Thursday, June 30, 2011

1 Samuel 14:24-52

24 Now the Israelites were in distress that day, because Saul had bound the people under an oath, saying, “Cursed be anyone who eats food before evening comes, before I have avenged myself on my enemies!” So none of the troops tasted food.

25 The entire army entered the woods, and there was honey on the ground. 26 When they went into the woods, they saw the honey oozing out; yet no one put his hand to his mouth, because they feared the oath. 27 But Jonathan had not heard that his father had bound the people with the oath, so he reached out the end of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it into the honeycomb. He raised his hand to his mouth, and his eyes brightened. 28 Then one of the soldiers told him, “Your father bound the army under a strict oath, saying, ‘Cursed be anyone who eats food today!’ That is why the men are faint.”

29 Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country. See how my eyes brightened when I tasted a little of this honey. 30 How much better it would have been if the men had eaten today some of the plunder they took from their enemies. Would not the slaughter of the Philistines have been even greater?”

31 That day, after the Israelites had struck down the Philistines from Mikmash to Aijalon, they were exhausted. 32 They pounced on the plunder and, taking sheep, cattle and calves, they butchered them on the ground and ate them, together with the blood. 33 Then someone said to Saul, “Look, the men are sinning against the LORD by eating meat that has blood in it.”

“You have broken faith,” he said. “Roll a large stone over here at once.” 34 Then he said, “Go out among the men and tell them, ‘Each of you bring me your cattle and sheep, and slaughter them here and eat them. Do not sin against the LORD by eating meat with blood still in it.’”

So everyone brought his ox that night and slaughtered it there. 35 Then Saul built an altar to the LORD; it was the first time he had done this.

36 Saul said, “Let us go down and pursue the Philistines by night and plunder them till dawn, and let us not leave one of them alive.”

“Do whatever seems best to you,” they replied.

But the priest said, “Let us inquire of God here.”

37 So Saul asked God, “Shall I go down and pursue the Philistines? Will you give them into Israel’s hand?” But God did not answer him that day.

38 Saul therefore said, “Come here, all you who are leaders of the army, and let us find out what sin has been committed today. 39 As surely as the LORD who rescues Israel lives, even if it lies with my son Jonathan, he must die.” But not one of them said a word.

40 Saul then said to all the Israelites, “You stand over there; I and Jonathan my son will stand over here.”

“Do what seems best to you,” they replied.

41 Then Saul prayed to the LORD, the God of Israel, “Why have you not answered your servant today? If the fault is in me or my son Jonathan, respond with Urim, but if the men of Israel are at fault, respond with Thummim.” Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot, and the men were cleared. 42 Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and Jonathan my son.” And Jonathan was taken.

43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.”

So Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the end of my staff. And now I must die!”

44 Saul said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if you do not die, Jonathan.”

45 But the men said to Saul, “Should Jonathan die—he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the LORD lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.” So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.

46 Then Saul stopped pursuing the Philistines, and they withdrew to their own land.

47 After Saul had assumed rule over Israel, he fought against their enemies on every side: Moab, the Ammonites, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment on them. 48 He fought valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, delivering Israel from the hands of those who had plundered them.

49 Saul’s sons were Jonathan, Ishvi and Malki-Shua. The name of his older daughter was Merab, and that of the younger was Michal. 50 His wife’s name was Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaaz. The name of the commander of Saul’s army was Abner son of Ner, and Ner was Saul’s uncle. 51 Saul’s father Kish and Abner’s father Ner were sons of Abiel.

52 All the days of Saul there was bitter war with the Philistines, and whenever Saul saw a mighty or brave man, he took him into his service.

Questions to consider:

  • Why are the troops in distress?
  • What happened to Jonathan after he ate the honey?
  • Do you think it is noteworthy that in this passage we read about the first time that Saul has made an altar to God?
  • Who was found to have sinned?
  • What was the punishment supposed to be?
  • Did Jonathan die? Why?
  • With what people was Saul always in battle?

Possibilities for prayer:

Even though we know that Jonathan broke the promise made by his father (not to eat anything until the evening), and that truth was revealed to the people by God in the casting of lots, Jonathan is the recipient of mercy, both from the people who choose to spare him from Saul's promise to have him killed, and from God, who allows the people to spare his life. We are the recipients of mercy in much the same way. I am sure you think of at least situation in which you deserved punishment but were granted mercy. It's certainly true that God grants us mercy each and every day as we so often fall short of the good things that we are being called into! Let's take some time to thank God for the mercy that we are given on a daily basis.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

1 Samuel 14:15-23

15 Then panic struck the whole army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God.

16 Saul’s lookouts at Gibeah in Benjamin saw the army melting away in all directions. 17 Then Saul said to the men who were with him, “Muster the forces and see who has left us.” When they did, it was Jonathan and his armor-bearer who were not there.

