Friday, 28 October 2011

"make us a king"

Our article today focusses on the disappointing desire of the people of God to prefer the rule of man to the direct rule of God.

The situation is like this: Samuel is now old and sadly his sons are rebellious and do not follow in his ways. Unfortunately it appears that it took the people to point this out to Samuel, as there is no mention of their behaviour previously. It presented a problem to the people as they were not sure what would happen when Samuel died, perhaps they were selfishly thinking, "what's going to happen to us? Who is going to judge us then?"

Quite wrongly they make their request - "make us a king to judge us like all the nations" 1 Sam 8:5

A crown

After all they had experienced, after all the history of divine blessing, guidance and provision they no longer want God to rule over them.It seems that they no longer appreciated that they were different and distinct from the nations. They seem to have forgotten that God singled them out for blessing and separated them to himself: "for thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth" Deut 14:2

Let us be clear that this is exactly what they were insinuating, for the request displeased Samuel, and God made it clear to him that "they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them" 1 Sam 8:7

Remember that the people had tried this once before, in the book of Judges chapter 8 the people approach Gideon - "rule thou over us... for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian" and we recall the wise and magnanimous response of Gideon, which is useful to remember here - "I will not rule over you... the Lord shall rule over you"

Of course, we know what happened, God gave them what they wanted and so began a line of kings marked largely by failure, weakness and wickedness. Even the best of the kings failed at some point, as they were only sinful men at the end of the day, just like us! The kings basically teach us that man is a poor substitute for God, and as the Psalms say - "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man"

I am sure most of us will understand that one day there will be a perfect king who will reign in righteousness, the king of kings and Lord of Lords, our blessed Lord Jesus Christ! Isaiah 32:1 and Psalm 24 would make this clear to us.

Going back to our account in 1 Samuel 8 though, we would apply the broad lesson to ourselves today and ask ourselves the following searching questions:

  • Do we honour men more than we honour God?

  • Do we value and respect the thoughts and opinions of men more than the truth of the Word of God?

  • Do we prefer to identify ourselves with fellow-men or with God?

  • Do we appreciate the fact that we ourselves are distinct and different from the world, that we are sanctified positionally and separated unto God?

Let us be challenged by the import of this sad account in the nation's history.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Lessons concerning the ark (1 Samuel 6)

The ark is sent back by the Philistines following 7 months in their land. They send it back on a cart pulled by 2 dairy cows and it makes its way to Bethshemesh, west of Jerusalem. The men of Bethshemesh rejoice to see the ark return to them and show their joy by offering a sacrifice to God there and then using the cows and the wood of the cart.

There can be no doubting that this was an admirable and appropriate response - they were so glad to see that which spoke of the things of God again, that they spontaneously made sacrifices to God using the available materials to hand! They didn't wait, they didn't put it off, they didn't go home to do other things first! Their hearts were ready to worship there and then and they wouldn't let anything get in the way of that. This should speak to us today...

Are we slow to worship? Of course we are not solely talking about on a Lord's Day morning, for worship can be given at any time! Are our hearts in a state of readiness to worship?  Do we let other things get in the way of giving worship? Are we too lazy to worship, or to prepare to worship? Perhaps for the younger men who may be reading this - are you too self-conscious to worship publicly? Too concerned with what others may think of your contribution? Let me encourage you in this: prepare something simple, that your heart is taken up with and go for it. "Just do it" - as the Nike slogan says. If your nerves or insecurity is stopping you from publicly worshipping, then let me tell you, the best remedy is to take the plunge or forever sit in silence! What a tragedy this would be, but very sadly it happens.

[caption id="attachment_198" align="alignleft" width="264" caption="An aerial shot showing some ancient ruins at Bethshemesh"]Bethshemesh[/caption]

The attitude of praise from the men of Bethshemesh stands in stark contrast to what happened next. For some reason, which is not given or described, the men of Bethshemesh decide to look into the ark. Did they not know there would be consequences? Did they do it out of ignorance? Or did their curiosity get the better of them and cause them to knowingly disobey the commandment of God? We do not know, but the holiness and righteousness of God demanded that there be judgement for such a transgression, and he smote the men of Bethshemesh so that 50,070 lost their lives.

Here is what I learn from this; praise and worship is good and needful, but we must also be knowledgeable of God and his ways. We should always show reverence when handling the holy things of God and be obedient to his Word! What does Samuel later say to Saul in chapter 15:

"Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."

We do well to heed the lessons of 1 Samuel 6 - Worship is vital, it should be spontaneous, natural and also genuine and from over-flowing hearts. However we must also recognise that we deal with a holy and a righteous God when we come into God's presence, and we handle holy things when we handle his Word. But moreover, God values more than anything else obedience to his Word and a willingness to do his will, to honour him and put him first in our lives.

God give us help and discipline to put this into practice in our lives.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Lessons concerning the ark (1 Samuel 5)

Moving on from chapter 4 I think there is also a strong challenge to our hearts concerning the ark in chapter 5. Once again the picture is of the ark as the things of God in our lives, and this time we break into the story with the ark captured and in the land of the Philistines.

