1 Samuel 31, Ezekiel 40, Mark 6

Read 1 Samuel 31, Ezekiel 40, and Mark 6 today. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 31.

Because of his disobedience, Samuel told Saul back in 1 Samuel 15 that the Lord had “torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you” (1 Sam 15:28). That was when God decreed that David would take over but it took years to reach the day when it happened.

Here in 1 Samuel 31, we read about God’s delivery of that promise to David. But notice that verse 2 in our passage says, “The Philistines… killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua.” Eventually, Saul died too (vv. 3-5). As verse 6 concluded, “So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day.” 

Whose sin caused the kingdom to be torn away from Saul and his house back in 1 Samuel 15? Saul. The answer is that Saul alone sinned. 

Jonathan, according to everything we read about him, was a righteous man. His moral compass operated properly even when his father’s did not. Furthermore, Jonathan was more than willing to let David become king (1 Sam 23:17) so he was humble and eagerly surrendered to God’s will.

Yet, as good as he was, Jonathan died in this battle along with his father and two of his brothers. There is something about that which seems fundamentally unjust. Saul sinned but the consequences for his sin affected more than just him. His righteous son died in the prime of his life through no fault of his own.

This story illustrates, then, an important truth to remember which is that our sins affect more people than just us. When we sin, often we alone are the ones who enjoy the sin but, when the wages of sin are paid, others–sometimes many others–suffer the consequences alongside us. Anyone who has lost a friend or family member to a drunk driver can attest to the truth of this. So can anyone who has ever been robbed, or had their reputation ruined when someone lied or gossiped about them. We choose to sin but the fallout of sin often affects others.

It is important to remember that in our representative, Adam, all died. Except for Jesus, not one of us has lived a perfect life so we all pay the wages of sin when we die (Rom 6:23). This goes for Jonathan, too. As great as he was, he was a sinner; it was not unjust, therefore, for the Lord to allow him to die in this battle. As a sinner, he would die sometime and justly so. That fact that he lived as long as he did was a testament to God’s mercy; so is the fact that you are alive to read this. 

But the point is not that Jonathan got what was just; the point is that he died because of his father’s sin.

What kind of damage will my sin cause to others? The answer to that question is unknowable but it is worth thinking about nonetheless. If thinking about it deters you from doing the sin, then God has been gracious to you by bringing you his word. 

Obey it and see what God does.

1 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 26, Philemon

Read 1 Samuel 15, Ezekiel 26, and Philemon. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 15.

First Samuel 15 describes for us what might be the most famous incident in Saul’s life. God gave Saul direct, explicit commands in verse 3 to (1) attack the Amalakites and (2) kill every living thing.

Saul did attack the Amalakites and he won a great victory for Israel (vv. 4-7) but he saved Agag, the king, and “everything that was good” among the Amalakites’ livestock (vv. 8-9). God was quite unimpressed with Saul’s partial obedience and he let Samuel know (vv. 10-11).

In verses 12-23, Samuel and Saul argued about Saul’s actions. Saul asserted that he had been obedient to the Lord with a few exceptions made for spiritual reasons (vv. 12-15). Samuel responded by delivering the Lord’s word, announcing that Saul’s “exceptions” were acts of disobedience to God’s commands (vv. 16-19). In verses 20-21, Saul attempted to defend himself from the charge of disobedience. He emphasized the ways in which he had obeyed (v. 20) and shifted the blame for the livestock to “the soldiers” (v. 21a), describing their motive for disobedience as a desire to sacrifice to the Lord (v. 21b). Samuel responded by telling Saul that God wants obedience more than religious observance (v. 22). While the animal sacrifices commanded in God’s law were acts of worship and delightful to God’s heart when offered in faith, they were inferior to unreserved obedience to God’s commands.

Remember that the issue here is not offering a sacrifice for sin from a repentant heart; the sacrifices Saul was describing were thank offerings. Maybe it is true that Saul wanted to sacrifice to the Lord; maybe that was an excuse to justify their disobedience; the text does not tell us. But as someone who has made up some excuses for my own sins more than a few times in my life, I’m inclined to think that Saul is making up a good story to cover for his disobedience.

It really doesn’t matter, though, whether Saul’s motives were genuine or not.

The worship God wants is obedience; the way we show our faith in God and our love for him is to be careful to do what he commands (1 Sam. 15:22-23).

In verses 24-25, Saul appeared to repent, but he still had an excuse for his disobedience. Since God is loving and forgiving—even David’s sins, which were worse than Saul’s, were forgiven—we must conclude that God, who knows the heart, saw that Saul’s “repentance” was insincere. The consequence of Saul’s disobedience was a decree that his kingdom would be lost (vv. 27-28).