18 Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God.” (At that time it was with the Israelites.) 19 While Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the Philistine camp increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”

20 Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. 21 Those Hebrews who had previously been with the Philistines and had gone up with them to their camp went over to the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan. 22 When all the Israelites who had hidden in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were on the run, they joined the battle in hot pursuit. 23 So on that day the LORD saved Israel, and the battle moved on beyond Beth Aven.

Questions to consider:

  • Where did the panic come from?
  • Who was missing when Saul took account of the people present?
  • Why do you think Saul called for the Ark of God?
  • Who was victorious in battle? Why?

Possibilities for prayer:

I like the way in which this passage ends with the clear statement of who saved the people of Israel: the Lord. Things could have gone much worse for the people of Israel, but with God on their side, they were saved from an ultimately tragic end.

We also have that same power on our side, and we don't have to request the presence of the Ark of God in order to experience it! God is ready and willing to be accessible to us should we simply take the first step and begin a conversation. Hopefully, those conversations are happening on a daily basis. But today, especially if they aren't, take some time to have a conversation with God and truly relish the fact that we are able to communicate with the God of the universe without need for any kind of fanfare or intermediary. God is ready and waiting for us to step up and say hi.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

1 Samuel 14:1-14

1 One day Jonathan son of Saul said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.” But he did not tell his father.

2 Saul was staying on the outskirts of Gibeah under a pomegranate tree in Migron. With him were about six hundred men, 3 among whom was Ahijah, who was wearing an ephod. He was a son of Ichabod’s brother Ahitub son of Phinehas, the son of Eli, the LORD’s priest in Shiloh. No one was aware that Jonathan had left.

4 On each side of the pass that Jonathan intended to cross to reach the Philistine outpost was a cliff; one was called Bozez and the other Seneh. 5 One cliff stood to the north toward Mikmash, the other to the south toward Geba.

6 Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.”

7 “Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.”

8 Jonathan said, “Come on, then; we will cross over toward them and let them see us. 9 If they say to us, ‘Wait there until we come to you,’ we will stay where we are and not go up to them. 10 But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ we will climb up, because that will be our sign that the LORD has given them into our hands.”

11 So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. “Look!” said the Philistines. “The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in.” 12 The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, “Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson.”

So Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.”

13 Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. 14 In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.

Questions to consider:

  • Where does Jonathan go?
  • Who does he take with him?
  • Who does Jonathan NOT tell that he's leaving?
  • Why does he decide to go?
  • What is the sign that Jonathan waits for to see if God will give him victory?

Possibilities for prayer:

One of the things that stuck out to me in this passage is the way that the armor bearer responds to Jonathan: "Go ahead, I am with you heart and soul." What utter confidence, trust, and faith this man has in his leader--who could ultimately be leading him to his death!

Do we express or experience this same kind of courageous faith in the God who is our leader? Let's pray today that we would be able to make the same kind of faithful statement to God, declaring that we are with God, heart and soul, wherever he might choose to lead us.

Monday, June 27, 2011

1 Samuel 13:16-23

16 Saul and his son Jonathan and the men with them were staying in Gibeah in Benjamin, while the Philistines camped at Mikmash. 17 Raiding parties went out from the Philistine camp in three detachments. One turned toward Ophrah in the vicinity of Shual, 18 another toward Beth Horon, and the third toward the borderland overlooking the Valley of Zeboyim facing the wilderness.

19 Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!” 20 So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their plowpoints, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened. 21 The price was two-thirds of a shekel for sharpening plowpoints and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads.

22 So on the day of the battle not a soldier with Saul and Jonathan had a sword or spear in his hand; only Saul and his son Jonathan had them.

23 Now a detachment of Philistines had gone out to the pass at Mikmash.

Questions to consider:
  • Why don't the people of Israel have spears?
  • Why might this be a problem?
  • Where do the people of Israel find blacksmiths?
  • Who does have a spear?
Possibilities for prayer:

Sometimes it can feel like we are going into the battles of life completely unarmed. We don't feel prepared, qualified, or able to do the things that we feel God is leading us to do. This is generally not a great feeling, but what is encouraging is that we are never completely unarmed or completely alone, because we have God with us. Let's ask for more encounters of God in our lives, and for the knowledge of God's presence to be something of which we are constantly aware.

