April 1, 2017 Bible Study — Forgetting To Ask God For Guidance

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Samuel 11-13.

    This passage starts with Saul demonstrating his ability to be king. While Saul was out in the fields word came to his town about the threat by a foreign power to mutilate the men of an Israelite city. Those who heard the news wept and mourned this terrible tragedy. Saul acted. His reaction to the news was anger and action. He called the fighting men of Israel to war. He then marched to the relief of his countrymen who were under attack. However, he showed his kingship in more than just his ability to make war. After his victory, there were those among his followers who wished to punish those who had questioned, and resisted, Saul’s kingship. Rather than use his victory as an opportunity to destroy his enemies, Saul used it to unify the people of Israel and refused to retaliate against those who had rejected his leadership.

    Saul was a pragmatic leader, as shown by his actions after he won his first great victory and again when he gathered his army at Gilgal to face off against the Philistines. Saul waited for Samuel to come to make sacrifices and call on God to bless his army in it battle against the Philistines. When Samuel did not arrive after seven days (by the seventh day? the wording is ambiguous), Saul’s men began to leave his army. Looking at the situation pragmatically, Saul realized that if he did not do something he would soon not have an army. So, he decided to make the offerings himself. Saul’s decision may have been pragmatic, but it was not according to God’s will.
    What should Saul have done? He waited seven days as Samuel had instructed him. His men were scattering in fear. He needed to do something. He needed to go into battle or he was going to lose his army, but he also needed to at least appear to have God’s blessing for the battle. What Saul failed to do was ask God for guidance. He looked at the situation, debated his options, and chose a course of action. He made a mistake which is all too easy for us to make. We think we have taken everything into account, but the problem is that we do not know what we do not know. Sometimes everything we know can point to a decision which is the wrong decision. That is what happened to Saul here. He relied on his own judgment rather than asking God to guide his decision.

March 31, 2017 Bible Study — Looking At Outward Appearances

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Samuel 8-10.

    When Samuel became old and was no longer able to lead the people of Israel, he turned the role over to his sons, who were little, if any, better than Eli’s sons had been. This, among other things, led the Israelites to ask Samuel to appoint someone king over them. They wanted to be like everyone else. Their desire for a king was not a repudiation of Samuel or his service. It was a repudiation of God. Rather than acknowledge that their problems were a result of their failure to faithfully follow God, they blamed God for not giving them a king to rule over them. They looked at other nations and thought that if they were like them, if they had a king, they would not have the problems which they had.

    One of the things which has stood out to me for several years when I read about Saul being chosen to become king. That thing is what the author thought most important to point out about Saul. That something was that Saul was a head taller than anyone else and the most handsome young man in Israel. This does not mean that Saul did not have qualifications which might have made him a great king because I think that he did. However, it shows us once more that the people of Israel were choosing a ruler for the wrong reasons. They wanted someone who looked the part more than they wanted someone who could do the job. We often make the same mistake in choosing leaders today. We choose someone because they look like what we think a leader should look rather than judging them on their skills. There is a difference between how Saul became king and how David became king. Saul became king because he looked like a king. David became king because he led like a king. I want to repeat that I do not want to belittle Saul’s skills as a king because I know they are on display in tomorrow’s passage.

March 30, 2017 Bible Study — The Lord Is God and There Is No Other

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Samuel 4-7.

    The Israelites were battling the Philistines and they attempted to use the Ark of the Covenant as a totem to force God to give them victory. Instead, they suffered a crushing defeat. This is a lesson for us. God is not some totem we can call upon to bring us victory, or success, in pursuing our own agenda. However, there is more to this story as well.
    The Philistines thought that their victory was an indication that their gods were more powerful than God. In particular, they placed God in a subservient position to Dagon, the lord of their pantheon. The Philistines would very definitely gotten the message of the imagery of the statue of Dagon falling prostrate before the Ark of the Covenant, especially after it happened a second time with the head of the statue breaking off. These combined with the outbreak of plague in Ashdod, and then in Gath when they moved the Ark there, made the Philistines realize that God could not just be integrated into their pantheon. While our attempts to use God for our purposes will fail, and lead others to question the power of God, God will subsequently display His power in a manner which shows that our failure was because our actions did not have God’s support, not because God was unable to grant us success.

    When the Ark of the Covenant was returned to the Israelites by the Philistines, the reason and manner of that return inspired a revival in faith among the Israelites. Samuel then told them that if they wanted to return to the Lord they needed to do so “whole hog”. There could be no hedging their bets by continuing to worship other gods, or even by just holding on to the idols and paraphernalia of such worship. If they wanted to return to the Lord, they needed to commit themselves to serve Him alone. That is what God wants from us, that we worship and serve Him above all other things. In today’s world, it is less a matter of worshiping other things we view as gods and more a matter of accepting competing ideologies.

