Wednesday, February 29, 2012

1 Samuel 17:1-37

1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. 2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.
4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.
8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
12 Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul’s time he was very old. 13 Jesse’s three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah. 14 David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul,15 but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.
16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.
17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.”
20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.
25 Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family line from taxes in Israel.”
26 David asked those standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
27 They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.”
28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”
29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 30 He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. 31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.
32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”
33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are little more than a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.”

Points of interest
  • ‘the Philistines gathered their forces for war’--the Philistines are a federation of city-states of Greek origin; they left the Aegean Sea in the same wave of emigration as caused the famous Trojan War (Walton, John H., et al. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000). They landed not long ago in the area between Egypt and Israel, and they’ve been encroaching on Israelite territory. Saul has recently had some success in defending against them, but in general they’ve had the upper hand in their battles with the Israelites.
  • ‘His height was six cubits and a span’--that would be a bit over nine feet tall (a cubit is the length of a forearm, or about a foot-and-a-half, and a span is a hand’s width). I could imagine that the author is being hyperbolic here: ‘He was ten feet tall if he was an inch.’ Regardless of whether he’s exaggerating or not, the point is clear: Goliath is huge and scary.
  • ‘a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod’--not only is he big, but he is practically bristling with state-of-the-art weaponry.
  • ‘Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse’--we just got David’s family history and a whole story about him in the last few paragraphs, and now the author is introducing us to him as if we’ve never heard of him. That’s why I think it’s quite possible that this passage and the previous two are three different beginnings of the story of David--or maybe two, with Monday’s passage and today‘s passage being from the same source, and yesterday’s a different one. Our author, rather than choosing one, has decided to collect all of them for us and place them side-by-side. There are, indeed, a couple of difficult to reconcile, but ultimately insignificant, differences between the stories: 1) in two of the passages, David is a boy, but in the other he’s a brave warrior (though that could be explained by the Lord’s anointing); and 2) in yesterday’s passage, David is a favorite of Saul’s, but in today’s Saul seems never to have met him before. On the other hand, there is a lot of agreement on who David is and where his story is heading: 1) David is the youngest son of Jesse; 2) he’s a shepherd; 3) he’s despised by his older brothers; and 4) God’s favor is on him.
  • ‘The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him’--they’re all trying to talk one another up: ‘Come on, man. You can do it.’ But it’s never quite enough to get one of them to step into the ring. No matter how much buttering up they give one another, and no matter how alluring the prize, no one is foolish enough to go one-on-one against Goliath, the human tank.
  • ‘Now what have I done?’--you can practically see David and Eliab rolling their eyes at one another. I wonder if this was always a dynamic in their relationship, or if it’s new since David’s anointing. In any case, I appreciate David’s strategy of just getting on with his business. He doesn’t let Eliab’s criticism stop him, and he doesn’t waste too much time defending himself against Eliab. He just moves on.
  • ‘The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion’--David is not concerned with how big, strong, or well-armed his opponent is. He’s faced opponents bigger and stronger than him before, and come out on top. The God who is with him is stronger than any bear or lion and bigger than any giant.
  • ‘and the LORD be with you’--again, our story ends on an ironic note. The Lord is already, in fact, with David--and not with Saul. That’s why David is stepping out to face the Philistine challenger when Saul is not.
Taking it home
  • For you: David’s belief that he can face Goliath is based on the things he has learned recently in his sheep-tending. Spend some time today reflecting on the past few months and thinking about what you have been learning. Are there any scenarios that keep coming up? Any lessons that God wants you to learn? Ask God to show you what he has wanted you to learn lately. Talk to God about the things he brings up.
  • For your six: Are your six in any situations that seem like the same old battle day in and day out? Ask God to send people like David to your six who can offer fresh perspective and a new strategy. Pray that God would increase your six’s hope in the middle of whatever challenges they face today.
  • For our church: It’s possible that David and his older brother never really got along (sibling rivalry centuries ago seems remarkably similar to today); however, it does seem like Goliath brings out the worst in Jesse’s family, only increasing their envy, resentment and harshness towards one another. Pray that whatever Goliath that comes against our church, that God would draw us closer together as a church and that we wouldn’t turn against one another with attitudes similar to David’s brothers.
  • For families: David knew God would help him because he remembered how God had helped him before. Take some time as a family to talk about the things you have each seen God do for you recently. Consider putting them on a poster--write them down, or draw pictures, or paste photos--on the wall where you can see them. Add to your list during Lent.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

