Saturday, July 5, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 22: The Lord Looketh on the Heart

The children of Israel have chosen to overthrow the theocracy in favour of a monarchy like all the nations around them. The Lord having warned them of the potential issues and consequences of a monarchy, allows them a king and tells Samuel to go anoint a king for them.

1 Samuel 9:
v.1-2 Kish was of the tribe of Benjamin and a mighty man of power. When we think of power today we more often think of money and position as that is what gets you power in today's world. I suspect their world was not much different but I also suspect Kish was not a powerful man in that sense but in the sense of the priesthood. As we read on in this chapter you will see why.
His son Saul was a choice young man and goodly. In fact there was no one more goodly and we are told that "from his shoulders and upwards he was higher than any of the people." Verse 2 is actually where we get the phrase "head and shoulders above the rest". Saul was literally and possibly spiritually head and shoulders above the rest of his people.
v.3-5 Kish loses some of his asses and sends Saul and a servant to look for them but having traveled throughout the neighboring lands they cannot find them. Seeking that long and hard for lost asses seems to suggest they were not wealthy family. This supports the idea that Kish's power was not in wealth or position but in priesthood.
v.6-10 the servant suggests seeking the prophet's help and Saul agrees. Interestingly enough the text tells us that prophets were called Seers before they were called Prophets.
v.11-14 with the help of some local young women Saul and the servant discover that Samuel is officiating in the temple there.
v.15-20 Samuel meets them, tells them he has been expecting them and that their asses are fine and have been found and also that Israel's fate rests with Saul. I would imagine Saul would be a little taken aback by all of this forthright prophecy.
v.21 Saul indicates he is of the least of the tribes of Israel and that his family is the least important of the tribe of Benjamin. This also indicates that Kish the mighty man of power found his power in the priesthood and would likely explain how Saul had become so choice and goodly.
v.22-24 Samuel places Saul at the head of the guests and serves him food that has been set apart for him. This must have been as an indication to Saul that Samuel was not joking but was very serious. After leaving the temple Samuel continues to instruct Saul in the highest place in their abode - the roof of the house. It would seem the Lord is both spiritually and physically educating Saul of his new elevated status.
v.26-27 there it is again "and they arose early". I wonder how much we miss by sleeping in. So many times in the Old Testament the righteous seem to be signified by their habit of arising early. It's an intriguing pattern.
Samuel decides to walk Saul to the edge of the city and instructs Saul to tell the servant to go on ahead. Where before the servant was suggesting to Saul what the next step might be, already Samuel is instructing Saul how to be a King and give instruction and commands.

1 Samuel 10
v.1-8 Samuel anoints Saul king of Israel. He then instructs Saul of three things:
  1. As he returns to the edge of his tribal lands where his roots are his asses will be restored.
  2. Then on the way to Beth-el (or the house of God) men carrying offerings will give him some of their offerings. And he will receive it.
  3. At the foot of the mountain of the Lord he will meet other prophets carrying instruments and prophesying and Saul will feel the Spirit and join them in prophesying.
As a result of this journey Saul is promised he "shalt be turned into another man". This is an interesting journey. I wonder if the significance might be lost today. Here the Lord is promising Saul who has just been anointed to represent all of Israel, that if he returns to his roots, and if he partakes of the bread which is of the house of God (the Gospel), and continues on to the Mountain of the Lord (the Temple) and associates with the brethren that all that was his will be restored to him, he will receive of the spirit, will be one in fellowship with the prophets and will be turned into a new man.
I wonder if there is not a spiritual lesson there for all of us?

v.9-16 Samuel's prophecies concerning Saul's journey are fulfilled and Saul begins to be seen as a prophet and people are surprised. Although he tells his family of his journey and meeting Samuel, he does not tell anyone of his anointing.
v.17-25 Samuel calls a general conference where he once again reminds the people that in choosing a monarchy they are rejecting the Lord. Having done that he introduces Saul to the people as the man the Lord has chosen and the people proclaim him their king. Samuel sets forth the constitution of the monarchy in a book and adjourns the conference.
v.26-27 Already discontent and division arises as some who feel the spirit follow Saul while others do not do not even honor him as their king.

