Friday, August 25, 2006

Straight on to Salvation (1 Samuel 8:10-22)

En route from Egypt, Moses foretold Israel, "When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, "I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me..."(Deuteronomy 17:14). Though the Hebrew nation of Israel was wandering in the dessert for 40 years, God gave Moses instruction about how to live in their future homeland. Knowing that the people would ask for a King, God instructed Israel through Moses generations before it took place. As we read the second half of 1 Samuel 8, this instruction of God should be ringing in our ears. God foreknew that Israel would reject Him, yet in love He continued to give them of His promises, His protection, and His love.

1 Samuel 8 is a sobering passage to read as we recognize our sin in relation to Israel's rejection of God's best ~ that which He had specifically instructed to them in the way they should live. Yet it is a delightful passage to meditate on in considering the character of God toward sinners. God had planned, from the days He led little Israel by the hand from Egypt, that when they grew into adolescents and flexed their muscles of autonomy, that He would allow them to experience what they asked for. More than that, the place and timing of their hearts would be right on track as God headed straight forward to His coming Messiah.

Taking apart vv. 10-22, we see a progression in God's message to Israel through Samuel:
1. Your sons
2. Your daughters
3. You
4. will
5. Nevertheless

"Your sons," "your daughters," and "you" were first instructed to give to God their very best. The first and best portions belonged to God, and then Israel enjoyed the rest of God's blessings among themselves. Under a king, not only would their best go to God, but also then they would give of their own families members, produce, and earnings to support an earthly king. Even the king's servants would eat from the best of Israel, and then the nation would supply for them from what was left. (Reality check!) Under the king, their families, their economy, their national defense system, and their agriculture system would all be adapted to support the king. They better hope for a kind and gracious king, and one who trembles under the fear of God! A self-serving king would be able to lead them into poverty and even greater moral demise.

Next, God foretells that they will cry out from under their earthly king. Note in v. 18 how often "you" is used, and for that matter, note how often it is used in our whole passage today. God is making a statement about the responsibility behind the consequences. When the situation gets undesirable, that finger of blame has one way to point ~ to the "you" in our passage. Sovereignly and with a good heart, God grants their sinful request so that maybe they would see why God's best is best. He's not to be the place of blame for their future grief. Sin is a serious offense, with death as its wages (Romans 6:23).

Lastly, we have "nevertheless" used. This should be a red flag, telling us that Israel has rejected God's warning through Samuel and pursued the desires of their own hearts. Verse 19 says that they refused to listen to God and demanded that they be like all the nations. God's instruction to them was to be holy as He is holy (emphasized repetitively in Leviticus), but the allure of second best had captured their hearts.

Isn't God full of mystery and wisdom? In the midst of Israel's sinful rejection, He chooses still to go straight toward His coming Messiah. His promise, His word drives Him. He embodies truth and faithfulness. God later promised through the lineage of King David, that his throne would never end. Historically we see it does end when Babylon and Assyria become world powers, yet the coming of Jesus, the Messiah and a descendant of David, is the securing of the throne for eternity. Human rejection will not stop God from His own will. His love for us is too great to stop short of the goal.

In the midst of our sin, God's wisdom says, "Straight on to my salvation! Straight on to the greatest of rejections upon the cross! I want my people with me, and I will provide the way!"

© 2006 by Kendra Hinkle.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Allure of Second Best (1 Samuel 8:1-9)

The repentance of chapter 7 was short lived. For a time the Israelite's eyes were turned toward God under the leadership of Samuel. Verses 15 through 17 of that chapter give us a summary and closure of Samuel's leadership. He was still acting as a priest, prophet and judge in Israel after this point, but leadership in the nation was being transferred.

Israel relied strongly on a leader to direct their spiritual lives. So as one generation ended and another began, God slowly faded from supremacy in their hearts. Samuel was old, and his sons caved in their choices. Taking bribes and perverting justice, they forecasted a troublesome future for the nation as Israel depended on them for leadership. The nation has seen this before in Eli's sons, and they have decided that they will not tolerate it. While seeming a wise decision, Israel had not fostered continual repentance before God in their hearts. They are relying on leadership to be the manager of their spiritual health.

No man can stand under that weight unless it is the Lord at work. God had not placed a man as a political or governmental leader over the nation. He set priests in the center of the people, next to Himself, in order to serve and exemplify how to live in relationship with a holy God. Unfortunately, during the conquest of the land, Israel slowly reverted back to pagan worship. They began subscribing to their magazines, letting their lusts for second best grow. Soon, they had altered their plans for how to inhabit and manage the land, though God had given some specific directions.