1 Samuel 16:14-23

14 Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him.
15 Saul’s attendants said to him, “See, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord command his servants here to search for someone who can play the lyre. He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.”
17 So Saul said to his attendants, “Find someone who plays well and bring him to me.”
18 One of the servants answered, “I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him.”
19 Then Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me your son David, who is with the sheep.” 20 So Jesse took a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them with his son David to Saul.
21 David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. 22 Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.”
23 Whenever the spirit from God came on Saul, David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

Points of interest
  • ‘the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul’--apparently the divinely inspired kingliness we saw yesterday can only rest on one person at a time. As it falls on David, it leaves Saul. This creates something of a dicey situation. Saul is still in actuality the king, but David is the one equipped by God to pull off the job. We have one person with everything it takes to be a king except the crown, and another person with the crown but not the wherewithal to rule well.
  • ‘an evil spirit from the LORD’--this is a head-scratcher. Sending an evil spirit doesn’t seem like the kind of thing God would do, and obeying God doesn’t seem like the kind of thing an evil spirit would do. It’s likely that ‘evil’ here should be translated more like, ‘harmful’ (Baldwin, Joyce. 1 and 2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988). In other words, it’s not so much that the spirit is morally evil, but rather that it happens to have a negative effect on Saul. That, at least, would explain away the impression that God is in league with the devil. Still, while I can understand it’s God’s prerogative to bestow favor wherever God wants, it feels a little like hitting below the belt to go on to purposely do harm to the person now in disfavor. I wonder if this evil spirit is a side effect of God’s actions rather than God’s specific intent. In other words, the removal of God’s favor sends Saul into a mania or depression of some sort; it’s ‘from the Lord’ because it’s a direct consequence of God removing the anointing, not because God specifically sent it.
  • ‘I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem’--ironically, the very person at the heart of Saul’s torment is brought in to soothe it.
  • ‘a brave man and a warrior’--the rosy-cheeked child from yesterday’s passage is now described as a brave man and a warrior. I don’t get the impression that much time has passed: the Spirit departing from Saul seems to follow directly from it resting on David; and David is still out with the sheep, just where we left him. I wonder if the Spirit’s anointing is already doing its work. Young though he is, people are starting to see him differently. It also could be that today’s passage comes from a different story source than yesterday’s; as we’ll see in the next couple of days, the story of how Saul and David first meet gets a little convoluted.
  • 'a donkey loaded with bread, a skin of wine and a young goat’--I think Jesse is either making sure his son will have plenty to eat (like giving your child their own credit card when they go to college) or he’s sending a thank-you gift to Saul for the honor of having someone from his family serve the king.
  • ‘and the evil spirit would leave him’--regardless of just how directly responsible God is for this evil spirit, I find it very interesting that it becomes the job of God’s new favorite to relieve the torment of the one he is replacing. Maybe David owes Saul a little help for the trouble he is causing him. Or maybe this is a lesson for Saul: his suffering will go away if he’s just willing to embrace God’s new anointed one.

Taking it home
  • For you: Of all things, David, this would-be king, turns out to be a harp player--and apparently quite a good one, since he was asked to play for the king. What are some of the things that you really like doing? Consider that all of your hobbies and hidden, little talents could be ways through which God could work. Ask God to meet you in these activities that you really love, and to use them for God’s purposes.
  • For your six: Maybe it’s not quite as pronounced as the torment Saul experienced, but are there particular ways in which any of your six seem routinely tormented? By stress? Fear? Depression? Pick a few of your six and pray for God to break whatever tormenting feelings they might be experiencing today.
  • For our church: Saul’s courtiers had a very specific need, and they were able to find someone with exactly the right skills to fill that need. Pray that it would be that way for our church as well. Pray that God would consistently be sending us the people with the right skills to accomplish what we are trying to do. And pray that we would make good use of the wealth of talents in our midst.
  • For families: Hobbies are things you like to do: hiking, drawing, playing an instrument. David’s hobby was playing the harp. What are your hobbies? Talk about how you help each other have time to do these things. What would it look like to invite God to be a part of these activities, and to even do them for God?

Monday, February 27, 2012

1 Samuel 16:1-13

1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”
The LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”
4 Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things human beings look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
12 So he sent and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came on David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.