Friday, June 24, 2011

1 Samuel 13:1-15

1 Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty- two years.

2 Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Mikmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin. The rest he sent back to their homes.

3 Jonathan attacked the Philistine outpost at Geba, and the Philistines heard about it. Then Saul had the trumpet blown throughout the land and said, “Let the Hebrews hear!” 4 So all Israel heard the news: “Saul has attacked the Philistine outpost, and now Israel has become obnoxious to the Philistines.” And the people were summoned to join Saul at Gilgal.

5 The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Mikmash, east of Beth Aven. 6 When the Israelites saw that their situation was critical and that their army was hard pressed, they hid in caves and thickets, among the rocks, and in pits and cisterns. 7 Some Hebrews even crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead.

Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. 8 He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. 9 So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. 10 Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

11 “What have you done?” asked Samuel.

Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

13 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”

15 Then Samuel left Gilgal and went up to Gibeah in Benjamin, and Saul counted the men who were with him. They numbered about six hundred.

Questions to consider:

  • How old was Saul when he stopped being the king of Israel? (oh no, math!)
  • Who was supposed to come, but was late?
  • What did Saul do incorrectly? Why did he do it?
  • How do you feel about the result of this mistake?
  • What happened to the number of soldiers who were ready to fight the Philistines?

Possibilities for prayer:

I must admit that it seems a little bit strange that Saul's decision to seek God's favor before going into battle left God displeased with him so much that he chose to take away the kingship from him. Previously we saw the people of Israel fail to appeal to God for help, and the results of that decision were pretty bad.

It seems, however, that the lesson we can learn here is the importance of following God's direction and instruction. Fortunately for us, we have Christ to intervene on our behalf when we fail to follow directions correctly, but that doesn't mean that we should not do our best to follow the path that God sets before us. Let's ask that God would give us the grace and the wisdom to follow him in all that we do.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

1 Samuel 12:12-25

12 “But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’—even though the LORD your God was your king. 13 Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the LORD has set a king over you. 14 If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God—good! 15 But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors.

16 “Now then, stand still and see this great thing the LORD is about to do before your eyes! 17 Is it not wheat harvest now? I will call on the LORD to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the LORD when you asked for a king.”

18 Then Samuel called on the LORD, and that same day the LORD sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the LORD and of Samuel.

19 The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the LORD your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”

20 “Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 22 For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own. 23 As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. 24 But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. 25 Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish.”

Questions to consider:

  • Why did the people ask for a king?
  • What a good thing that they did this?
  • Do they fear God's retribution for this request?
  • What does Samuel say about the decision to ask for a king? What is important about that relationship?

Possibilities for prayer:

Samuel says many wise things in these verses. But one of the things that sticks out to me is the way that he advises the people to maintain a spirit of gratefulness and service toward God. He tells them that choosing to have a king isn't a bad thing so long as the people and the king choose to follow God.

Let's today seek to be ever true and loyal servants of God. Let's take some time to reflect on the ways in which God has been good to us, and offer prayers of thanks as well.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

1 Samuel 12:1-11

1 Samuel said to all Israel, “I have listened to everything you said to me and have set a king over you. 2 Now you have a king as your leader. As for me, I am old and gray, and my sons are here with you. I have been your leader from my youth until this day. 3 Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the LORD and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.”

4 “You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.”

5 Samuel said to them, “The LORD is witness against you, and also his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.”

“We agree,” they said.

6 Then Samuel said to the people, “It is the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your ancestors up out of Egypt. 7 Now then, stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your ancestors.

8 “After Jacob entered Egypt, they cried to the LORD for help, and the LORD sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your ancestors out of Egypt and settled them in this place.

9 “But they forgot the LORD their God; so he sold them into the hand of Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hands of the Philistines and the king of Moab, who fought against them. 10 They cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We have sinned; we have forsaken the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths. But now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve you.’ 11 Then the LORD sent Jerub-Baal, Barak Jephthah and Samuel and he delivered you from the hands of your enemies all around you, so that you lived in safety.

Questions to consider:

  • Who does Samuel ask about his service to the people of Israel?
  • Do they look upon Samuel as a good leader?
  • What story does he tell them?