March 29, 2017 Bible Study — Speak, For Your Servant Is Listening

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on 1 Samuel 1-3.

    The beginning of this passage gives us an insight into how important having children was to women in biblical times. I could spend time discussing some of the reasons for this, but the important thing is to recognize that it was extremely important to most of them. Hannah desperately wanted children. A feeling which was exacerbated by her husband’s other wife (another reason for monogamy). In her desperation, Hannah poured out her heart to God. In this she serves as an example for all of us. She prayed and asked God for the desire of her heart, but she also offered to dedicate the desire of her heart to serving God’s will. The most important part of this is that she followed through on that promise.

    I find it difficult to know what to make of Eli. On the one hand, the sons of his body had grown into evil men who brought disgrace on the name of the Lord. On the other hand, he raised Samuel and taught him to serve God faithfully. Eli rebuked his sons for their sins, but he did nothing further (of course, we have no reason to believe that he could have done anything further). He also accepted the Lord’s judgment on his family without complaint.
    Perhaps the most important thing which Eli did in his life was teach Samuel to respond to God by saying, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” I am going to do something here that I generally avoid. I am going to expand on this phrase.

  • “Speak,” acknowledging that God has something to say to us.
  • “your servant,” expressing a willingness to do as God commands.
  • “listening,” recognizing that we need to pay heed to what God has to say to us.

March 28, 2017 Bible Study — Character Counts

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Ruth 1-4.

    The Book of Ruth has so much in it that I cannot really cover it all in one blog entry. Usually I just pick one of the themes and focus on that. Today, I am going to do more than that (I doubt I will cover everything, but there is more than one theme I want to touch on). The story begins with Elimelek moving to Moab with his wife, Naomi, and sons because of a famine in his home country. His sons marry Moabite women, followed by Elimelek and his sons dying. Then Naomi hears that the famine has ended in her home country so she decides to move back home (where she has relatives who may care for her, since she no longer has a husband or sons to do so). Then comes the first thing of real interest, her daughters-in-law choose to go with her. What kind of person was Naomi that she inspired such loyalty in her daughters-in-law?
    As an aside, I want to note that we should not think poorly of Orpah for not going with Naomi. If both Orpah and Ruth had accompanied Naomi on her return it would have complicated things (there was only one Boaz). Additionally, one woman (Ruth) accompanying her mother-in-law would be seen as loyal and caring, two (Ruth and Orpah) would be seen as leeches.

    Boaz’ character is often overlooked in studies of the Book of Ruth (which is understandable, since Naomi and Ruth are the focus of the book). However, I want to look at Boaz today. Our first introduction to Boaz is with him blessing those who worked for him in the name of the Lord. Then he immediately notices that there was an addition to the young women working behind the harvesters, Ruth. This suggests that he was observant and familiar with who should be there among the women working for him. Now, perhaps part of the reason he noticed Ruth was because he found her attractive, there are certainly other parts of the passage which suggest that such was the case. Boaz goes to the trouble of making sure that the young men who work for him know that he will come to Ruth’s defense if they seek to take advantage of her. Further, Boaz himself does not take advantage of Ruth. He did however make his interest in her clear. Men seeking a wife would do well to study and emulate Boaz’ character.

March 27, 2017 Bible Study — Mob Justice Ends Badly

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Judges 20-21.

    When news spread about the gang rape in Gibeah, the men of Israel were outraged. They vowed to punish the wrongdoers. So, they massed as an army, without inviting the tribe of Benjamin (of which the men of Gibeah were a part). This is where things went wrong. Rather than assemble a group to discover the facts in order to call to account those responsible for this terrible crime, they gathered an army in the heat of the moment. Having gathered an army, they sent word to Benjamin demanding that they surrender the accused parties (we know from the account that those accused were, at least for the most part, guilty, but that would have been less clear to a rational person at the time). While the warriors of the rest of Israel were guilty of a rush to judgement, the warriors of Benjamin were guilty of the opposite. They reflexively defended their fellow tribesmen. The failure of either side to avoid reacting emotionally led to a tragedy of near irreversible proportions. The tribe of Benjamin was almost wiped out.
    When they realized what they had done, the other tribes of Israel sought, and found, solutions to the problem they had created. I had mentioned earlier that throughout the time of the judges Israel did not act as a unified group. Each of the judges led just a few of the tribes. None of them exerted authority over all of Israel. This event seems to represent a change in that because we see in First Samuel that Israel has begun to act as a unified nation once more. Which shows us that even our mistakes serve to advance God’s plan.