What a sad declaration about how a once-promising man’s kingdom would end. But I want to focus for a moment on Samuel’s words in verse 23a: “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.”

How can “rebellion” be like “divination”?

Someone who practices divination is seeking supernatural guidance but they are doing so apart from the Lord. Similarly, a rebellious person against God’s commands is giving more weight to their own human perspective and wisdom than to God’s word.

We may not consider our own thoughts and plans to be the same as “supernatural guidance,” but our willingness to follow our instincts instead of God’s commands shows that we consider ourselves better guides for the future than the word of God.

The next phrase in verse 23 says, “… and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.” This phrase is easier to understand. An arrogant person believes himself to be more knowledgeable and capable and powerful than others. When we disobey God’s word, we are showing that we think we know better than God. We may not think of ourselves as arrogant in the moment of disobedience, but our actions suggest otherwise because we are worshipping ourselves, our own desires, and our own knowledge above the Creator.

Are there areas of disobedience in your life? Do you recognize the rebellion that causes you to follow your own guidance instead of God’s? Do you understand that in the moment of temptation, your heart is telling you that you know better than God does and that your own satisfaction is more important that honoring him as Lord?

1 Samuel 11, Ezekiel 22, Colossians 1

Read 1 Samuel 11, Ezekiel 22, and Colossians 1 today. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 11.

Considering what became of Saul later in life, it is surprising how powerfully he began as a leader. After being identified as king in chapter 10, Saul may have wondered, “Now what do I do?” Samuel, when he told Saul privately that he would become king, told him, “Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you“ (1 Sam 10:7). Not much to go on there, if you were looking for what to do next as king.

Here in chapter 11, however, a crisis jump started Saul’s career as king. The people of Jabesh Gilead were under siege from Nahash the Ammonite. Although they offered to surrender, the terms Nahash said he would accept were inhumane (vv. 1-2). Given how unreasonable his demands were, it is quite surprising that he was willing to give the people of Jabesh Gilead time to seek someone to rescue them, but he did (v. 3).

When Saul heard of this, God guided him just as he had promised to do, and Saul acted quickly. First, he creatively compelled the Israelites to join him as his army (vv. 6-10). Then he attacked the Ammonite army with strategic skill and was effective in defeating them (v. 11). His actions united Israel around him as king to the point that they wanted to execute his detractors (v. 12), but Saul wisely decreed no retaliation against those who had opposed him. Instead, he deflected the attention to God who had chosen and empowered him (v. 13). God used this incident and Saul’s wise leadership throughout it to solidify his kingdom and unify the people under his leadership (vv. 14-15).

This incident illustrates and proves the importance of humility in leadership. Sometimes you need to leverage your position as a leader to get people to move quickly in the right direction as Saul did in verses 7-8. But a leader who is constantly overbearing, who demands respect instead of earning through skillful leadership, and who retaliates against those who question him will eventually weaken his leadership and, probably, lose his position altogether. If you can learn to live with humility, to lead people in the right direction, for the right reasons, to the glory of God, you won’t have to pound on the table and insist that people follow you. You won’t have to humiliate and punish your critics. Instead, people will voluntarily follow you because this kind of leadership is so rare.

Where do you serve as a leader now? In your workplace, your ministry here at Calvary, your home as a parent, or somewhere else, someone looks to you for leadership. At times you may need to be bold and dramatic, but if you are godly and effective at what you do, God will reward you. Your reputation and your following will grow because you will be a leader who serves. Think about how these truths can impact your life in your leadership role today.

1 Samuel 10, Jeremiah 47

Today’s readings are 1 Samuel 10 and Jeremiah 47.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 10 and is reposted from 66in16.

Yesterday’s reading in 1 Samuel 9 began to tell us the story of Saul’s anointing to be king and today’s reading in chapter 10 concluded the story. Although chapter 9 verse 1 told us that Saul’s father Kish was “a man of standing” in the tribe of Benjamin, Saul himself displayed quite a bit of humility about his family. In chapter 9:20 Samuel asked Saul rhetorically, “And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?” Saul’s response in 9:21 was, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” So, while Kish himself may have been an elder in his town and a man with a good reputation, Saul did not think of his family or himself as particularly noteworthy—not in the nation of Israel or in his tribe. Yet here in chapter 10, we read that Samuel anointed Saul to be king (v. 1), then prophesied about a distinct series of events that would happen to Saul. These events would be unremarkable. Two men Saul knew would meet him and tell him that his father was worried about him (v. 2), three men would greet Saul and give him some bread (vv. 3-4), and “a procession of prophets” would encounter Saul (v. 5). After he met the prophets, the extraordinary thing in this prophecy would happen: Saul himself would receive a powerful work of God’s Holy Spirit and would prophesy and “be changed into a different person” (v. 6). Bible scholars refer to this event as the “theocratic anointing,” meaning that, in this event Saul was receiving God’s power and God’s public confirmation that he was God’s choice to serve as king.