Possibilities for prayer:

Samuel lived a long life in service of the people of Israel and of God. This man, who was the product of the fervent prayers of a barren woman, has led a nation and kept it, in large part, safe. We can learn from the example that Samuel has set of what it looks like to be a servant of God. This example began way back in his childhood, when Samuel first heard God's call on his life.

Today let's ask that we would become good servants of God and live lives that we could reflect upon, and that God could reflect upon, and be pleased.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

1 Samuel 11:9-15

9 They told the messengers who had come, “Say to the men of Jabesh Gilead, ‘By the time the sun is hot tomorrow, you will be rescued.’” When the messengers went and reported this to the men of Jabesh, they were elated. 10 They said to the Ammonites, “Tomorrow we will surrender to you, and you can do to us whatever you like.”

11 The next day Saul separated his men into three divisions; during the last watch of the night they broke into the camp of the Ammonites and slaughtered them until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

12 The people then said to Samuel, “Who was it that asked, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Turn these men over to us so that we may put them to death.”

13 But Saul said, “No one will be put to death today, for this day the LORD has rescued Israel.”

14 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the LORD. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the LORD, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.

Questions to consider:

  • Does Jabesh expect the Israelites to challenge him?
  • What plan does Saul enact?
  • Who is victorious?
  • What is the response of the people of Israel to the victory? What do you make of that response?
  • What Saul say about the plan the people mentioned to Samuel?
Possibilities for prayer:

Mercy. Humility. Leadership. All three of these things we see exemplified in this story of Saul. We've talked some about the gift of leadership that Saul has so clearly shown throughout this book. Here we see him putting humility to work.

After successfully executing a mission to eradicate the Ammonites, many people in Israel are incredulous about the idea that some may not have wanted Saul to be the king of the people. And what price should those people pay? Clearly, they should be put to death. But in this moment, Saul maintains a level head and rejects such a proposition. Saul rightly acknowledges that GOD was the one to grant the people victory, and tempting as it might be to claim that victory for himself, he humbly acknowledges that God was the one to rescue Israel.

Let's ask that God would make us more humble people, able to gracefully and truthfully give credit where credit is due in the successes of our lives--to God.

Monday, June 20, 2011

1 Samuel 11:1-8

1 Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh Gilead. And all the men of Jabesh said to him, “Make a treaty with us, and we will be subject to you.”

2 But Nahash the Ammonite replied, “I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel.”

3 The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days so we can send messengers throughout Israel; if no one comes to rescue us, we will surrender to you.”

4 When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and reported these terms to the people, they all wept aloud. 5 Just then Saul was returning from the fields, behind his oxen, and he asked, “What is wrong with everyone? Why are they weeping?” Then they repeated to him what the men of Jabesh had said.

6 When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came on him in power, and he burned with anger. 7 He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.” Then the terror of the LORD fell on the people, and they turned out with one accord. 8 When Saul mustered them at Bezek, the men of Israel numbered three hundred thousand and those of Judah thirty thousand.

Questions to consider:
  • What condition does Jabesh have for the creation of a treaty?
  • What do you think of this condition?
  • What do the people think of the condition?
  • How does Saul react?
  • What do the people do in response to Saul's challenge?
Possibilities for prayer:

We have seen Saul exhibit many characteristics as we've read more about him in this book. Here we see the characteristic of leadership. He is not pleased with the ultimatum that Jabesh proposes (and let's be honest--who would be?), and we read that "the Spirit of God came on him him in power." But it doesn't just stop there; Saul does not just become angry and storm around frustrated. Instead, he challenges the people to respond to this attempt at making a mockery of the people.

I think that it's important to note here that everything that Saul does seems to come out of inspiration for God, and the people's responses come out of "the terror of the Lord." But when we're willing and able to follow God's direction, we can be great leaders. Today, let's ask that we would be willing and able to follow God's lead, as Saul did, and that we would be able to become great leaders as well.

Friday, June 17, 2011

1 Samuel 10:9-27

9 As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. 10 When he and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came on him in power, and he joined in their prophesying. 11 When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, “What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”

12 A man who lived there answered, “And who is their father?” So it became a saying: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” 13 After Saul stopped prophesying, he went to the high place.

14 Now Saul’s uncle asked him and his servant, “Where have you been?”

“Looking for the donkeys,” he said. “But when we saw they were not to be found, we went to Samuel.”

15 Saul’s uncle said, “Tell me what Samuel said to you.”

16 Saul replied, “He assured us that the donkeys had been found.” But he did not tell his uncle what Samuel had said about the kingship.

