Scripture Reading Challenge (#32)

Did you know that Israel was tempted in keeping up with the Joneses. They were still on the roller coaster of morality and obedience that we found in the book of Judges. Even Samuel, who was a great person, could not keep his children in the fear of the Lord. The people who had not given themselves over to other forms of worship asked Samuel for king. God was not pleased with this but gave them a king. He would eventually use the kingship of Israel in his plan of salvation beginning with the second king. However, God gave them the king they wanted. This is the beginning of Saul.

Read 1 Samuel 8:1-10:27

There is more to be said about wanting to be like someone else. As a nation, Israel wanted to be like the other nations that had kings. There is nothing wrong with being unique and not copying what others are doing. At this time Israel was a theocracy, meaning that God was understood as their sole ruler. They wanted a monarchy, a visible representative of God’s authority in human flesh. Samuel represented God’s holiness, and now Saul would represent God’s divine rule. We can look forward from this point to where the fullness of God was wholly invested in Jesus. In fact, the Greek title, “Christ,” or Hebrew title, “Messiah,” means the “anointed one.” Jesus was the anointed Prophet, Priest, and King.

Saul looked the part of a king. At least in everyone’s eyes. He was bigger than anyone else and God even gave Saul a heart to lead. Apparently, Saul could even preach, to the surprise of everyone. However, when it came time to announce him, we are given a hint about his true character and why God had to work in giving him a new heart. First Samuel 10:21-22, noted that after Samuel proclaimed Saul as king, they couldn’t find him. God answered their prayer and told them, “he heath hid himself among the stuff.” Deep inside this man who would be king, was major personality issues that would continue to surface. He did not have courage in several occasions when leading his army. He was jealous, angry, and conniving. He would even compromise his integrity and the Word of God by seeking help from a practitioner of the dark arts. God worked on his heart in the beginning and gave him a fresh start. It was hopeful, but, Saul would not always seek the Lord and it ended up costing him the kingdom.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#31)

The story of Samuel is one of my favorites.  Here is a man who both began and finished well.  That is a rare feat among today’s leaders and even many of the leaders in the Bible (of course not all the leaders in the Bible are trying to be good).  However, Samuel is one whose life is thoroughly committed to God and even more, during a time when it seems God was no longer working with Israel.

Read 1 Samuel 1:1-3:21

It is no wonder that Samuel turned out to be such a great follower of God.  Look at the example that was given to him as a child.  Hannah’s approach to prayer and praise before God is worth noting and modeling.  Fervent in prayer and quick to praise.  Many times we are apathetic in prayer and slow to worship.  Probably, much faster to complain.  We should learn more from Hannah.

Hannah had a severe burden on her heart.  In ancient times, being childless was considered a curse, and today it is no less heartbreaking.  The Scripture does not hide this reality.  In fact, through the many inclusions of this issue, it may be one of the most noted effects of the fall of man.  But notice, the Scripture changes tune after Jesus.  The last barren woman mentioned is Elisabeth (Luke 1:7 & 36).  There was another miracle birth from a couple in their old age.  Then, through Mary we see Jesus, and that was a miraculous conception all by itself.  But, the picture is painted all through Scripture, that God is greater than any barrenness.  I know there are not many words of comfort for someone having difficulty to have children, but remember this, God is on your side.  The Lord was able to create a man without anyone else, and he created a woman using only a man.  Jesus was born of just a woman.  God gave children to couples beyond their childbearing years.  I believe God’s message to women is the same thing He told Mary, “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).  Keep your faith in God, and He will make something beautiful happen.

Samuel received his calling from God amazingly and audibly.  The calling is not the only thing I notice.  It’s the age of Samuel.  He was most likely around the age of twelve.  God can and will work with young people.  It is also great to see Eli recognize and respect this about Samuel (even when Samuel told Eli that he and his sons would no longer be priests).  As a pastor and professor, I am always reminded of the openness youth have in following God’s leading into new methods and areas of ministry.  We could shut them down for fear of them getting hurt or messing things up.  Or, we can bless and empower them to get things done.  I choose to bless and empower.

