Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

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Voting on Worship

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

It took me totally by surprise. I’m used to billboards advertising churches – “Come worship with us!” But this one was different. The church name was displayed prominently at the top (not so unusual) but at the bottom, in big bold letters were the words “Voted Best Place to Worship 2022.” That was a new one.

So I wondered: voted by who? Their own members? Isn’t there a Bible passage about that? Something along the lines of “people who measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves are not wise” (of course there is – 2 Corinthians 10:12). Might there be a cadre of people whose job it is to visit houses of worship to see which is best? (I’m new to the area so maybe that’s a thing here.) What were the criteria for making this judgment?

We need to be careful with this. Worship is all about the exaltation of God. When God’s people live holy lives, then gather to praise God, listen to God, talk to God, and remember what God has done for them (which leads back to praise), that’s worship. It’s not about “place.” Through all this, I may be encouraged, renewed, motivated and instructed, but worship is not about what I get. Worship is about what I give and specifically, about what I give God. The most important thing about it is whether what we offer pleases the Lord. He is not required to accept whatever we offer (Isaiah 1:10-15) and if our text passages are any indication, what gets our vote probably isn’t getting His.

And His vote is the only one that counts.

1 Samuel 17

My comment previously (see 1 Samuel 14) about Saul trusting in himself and his own ability to wage war is underscored in chapter 17.  Remember that in chapter 13, Israel had no weapons.  The only people  with a sword were Saul and Jonathan.  Though the Philistines were driven back to their own borders at the end of chapter fourteen, they have returned in seventeen, almost at Bethlehem itself.

David acts in the Spirit of Jonathan (compare 14:10,14 and 17:37, 45-46), and you can understand why they would become such close friends.  Furthermore, David acts without sword or spear (17:47) and triumphs over Goliath with a mere sling and a rock.  It reminds me of the woe in Isaiah: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord” (31:1).  This is the real message of the chapter: there is nothing that can stop a person of God who acts in the strength of God to accomplish the will of God.

Thursday, March 20. 1 Samuel 22 – 24

Beginning in chapter 24, three stories are presented that give us some insight to one particular aspect of David’s morality.

On the run from Saul, David takes refuge with his rag tag group of disaffected citizens in a cave.  Saul comes along with his 3000 elite troops but, needing a “pit stop” goes to relieve himself in the very same cave.

David’s men urge David to make an end of his pursuer, but David will not raise his hand against God’s anointed.  He refuses to return evil for evil.

Saul returns evil for David’s good.  Nabal (chapter 25) returns evil for David’s good.  Saul returns evil again for David’s good in chapter 26.  But David not only doesn’t return evil for good, he doesn’t even return evil for evil.  As the proverb goes, quoted by David, “from evil doers come evil deeds.”  David refuses to allow himself to be coerced into evil simply because others do him dirty and not only that, he rebukes his men for even suggesting such a thing.

This is an ethic echoed by Jesus when he said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and even more directly by Paul in Romans 12:17 “Do not repay evil for evil.”
I must say, however, that there is a difference between refusing to repay evil for evil, and refusing to deal with evil.  That will become a problem for David later.

Wednesday, March 19. 1 Samuel 19 – 21

Charles Swindoll has a sermon about this stage in David’s life entitled “Every Crutch Removed.”  In life, we come to depend on lots of different things: parents, job, spouse, children, friends.  But what do you do when all those things are gone?

David lost his job in chapter 19, as well as his wife.  Michal saves David’s life, but, at least according to the text, their relationship is never what it once was. He is also separated from his mentor, Samuel, in that chapter.

In chapter 21 David will lose his self-respect, acting the part of a mad man to save his own skin before the king of Gath.

And here, in chapter 20, David begins to lose a friend.  It’s not that Jonathan will cease being his friend.  It is that circumstance will drive them apart.  According to the text, they will see one another only one more time.

Martha Snell Nicholson has written these words:
One by one He took them from me,
All the things I valued most,
Until I was empty-handed;
Every glittering toy was lost.

And I walked earth’s highways, grieving.
In my rags and poverty.
Till I heard His voice inviting,
“Lift your empty hands to Me!”

So I held my hands toward heaven,
And He filled them with a store
Of His own transcendent riches,
Till they could contain no more.