17 Samuel summoned the people of Israel to the LORD at Mizpah 18 and said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.’ 19 But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your disasters and calamities. And you have said, ‘No, appoint a king over us.’ So now present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and clans.”

20 When Samuel had all Israel come forward by tribes, the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21 Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was taken. Finally Saul son of Kish was taken. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. 22 So they inquired further of the LORD, “Has the man come here yet?”

And the LORD said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.”

23 They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. 24 Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the LORD has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.”

Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

25 Samuel explained to the people the rights and duties of kingship. He wrote them down on a scroll and deposited it before the LORD. Then Samuel dismissed the people to go to their own homes.

26 Saul also went to his home in Gibeah, accompanied by valiant men whose hearts God had touched. 27 But some scoundrels said, “How can this fellow save us?” They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent.

Questions to consider:

  • When were the signs that Saul had mentioned actually fulfilled?
  • How is Saul changed?
  • What does he do that has people question what has happened to him?
  • What does the request for a king mean about their relationship with God?
  • Do the people readily or hesitantly accept Saul as their king?

Possibilities for prayer:

It's pretty impressive how God has organized all of this to fulfill this desire of the people of Israel to have a king, but has chosen a man who will lead the people well. Saul has a story to tell his uncle upon his return, Samuel has a message to give to the people, and Saul even has a physical stature that makes him stand out among the rest of the people.

Let's take some time to thank God once again for the way that we have both freedom to make our own decisions, and the safety of God's protection and love in our lives.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

1 Samuel 10:1-8

1 Then Samuel took a bottle of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the LORD anointed you ruler over his inheritance? 2 When you leave me today, you will meet two men near Rachel’s tomb, at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin. They will say to you, ‘The donkeys you set out to look for have been found. And now your father has stopped thinking about them and is worried about you. He is asking, “What shall I do about my son?”’

3 “Then you will go on from there until you reach the great tree of Tabor. Three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and another a skin of wine. 4 They will greet you and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them.

5 “After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. 6 The Spirit of the LORD will come on you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. 7 Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.

8 “Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.”

Questions to consider:

  • What does Samuel do to Saul?
  • What directions does Samuel give?
  • What do you think "whatever your hand finds to do" means?
  • How long does Saul have to wait?

Possibilities for prayer:

One of the things that struck me about this passage was the way in which part of the process for Saul to become the leader of Israel is for him to become filled with the Spirit of God, and to prophesy. We may not be looking to become kings and queens of our nation, but we are hopefully looking to become leaders and examples within our community. If we look to this example of Saul, we see that being filled with the Spirit is an essential part of that leadership process! Let's ask God to be filling us with His Spirit so that we might become even better equipped to lead God's people in whatever way God sees fit!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

1 Samuel 9:15-27

15 Now the day before Saul came, the LORD had revealed this to Samuel: 16 “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over my people Israel; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked on my people, for their cry has reached me.”

17 When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the LORD said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.”

18 Saul approached Samuel in the gateway and asked, “Would you please tell me where the seer’s house is?”

19 “I am the seer,” Samuel replied. “Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you are to eat with me, and in the morning I will send you on your way and will tell you all that is in your heart. 20 As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found. And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?”

21 Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?”

22 Then Samuel brought Saul and his servant into the hall and seated them at the head of those who were invited—about thirty in number. 23 Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the piece of meat I gave you, the one I told you to lay aside.”

24 So the cook took up the thigh with what was on it and set it in front of Saul. Samuel said, “Here is what has been kept for you. Eat, because it was set aside for you for this occasion from the time I said, ‘I have invited guests.’” And Saul dined with Samuel that day.

25 After they came down from the high place to the town, Samuel talked with Saul on the roof of his house. 26 They rose about daybreak, and Samuel called to Saul on the roof, “Get ready, and I will send you on your way.” When Saul got ready, he and Samuel went outside together. 27 As they were going down to the edge of the town, Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the servant to go on ahead of us”—and the servant did so—“but you stay here for a while, so that I may give you a message from God.”

Questions to consider:

  • What had God told Samuel?
  • Was he expecting Saul?
  • How was Saul confirmed to Samuel?
  • How does Saul respond to Samuel?
  • What does Samuel want to tell Saul?

Possibilities for prayer:

Yesterday we saw that Saul was a man who respected those around him. Today we see in Saul the quality of humility. He is shocked that Samuel would suggest that he is something great, referring to the smallness of his tribe. We could all take a lesson from this instance of humility. Let's ask that God would grow that attribute within us as well. Ask that God would show you how you can practice being humble, growing and challenging you to become a person of ever greater humility.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

1 Samuel 9:1-14

1 There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bekorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. 2 Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.

