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READY TO DIVE INTO WEEK 5?
Chapter 11 provides an account that shows Saul’s military prowess, even early in his reign. We know Saul’s chief role as king was that he defeat the Philistines. And though his first battle is with a different foe, it certainly set the standard of how this newly anointed one would lead while proving his worth to his people.
Just as the Philistines were a thorn in the southwest side of the nation of Israel, the Ammonites were a thorn to the eastern side, the Arameans to the north, and Edom to the southeast.
The Ammonites were related to Israel (Genesis 19:38, Deuteronomy 2:19), but were known to be combative, harassing the tribes east of the Jordan River from their land even further east (Judges 3:13, Judges 11, Deuteronomy 23:3-6). With the claim that the east bank of the Jordan belonged to them (Judges 11:12-13), the Ammonites besieged Jabesh-gilead, threatening to put out the right eyes of everyone, thus not only shaming them…but also incapacitating the people from taking aim in battle, protecting themselves from future assault.
The people of Jabesh-gilead knew they either must agree to the treaty (and therefore lose an eye), or their entire town would be put to death. Nahash, the Ammonite king, was so confident of the situation, that he allowed Jabesh to seek other parts of Israel for assistance. I can just see him sneer and chuckle, knowing the agreed upon seven days wouldn’t be enough time for messengers to reach the whole land and return with help…if help would even come at all.
Now, behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen. And Saul said, “What is wrong with the people, that they are weeping?” So they told him the news of the men of Jabesh. And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled.
He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of the messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!”
Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. When he mustered them at Bezek, the people of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand. (1 Samuel 11:4-8)
Since kingship was a very new concept for Israel, it seemed to not occur to anyone that it was this sort of thing that Saul was appointed for. Rather than coming to Saul with the news so he could form a plan and act, he instead happened onto people weeping as he brought his oxen in from the fields.
The people may not have remembered this is what his job was, but he sure did. A burning anger came upon him…not the kind that makes someone simply stew in flaming rage, but rather the kind that makes someone jump into action. Both the anger as well as the action are seen as God-inspired and God-given, as the Spirit comes upon him.
It’s certainly true that we need to be careful to make sure our anger doesn’t swipe up sin within it. But we don’t see that here though. We see only righteous anger.
This is the kind of anger we might have when we hear of women being trafficked or children working in sweatshops. This is the kind of anger that moves Saul (and hopefully moves us) into doing something about the situation. Putting your hand out to help, thus changing lives.
When was the last time you’ve been moved by anger like this? Have you ever been??
I’m trying to think when I have and gosh, it’s a bit convicting. Sure our family financially helps organizations like the International Justice Mission, World Vision, and A Glimmer of Hope. We sometimes serve families at the Ronald McDonald house and Denver Dream Center. But that’s more because we have deep anguish and sorrow as our hearts break. The opening of our checkbooks sometimes seems like the only option we have. And though incredibly important for the longevity and effectivity of an organization…it doesn’t feel the same as actually going out and getting our hands dirty from real tangible effort.
When I think of this applying to me, what comes to mind first is when our sweet little Imani became malnourished before we brought her home. The woman who was in charge of the orphanage there in Ethiopia was misspending funds sent by our adoption agency. Who knows what she spent the money on, but it certainly wasn’t on formula for the babies. We were so aghast and devastated by what we saw when flying in for our court appointment with the Ethiopian government, that we knew something needed to be done before severe damage was done not only to Imani’s little body, but the other sweet infants, as well.
Ben and I knew simply giving money wouldn’t help, because we couldn’t trust where it would be spent. So we located a facility in-country that sold formula in bulk, purchasing flats and flats and flats of it: enough to feed all the babies in the orphanage for at least six months.
We may not have had the drama of chopping up oxen and sending pieces around the territory. But like Saul, we were angry with a fiery heat that turned into passion and action.
SKILL TO THE UNSKILLED
The Israelite army was largely untrained and unqualified; green in the course of battle. But verse 11 indicates Saul’s understanding and skill in strategy.
And the next day Saul put the people in three companies. And they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. And those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together. (1 Samuel 11:11)
Toward the end of chapter ten, we learned about “the men whose hearts God had touched”. After the nation witnessed Saul’s commencement, these men stepped away from their current lives and followed Saul home to Gibeah as his men of valor.