1 Samuel 11:
v.1-3 Nahash the Ammonite lays seige to the city of Jabesh-Gilead. The men of the city offer themselves as servants to Nahash if he covenants to spare them. Nahash accepts on one condition - that he can pluck out the right eye of every man. (He doesn't seem like a particularly jovial kind of fellow!) The men ask for 7 days to see if anyone will rescue them but promise to submit themselves to Nahash's conditions after 7 days if no one does rescue them.
v.4-8 Saul the king, as he is with his herds, (does not seem very king like - he hasn't maybe got used to being a king yet) hears of this news and sends a message to all the tribes to unite like the yoke of an oxen or have their livelihood destroyed. They all unite to create an army of 330,000 men.
v.9-15 Saul absolutely annihilates the Ammonites and the people of Israel praise him and he deflects the credit to the Lord. Saul is re-established as King before the people.

1 Samuel 13:1-14:
This seems so harsh on Saul at first glance. Having been king for two years he has won a pretty big battle but then a large Philistine army gathers and many of the Israelites flee. Saul is told to wait for Samuel but when Samuel doesn't show Saul decides to take matters into his own hands and offer the sacrifice before the battle. When Samuel arrives and realizes that Saul has taken on the prophetic and priestly duties he condemns him and tells him that he has lost the right to have his kingdom and that another will be appointed in due course.
Essentially what Saul did would have been like Harry Reid or Mitt Romney saying Pres. Monson is late for conference so we will open up conference and preside in the temple with the brethren. When his faith and patience were tested, Saul fell short of the mark. It's an incredibly swift fall from grace and maybe shows the pride and arrogance that comes from gaining a little worldly power and position. (cf. Doctrine and Covenants 121:39-40)

1 Samuel 15:
In case we thought the last instance was a lone instance, we are provided more evidence of Saul's willingness to disobey the Lord and do his own thing and to serve his own purposes. On being commanded to utterly destroy the Amalekites, he saves Agag, the King of the Amalekites and the best of their crops and herds and cattle. He only destroys that which he decides is bad.
When Samuel hears of this and Saul's reasoning that he felt it would make the people happy to have a grand feast and offering of these things Samuel utters the famous line "to obey is better than sacrifice". Samuel also reminds Saul of when Saul was "little in his own sight", indicating Saul's now ever-increasing pride and arrogance.
Notice Saul's progression into the dark side, he presumes to take Samuel's place and then presumes to dictate to the Lord what is best. This usurpation is utterly unacceptable and Saul is once more reminded that he will lose his kingship to another, one who is "better than thou"(v.28). That is a pretty humbling put down to a man that has become filled with his own greatness.
v.32-33 Samuel, once a little child in the temple learning to discern the voice of the Lord, has become a powerful instrument of the Lord. There is something very terrible and decisive about this denouement. After being summoned by Samuel, Agag approaches "delicately" and politely suggests the heat of battle is over, let's talk. And Samuel's response? He cuts Agag into pieces.
Sometimes the world will use political correctness and favorable speech to deter you from doing what is right. Sometimes what you are expected to do may even be portrayed by others as abject cruelty. Notice today how standing up for your religious beliefs and principles is often portrayed as victimization of others or as sexist or racist or homophobic. I wonder how many faithful Saints who previously heard the call will fall short when tested in the battlefield of public opinion and political correctness.
v.35 Despite Samuel's harsh words and actions it is interesting to note the final verse of this chapter returns to the private sadness Samuel feels for Saul. We are told "Samuel mourned for Saul" and though the rest of the verse is obviously not correct I wonder if the true intent was to imply that the Lord too mourned for Saul and the choices he made. The Lord does not delight in our mistakes. He is not waiting to punish us and strip us of blessings at the first opportunity. He wants us to succeed but while this is His plan, the results and consequences are all based on our choices. When we choose well, He is happy, when we fall, He mourns for us. For me this chapter really highlights what so many view as the God of the Old Testament - the god of destruction and swift judgement. But it also shows a God who cares deeply for people even when they fall.