3 Now the donkeys belonging to Saul’s father Kish were lost, and Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you and go and look for the donkeys.” 4 So he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and through the area around Shalisha, but they did not find them. They went on into the district of Shaalim, but the donkeys were not there. Then he passed through the territory of Benjamin, but they did not find them.

5 When they reached the district of Zuph, Saul said to the servant who was with him, “Come, let’s go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.”

6 But the servant replied, “Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let’s go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take.”

7 Saul said to his servant, “If we go, what can we give the man? The food in our sacks is gone. We have no gift to take to the man of God. What do we have?”

8 The servant answered him again. “Look,” he said, “I have a quarter of a sheke of silver. I will give it to the man of God so that he will tell us what way to take.” 9 (Formerly in Israel, if people went to inquire of God, they would say, “Come, let us go to the seer,” because the prophet of today used to be called a seer.)

10 “Good,” Saul said to his servant. “Come, let’s go.” So they set out for the town where the man of God was.

11 As they were going up the hill to the town, they met some young women coming out to draw water, and they asked them, “Is the seer here?”

12 “He is,” they answered. “He’s ahead of you. Hurry now; he has just come to our town today, for the people have a sacrifice at the high place. 13 As soon as you enter the town, you will find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. The people will not begin eating until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward, those who are invited will eat. Go up now; you should find him about this time.”

14 They went up to the town, and as they were entering it, there was Samuel, coming toward them on his way up to the high place.

Questions to consider:

  • How is Saul described?
  • Are Saul and his servant able to find what they are seeking?
  • Why does Saul decide to go back?
  • Who do they go to see?
  • What concern does Saul have about going to see "the man of God?"
Possibilities for prayer:

One of the attributes that we see in Saul is the respect that he has for his father--his father tells him to do something, and he goes out to do it, even though he is not successful. While we have a lot more to learn about Saul, let's focus on this characteristic of respect. Today, let's ask God to be growing that attribute within us as well. Ask that God would be teaching you to be consistently more respectful--to those in authority around you, but most of all toward God.

Monday, June 13, 2011

1 Samuel 8:10-22

10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”

Questions to consider:

  • What does Samuel say a human king will claim from the people?
  • Who told him all these things?
  • What does Samuel say the people of Israel will eventually say to those things?
  • Do the people believe Samuel?
  • How does God respond?
Possibilities for prayer:

Here we see an example of the way in which God allows us to make our decisions. God offers the people of Israel the truth and wisdom about what having a king will eventually mean, but they refuse to accept its truth. So God lets them make their own choice, much in the way we are always able to make our own choices. Today, let's ask for the ability to hear God's voice clearly and that we would receive and respond to the wisdom that God so graciously offers us.

Friday, June 10, 2011

1 Samuel 8:1-9

1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

Questions to consider:

  • Who does Samuel appoint as the leaders of Israel?
  • Were they good leaders of Israel?
  • What does Israel ask for?
  • What does God have to say about the idea of the people of Israel having a king?
Possibilities for prayer:

The little interlude that occurs between Samuel and God reminds me of the way that a father might deal with his children. The people of Israel are getting discontent again, this time asking for a king. God doesn't tell Samuel to straight out reject this request, but instead advises that Samuel remind them of what that decision will cost. Parents often give their children the freedom to make their own decisions (whether those are good ones or bad ones) so that they can learn from those decisions. It seems like God is setting up a similar situation here--God will allow the Israelites a king if they really want one, but they should carefully about what that will mean.
Today, let's thank God for the freedom that we have to make choices in our lives, and ask that God would provide us guidance in the decisions we will and are making.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

1 Samuel 7:10-17

10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.

12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.”

13 So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines. 14 The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored, and Israel delivered the neighboring territory from the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.

15 Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life. 16 From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. 17 But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also held court for Israel. And he built an altar there to the LORD.

Questions to consider:
  • Who was victorious in battle?
  • Why were they victorious in battle?
  • How long did the protection against the Philistines last?
  • How long was Samuel the leader of Israel?
Possibilities for prayer:

Yay! We learn that the Lord does indeed look out for the people of Israel this time around, and they definitely did a better job of seeking strength and victory from the correct source. It's pretty interesting to note that God protects them from the Philistines not only during this particular battle, but also throughout Samuel's lifetime.