Yet, Israel was convinced of what they wanted. And what they wanted was so easily justified as a need outside of faith in God. The other nations' systems had immediate benefits. Fearing those nations instead of God, the governments and advanced military systems looked shiny and new. They were so alluring, as well as having religious systems that thrived on idolatry. Those other nations could trust in what they saw leading them, but this generation of Israel was expected to trust in God who they could not see. Faith was required, but it was hard.

Not building a foundation for their worship and relationship with the Lord, Israel fell to the allure of second best. God had been their King. He was unseen, but had proven His character, His might, and His miracles since the days they left Egypt. Yet, verse 8 says, "Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt...they have forsaken Me and served other gods." The inclination of their hearts, and our hearts, is sin. We have a natural bent to want and desire second best, even when God shows us miracles.

Ultimately, Israel rejected God as King and asked for a king to be set over them. This grieved Samuel in His old age, but in conversation with God he was told to listen to the people. God is sovereign, able to act for His own good in every circumstance. In this portion of chapter 8, we see that God was allowing the allure of second best to be gratified. He was allowing sin and circumstance to be a teacher for the nation. They are about to be reacquainted with the reasons that God is the one true King.

Second best is so alluring, isn't it? Wants get so easily justified as needs, freeing my heart to follow after sin actively. By selfish desire, I quickly and easily displace God as King in my heart and set myself upon a lesser throne. I don't so easily mean to reject God, but in my heart I have not fostered repentance. Like Israel I may easily stray from my foundation of faith in God. What I set before my eyes seems a more alluring king. Do any of you women out there feel this well up in you when you walk the shops at the mall or get lots of magazines to look through at home? I'm so vulnerable, and notice a war start to arise in my heart when I am not careful with these things. Each of us has areas where we easily debunk God as King. Be aware of where yours are, and beware of your interaction with those "other nations."

Every day I need the gospel. Every day I need the blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of my sin. Only by Him am I made anew and shaped for His glory. Oh but what glory there is, because I have been changed. Doing what I could not do in my own strength or by my own intellect, God has made me anew. "He who hears my Word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life" (John 5:24).

© 2006 by Kendra Hinkle.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Repentance (1 Samuel 7)

In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel took his stand as a national leader and called for the gathering of all Israel at Mizpah. The nation of Israel had come to trust Samuel, because the Lord chose to reveal Himself and His Word through the young prophet. Now, after a major catastrophe with the precious national centerpiece (loss and return of the ark), Israel had 20 years to review their hearts and accept conviction. Verse 2 says, "...all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD."

After this time, Samuel uses his influence to preach a message of repentance. Repentance in this instance contains four action steps for Israel. With hearts of genuine remorse, they were to:
1. Return to the Lord with all of their hearts
2. Remove the idolatry and foreign worship from among them
3. Direct their hearts to Him alone
4. Serve Him alone
These steps are applicable to me, also. As the Holy Spirit convicts me of sin, in genuine remorse I should turn my heart to the Lord. I give it wholly to Him and begin removing stumbling blocks from my life that have caused me to sin. Not only do I return and remove, but I actively should direct my heart to Him. Where idols were removed, I need to fill my heart and mind with Him. True heart change will happen by His hand. This can happen through spending time in prayer, fellowship with other Christians, and studying the Bible to know Him better. Dying to myself, I then spend my energies in service to Him instead of my own selfish desires and empty idols.

Back in our chapter, Israel uniquely worshiped God as they gathered and fasted in repentance. During those twenty years after the ark made its way back from Philistia, they saw their need for His centrality in their lives. The LORD was living water to the desert of their sinful hearts. Responding under Samuel's leadership, Israel drew up one of their most precious resources in that region - water - and poured it out before God as an act of worship. In repentance and conviction, they acknowledged their need of God and poured out their hearts to Him.

God's living water seeps into the parched areas of the sinner's heart. Moment by moment His grace sustains and prepares the soil. If a human heart is to be a fertile place to bear His fruit, then one must depend on His part in doing it. For the Israelites, this meant pursuing God each time they were tempted to turn from Him.

The Philistines again came to tempt them into submission, and Israel was afraid. Yet, they asked for Samuel's prayer and stood for battle. As a fulfimment of His promise should they repent, the Lord acted mightily on their behalf to defeat the Philistines. Samuel's response to this victory is one that will help us in our own repentance. He built an altar before the Lord and remembered, "Thus far the Lord has helped us."

As we are again and again tempted, each in ways that are unique to our own weaknesses, we should ask for prayer from those Christains around us. Though we may fear our own moral failure in the beginning, we will stand for battle in obedience to the Lord. Each small step taken that is victorious should cause us to ascribe victory to the Lord. We build a memorial in our hearts to remind us that the Lord helped us thus far. Then, we stand again and look ahead to the next small step of victorious obedience.

Thus far the Lord has helped us. He will again help us in the next temptation.

© 2006 by Kendra Hinkle.