March 26, 2017 Bible Study — All The People Did Whatever Seemed Right In Their Own Eyes

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Judges 17-19.

    Today’s passage tracks what happens when each person determines what is right for themselves with no accountability to anyone else. The passage recounts gradually escalating sins, until it culminates in the gang-rape death of a woman in violation of laws of hospitality (as in the story of Lot’s escape from Sodom, the crime seems to be the combination of sexual violation and violating the laws of hospitality). First, Micah steals from his own mother, apparently thinking she will not notice. Then, his mother makes an idol out of the stolen silver. Micah first appoints his own son as priest, then hires a Levite to be his family priest. Some warriors from Dan steal both the idol and the Levite for the tribe of Dan. Finally, the concubine of a traveling Levite is gang-raped while he is a guest in a town in the territory of Benjamin. It is worth noting that this Levite traveled a couple extra hours to stay among his fellow Israelites rather than in a non-Israelite town.
    I keep trying to sum up the words I used in the title in a different way, but cannot find words that say it as clearly as that quote from this passage. Any time a society becomes one where everyone does whatever seems right in their own eyes and rejects the idea that anyone else can say that what they want to do is wrong, something like the incident in Gibeah will occur. Usually a lot of incidents like Gibeah. No one can truly do what is right if they do not find others to hold them to account.

March 25, 2017 Bible Study — Samson Had Poor Judgement When It Came To Women

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Judges 14-16.

    I struggle with how to write my thoughts about Samson. His parents apparently raised him to keep the vows of a Nazirite (at the least, he did not cut his hair), but they did not teach him to have good judgment when dealing with women. I am hesitant to lay this blame fully at his parent’s feet. There may have been nothing they could do differently, but every time I read this I think that Samson seems to have the attitude of a spoiled child. First, he demanded that his parents arrange for him to marry a Philistine woman, who immediately wheedled information out of him to use to his disadvantage. Later, he consorted with a prostitute putting himself at risk. Finally, he took up with Delilah, who did the same thing to him that his first wife did, but on a more serious level. I would like to say that I do not understand what Samson was thinking with Delilah, but that would not be true. However, he should have known better. She repeatedly tried to get him to tell her the source of his strength. Samson repeatedly made up lies which he told her, which she then promptly tested.
    The fact of the matter is that most men will give in to the tactics used by Samson’s first wife and by Delilah. That is why it is so important for a man to choose to marry a woman who loves God. Otherwise her interests are likely to diverge from his.

March 24, 2017 Bible Study — Judging People By Their Actions, Not By Who Their Parents Were

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Judges 11-13.

    There is a lesson in the story of Jephthah that I have not heard anyone speak about (although that is not surprising since he is rarely the topic of sermons). In yesterday’s passage we had Abimelech, the illegitimate son of Gideon, who was a bad ruler. In today’s passage we have Jephthah, the illegitimate son of Gilead, who was a good leader (or, at least, not a bad ruler). We could easily make the mistake of thinking that Abimelech should not have been trusted because of who his mother was. Yet, if the Israelites had done the same with Jephthah, they would never have trusted him (and to be perfectly honest, that is exactly what they initially did). We should judge people on the basis of what they do, not on the basis of who their parents were.

    There is another thing we begin to see here, or, at least, that I begin to see every year at about this point in the Book of Judges. During the time of the Judges the Israelites were not a unified people. Abimelech ruled over Schechem and the surrounding areas, but not over all of Israel. Jephthah ruled over Gilead, the land the Israelites controlled east of the Jordan River. As you look through the other judges, they also seemed to only rule over several tribes and not all of them. Here under Jephthah and earlier under Gideon we even see conflict between the tribes.

March 23, 2017 Bible Study — Paying the Price for Foolishly Choosing a Leader

I am using the daily Bible reading schedule from “The Bible.net” for my daily Bible reading.

Today, I am reading and commenting on Judges 9-10.

    Once again we see how the failure of a leader to groom his successor leads to problems. Fortunately, the problems are usually not as bad as what is described in this passage. There is also a lesson here for those choosing a new leader. In this case, the leading citizens of Schechem chose to appoint Abimelech as their king because he was related to them on his mother’s side. However, it is even worse than that. Once they had chosen him as their leader, they gave him money to hire men to kill his half-brothers, sons of his father Gideon. The people of Schechem had knowingly chosen a leader without honor because they believed his interests would align with their own. They believed that they would profit from his lack of honor. It was not long before they learned their mistake, but by then it was too late. The people of Schechem chose poorly, and for bad reasons, when they chose to lend their support to Abimelech. They paid a high price for this mistake. It is important to carefully consider the character of those we choose to follow.