And what do you think about Samuel? Here is this man who was once just an answer to a humble and courageous woman's prayer who has now become the leader of a nation. This seems to reflect the way in which God can take things (and people!) that seem to be of little account and transform them into something truly great. Let's ask that God would use us for great things also, even if that doesn't seem probable or possible right now.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

1 Samuel 7:1-9

1 So the men of Kiriath Jearim came and took up the ark of the LORD. They brought it to Abinadab’s house on the hill and consecrated Eleazar his son to guard the ark of the LORD. 2 The ark remained at Kiriath Jearim a long time—twenty years in all.
Samuel Subdues the Philistines at Mizpah
Then all the people of Israel turned back to the LORD. 3 So Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only.

5 Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah, and I will intercede with the LORD for you.” 6 When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the LORD.” Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah.

7 When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. When the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. 8 They said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the LORD our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” 9 Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD. He cried out to the LORD on Israel’s behalf, and the LORD answered him.

Questions to consider:

  • Where does the ark end up?
  • How long does it stay there?
  • What condition does Samuel give the people for returning to God?
  • Did they meet it?
  • Why do the Philistines want to attack again?
  • What is the response of the people of Israel?

Possibilities for prayer:

Uh oh...we've got a little bit of a cliffhanger here, folks! The Lord answered Samuel, but we don't know exactly what happened yet...

We see a different response on the part of the people of Israel this time around. The last time they were under attack, they relied upon a sort of "good luck charm" to get them through the battle. If you remember last week's passages, that didn't work out too well for them. But this time they are under threat, from the same enemy in fact, but their response is not to look for some symbol or representation of power, but to call on the source of that power itself. I'm feeling much more confident that God's response is going to be positive this time around.

Today, let's ask God to grant us more of his power. Ask that God would make you someone who heals the sick and broken, because of God's power and your reliance upon it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

1 Samuel 6:13-21

13 Now the people of Beth Shemesh were harvesting their wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced at the sight. 14 The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and there it stopped beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. 15 The Levites took down the ark of the LORD, together with the chest containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. On that day the people of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the LORD. 16 The five rulers of the Philistines saw all this and then returned that same day to Ekron.

17 These are the gold tumors the Philistines sent as a guilt offering to the LORD—one each for Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. 18 And the number of the gold rats was according to the number of Philistine towns belonging to the five rulers—the fortified towns with their country villages. The large rock on which the Levites set the ark of the LORD is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh.

19 But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them. 20 And the people of Beth Shemesh asked, “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?”

21 Then they sent messengers to the people of Kiriath Jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the LORD. Come down and take it up to your town.”

Questions to consider:

  • How do the people of Beth Shemesh respond to the appearance of the ark?
  • What is the first thing they do?
  • When do the Philistines actually return home?
  • Why do 70 of the people die?
  • Where do the people want to send the ark?
  • Why do you think they don't want to keep it?

Possibilities for prayer:

As we've seen, the Philistines recognize that there's something special (and important) about the ark of the Lord. They send it back to the Israelites, despite it being a spoil of war. When the people of Beth Shemesh see the ark, they rejoice. And it seems like they generally have the right idea at first...they make offerings to God in thanksgiving and celebration, including sacrificing the two cows that brought the ark in the first place. But after that, it seems like people get a little bit confused, or a little too curious.

There were very clear rules and regulations surrounding who could interact with the ark, but several people choose to disregard those instructions. I think that we encounter situations like this in our own lives today. We start on the right path, listening to and praising God, but as we continue down that road we might start to think that we have everything figured out and go off on our way. While chances are that God isn't going to put us to death for making some different decisions, it does ultimately do us harm to make choices that are lining up with God's best for us. Let's spend some time in prayer asking God to fully direct our lives, leading us into God's best.

Monday, June 6, 2011

1 Samuel 6:1-12

1 When the ark of the LORD had been in Philistine territory seven months, 2 the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the LORD? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.”

3 They answered, “If you return the ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.”

4 The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?”

They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers. 5 Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land. 6 Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?

7 “Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. 8 Take the ark of the LORD and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, 9 but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the LORD has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.”

10 So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. 11 They placed the ark of the LORD on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. 12 Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh.

Questions to consider:

  • In addition to returning the ark to the people of Israel, what do they want to send with it?
  • Who gives the people the idea of sending the ark back with some kind of offering?
  • What other Old Testament story do the priests and diviners reference?
  • In what direction do the cows, with the ark in tow, go?
  • What does this mean?