Chapter 5 - The Ark is Demoted

The ark is taken by the Philistines to Ashdod and into the temple of Dagon where it is placed by the statue of Dagon. Most of us will know the story; in the morning the idol had fallen on its face before the ark, and on the second day it had fallen to the earth with its hands and head cut off!

[caption id="attachment_195" align="alignleft" width="220" caption="Dagon - Fish god of the Philistines"]Dagon - Fish god of the Philistines[/caption]

The Philistines had made the mistake of demoting the ark (symbolic of the power, glory, holiness and grace of God!) to an object to be placed alongside their heathen idol Dagon. I wonder if we too are sometimes guilty of the same? What do you mean, I hear you say? Well, I believe that we believers can also be guilty of idolatry in our lives! An idol can be anything that we have promoted in our lives that takes a disproportionate amount of our time, resources, affections and interest. It is something that takes the place of God in our lives, and assumes the dominant object in our hearts affection. It can be something in our life that we value and treasure above everything else, it can be an object, an interest, a sport or a passion/hobby. Remember the words of God himself - "Thou shalt have no other gods before me... for I the LORD they God am a jealous God"

God is jealous of our time and attention, he wants to be number one in our lives, and what's more he deserves to be, for he has intervened in grace and saved us from judgement and hell! He has bought us with a great price, the precious blood of his dear Son, and we belong to Him and He is our Lord and Saviour. Dare we relegate God to just another 'interest' or just another 'hobby' in our lives? As we look around churches today, perhaps we can see examples of people who have done just that. They don't see God as any more valuable or important in their lives than all the other things they are interested in, in fact in many cases the things of God have sadly slipped WAY down the pecking order. How tragic!

I think this is extremely challenging for myself as I survey my own life and how I spend and divide my time and resources!

I am glad that God reminds us of the futility of idols in His Word, and perhaps we should consider this as we assess our own interests and priorities in life:

"The idols of the heathen are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not; They have ears, but they hear not; neither is there any breath in their mouths. They that make them are like unto them: so is every one that trusteth in them." Psalm 135:15-18

I believe God shows this in our passage in 1 Samuel, as it is interesting that Dagon's head and hands were severed as he lay face down before the ark! Here was God demonstrating to one and all that Dagon was empty, hollow, subservient to the ark and the power of God, he had neither intelligence (the head) or power (the hands).

May God preserve us from modern-day idolatry and unhealthy interests and unbalanced priorities! May we take up the challenge and reassess our priorities and ambitions and may they be for the things of God and his Son the Lord Jesus Christ. May we never demote the things of God in our lives in favour of earthly interests or worldly pursuits.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Lessons concerning the ark (1 Samuel 4)

Summarising these chapters 4 through to 6 in 1 Samuel, I notice that the ark of the covenant is prominent and there are 3 simple but challenging lessons we can learn here.

The ark speaks powerfully of the things of God, it represented Gods presence with his people at this time and spoke of his glory, it spoke of worship, priestly service, the Law and his provision for them.

Chapter 4 - The Ark is Lost

Here is a sad event. The people call for the ark to be brought to the battle with the Philistines, and it is clear that they had demoted it to nothing more than a weapon, a symbol of military might and power to serve their purposes.

"let us fetch the ark... it may save us out of the hand of our enemies"

They did not seek Gods help or presence, and crucially they showed no faith in God. They simply rushed to use the ark as a mere object or tool! Perhaps there is a danger for us too to view the things of God in this way? Are we simply taken up with the things of a God as an 'object' in our lives to serve our purposes? A tool that we simply refer to when we are in need of help or a 'boost'? Do we forget the person and character of God and our personal relationship with him? Have we lost the true enjoyment and appreciation of the things of God?

Look at the fallout from this towards the end of the chapter. Although the spiritual condition of the land was poor at this time, it seems there were individuals who felt the huge sense of loss. Eli, the ageing priest who had in many ways failed to be a strong spiritual character and lead by example, falls backward off his chair at the news that the ark had been lost. Note that he was also given bad news about his 2 sons, but it is the news regarding the ark that evoked such a powerful reaction! Finally, note the tragic case of the wife of Phinehas, who went suddenly and violently into labour and lost her life as a result of hearing the news regarding the loss of the ark. Her reaction to this awful news seemed to be the main reason she calls her soon to be orphaned child Ichabod, as the glory had departed from Israel - the ark was a symbol of the glory of God! She clearly far more spiritual than her wicked husband Phinehas, and there is a lesson here too in wisely choosing our husband or wife!

[caption id="attachment_190" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The Ark of the Covenant - It spoke of God and his wonderful character"]Ark of the Covenant[/caption]

I wonder if we put similar value and regard on the things of God in our lives? Of course I know we don't have a physical symbol like the ark to treasure and hold dear but we are using this as a picture of our enjoyment of the things of God in all the forms that this can take. I challenge myself; Do I have a driving passion for the things of God? If these things were taken from me would I too be heartbroken and devastated? Notice that in both examples the news of the loss of the ark ultimately caused their deaths! They were nothing without the ark, there was no life without it! Simply put; if we lose the value of the things of God it will ultimately lead to spiritual death. We become empty and shallow Christians, no good for worship or service. We may go through the motions but ultimately we have lost the heart and soul of our Christian lives.

