2014 – Davis Mountains State Park, TX
1 Samuel 10: The Spirit of God will come on you…and you’ll be transformed. You’ll be a new person.
Beyond Saul’s natural advantages is the stated intention of God Almighty to make him into one of the heroes of the Bible. This big man is humble and practical and will be used by God in wonderful ways. What Saul lacks, his shyness and his inexperience as a spiritual leader, is recognized by the Lord so right off the Lord goes to work there. Samuel says that before the day is out Saul will be transformed into a man who openly worships God, one who can be numbered among the prophets. Failure is coming to Saul, but not because God just tossed him into the water to sink or swim. The same God who chooses him also enables him for the task. That’s still true today. What the Lord calls me to be enables me to be. There’s clearly more to be said about that, but this is a truth that’s made real in the lives of all that hear God’s call.
Take Away: Those the Lord calls he also equips.
2014 – Davis Mountains State Park, TX
1 Samuel 9: He had a son, Saul, a most handsome young man…he literally stood head and shoulders above the crowd!
Since I know where this story’s headed I tend to brush past the way the Bible introduces Saul. Here’s a good man. In spite of his physical domination and naturally handsome good looks he’s humble. We meet him taking care of his father’s business, looking for some lost donkeys, but also concerned that his father might be worried about him. When it’s suggested that he visit the man of God, Samuel, and ask for help in locating the animals, he goes with offering in hand. When I read this introduction to Saul I’m impressed with him. He has the potential of being a terrific leader of Israel who’ll guide the people to a close, faithful walk with the Lord. As I begin reading the story of Saul I find no reason to expect failure on his part. Instead, everything’s in place for success at every level of his life. In choosing him, the Lord isn’t setting him up for failure. Instead, Saul’s being set up for success. That’s true, too, I think, in the lives of followers of Jesus. No one is saved to ultimately fail. In fact, success is guaranteed by the blood of Jesus. The only way my spiritual journey can end badly is if I sabotage it myself. Sorry to say we’re about to see an illustration of that from this capable young man.
Take Away: The Lord gives us everything we need to live for him and then live with him in eternity.
2014 – Davis Mountains State Park, TX – Skyline Drive View
Vacuum of leadership
1 Samuel 8: They are not rejecting you. They’ve rejected me as their King.
Samuel has been a faithful, capable, Spirit-filled leader of Israel for decades. Now he’s getting old and some of his responsibilities are falling on his sons. But they aren’t up to it. They have the authority of their father but lack his relationship with God. Ever since the great revival and victory over the Philistines many years earlier, Israel has served God under the faithful guidance of Samuel but now people are wondering what’s coming next. Clearly, Samuel can’t continue forever and his sons are miserable spiritual leaders. So what will they do? The decision is to ask for a king. Samuel is heartbroken but takes their request to the Lord. God says, “Samuel, don’t take it personally — this is about my relationship with them and isn’t about you.” What’s going on here? We have before us a failure to trust God. The people are correct in recognizing the leadership problem. However, they’re mistaken when, instead of going to the Lord and asking his direction, they come telling him what they want done. As we turn the pages of Scripture to look into their future we see that there are some good kings coming. However, by and large their kings fail them, leading to their destruction. How different the story might have been had they come to Samuel and said, “You’re getting old and your sons aren’t the spiritual leaders that you have been…pray to the Lord and ask him what we’re to do next.” How often do I limit what God can do in my life by telling him what I want him to do rather than asking him what he wants me to do?
Take Away: The Lord is willing to work with us; to hear our requests. The wiser route though, is to seek his will first.
2014 – McDonald Observatory – Fort Davis, TX
By God’s help we can live steady, Christ-like lives
1 Samuel 7: Samuel gave solid leadership to Israel his entire life.
This is a powerful and important statement about Samuel. Only rarely do we encounter such high credentials, even in the Bible. Abraham messed up by trying to “help” God in his relationship with Hagar. Moses failed at the Waters of Meribah Kadesh. Just about all the heroes of the Bible have blots on their records. But it’s not so with Samuel. From the time that as a lad serving in the house of God at Shiloh he hears God’s Voice to the end of his life Samuel is faithful. As a result, some of the golden days of the Old Testament are before us in our Scripture reading. Of course, this is actually a God-story more than it is a Samuel-story. It’s God who answers Hannah’s prayer that brings Samuel into the world in the first place. It’s God who initiates contact with the boy Samuel. And it’s God who continues to lead Samuel even as Samuel leads Israel. We see today that spiritual failure doesn’t have to be part of anyone’s story. I know it’s true that just about everyone has a story of spiritual breakdown, but here we see that the Lord’s able to keep us as we allow him to work freely in our lives. Isn’t it wonderful to be reminded that because the grace of the Lord is freely available to us that we don’t have to stumble our way through life hoping we can hold it together just enough to squeeze through the Pearly Gates at the finish line of life?