Possibilities for prayer:

The fact that the priests reminded the Philistines of the way in which God had rescued the people of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians was really striking to me. The power (and perseverance) of the God of Israel is clearly rather widely known and the Philistines don’t want to “mess” with that.

We serve a God is known far and wide, both back in the time when the Bible was written and in this day and age. Let’s take some time to reflect on what that means to our lives, and to thank God for the privilege of being counted among those who are God’s servants.

Friday, June 3, 2011

1 Samuel 5

1 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. 5 That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.

6 The LORD’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors. 7 When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god.” 8 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and asked them, “What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?”

They answered, “Have the ark of the god of Israel moved to Gath.” So they moved the ark of the God of Israel.

9 But after they had moved it, the LORD’s hand was against that city, throwing it into a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumors. 10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron.

As the ark of God was entering Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.” 11 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, “Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.” For death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy on it. 12 Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.

Questions to consider:

  • What explanation do you have for the god of the philistines falling on its face each morning after the ark of God arrived?
  • Why do you think the “hand of the Lord was heavy” against Ashdod?
  • What solution do the people of Ashdod find for their affliction?
  • What happened when they brought the ark to Gath?
  • Where do they ultimately send the ark?

Possibilities for prayer:

This passage seems to be a pretty distinct indication and reflection of God’s power. I was talking to a friend about this passage and she said, “Well, God can basically whatever he wants.” How true is that! The retribution that God takes against the Philistines seems to prove that statement. Let’s praise God today for this reflection of his power, as well as for the reflections of his power in our own lives.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

1 Samuel 4:12-22

12 That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh with his clothes torn and dust on his head. 13 When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair by the side of the road, watching, because his heart feared for the ark of God. When the man entered the town and told what had happened, the whole town sent up a cry.

14 Eli heard the outcry and asked, “What is the meaning of this uproar?”

The man hurried over to Eli, 15 who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes had failed so that he could not see. 16 He told Eli, “I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.”

Eli asked, “What happened, my son?”

17 The one who brought the news replied, “Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”

18 When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and he was heavy. He had led Israel forty years.

19 His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near the time of delivery. When she heard the news that the ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains. 20 As she was dying, the women attending her said, “Don’t despair; you have given birth to a son.” But she did not respond or pay any attention.

21 She named the boy Ichabod, saying, “The Glory has departed from Israel”—because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 She said, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

Questions to consider:

  • Why do you think everyone was so distressed about the capture of the ark?
  • How did Eli die?
  • What happened to Eli's daughter in law?
  • What did she name her son and why?
  • Do you think that the Glory had really departed from Israel?

Possibilities for prayer:

The fact that Phineas's wife names her newborn son Ichabod is appropriate: not only has the ark of God been captured, but God has clearly not blessed this work of the Israelites in battle. This idea of the glory of God departing is relevant not only in this situation, with a captured ark, but also today in many churches, ministries, and even individual lives. Today, let's pray that we would allow and claim God's glory in our communities, churches, and lives, and seek to be a people that look to God for guidance and victory, rather than things that may in some way represent God.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

1 Samuel 4:1-11

1 And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.

The Philistines Capture the Ark
Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. 2 The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. 3 When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”

4 So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

5 When the ark of the LORD’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. 6 Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”

When they learned that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “We’re in trouble! Nothing like this has happened before. 8 Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. 9 Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!”

10 So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

Questions to consider:

  • Why do you think the first part of verse 1 is important?
  • Why do the soldiers think that the ark will help them be victorious in battle?
  • Why were the Philistines afraid when they heard about the ark?
  • Did the ark prevent the Israelites from being defeated?
  • Why is important to note that Eli's sons died in the battle?

Possibilities for prayer:

It's interesting to me that instead of going before God and asking him for help in the battle that was being fought, the soldiers decide that what they need is the ark of the covenant to be with them in battle, as a sort of good luck charm. I can't help but wonder if the outcome would have been different if the soldiers had instead gone to the temple and sought out God himself rather than a physical representation of his presence.

This seems like it could be relevant for us today as well. When things aren't going as we think they should, wondering about the reasons to no one in particular or just assuming that everything will work out because "God is on our side" seem like a less helpful ways to handle the situation than talking to God about it. Let's try this week to be intentional about having conversations with God regarding the situations in our lives, good and bad, instead of trying to rationalize things on our own. And remember, conversations are two-sided, so give God an opportunity to speak back to you. :)