May the Lord challenge our hearts in this matter.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Samuel's spiritual growth

As we move on into First Samuel we can chart the growth and development of the boy Samuel. It is of course encouraging to see that he not only grew and developed physically but that he also grew spiritually in the things of God!

Let's look at this from the text.

2:11 "And the child did minister unto the LORD before Eli the priest."

When Samuel was a child he served as a child, and here we see that he humbly serves under Eli, assisting in the daily duties in the tabernacle at Shiloh. He was just a child the verse reminds us, but he was still able to serve the Lord in a simple way! Our spiritual or physical age is no barrier to simply serving God. However, it would not have been appropriate for the child Samuel to have started lecturing the people and preaching at them, so as a young boy he serves God in a simpler way until such time that he has grown spiritually in order to take on a more public responsibility for God.

This verse is also poignant as it mentions that Elkanah his father went home to Ramah where the family home was, but Samuel of course stayed and served the LORD in Shiloh. It must have been hard for parent and child alike to be separated, but what an opportunity for Samuel to serve God! What a lesson for us, it is necessary sometimes to separate ourselves in dedication to the things of God, to study and learn more of him in order to grow spiritually. Sometimes this will mean that we have to spend less time with other legitimate things in order to spend time with the Lord, but he will reward them that honour him in this way.

2:26 "And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the LORD, and also with men."

Here we see that Samuel's spiritual growth is beginning to have an effect on those around him! The people can see that there is something different and appealing about this boy Samuel. His attributes are beginning to shine through, and his growth is recognised by God and the people. Of course we shouldn't strive to impress those around us with spirituality or make an outward show of 'all the things we are doing for God', but people in our churches or even in secular circles should be able to see that there are signs of spiritual life, and there should be a testimony for God.

This too is proof that the simple service in the Sanctuary has had an effect on our lives and that we are developing spiritually. The years Samuel spent serving Eli had a positive effect on his life as he was serving God and learning more about him.

3:19-21 "And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel... knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD... the LORD revealed himself to Samuel..."

The LORD blessed Samuel, he was with him and fulfilled his purposes and will through him. This is what is meant by "and let none of his words fall to the ground". In other words, God fulfilled his prophecies that were spoken by his servant Samuel. God saw fit to actively use and work through Samuel! The same can be said of us if we apply ourselves to the things of God and grow spiritually.

Here we see the ultimate fulfilment of  what we spoke about in our previous point - all Israel, from the very north to the very south of the country, knew that Samuel was going to be something for God. May we strive to merit the same reputation, by growing spiritually and being an example to others!

The LORD revealed himself to Samuel - what a tremendous privilege and blessing, but one that can be ours as well! By growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, he will reveal himself to us if we live closely with him day by day and apply ourselves to his Word.

4:1 "And the word of Samuel came to all Israel."

Here we see Samuel fully moving into a public sphere of ministry now, and his words come to all the people. Please note that he has grown substantially, I would judge that he is certainly no longer a child! He has served faithfully in the tabernacle all those years, humbly and simply, yet quietly and obediently. This was a crucial stage in Samuel's growth and development, and so it must be for every believer! We cannot expect to launch ourselves into public service if we have not grown spiritually, and known God in the Sanctuary first. Even the Apostle Paul, who went into public service very soon after conversion, still spent several days (without sight and without food and drink) engaged in prayer to God!

7:15-17 "And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places. And his return was to Ramah, for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and there he built an altar unto the LORD."

Finally here we see firstly, the faithfulness of Samuel, that he judged Israel ALL the days of his life. What a commendation and testimony! We also see something of his constant service and activity, for he travelled through the area on a constant circuit serving God in the locality. Please note that these places were all fairly local to where he lived in Ramah. He didn't travel to places hundreds or thousands of miles away which would have taken him far away from his home town, he certainly had a burden for Ramah and the nearby cities and towns. I think this is possibly relevant for us today, to have a burden primarily for our localities and the place where we live. However I fully appreciate that modern methods of transport make it far easier for those of us engaged in public service such as preaching to travel around and get to places further afield without detriment to our local assemblies or our families!

I think it's touching that Samuel set up home in Ramah, the place where he was born and where his parents home was. I'm not saying there is a lesson here for us to stay where our parents live, as God will move people wherever he will to serve him! I do think though that it is touching that Samuel returned to Ramah from Shiloh after he had fully grown and matured, to operate and serve God in his home town. No doubt his parents would have been thrilled to have him close by and to see their son fully grown and serving God in such a way! There can be no doubt that it is encouraging to see younger ones growing in the things of God, and never underestimate how encouraging this is for older believers!

May the Lord bless as we apply ourselves to our own spiritual growth and development.

Yours in Christ, Mark

1 Kings 19: Elijah and God

I was listening to a podcast the other day which was speaking about 1 Kings 19 and it reminded me of how very relevant this passage is to ou...