And at last I comprehended
with my stupid mind and dull,
That God COULD not pour His riches
Into hands already full!

I am not saying God took these crutches from David, because the text doesn’t say that.  But in David’s desolation, he would have no one to look to but God.  And that would be enough.  The Lord had said: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).  The evidence from David’s writings is that David learned that lesson well.  Take note especially the message of  Psalm 91.

Tuesday, March 18. 1 Samuel 16 – 18

How many people knew of Samuel’s words to Saul: “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.”

If those words were widely known, no wonder the Elders of Bethlehem were alarmed when Samuel appeared.

On the other hand, Samuel appears with a heifer for a sacrifice. The law specified that if a murder was committed, and the perpetrator were unknown, the Elders of the town closest to the body were to offer a heifer as a sacrifice for the sin. The principle is that the community is responsible when blame cannot be determined. Perhaps Samuel’s appearance implied that a murder had been committed and the Elders had been ignorant or negligent of proper justice.

In any case, the whole idea of sacrifice disappears a third of the way into the story as Samuel proceeds to anoint David as king of Israel.

Two thoughts come to mind as I read this text.

First, didn’t God authorize Samuel to lie when he told him to tell folks he had come to make a sacrifice? The fact is, Samuel did offer a sacrifice, so it wasn’t a lie. On the other hand, it wasn’t the whole truth either and this points to the supreme sovereignty of God. The Lord has no obligation to be totally forthcoming, and you (we) have no right to full disclosure. God is not a man.

Second is the statement of the Lord Himself in 16:7 – “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” It should always be our goal to know God so well that when we look at anything – people, things, or situations – we see them with the eyes of God.

Monday, March 17. 1 Samuel 13 – 15

Reading chapter fifteen I’m reminded of a passage in Zechariah 2:8. The context is near the end of the Old Testament. God’s people have been captives in Babylon for 70 years (or so) and have now returned to their homeland. It’s a struggle. Not only is it a struggle to simply resettle a land desolate for over half a century, they face opposition from foreign elements who have moved in to take the land as their own – as well as oppressor nations who would prey on the weak and take the land for themselves.

God speaks of a time when he will avenge the oppression of His people. Concerning their attackers God says “I will surely raise my hand against them so that their own slaves will plunder them” because whoever touches Israel “touches the apple of my eye” – in other words, God’s favored people.

The promise of 1 Samuel 15 is that God has not forgotten the cowardly attack of the Amalekites of 400 years previous when Israel was in the Exodus. The Amalekites attacked Israel from behind. God so favors His people (don’t forget this) that he never forgets a slight against them and attack is a capital offense. The Amalekites are to be devoted to the Lord – in other words, decimated.

Saul, however, sees things differently. Rather than kill everybody and everything (what a waste! he must have thought), he preserved the best for himself and his men.

The disobedience would cost Saul his kingdom.

God means what he says. To treat His words with disrespect by disobedience will not win you His favor, but bring you his wrath.

Thursday, April 4. 1 Samuel 27 – 29

David knows he can run from Saul only so long. Israel isn’t big enough to allow for the peaceful co-existence of two such adversaries, so David determines to leave. The Philistines have been a thorn in Saul’s side for the entirety of his reign. Where better to hide than among your enemies in plain sight?

Saul has been adding mighty and brave men to his army from wherever he can find them (1 Samuel 14:52). Why shouldn’t the Philistine king? And who better to add than this valiant and successful soldier David who is the sworn enemy of Israel’s king?

This puts, of course, David in an awkward position. As long as Achish and Saul don’t go to war, David is fine. If, however, war breaks out, David is doomed. He can’t fight against Saul without risking alienation from Israel. He can’t fight against Achish without risking his own security.

Fortunately, when the inevitable happens (chapter 29), Achish’s own generals object to David’s presence and David and his band are sent home, back to Ziklag (about 20 miles east of Gaza). There is a subtle twist in David’s feigned disappointment with Achish. He asks: “Why can’t I go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?” Achish no doubt thinks David means Achish’s enemies. David, however, means Saul’s enemies.

How fortuitous that Achish’s generals objected to David’s presence! Or perhaps it was not fortuitous at all, but the working of God to accomplish what Saul has not: the destruction of the Amalakites (chapter 30).