Take Away: The Lord provides us everything we need to live faithful, victorious Christian lives.
2014 – Fort Davis, TX National Historic Site
X marks the spot
1 Samuel 7: Samuel took a single rock and set it upright…He named it “Ebenezer” (Rock of Help), saying, “This marks the place where God helped us.”
Samuel’s first test of leadership comes about because of a revival. He calls the people to make a real commitment to God and they gather at Mizpah to do just that. As they’re praying and fasting their enemies, the Philistines, hear about the meeting but mistake it for preparation for war. They decide to take the initiative and attack first. When word reaches the prayer meeting the people turn to Samuel for leadership. A wonderful indication of the genuineness of their new commitment to God is that they call on Samuel, not to rally troops for battle but…to pray! He prays and they pray, and God answers. As the Philistine force moves in for the fight God moves in their behalf. Thunder explodes in their midst and the result is panic. As the Philistine forces break ranks and run, Israel pursues, winning a great victory. They chase their enemies all the way past Beth Car. Here Samuel stands a rock as a monument to God’s help. He names it “Ebenezer” or “Rock of Help.” Every follower of God has some “Ebenezars” in his or her life. These are momentous victories, turning points. Samuel thinks such places are worth marking and remembering. What monuments to God’s help should I have standing in my life?
Take Away: There’s something powerful about remembering God’s grace, mercy, and help in days gone by.
2014 – Jerome, AZ
1 Samuel 7: If you are truly serious about coming back to God, clean house…they did it.
A slow but sure movement of God has been taking place for over 20 years. People are more reverent concerning spiritual things and the worship of the Lord God has become more and more common. Now, through the ministry of God’s man, Samuel, they’ve arrived at a crossroads. It’s time for a clean break with the gods of Canaan and to surrender to the true God. They’ve come a long way during these 20 years but it’s now time to close the deal. It’s time to decide. It’s time to commit. Their response is a powerful three-word sentence: “They did it.” Reading these words reminds me of watching the eastern horizon at the dawning of a new day. The sky slowly becomes brighter, a hint of things to come. Then, with dazzling beauty, the sun slips into view, flooding the earth with the light of a new day. In the book of 1 Samuel we can watch the process with spiritual eyes. A childless woman prays and a son is given. The boy hears the Voice of God calling him in the night. The adventures of the Ark of God begin to transform the thinking of the people. Samuel inaugurates his ministry by calling for a decision. “They did it.” A new day dawns for Israel! Spiritual awakenings call for decision and commitment.
Take Away: God moves, but he doesn’t force us to respond.
2014 – Jerome, AZ
Not famous, but faithful
1 Samuel 7 They ordained his son, Eleazar, to take responsibility for the Chest of God.
The Ark of the Covenant ends up in Kiriath Jearim, the house of Abinadab. Someone needs to be responsible for the Ark. After all, during the seven years that it was in the hands of the Philistines tumors broke out among the population and when the men of Beth Shemesh treated it in an irreverent way they were struck dead. They can’t have the Ark just sitting around. Someone has to care for it. Abinadab’s son, Eleazar, takes the job. For the next twenty years Eleazar takes care of the Chest of God. We know nothing else about him. Not a single word from him is recorded in Scripture and he’s associated with none of the adventures of the Bible. He just takes care of the Ark. During that time a spiritual change for the better is taking place. Samuel is growing too — in spirit and in body. Soon, this spiritual giant will take center stage and will be the spiritual leader of Israel for decades to come. But, for now, God just needs someone to look after the Ark; to be a “place holder” for Samuel until he’s ready to assume leadership. Not many of us are “Samuels.” No doubt, God calls some to do the big stuff, and I thank God for them. Most of us are called to simply be faithful, serving the Lord every day, doing what he’s placed before us. It’s nice to be reminded though, that in this small way Eleazar kept things going for the good. His faithfulness held things together while God prepared the “big player” to come on the scene. I think that is pretty impressive.
Take Away: What an honor it is to be used of the Lord, even in some small, unnoticed way.
