A case of human bitterness clouding righteous anger?

‘When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger.’ 1 Samuel 11v6

Previously, we read how Saul was rather half-hearted in his role as king. And yet, this passage shows Saul as a man of extremes. Whether his angry reaction is actually motivated by God’s Spirit  or symptomatic of issues within Saul himself, we cannot be sure. However, two things are sure.

  • Saul is not slow to react
  • Saul recognises his responsibility to lead and respond when the need presents itself.

In this instance, the need arises as the people of Jabesh-Gilead attempts to avoid being enslaved by King Nahash and his army who have invaded their town. Offering Nahash a treaty, the people promise to become his servants but the king is spoiling for a fight and refuses their terms,  tells them he intends to blind each of them because of their weakness.

What to do?

Well, when Saul learns what is happening at Jabesh-Gilead, he is enraged. Moreover, old habits die hard and this instantly translates into threatening the Jewish people that if they don’t assist their brothers and sisters, they too will become like the oxen he has butchered and sent around the towns and villages.  And so – more out of fear and intimidation – an army of 330,000 follow Saul and Samuel into battle and secure victory over Nahash and his army.

What happens next comes thick and fast. Samuel encourages  the victorious army and people to go to Gilgal to renew the kingdom. Later, after a solemn ceremony, the people make Saul their king. However,  this victory is not without consequence for in v7 we read that the people responded to Saul’s request not out of love or respect but because they were afraid of his anger. Not the greatest of foundations for a King to secure his reign on and one that will later on ultimately become his undoing.


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Saul- the King who avoided change?

The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you (Saul), and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.’  1 Samuel 10v6                                    ‘When he and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he joined in their prophesying.’ 1 Samuel 10v10     ‘Finally, Samuel – son of Kish – was chosen from among them. But when they looked for him, he had disappeared! So they asked the Lord  “Where is he?” And the Lord replied, “He is hiding among the baggage.”‘ 1 Samuel 10v21-22

In the last post we encountered Samson who although mightily equipped by God was undone by his immaturity and wilfulness. Sadly, the same is also true for Saul who right from the start shows he has no intention of leading others, preferring  to hide among the luggage rather than respond to the call of God.

What is really sad about this is that Saul is given an incredibly detailed prophesy of who he will meet and what they will be carrying etc to show that what is being said to him is from God and will come true. The fact that other prophesies  accompanied it should have put it beyond doubt but for Saul, the root of his issue is with his wavering heart which he favours. Moreover, he has no desire to become a ‘different person’ (Sam 10v6).

While Saul’s hiding among the luggage appears cowardly, what will transpire in the years that follow is that Saul is self-serving and disobedient. We see that in his wilfulness in choosing to hide. Likewise, his jealously and fear of David’s popularity later on. Not forgetting, his murderous desires and his overall failure to rise to the challenge of leading God’s people and protecting them, rather than serving himself.

Yes, the Spirit came upon Saul. True he was chosen by God and destined to be King and leader. However, Saul’s failure to address his anger, wilfulness and reckless behaviour sets him on a course to destruction. One in which the default of pride refuses to allow him to be captured by the enemy. He ends up killing himself, ending a sad era of a broken man who refused to reform.


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A case of Samson’s agenda versus God’s will?

‘Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon (Samson). He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he returned to his father’s home.’       Judges 14v19

As with last week’s post which touched on Samson’s immaturity as a judge, here we see how his wilful actions and pride lead him into even more conflict with the 30 young men who are assigned to be his companions at his wedding feast during the seven day festival.

While, I’m unsure of the customs that accompany such events, I am fairly certain that setting your guests an impossible riddle in order to fleece them of their money is not one of them – and yet that is exactly what Samson does! Unable to fathom the riddle and reluctant to buy Samson thirty sets of clothes,  his wedding companions approach Samson’s wife for the answer to the riddle.

Now, although Samson is a man of secrets he likes to live dangerously. Moreover, he is not always resolute in his resolve. So when his wife’s incessant pleading becomes too much for him, he tells her the answer to the riddle which she then passes onto the men who turn the tables on Samson and claim thirty sets of clothes from him instead.