The last thing that jumps off of the page is that there was no open vision in the land (1 Samuel 3:1).  Meaning, there were no prophets with a fresh word from heaven.  First, it was as though God was silent.  But, we see God is moving and working in the life of Hannah and Samuel.  So, we learn that when it seems God is silent, he is still working.  Secondly, it could also mean that the teaching of God’s Word was not up to standard.  Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”  These verses imply there was no available teaching or preaching.  We know for sure that Eli’s children were not doing the right thing as priests.  However, Eli seemed to be complacent and by his silence and inaction, permitted this dearth of God’s Word.  Oh God, do not let us be silent in our words or actions but let us declare you faithfully through our words and deeds!

Scripture Reading Challenge (#30)

This short book in the Old Testament is the first of two books named after women in the entire Bible.  One may wonder why she is included in the Scripture.  After all, she is not of Hebrew descent but was brought in through marriage.  However, through her story, we see the faithfulness to God and God’s grace.  We also learn that everyone is welcome to be part of God’s story.  Finally, we know how God works through families and salvation history.  Ruth would become the great-grandmother of Israel’s greatest king, David.

Read Ruth 1:1-4:22

Isn’t it amazing that such a sad beginning to this tale ends up with a beautiful love story?  And, all the way through it, we see God’s hand orchestrating events.  The Lord is present in the painful situations and the pleasant ones.  I am reminded of Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”  You may have heard the cliche phrase, “Everything happens for a reason.”  People may even reference this verse.  I think that is a  wrong interpretation of Romans 8:28.  Instead, it seems to say that things can happen without reason, at least for those not seeking to live in the Lord.  Instead, we should say, “everything can have a holy purpose or else it happens in vain.”  Ruth demonstrated that even the death of her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law, could lead to God’s glory through faithfulness.  May we be found faithful and find handfuls of purpose along the way (Ruth 2:16).

Scripture Reading Challenge (#29)

The story of Samson is one of the incredible feats he performed by God’s Spirit.  However, at times, it is difficult to understand what we can gain from these passages in Scripture that apply to us today.  After reading about Samson’s life, we will be able to take away a better understanding of God’s work in time, and the frailty of even the best leaders.

Read Judges 13:1-16:31

The Lord is a mighty Deliverer.  However, He does it in His way and according to His schedule.  Throughout Scripture, we are reminded of that truth.  He also has much more patience than we do.  God took 400 years before delivering Israel out of Egypt.  God waited 40 years in our current passage before bringing Samson in the picture and then worked through Samson’s entire life from birth to death, to deliver Israel from the Philistine rule.  Furthermore, God worked through eternity past to the fall of man, through several millennia to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to bring us salvation.  Now, we have gone through almost 2,000 years of waiting for the second coming of Christ.  God works at His own pace, but we can be sure he is not slack concerning His promises (2 Peter 3:9).  God may take a decade or a millennia or two, but He will keep His word.  He makes things happen according to His divine plan.  We must remain faithful during the in-between times.

The second thing we learn from Samson’s story, and many others in the Bible, is that even good leaders fail.  There are undoubtedly toxic leaders who never seem to do good, but there those like Samson, Moses, David, and Peter, who are God’s people but still make mistakes or even fall into grave sin.  Moses worked with anger issues.  David was a man after God’s heart but yet was caught up in the act of adultery.   Peter liked to stick his foot in his mouth or could be hypocritical depending on who he was around.  When we do things on our own, we can be tempted and will fall.  Judges 16:20, noted that Samson did not even know the Lord had departed from him.  He had allowed the temptation to overtake him.  We need to pray for our leaders and ourselves to be vigilant in God’s Spirit.  Even the mighty can fall, and it only through the Lord’s grace we can keep standing tall against the tactics of Satan (Eph. 6:10-12).

Scripture Reading Challenge (#28)

First John 4:1 reads, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”  John continues with a litmus test for professing believers.  Discernment is an essential part of the Christian life.  Not everything that seems like it is from God is actually from Him.  We must be hyper-vigilant to be on guard for our faith and the faith of our families.  Gideon was such a man that wanted to be sure it was God helping Him.  God wanted to raise Gideon up as a judge.  Gideon, however, wanted to be sure it was the Lord calling Him and not something else.  

 

Read Judges 6:1-7:25

What are you doing for the Lord by His grace?  Are you sure it is for the Lord and not something for yourself or another?  It is important to examine ourselves to make sure we “beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (Eph. 4:1).  We can become drawn away from our initial calling and trapped in sin.  However, the Lord can help us keep our focus and commitment to the calling on our life.  By His grace, we can be sure of our identity and work.