2014 – Jerome, AZ
Caution, God at work here
1 Samuel 7: Throughout Israel there was a widespread, fearful movement toward God.
The enemies of Israel, the Philistines, have had enough of the Ark of the Covenant. Not only have they had to repair their idol Dagon, things are not going well at all throughout their territory. There’s general sickness and death and they know that it’s related to the captured Chest. They decide to send it back and be rid of it once and for all. It ends up at the town of Beth Shemesh, but not without incident. Some of the locals look inside this holy relic and are struck dead for their irreverence. This causes the fear of the Lord to fall on that place. It also reminds them that God is real and not just the product of old stories. The Ark is moved to Kiriath Jearim, where it remains for 20 years. It’s during that time that people become more and more “God aware.” It’s been a long journey from the dark ages of the book of Judges to this point, but, once again, these people are becoming a people of God. The words, “there was a widespread, fearful movement toward God” are the result of God’s faithfulness to a people who don’t deserve it. Even though they’re far from God, he’s at work and the boy Samuel is part of his plan. When they use the Ark as a good luck charm, and thus lose it, God is working. Even when the men at Beth Shemesh treat the Ark in an inappropriate way and lose their lives, God is working, setting things in motion to change the attitude of the nation. I pray that God is working in my nation too. I pray that he’s doing things in places and in ways that I don’t even see, changing attitudes, preparing the way for a “widespread, fearful movement toward” himself. And, if he can use me in any of that I want to be available to him, a willing partner in his gracious work in my society.
Take Away: The Lord sometimes works in ways unseen by us and only recognized after the fact.
2014 – Near Sedona, AZ
Yuck, yuck, yuck!
1 Samuel 6: Five gold tumors and five gold rats
Not only is the Ark causing problems for the Philistine idol Dagon some bad things are happening in their cities and in the very personal lives of their citizens as well. First, and reminiscent of the plagues of Egypt many years earlier, there’s a rat infestation in the land. These nasty rodents are showing up everywhere and getting into everything. Second, there’s an outbreak of (ahem) hemorrhoids among the population. Knowing what happened to poor old Dagon, and having heard the story of the plagues of Egypt, the leaders of the cities of the Philistines want to let the Chest of God go even as Pharaoh let the Israelites go. Their priests come up with a plan that includes sending a peace offering along with the Ark. What an offering it is: golden replicas of the rats and (get this) the (politely called) “tumors.” Can’t you imagine the look on the faces of the people of Beth Shemesh when they open the bag containing those replicas! It all sounds weird to us, but from the Philistine’s point of view it’s a desperate effort to make peace with the God of Israel. I think people today still do some strange things in an attempt to get on the good side of God. However, it’s unnecessary. God has already built that bridge and all we have to do is “cross it.” (Get it? “Cross” it). No golden rats or tumors are necessary.
Take Away: It doesn’t take golden rats to make peace with God.
2014 – At Chapel of the Holy Cross – Sedona, AZ
Poor old Dagon didn’t have a chance
1 Samuel 5: They were shocked to find Dagon toppled from his place, flat on his face before the Chest of God.
The people of Israel aren’t much more spiritually aware than are the Philistines. When the Israelites get into a difficult battle they think that bringing out the Ark of the Covenant will bring them luck. However, it doesn’t work out that way. They’re soundly defeated and their enemies take the Ark, their most holy relic. Now, the story shifts to the Philistine city of Ashdod, the shrine of the idol Dagon. Someone has the bright idea of putting their new religious prize on display there with their idol. After a bit of rearranging the Ark is in its new place. To their surprise, when they visit the shrine the next morning their Dagon idol has toppled face down before the Ark. “I wonder how that happened?” someone asks in an unsteady voice. Dagon is stood up again. The following morning the priest of Dagon peeks around the corner and it’s happened again! This time, though, poor old Dagon’s in bad shape. His head and arms are broken off and he’s once again bowing before the Ark. Something has to be done and the decision is made, not to start worshipping the God of the Ark, but to get rid of it so that they can patch up poor old Dagon and prop him up back in his place again. It sounds dumb and in a sense it is. Still, they believe in national gods and the God of Israel, in their thinking, can never be theirs. The Chest has to go. As I read this interesting account I’m reminded that everything in my life must ultimately yield to God Almighty. Also, God isn’t a good luck charm. He’s the real deal and he insists that I live in a relationship with him.
Take Away: Ultimately everything in my life must bow before the Lord.