Enraged, Samson goes down to Ashkelon, slaughters 30 men and strips them of their clothes to pay his debt. I don’t know about you but there is no way that Samson’s actions constitute godly behaviour in any way, shape or form. While the author of the book of Judges appears to suggest Samson’s killing of the men at Ashkelon occurrs because ‘the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him’ it is questionable his actions were inspired by God but more his own sense of damaged pride and the need for revenge. That Samson had access to such incredible strength should be attributed to the blessing of God. That he misused it throughout his life should be attributed to Samson and his immaturity to go beyond his own desires and agenda.

 

 


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What can we learn from Gideon, Jephthah and Samson?

  • ‘Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him.’ (Judges 6v34).
  • ‘Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.’ (Judges 11v29)
  • ‘The Spirit of the Lord began to stir (Samson) while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.’ (Judges 13v25)
  • ‘The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon (Samson) so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done.’ (Judges 14v6)

What I find most interesting about these four scriptures is  what happens when the Holy Spirit come upon a person. Gideon is in a state of readiness.  We know this because when the Spirit falls on him, he rises to the challenge by blowing the trumpet to summon others to follow him. Likewise,  Jephthah is directed by God’s Spirit to advance against the Ammonites. However….

… Samson is a different kettle of fish. Stirred  by the Spirit from birth,  it appears that this judge is out of sorts with God. Confronted by a lion, God equips Samson with mighty strength and he tears it to pieces. However, speaking with his parents, Samson doesn’t reveal to anyone how God saved his life that day – which begs the question ‘why?’

Well – if the rest of Samson’s life is anything to go by – it seems that he had a real issue with pride. For me, he didn’t tell his father and mother about killing the lion because to do so was to admit his dependence on God for his strength. Presumably, he thought people would think less of him. And yet, it’s his pride and reluctance to remain attentive to God  that leads him to flirt with danger until he is eventually captured and his power and physical sight removed from him.

In this hopeless place, Samson finally acknowledges that it is God who provides his strength and prays for its return so that he can bring down the temple down on himself and his captors. God obliges and Samson succeeds but the story is not one of a hero but rather a tragedy. Unlike Gideon and Jephthah who learnt to be attentive to God’s Spirit and responsive to the call to go, Samson refused and paid a heavy price for it.  Something that we can all learn from.

 


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Holy Spirit in Human History (Othenial)

‘The Spirit of the Lord came on him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him.’ Judges 3v10

The context of how and why God’s Spirit comes upon Othenial is better understood through the community’s ‘on-off’ relationship with God. In Judges 3v7-10 we are told:

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord…and served the Baals and the Asherahs…so that he sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years. But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them.’

What I find sad in this passage is how long it took the Israelites to return to God. Eight years of slavery to the King of Aram before they reach breaking point and cry out for a deliverer. No sooner has the community cried out, then God sends them a deliverer. But why did it take so long? Moreover, why didn’t they cry out sooner and be restored back to God?

My understanding is that it took them eight years because this was how long the people were prepared to suffer this hard yoke of slavery before acknowledging their mistakes and returning to God. Consider the two types of responses observed in this passage:

  • People serve idols and suffer for eight years before crying out to God for help?
  • Othenial  is called by God and responds immediately to His call to action?

Surely, it’s a no brainer!


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Understanding scripture in context while keeping God good?

‘But Sihon king of Heshbon refused to let us pass through. For the Lord your God had made his spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate in order to give him into your hands, as he has now done.’ Deuteronomy 2v30

If we see God as anything other than good and loving in this scripture we will encounter a problem. Why? Because it suggests God made Sihon’s spirit stubborn and his heart obstinate so that  his army would fall into the hands of the Israelites.

Now, while I agree that Sihon was both stubborn and obstinate, I take issue with the idea that somehow God intervened and turned his heart this way – mainly because I don’t believe God is a dualist – i.e.) a God who overrules peoples’ freewill and is capable of good and evil.

What actually happened?