In Hebrew, the word valor means strength, might, army, or force. Perhaps with Saul at the helm, these men of valor had spent time crafting tactics so they’d be prepared when war came to their doorsteps. It’s certainly likely since Saul knew the importance of this aspect within his reign. In fact, it may have been one of the first conversations with his men.
But a small group of valiant men weren’t enough for battle. Because larger numbers of soldiers were needed, it’s obvious that God’s hand was upon Saul as his confidence infused hearts all across the nation. The people unified in boldness, solidifying their assurance in their new leader.
Acts 4:13 says,
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.
This is one of my absolute favorite passages in the Bible. It makes me feel like, YES!! I'm common, too!! And yet I can be bold and make a difference solely for the fact that I've been with Jesus...He resides with me and through Him, I can be audacious, courageous, and daring!
It fits well with the God's people here, as well. Israel didn’t have an entire nation of warriors. Though some were skilled in battle, the majority of the men who came out to fight were everyday, unskilled men. Skilled in other things, sure. But likely novices in war. Like boldness given to Peter and John generations later, the boldness these Israelite men stepped into was given them by the Lord, as well as in confidence of their new leader.
Their unity was remarkable.
I can’t think of our country truly coming together in unity since 9/11, can you? Unlike that devastation where our country unified with such unwavering fervor, this skirmish was actually a fairly small-scale attack in national terms.
It did however, serve to show Saul’s character and good standing among his people by demonstrating his integrity and understanding of public affairs. By declining to take revenge on those who refused to acknowledge him as king (1 Samuel 11:12-13), he showed great respect for God’s victory that day.
Remember, back in 1 Samuel 10:27 it is mentioned that:
Still, some worthless skeptics and unbelievers asked, “How can this no-name from Benjamin protect us?” and they refused to honor him with an appropriate gift. But Saul kept silent.
After victory against the Ammonites, the Israelites wanted to know who these rebellious insurgents were. The people told Samuel the men should be put to death. But Saul would not succumb and demanded instead that no one would be put to death that day because God rescued Israel. Instead, they went to Gilgal and chadash the kingdom, which means to renew or repair the kingship.
They were all in. They were unified. Saul’s kingship was secure.
IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL
Shortly after the incredible defeat of the Ammonites, Samuel felt it was time to say goodbye.
It wasn’t that he was going to ride into the hills at sunset and never be seen again, he merely knew his standing in leadership was through. He would still be a prophet, still be known as a man of God. But the change resided in the fact that he was no longer the chief judge and spiritual leader of the nation.
He may not have agreed with the anointing of a king. But he respected the wishes of the people and obeyed what God asked of him. After all, Saul was Samuel’s king, too. Maintaining a consultancy role of advisor and spiritual guide, Samuel would still be available to the new leader, it would just be in a greatly different magnitude. I’m sure Samuel felt as if he was being forced into retirement.
Changes are hard. Especially when they come out of the blue or we don’t want the change to happen. I’m sure we’ve all been in situations where this is true. Maybe a boyfriend decided a job across the country was where he needed to be, thus ending your relationship. Maybe it was even a spouse that left. Perhaps a position you volunteered in decided to change gears and go another route, upending the need for your capabilities in serving. Maybe your story is similar to Samuel and a new guy took your position and capsizing your entire career and focus in life.
How though, do we act as things change? How do we honestly get to the point where we can say, “It is well with my soul” when it’s not well with our souls?
The first was the death of his son at the age of 2 and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer and had invested significantly in property in the area of Chicago that was extensively damaged by the great fire). His business interests were further hit by the economic downturn of 1873, at which time he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre.
In a late change of plan, he sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sea vessel, the Loch Earn, and all four of Spafford's daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, "Saved alone …".
Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died. (Wikipedia)
It is well with my Soul
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
This is a conversation we could have all day…hours spent trying to wrap our minds around how someone can get to the point where they can say “It is well with my soul” through their grief.
But if we look both at Spafford and Samuel, we’ll see something similar. We see their unwavering trust in the Lord.
Horrible things happen in this life, we’ve experienced it and witnessed those close to us experience it: Death, abuse, neglect, trauma, unexpected changes in life, financial struggles, health scares, and on...
But here’s the thing. Do we honestly believe that Christ can bring beauty out of it? Can we get to the place where our heart can honestly believe the detestable and excruciatingly hard moments can be used for good in the future?
