then specifically uses this action to mobilize Saul to start uniting the nation with a common goal. As we read on we can see how God is involved in this event. cf v 6, when Saul hears of this threat “the Spirit of God came on him and he burned with anger”. Saul then acts out a charade which results in a nationwide reaction cf v 7 b. “the terror of the Lord fell upon them and they turned out as one man”. (Just a note from the New Bible Commentary: they suggest that the figures given here and elsewhere in the Old Testament for the number of soldiers in their battles are probably not a true representation of the real numbers. The problem comes apparently from the translation of the Hebrew. What is translated as thousands can also be translated as military units. Thus 300 military units here instead of 300 000 soldiers. This seems more likely to me) It does not affect the story though.

What has ,in effect happened is that in one move God has provoked a sense of nationhood. It would take years for this to be fully realized, but this was a start. The narrative goes on with Saul accomplishing a huge victory. The writer, quite rightly tells us who should get the glory, vs 13, “this day the Lord has rescued Israel.

There is so much to learn from this chapter. Israel who had been rescued from slavery in Egypt were brought through the desert and after 40 years they invade and take over the Promised land. But all is not well, they don’t destroy all the inhabitants and slowly their nationhood disintegrates into a number of loose tribes. They have lost touch with God, each one doing as he saw fit. The Lord has not left them as lost though. Samuel is the key figure God is going to use. The people now demand that they be given a king, so that they can be even more like the tribes around them. God still has a plan for a king, but the people need to learn some things.

Now notice the cruel threat to the people from Nahash, yet from that comes a victory which unites the people to some extent, bringing them back to God and raising the profile of Saul as king. Now friends, this bears some deep thought. God does not initiate cruel situations, but He does often allow adversity and suffering in the process of accomplishing His bigger plan and His plan for each of us, hence Romans 8:28. So when everything appears wildly out of control in your life and in the world around you, remember scenes like this from Gods word.

Notice also that the action of this new king is to accomplish a rescue which God initiates and completes. Remember we have said that the line of Israel’s OT kings were leading up to the revelation of God’s ultimate King – Jesus. Here we see the main action of the new king reflecting Jesus’ main purpose when He comes. The action of rescue or salvation. So this is once again a faint reflection looking forward to the ultimate King who we all adore and serve.

Plenty to think about in this small story of an evil (Snake) ruler being used by God to accomplish His ultimate purpose. See you all again next week.