Wednesday, April 3. 1 Samuel 24 – 26

To seize the corner of a man’s garment was, in the ancient world, to pronounce loyalty and dependence on the man. We saw this in chapter 15 when Saul seized the hem of Samuel’s robe. Unfortunately, Samuel’s robe tore, which led to the very opposite idea: pronounced rebellion. David’s cutting of Saul’s robe indicated the division between them. This is why David is so remorseful later: he has with his actions openly rebelled against God’s anointed.

The chapter is full of symbolism like this.

In calling Saul his “father,” there is implied claim to the throne of Saul. Saul may consider David a “dead dog” or a “flea,” but in David’s mind, on God’s side, Saul has vastly underestimated David, particularly because David is claiming to be on the Lord’s side and Saul has, by his actions, taken on God. David is willing to leave it up to God, but he’s not just saying: “We’ll leave it up to God to decide.” David is actually calling on God to hurt Saul, to judge him, to avenge David, and to deliver him from Saul’s hand.

And surprisingly (though he doesn’t mean it), Saul asks that God reward David. David has cut off the hem of Saul’s robe. But Saul requests that David not “cut off” Saul’s descendants.

Centuries later, Jesus will say: “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). The story of David is an example of just such submission to the will of God. David wants Saul to suffer for the way he has wronged him, but he unwilling to make Saul suffer himself. He leaves it up to God to decide and act. It is, in fact, the way of Jesus, and should be the way of all his disciples.

Tuesday, April 2. 1 Samuel 21 – 23

The contrast between David and Saul could not be more evident. Saul is a man willing to kill his own son than risk losing his kingship. David takes extraordinary effort to protect his family. Saul is cut off from God. David has his own prophet. Saul feels alone, with everyone against him. David is surrounded by supporters.

David’s prominence is evidenced by his ability to not only get an audience with the king of Moab, but also to have him protect his mother and father. If Saul is not reluctant to kill the priests of Nob, he would not hesitate to kill David’s family.

Four characters traits are seen in chapter 22.

Doeg is willing to paint someone (Ahimelech) in the worst possible light in order to gain an advantage. Ahimelech, though fearful the last time we saw him (chapter 21), shows strength of character in that he challenges the paranoia of Saul. David, though he is not directly responsible for the death of Abiathar’s family, takes the responsibility on himself and doesn’t make excuses or try to shift blame. Additionally, he takes responsibility for others and brings Abiathar under his protection. Of Saul, David Payne writes: “A king must be able to recognize the truth when he hears it. He must act with due restraint and control of his powers. He must promote justice; and if injustice has to be punished, he must not pronounce vindictive and brutal verdicts. Here Saul failed on every count.” These admirable traits of a king, which Saul so profoundly lacks, ought to be traits possessed by every leader.

Monday, April 1. 1 Samuel 18 – 20

In his “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus showed the close relationship between hard feelings and bad actions when he said: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Ill will inevitably leads to bad behavior. James, Jesus’ brother, wrote: “[Each person] is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” This is why it is to important to settle differences and talk through conflicts. God knows, as long as they persist, the danger of something worse is always a present reality. You see it plainly in the stories of Saul’s repeated attempts to kill David.

Did you notice Michal’s deception? It’s subtle, but two points are made. First, there were idols in her house, a reminder of the pervasiveness of idolatry in Israel. But second, the idol is fairly useless. Imagine a god allowing itself to be used as a mannequin – complete with goat’s hair no less! Other gods are powerless.

Did the story of Saul’s men sent to Ramah to capture David remind you of the story of Balaam (Numbers 22ff)? Like Saul’s soldiers (and later, Saul himself), each time Balaam tried to hurt God’s anointed, he came under the direct control of God and did something else. Precisely what was involved in the “prophesying” of chapter 19 is never defined. In fact, “prophesying” itself in the Old Testament covers a variety of actions. But the point is, in all cases, God is in control, which leads us to this observation: You don’t want to get on God’s bad side. He is unlikely to leave you alone, but may in fact, once you go down the road of fools, keep pushing you further down it until you meet a horrible end. It can be a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (see Hebrews 10:31).