I have a dear friend who got pregnant in college. They’re a sweet Christian couple who made a mistake that couldn’t be unmade. As her world seemed to close in around her, feeling as if her dreams were vanishing, God used her. He God utilized her less-than-perfect situation to help countless other girls contemplating decisions that would affect the rest of their lives. It was crazy to see how girls came out of the woodwork after learning that my friend was going to keep her baby. Some had numerous abortions and were grief-stricken and brokenhearted. Others were pregnant and hadn’t told a soul, some were devastated by a friend’s choices, but whatever the situation, she prayed with them and guided them as Christ was guiding her through, as well.
Another friend faced infertility for years and with no explanation from doctors as to why. She has now written an absolutely beautiful book (Every Bitter Thing is Sweet) about how God used her devastation for His glorious plan. Her world is bigger and understanding of God clearer because of the struggle she went through. It’s truly exciting to know how her heart has changed through the years of pushing through grief. She is changed for the better because of having gone through the pain and loss and God is using it to make a difference in the lives of so many, all around the world. She wouldn’t be where she is now without those years of struggle.
Our family wouldn’t be where it is without one of our kids telling our social worker I was abusing him. Threatening to take away all the kids, there was a full-blown investigation against me. As absolutely horrible as that season was, we needed to go through it so our sweet son’s wounded heart could begin to comprehend hat no matter how horrible it got, we weren’t giving up on him. Unlike everyone in his past, who pushed him out when they tired of him, we were here to stay. He could trust us. And because we still loved on him through a time when he was literally about to rip our entire family from our hands, we trusted God would somehow use it. Every time I prayed, I heard God whisper “I’m allowing you to go through this for a purpose. Do not fear.” It begun to shape how I thought of God.
AND IF NOT GOD, YOU ARE STILL GOOD
During this situation, knowing a lie could devastate our family forever... I was faced with the concept of: And if not God, you are still good.
Did I believe it? Truly believe it? If our children were yanked from our home because our wounded son thought if he made life hard enough for us, we’d put him back on a plane to Ethiopia, would I still think God was good and faithful and loving?
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shared this idea in Daniel 3 as they saw that their situation looked hopeless. They were about to be thrown into a fiery furnace and told the king that even if God did not save them, they would rest in His faithfulness. He was still good and they still loved Him. No matter what.
God doesn’t promise to save us from the flames and pain of life. What He has promised though, is to be with us as we walk through the fire…and either rescue us here on earth, or through death for our eternal salvation (read Isaiah 43).
Because the king's order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:22-25)
God’s presence was with them, just as His presence is with us. He won’t always keep us from feeling the heat and the scariness that comes along with it.
But through the fire, can we still say, It is well and If not, He is still good?
Here in chapter 12 as Samuel is bidding the nation farewell and publicly passing the torch of leadership onto Saul, he reminds the Israelites that even through generations of repeated acts of turning from God, He has never left their side (1 Samuel 12:6-11). The Lord never abandoned them, but instead allowed pressure from their enemies with the intent that they turn to Him for help.
In verse 14, Samuel wants them to remember that though Saul is their leader, God is still their Great King:
If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well.
Not that life will be easy. There’s no promise anywhere that life will be happy, peaceful, and comfortable at all times. But this verse above says, it will be well.
The Message version translates this section as:
So here’s the king you wanted, the king you asked for. God has let you have your own way, given you a king. If you fear God, worship and obey him, and don’t rebel against what he tells you. If both you and your king follow God, no problem. God will be sure to save you. But if you don’t obey him and rebel against what he tells you, king or no king, you will fare no better than your fathers.
Several verses later, Samuel nails it in again:
Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king. (1 Samuel 12:24-25)
As a nation, they need to love and follow their Heavenly King first and foremost. Every man and woman…and especially Saul himself. They’ve seen how it tore apart their nation before. Let their history be a reminder of how not to act, but look to the future and trust the Lord of the Heavens, worshiping Him only. And trusting Him above all.
Let it be a reminder for us, as well. May we trust Him only.
As we end this week, let’s ask that He open our eyes to see beauty through ashes (Isaiah 61:3).
That we comprehend the strength formed through struggle and the character built through combat.
I can't wait to continue on next week!
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