Samuel referred to these as “signs” (v. 7). They were designed to give a humble rancher like Saul the conviction that God had indeed chosen him to be king. Everything about 1 Samuel 9-10 indicates that Saul had no ambition to be anything more than a rancher like his father Kish. Although Saul was tall and good-looking (9:2), he did no politicking, no self-promotion, not even any military exploits that would indicate that Saul wanted any kind of leadership, much less to become Israel’s king. He was truly a humble man of the people.

After telling Saul he would experience these signs, Samuel told Saul he would have God’s favor in whatever leadership he exerted: “Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you” (v. 7). But Saul was to wait in Gilgal for seven days and then he would be unveiled publicly as Israel’s king (v. 8). Every sign that Samuel predicted came true (vv. 9-10) and Saul’s prophesying got the attention of everyone who knew him (vv. 11-13). After an unassuming re-entry to family life (vv. 14-16), Saul was publicly revealed to be the king by Samuel (vv. 17-21). Saul knew he was about to be revealed as Israel’s new king—all of Samuel’s prophesies had come true, after all—so he hid himself to avoid being chosen (vv. 22-24), once again showing the humility with which he entered the office.

The final demonstration of Saul’s humility in this passage was demonstrated in verses 26-27. Some men volunteered because God had given them the desire to serve Saul (v. 26) but others questioned and overtly disrespected Saul (v. 27a). Yet, Saul did not retaliate or insist on being honored as king; instead he remained quiet (v. 27b).

This passage demonstrates once again what God is looking for in a leader. Although Saul had some of the physical characteristics that mark human leaders (9:1, 10:23-24), he was not well-born nor was he ambitious or attention-seeking. The Bible tells us over and over that God opposes those who are proud but is gracious to those who are humble. This is a good quality for anyone who finds himself in leadership or aspires to leadership because leadership is about serving, not about being served. Still, position can corrupt someone who starts out well (as we’ll see later in Saul’s life), so we should never assume that because we started out humble we will have God’s favor for our whole lives. Humility is such an elusive quality; as soon as you feel satisfied the you have it, the odds are good that pride has actually started to take root in your heart. Keep your eyes on God and remember that leading his people is an opportunity that he entrusts to the humble and that the humility that got you chosen for leadership is necessary constantly to keep you serving in the will of God rather than acting like someone who feels he deserves to be served.

Acts 9

And now, read Acts 9.

We met Saul yesterday and saw how he persecuted the church and, in God’s providence, was used to get the gospel out of Jerusalem and into the rest of Judea and also into Samaria, just as the Lord had commanded in Acts 1:8. Now, in the most unlikely way (humanly, that is), God saved Saul (vv. 1-8) and called him “my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (v. 15b). The man whose persecution stimulated the spread of the gospel to Judea and Samaria would now directly lead the effort to take the gospel “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The focus of Acts in the chapters ahead will begin to move off Peter and the other Apostles and on to Saul (Paul) the Apostle to the Gentiles.

As we read about Saul’s conversion here in Acts 9, we saw the clash of human values and God’s values in how Saul was treated. People value safety and were understandably wary of someone who killed other Christians but suddenly now claimed to be a Christian himself. We see the skepticism and fear in Ananias (vv. 13-14) and in the Jerusalem church where “they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple” (v. 26b). How was this skepticism resolved?

First, Ananias believed God by faith when God told him to go to Saul and pray for him (vv. 11-17a). He even called him “Brother Saul,” acknowledging his claim to faith in Christ. Second, Barnabas became Paul’s ambassador when he “took him and brought him to the apostles” (v. 27). Both of these men had to trust that God’s power had actually changed Saul. Because they did trust the life-changing power of the gospel, they were willing to “credit” Saul–trust him as a brother–before there was a long trail of evidence of Saul’s faith.

If we’re going to live for Jesus, there will be times when we have to take similar risks of faith on people. For example, trusting Christ in your life might mean trusting someone else who has wounded based only on their claim to repentance. We become vulnerable to manipulation, embarrassment, or possible betrayal in those situations but this is what God calls us to do. If we trust him, we should trust that he is changing other people. That means giving them our acceptance and trust in advance–like a credit card transaction. Are you facing any uncertainty in your life because you are not certain you should someone who claims to be changed by Christ? God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s grace call all of his followers to trust others based on their profession of faith and even to forgive others when they fail to be perfect but demonstrate true repentance. Ananias was afraid of Saul, but he trusted the Lord so he called Saul his “brother.” God will help you and me learn to trust others, too–before they deserve it, if our hope and faith is in the Lord.