Finding God in unexpected places
1 Samuel 28: There’s a witch at Endor.
Life is terribly dark for Saul. Years ago when he failed God at Gilgal Samuel told him that God was finished with him. However for decades it has looked as though Saul can handle things on his own. He builds a strong army and successfully leads the people of Israel. However, through those years things are always going downhill for Saul. As we near the end of his story, he’s a fear-filled, pitiful man. Thus we come to this strange incident at Endor. Saul’s afraid of his enemies and with good reason. His past successes against the Philistines are forgotten as a coalition of forces is massing for the biggest battle yet. Saul’s only connection with God has been through Samuel, but now Samuel is dead. Prayer is an unknown thing for Saul, but in fear, he prays. There’s no answer. Then, with the same denial of God’s authority that was evident many years earlier when he decided to offer his own sacrifices rather than wait for Samuel at Gilgal, he again takes matters into his own hands. If God won’t answer, he’ll turn to witchcraft for answers. He knows God strictly forbids this, in fact, as king he’s enforced the abolition of witchcraft in Israel. Now, he goes looking for someone who can contact the dead for him, specifically Samuel. I know some view this as confirmation that witchcraft, mediums, séances, and the like can be genuine. However, I’m not ready to go there based on this passage. The “witch at Endor” is probably an old faker who’s told fortunes for years. Now, when she starts her act and Samuel appears she’s more surprised than anyone else: “When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out….” In other words, she dropped out of her mystic trance when something actually happened. My take on this is that Saul’s trying to bypass God by moving as far from God’s “territory” as possible. However, he runs headlong into God even there. Here’s the spiritual fact of life: even when a person tries to move out of the light of God into areas where no one is to go they find that God is God even there. This passage is a confirmation of His absolute sovereignty.
Take Away: There’s no way to bypass the Lord.
Hide and seek
1 Samuel 23: Saul was on one side of the mountain, David and his men on the other.
Saul and David are playing a deadly game of hide and seek. In spite of David’s continuing to be a defender of Israel Saul has made him public enemy number one. David’s band is growing, now numbering over 600, but Saul’s army vastly outnumbers them. Beyond that, David doesn’t want to fight Saul or any of his countrymen. The nation of Israel is divided. Some are loyal to Saul and others to David. In fact, one group, the Ziphites, betrays David to Saul. They report David’s whereabouts to Saul and help set up an ambush. It’s nearly successful. At one point Saul almost has David and his men cornered. If not for word of an attack from a real enemy that forces Saul’s attention elsewhere, David’s story would end right here. Because of this, this area is called “Narrow Escape.” So, was the attack by the Philistines at such a critical moment just good fortune for David? I think not. God’s fingerprints are all over this. Still, it’s interesting that God used the enemies of Israel, the heathens of the land, to deliver David. The lesson for me is that this is a reminder that God is truly sovereign. Even when godless people act in ways intended to destroy, God can give a gentle push in some particular direction and use their sinful act to accomplish good rather than evil. Even when it seems evil has won the day, God is still God, and he’s working in surprising ways in and through it all.
Take Away: When all is said and done it’s the Lord who has said the last word.
What God intended in the first place
Numbers 23: How can I curse whom God has not cursed?
Balaam is hired by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites. After the talking donkey incident, Balaam has had a change of heart. After all, part of that unusual event is that he saw the angel of the Lord with sword in hand blocking his way. Now as he arrives, Balak urges him to go ahead and curse the Israelites. Balaam agrees to do his thing, but warns Balak that he can only say what the Lord allows him to say. He enters into his “prophetic trance” and the words that come out of his mouth are a disappointment to Balak. Right off it’s plain that the pitiful prophet, who’s toying with stuff he would be better off leaving alone, isn’t going to do a very good job of cursing God’s people. Instead, Balaam hears himself blessing them. This whole blessing and cursing stuff is off the mark anyway. God’s people don’t believe in spells and magic. Rather, we believe in God. In this case the Lord used Balaam’s hocus pocus for his own purposes, but remember this: God already intends to bless Israel. That’s what he’s been saying all along. Even if Balak’s plan had worked and Balaam managed to state a mysterious, mystic curse on Israel it would have just been a lot of hot air. Beyond that, Balaam’s blessing doesn’t actually mean anything either. God didn’t hear this silly prophet state a blessing and think he had to obey. The Lord continued to do what he intended to do all along.
Take Away: The Lord is sovereign and all the hocus pocus in the world isn’t going to force him to do anything.