1 Samuel 16
v.1-5 Samuel is sent to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse to find a new king. Samuel is a little worried that Saul might kill him if he finds out what he is doing but not as worried as the people of Bethlehem are when they hear Samuel is arriving. We are told "the elders of the town trembled at his coming" and asked,"Comest thou peaceably?".
Having reassured them of his peaceful intentions and then calls Jesse and his sons. On seeing the eldest son, Eliab, Samuel feels sure this is the Lord's chosen. But the Lord counsels him not to look on appearances but on the heart. With this wise counsel Samuel rejects all of Jesse's sons and asks if he has any others. Jesse's youngest son, David, is summoned from the fields where he was tending the sheep.
v.12 suggests that while the Lord looks on the heart it does not mean only ugly people will be called. David is described as good looking and is immediately identified as the next king just like the good looking Saul before him.
v.14-18 In contrast Saul has now lost the spirit he once had and even those around him notice it enough to mention it to him. In an effort to regain that which he once had they recommend a little bit of harp music as the cure. Cruel fate or intentional planning, it turns out the best harp player around is David, the son of Jesse - the secretly chosen and anointed king-to-be. Interestingly enough not only is he recommended for his cunning in playing the harp (skilful play) but he is also mentioned as being a mighty valiant man, a man of war, prudent in matters, comely in person and the Lord is with him. All of these things would be useful in a resume if you are going to be considered for the position of adviser to the king but they also echo Luke 2:52 where we are told Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and man. The Lord is not looking for religious fanatics or extremists, he is looking for well-balanced individuals who excel in many areas of their lives.

1 Samuel 17
I view this chapter as one of the greatest chapters in the Old Testament. There are so many lessons to be learned from this chapter. So much that is taught. I will not be able to do it justice in this blog - it would take an entire book - but I hope I can whet your appetite just a little.
v.1-3 The Philistines and the Israelites are fighting a religious and territorial battle here. One one side you have the Israelites with their one God, in whom they have trusted before but have forgotten lately (as symbolized by their king Saul). They are pitched in the mountain on one side of the Valley of Elah. On the other side of the valley pitched in the mountain opposite are the Philistines, who worshiped a number of gods but generally trusted in their own strength. What we have in essence is a fight between the Gods (in the mountains), played out among mortals (in the valley). Jehovah often fights against the mortal odds to show his presence and his power but rarely do we get to see it in such simplistically stark contrast as we do here in the valley of Elah.
v.4-11 Championing a cause is a phrase we hear often today but it comes from the days when armies would have their champions and where often, battles and decisions were won and made by one-on-one combat between two champions. Here we are introduced to the Philistine champion, Goliath.
He is described as 6.5 cubits tall. Some say that is about 6'9 and others say it is 9'9. Considering he wore a brass helmet, and his armor weighed somewhere around 200lbs it is fairly safe this man was a big man and a daunting sight. Someone else even carried his shield for him.
Goliath taunts the Israelites and defies them. Saul and all Israel were "dismayed and greatly afraid".
Things do not look good at this stage for the Israelites, they have forgotten their God and are afraid while the opposition have a champion that is strong in his own belief and strength.
Now I know kings did not usually fight as champions but was Saul not head and shoulders above the rest of his people. At a time like this, if in the right mindset, would not Saul be the best man to fight Goliath? Obviously, while confident in his own strength, Saul knows that physically he is no match for Goliath. He is also aware that he has been rejected by the Lord. Would you have any confidence in facing Goliath without the Lord?

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