An essential piece of Gideon’s story is that God does look on our ability and think, “They don’t have the right stuff.”  The cliche motto is “God does not call the equipped, but equips the called.”  God wants faithfulness.  He will take care of the rest.  It doesn’t matter if you are weak or outnumbered.  If we are faithful to the Lord, He will perform miracles.  In fact, that is his counter to human wisdom.  When reasoning says that something is impossible, God makes it possible.  Whatever the Lord has called you to do, He will accomplish it through you if you are faithful to Him.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#27)

Living in the war-torn ancient near eastern lands was brutal.  The daily life of an individual was undoubtedly harder than we have it today.  Uprisings and skirmishes between kingdoms and tribes were common.  God allowed these opponents of Israel to come against them when they failed to follow Him.  It was a way of disciplining them and centering their focus on God.  God would not leave them in oppression, as He would raise up a judge to deliver Israel and to lead them back to Him.  Deborah, a prophetess, was one of these judges.

Read Judges 4:1-5:31

Surprisingly, in the ancient near eastern cultures, women were valued in society.  In fact, a majority of cultures did not respect a woman at all.  However, this is one of the significant changes that God would work through Israel and the Church.  Men and women are both created in the image of God and are of the highest value (Galatians 3:26-29).  This passage highlights two powerful women, Deborah and Jael.  Later in the Old Testament, we will find two books named after women and regarded as Holy Scripture.  Israel’s treatment of women was counter-cultural for its day, and the Church’s inclusion of women caused greater changes within Roman culture.

Deborah’s song is recorded in Scripture, giving God thanks and praise.  It also serves to teach the people of Israel to continue their obedience to God.  Music is incredibly important in the Church?  Why?  For those two reason mentioned.  First, music is a fantastic expression of our heartfelt worship before God.  When we have trouble speaking our thoughts toward God, many times we are able to sing them.  Singing and music-making before God is a thread throughout Scripture.  The second reason is we can teach through song.  This is perhaps one of the greatest strengths of hymns, as they provide a structure that works with teaching doctrine.  I can’t remember who said it, but it is good to share, “every good theology needs to be accompanied with good hymnology.”

Scripture Reading Challenge (#26)

Have you ever been on a roller coaster?  If not, you are about to experience an emotional one.  The book of Judges is a series of ups and downs for Israel.  We go down when Israel would rebel, and God would allow an oppressor to rise up against them.  Then, we go up when God would raise up a “judge” to deliver them and lead them.  When the judge died, the process would start over again.   We are thankful this was not how God intended to keep humanity on the straight and narrow.  However, it is an essential part of the history of redemption as it will show the way of humanity when left to its own devices.

Read Judges 2:6-3:6

The first thing that jumps out is that there seems to be a breakdown in the family.   Deuteronomy 6:7-9, reminds us to diligently teach ourselves and our children about God with every opportunity we are given.  In our reading, we find out there came a generation that did not know the Lord (Judges 2:10).  There are only two plausible reasons for this breakdown.  First, they were not taught about the Lord.  Still, the previous generations we are told did follow the Lord, so maybe that is not the strongest of the reasons.  More likely, it means they had not personally experienced anything with God.  The Biblical use of the word “knew” typically carries the nuance of experiential knowledge.  Adam and Eve knew they were naked, not just mentally but by experience.  When Scripture talks about that a man knew his wife, it is not talking about a sudden revelation that he was actually married.  Instead, it notes the fact the couple had intimate knowledge of each by experience.   The lesson we learn in this book is that it is not only essential to disciple our children in God’s Word but to help them experience God’s presence.

Another critical point of the passage is the need for godly leaders.  There is indeed a dearth of leadership in both secular and religious groups.  Moral failures abound among those that lead others.  However, God is still able to raise up great leaders.  Yes, they are not perfect and are still men and women living in a broken world.  God is bigger than our imperfections and is able to lead us by His Spirit as we lead others.  Also, each one of us has available that same Spirit.  Before the birth of the Church at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit did not make himself readily open to anyone.  Now, He fills each believer to help them fulfill God’s will in their life.