Wrestling with bears
1 Samuel 17: God, who delivered me from the teeth of the lion and the claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine.
Saul, not to mention Goliath, towers over David. We’re told that his family calls David the “runt” and that Saul is a head and shoulders taller than the average man. When word comes to Saul that he has a volunteer to fight nine-foot-tall Goliath he’s pleased, but when he sees David, well, let’s just say David is a surprise to him. Saul rejects David as too young and inexperienced but David immediately states his credentials. Apparently, shepherding isn’t all about sitting around watching sheep and playing the harp. David has some war stories of his own, stories that include hand-to-hand (or better hand-to-claw or hand-to-teeth) combat with some pretty impressive adversaries. He didn’t just run the wild animals off. Rather, he grabbed them by the throat, wrung their necks, and killed them! Have you grabbed a bear by the neck lately? It’s my understanding that this isn’t considered a wise thing to do! Seriously, David knows that his ability to kill a lion or bear with his own hands is an extraordinary thing. In other words, he knows that he would be a dead man had it not been for God’s help, enabling him to be a lion killer even as Samson had done generations earlier. It’s because of these victories that David’s ready to take on the big guy here. It’s when I’ve gone through smaller battles (although I am not sure how “small” fighting lions should be considered) and won by God’s help that I can take on giant issues with confidence. The same God who brought me though the smaller fights of life is well able to deliver me when I’m in the fight of my life.
Take Away: As I remember the Lord’s help in the past I face future challenges with greater confidence.
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.
The battle that never was
Judges 7: I had this dream: A loaf of barley bread tumbled into the Midianite camp.
In preparation for the coming battle the Lord sends Gideon to the outskirts of the camp of the mighty Midian army. As he cautiously scouts the camp he overhears a conversation between two soldiers. One is telling the other about a dream he’s had that has nearly scared him to death. In his dream he saw a tent that represented the Midian army. Then, of all things, he saw a giant loaf of barley bread, representing Gideon and the Israelites, tumbling down the hill into the camp and knocking down the tent of Midian. The soldier has concluded that this is a message from his gods that Gideon’s army is going to roll over Midian. Overhearing all this is greatly encouraging to Gideon who concludes that God is preparing the way for his tiny force to defeat this mighty army. That night, when Gideon’s 300 sound the trumpets, light their torches, and break the jars what the skittish Midian army hears and sees causes mass confusion and they begin fighting one another and running for their lives. In no time at all the battle that never was is over. I think stories like this are important to God’s people. We need to tell them to our children and in telling them, instill in our boys and girls a deep faith in a God who takes care of his people in sometimes delightful, unusual ways. As we tell and retell stories like this, we, ourselves, are reminded of God’s power over those things that overwhelm us and his faithfulness to us in all the circumstances of life. Maybe that’s a message you need today.
Take Away: The Lord delights in doing good things for his people and he especially seems to enjoy doing those good things in unexpected ways.
Follow the Leader
Deuteronomy 31: Be strong. Take Courage. Don’t be intimidated…God is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.
There is a bit more to the book of Deuteronomy, but this is the conclusion of thirty chapters of preaching that makes up most of the book. As Moses preaches the people are looking across the Jordan to the Promised Land. They know who lives there and they know that their army isn’t ready to face the superior forces of Canaan. Beyond that, Moses, who is the only leader they’ve ever known, isn’t going with them. The new battles will be fought without their old leader. Well, not quite. Their real Leader is not only right there with them; he’s already confidently marching ahead of them preparing the way in places like Jericho. When Moses at 120 years of age breathes his last God will remain their strong leader. Even as Moses is about to commission his successor, Joshua, he reminds his listeners of God’s faithfulness to them. I thank God for people who have influenced my life by providing vital spiritual leadership along the way. Even more important, though, is the awesome steadiness of God. The finest, most dedicated person has their limits, but not the Lord. As Moses says, “He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.”
Take Away: The Lord is our faithful Leader and as we follow him, we can do so with confidence that he won’t let us down and he’ll never forsake us.
When you’ve seen one giant you’ve seen them all
Deuteronomy 3: God is going to do the same thing to all the kingdoms over there across the river.
Moses reminds his people of the victories they’ve already experienced. By God’s help they defeated the army of Sihon. Then they took on Og of Bashan. Before we ever meet the giant Goliath we meet Og. He’s huge. In fact, after he’s defeated his bed is put on display. It’s over thirteen feet long! As they say, “the bigger they come the harder they fall.” The Lord supercharges the Israelites and down comes Og and his army. Before long it will be time for this current generation of Israelites to do what their parents refused to do. They’re to cross the Jordan and take the land of Canaan as their own. This time, rather than cower in fear they’re to think of Sihon and his army and how, by the strength of the Lord, that army was crushed. When they see the big guys of Canaan they’re to picture the fallen Og and his big, iron bed that is on display. The victories of the past are to give them courage and faith to move forward to even greater victories. That’s how it’s supposed to be for me too. God has been good to me. By his grace I’ve come a long way. I don’t know what the future holds, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the biggest challenges of life lie ahead. I’m to let the work of God in my life in days gone by be a source of strength in my life in the events yet to come.
Take Away: As we remember what the Lord has done for us in the past we’re encouraged to trust in in current and future situations.
Having a small role in a big deal
Exodus 17: But Moses’ hands got tired.
The first of what will be a seeming unending number of battles is taking place. Their background as slaves affords these Israelites little preparation of combat. King Amalek, on the other hand, is a fighter with a trained and disciplined army. He sees the Israelites as easy prey and attacks them. The thing he doesn’t know is that Israel is under the protection of God Almighty. God’s man, Moses, climbs to a high point and raises that famous staff to the Lord. When he does, it’s almost as though God’s power flows from heaven, through that staff, into Moses, and then out to those defending the nation. These slaves fight like soldiers. However, Moses’ arms grow weary and he lowers the staff. When he does, the tide of the battle turns and Amalek’s forces begin to gain the advantage. Two men, Aaron and Hur, come to the rescue. They provide Moses a place to sit and then they hold up his arms and staff. Victory is theirs. As I read this story I see that God’s teaching them that (in the words of Jesus) “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Their victory on this day is clearly linked to Moses, the staff, and the action of Aaron and Hur. It’s a great victory, the first of many, but there’s no way they can take credit for it. Also, I can’t help but comment on the support of Aaron and Hur. Neither is God’s man for this moment. Clearly, that’s Moses. However, they become literal “supporters” of God’s man, lifting him when he can’t go on. Generally speaking, that’s our role in life too. We lend our support to those God is using in unique ways. In so doing, we play a small role in the big deal of God’s work in this world.
Take Away: It’s nice to have a part to play, even when it’s mainly just supportive of others.