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 (#23)

Transitions from one part of life to another is never easy. People are resistant to change and are quick to defend against change. Israel went through such a transition. After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, an entire generation passed away. God raised up a new leader, Joshua, to take over where Moses left off. It is intimidating to follow someone who has already been successful. Even though Joshua has proven himself already, this new challenge of leading the people of God to the Promise Land was not for the faint of heart.

Read Joshua1:1-18

There is not much to be said about this passage except, be strong and of good courage. This admonition is repeated four times. Three times by the Lord to Joshua and one by the people to him. Encouragement goes a long way in providing a safe an open environment for leaders and followers to be morally courageous. We must continually check ourself to see if our critiques provide positive reinforcement or are simply negative and hurtful to others. In our local churches, we need to create opportunities for people to lead without fear of others in the community attacking their ideas. Sharing leadership encourages others to take responsibility and to think creatively, something a lot of pastors long from a congregation.

How long has it been since you offered a word of encouragement to someone struggling with life? Have you complimented someone for doing a good job or being their for you? Taking notice of others and offering a kind word at just the right time can impact someone for a lifetime. We need to build each other up more instead of tearing down. First Corinthians 5:11 reminds us, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, evan as also ye do.” Scripture tells us to do everything we can to build up the Kingdom. We do that by building each other up.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#20)

Some people just have a hard time believing.  No matter what God has done before, they still lack faith.  The Israelites had recently witnessed ten plagues the Lord placed on the Egyptians but still murmured and complained that God and Moses led them into the wilderness to die.  God will perform another miracle before their eyes in our passage.  The parting of the Red Sea.

Read Exodus 13:17-14:31

The Lord led the people out of Egypt to the Red Sea with a visible presence.  Exodus 13:21 explains, “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.”  That would be an awesome sight!  The beauty of this passage is that God will lead and protect His people.  The Lord leads His people by going before us and showing us the direction we must go.  As Psalm 23:2-3 reads, He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  

However, there are times we lose sight of the Shepherd but still can trust, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” (Ps. 23:4-5).   For Israel, God moved from before their face to behind them.  Why?  He moved from the front to back to keep the enemy from jumping on them from behind.  We need to be more thankful of those times, that even when we can’t see God in front of us, to know that He is fighting our battles that are sneaking up on us.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#19)

Does your family have any traditions that are times of celebrations?  More than likely, you do.  It’s a way that we stay connected to our heritage.  There are some traditions that probably should be changed, but there are those traditions that are so rich in meaning that it would be detrimental to a groups history by bringing change.  To this day, Jews still observe Passover and the Feast of Unleavened bread.  What is significant about this celebrations?  In our reading today, we will learn about the historical event that is still celebrated even now.

Read Exodus 12:1-42

Blood was shed almost immediately after The Fall of humanity to make a covering (Genesis 3:21).  From then, we begin to see sacrifices given to God.  The first time we see this happen, God would not accept the half-hearted harvest gift of Cain but received the firstlings of Abels animal sacrifice (Gen. 4:3-5).  Now, God commands that the blood of each family’s lamb be placed on their doorpost.  God would pass over each house with the blood applied and the meal observed but would take the life of each firstborn in the homes that did not follow the command.  The house that was covered was saved from wrath.  It is also interesting to note at this point that the word atonement means, “covering.”  When Christ atoned for our sins, he shed his blood, covered us with God’s grace and saves us from wrath.   What an incredible foreshadowing of things to come that God painted for us in the Old Testament.

God had Moses tell the people, “And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’s Passover” (Ex. 12:11).  It sounds like God means business.  I take this statement as two-fold.  First, God is telling the people that the judgment on Egypt and the deliverance of the Israelites will be so complete, that the people will be quickly ushered out of the country.  Secondly, it was an act of faith to take in the meal with their running shoes on.  Do we have such confidence in God’s Word?  God said he would deliver them and so they should be ready to go at the exact moment He says, “Go!”  Is your life ready for an immediate act of obedience?

The reason given for making an annual tradition of the Passover and Feast of the Unleavened Bread was for the children, future generations.  Sometimes, when we start to change a tradition, we hear someone say, “But, this is the way we have always done it.”  That statement demonstrates a low understanding about the purpose of traditions.  Traditions are not about preserving the old paths as an end to themselves.  Instead, traditions keep history as a way to teach future generations.  In this particular case, it was to show the children about God’s deliverance and favor on Israel.  How many other traditions do we currently have that are kept for the wrong purpose rather than teaching future generations about what God has done in the past?  Traditions can show us what God has done and can still perform today.

Scripture Reading Challenge (#18)

One of my favorite stories is the Chronicles of Narnia.  In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the children are talking about the Christ-like figure, Aslan the Lion.  The conversation goes, “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh,” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

God is certainly good, but he is not safe, at least for sin and wickedness to be around. The Lord is going to demonstrate in our reading His power and intolerance of sin and the evil in the hearts of men and women.   God will send ten plagues upon Egypt.  We will learn about the first nine in our passage today.

Read Exodus 6:28-11:10

What does it mean that God would harden Pharoah’s heart (Exodus 7:3)?  There are a variety of explanations based on how one understands God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.  However, it may be sufficient at this point in God’s story to note that this is ultimately above our pay grade, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).  Still, I would like to point out God’s dealings with people’s hearts in Romans 1:18-32.  A passage we have already visited.  You will notice that in the Romans passage, three times God says “God gave them over” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).  I believe this is similar to God hardening Pharoah’s heart.  Pharoah made a choice to live without Israel’s God and when confronted with another choice, kept going against God.  God gave Pharoah over to his desire to not listen, and he reaped the consequences of Godlessness.  In other words, Pharoah chooses where he wants to make to his bed, and God said, “Okay, if that’s what you want.”

The plagues demonstrate another aspect of God.  God is holy and loving.  They are not separate concepts.  Instead they are two sides of the same coin.  God’s holiness may seem harsh, but it is in His holiness that He is the only real source of Love.  As love, there is the aspect of the Lord appearing tough on those things that cast themselves against what God loves.  Through the plagues, we see judgment fall on those who are against God, but mercy on those who follow God.  Whether God’s action is seen as judgment or compassion is based on what side of redemption you are standing on.  From the side of the unredeemed, God’s actions produce conviction, fear, and at times bitterness.  However, from the viewpoint of the redeemed, all that came before was accompanied by God’s providential grace.  Providence is the grace that God sends before us to bring us to Him.  Thank God for His grace that goes before us to prepare the way.