Points of interest
  • ‘The LORD said to Samuel’--Samuel is a prophet. He isn’t so much someone who predicts the future as he is God’s special envoy to the nation of Israel. For much of his career, he basically served as the people’s governor. More recently, he has become a top advisor to--you might even say supervisor of and mentor to--the king.
  • ‘How long will you mourn for Saul’--Saul is the king. Before Saul, the Israelites had no standing central government. Instead, everyone was free to take care of their own business. In emergency situations, God would appoint a temporary leader called a ‘judge.’ The judge would address the situation, restore order, and then return to private life, or perhaps continue to exercise some authority until the end of their lives, at which point the central government would dissolve until it was needed again. Samuel was the last of these judges. During his time, the people got tired of this spontaneous form of government and decided they wanted a king, like everyone else. God and Samuel both tried to convince the people that kings weren’t as wonderful as they thought. But when the people remained insistent, Samuel appointed Saul. Despite the fact that he was basically ousted in favor of Saul, Samuel did his best to help Saul succeed. Things didn’t turn out very well, though; and God has decided that Saul needs to go.
  • ‘Fill your horn with oil’--God is telling Samuel that it’s time to choose a new king. A prophet pouring oil over someone’s head is a sign of God’s particular favor on that person; in this case, it would represent God’s new choice for king. This oil-pouring ceremony and the divine favor the oil represents are both called ‘anointing.’
  • ‘he will kill me’--it’s a bit surprising that Samuel would be afraid of Saul. If anything, up until this point, it’s been the other way around. In just the previous chapter, Samuel is clearly the one in charge in the relationship; Samuel lets Saul know that he’s about to be fired, and Saul humbly begs for mercy. Now, all of a sudden, Samuel feels the need to be cautious. Maybe it’s dawning on Samuel that it’s easier to put a crown on someone’s head than to take it back off again.
  • ‘the elders of the town trembled’--for some reason, they can’t imagine that Samuel has come to bring them good news. Maybe they have guilty consciences. Or maybe it’s just that Samuel’s sheer authority is daunting, rather like the nervousness you might feel when the police knock on your door, even when you’re not aware of having done anything wrong.
  • ‘Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here’--this is a replay of the anointing of Saul. When we first encounter Saul, he is described as good-looking and very tall. The Bible doesn’t say so, but I imagine he’s also in great shape and has a full head of hair, with just enough gray around the temples to make him look authoritative. In other words, Saul has a kingly look. Apparently, Eliab is struck from the same mold. But this time it’s different. God doesn’t want someone who just looks the part.
  • ‘Are these all the sons you have?’--David is too young to be included in this dinner with the visiting dignitary. It’s like he’s still seated at the kids’ table for Thanksgiving dinner. Or even worse, he seems to have been completely forgotten in all of the hubbub.
  • ‘in the presence of his brothers’--this has to have been awkward. I imagine some quiet--or even not so quiet--trading of boasts and insults among the brothers as Samuel very deliberately passes over one after the other. They’ve been one another’s companions and competition all their lives, playing out their mostly-friendly rivalries again and again on whatever the Iron Age equivalent of the football field is. When the oldest ones are unexpectedly passed up, brothers four and five must have an instant of dreaming, ‘Finally it’s my chance to shine.’ There might very well be only one thing more disappointing than none of them being chosen, and that’s their rosy-cheeked little brother--the baby of the family, not old enough to be a part of their rivalries--jumping in front of them all.
  • ‘the Spirit of the LORD came on David in power’--the anointing oil poured on someone’s head is meant to symbolize the spirit of God resting on them. David doesn’t just get the symbol, but the real thing. From now on, there is a certain amount of divine inspiration to whatever David does.
Taking it home
  • For you: I love that Samuel asks God how what he wants him to do is actually going to work. He’s not so much resistant to God’s plan; he just needs some more information, a game plan, if you will. What is the thing right now in your life that is looming over your head, making you feel stuck or overwhelmed? Spend some time talking to God about this, asking him how he would suggest you get it done. Then, like Samuel, do what you hear God say back to you.
  • For your six: Pray today for any ways that your six feel like David, unassuming and overlooked. Pray that God would notice your six and show special attention to them like Samuel did towards David.
  • For our church: God warns Samuel that it is easy to rely on outer appearance, but that is not the barometer that God uses. Ask God to give our church a heart that is really pleasing to God.
  • For families: Sometimes it can be all too easy to take the members of our families for granted. Take some time today to think about each person in your family and the qualities you can see God has given them, like being friendly, generous, or loving, or whatever other good thing you see in them. Take time to tell one another what you see, and pray that God would help you support each other as you grow in these areas.