Well, my understanding of this scripture is that Sihion’s attempts to thwart the Israelites – and by extension God – led to him becoming frustrated. Too proud to admit defeat and unwilling to acknowledge the one true God, Sihon becomes obstinate and refuses to yield. To those in his court and outside of it who witnessed this change in the king, it may well have seemed like ‘God had made his spirit stubborn’ when really it was an issue of pride that would eventually bring the king and his army down.

So what shall we take from this?

A maxim in life that I have adopted is to try and  ‘keep God good’ when I read scripture. Especially, if the words suggests anything other than God is good. Often, I ask myself if what was reported was done so as a human assessment of how it looked to people at that time rather than the reality of how God was working within that particular situation. As we do this regularly, we keep God good in our speech and our thinking. Be blessed.


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Holy Spirit in Human History (11)

‘So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him.’ (Numbers 27v18)

In this passage, we are introduced to man of faith Joshua who was one of twelve sent out to spy on Canaan ready for an attack. However, on their return, while ten of the spies gave negative reports about how Israel would be overwhelmed and destroyed by the giants inhabiting the land, Joshua and another were the only ones to remind the people that God was with them and he would achieve it. (Perhaps he held in his mind how God had delivered them from the Pharoah and Egypt?)

The spirit of leadership observed in Joshua is a ‘primary spiritual gift’ which stands out from the many other gifts the believer possesses. While these other basic gifts also result in blessing and formational growth,  our primary spiritual gift is unique in that when this gift is put into into action: :

  1. the person is energised (in a way they are not when operating in other gifts)
  2. other people are blessed by this ministry
  3. the person has a greater sense of calling and spiritual fulfillment.

This was certainly Joshua’s experience who after Moses went on to lead the people as they entered Canaan.


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Holy Spirit in Human History (10)

‘When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came on him.’ (Numbers 24v2)

Of all the scriptures that require contextual understanding, this is among them. On the line, it fairly straightforward –  Balaam is resting and the Spirit of God comes on him. Simple.

But dig a little deeper and we see how his encounter with the Spirit was only facilitated by his rejection of the divination he’d unsuccessfully used to oppose God’s plan. Moreover, it’s as Balaam turns to face the wilderness that God’s Spirit comes on him and his eyes are opened to what will happen. Balaam sees Israel encamped tribe by tribe and the Spirit of God comes on him and he speaks this message:

“The prophecy of Balaam son of Beor,
the prophecy of one whose eye sees clearly,
the prophecy of one who hears the words of God,
who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened. (Numbers 24v2-4)

What Balaam learnt that day is God is never far from those who rebel or stray. His Spirit comes upon those who acknowledge their mistakes. People who have rebelled and wake to find themselves at the edge of a wilderness. To those people – incidentally, all of us – Jesus’ words resassure us

‘Those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. ‘ (John 6v37)

 

 

 


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Want to live wholeheartedly for God?

 ‘But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.’ (Numbers 14v24)

How do you read this verse? Personally, I think the word ‘spirit’ is used here for something akin to temperament or mindset. Why will Caleb and his descendants enter the land while others will not?

Well… Caleb is following God ‘whole heartedly’ and because of that, his descendants are to be blessed also. Between the lines, what we read is that while a person may be following God they may at times be not fully committed and find their heart taken up with other things.

Watchman Nee observes similar in ‘Release of the Spirit’ in which he outlines how an infilling of the Holy Spirit is dependent on the inclination and availability of the soul. A receptacle that can be filled by God’s Spirit but also things associated with human desire. In short,  the distractions of this world or God’s Kingdom. For Caleb, following God wholeheartedly was never in question and the only option.

 


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Holy Spirit in Human History (8)

But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11v29)

Those of us with knowledge of what happens 1300 years later at Pentecost will read Mose’s response as more of an unintentional propheric utterance to the people challenging him.

In Acts 2 we read of how Jesus’ disciples – bouyed by seeing him alive – obey his instruction to remain together as they pray for the Counsellor to be sent to them. What happens next is staggering as God’s Holy Spirit arrives comes upon them and they spill out into the streets, glorifying God to people in other languages who (convicted by what they hear and see) respond to the message and also become Jesus’ followers. More than that – the disciples discover that if they lay hands on these new believers and invite the Holy Spirit into them, it happens and these new converts are also filled with the Spirit of God.

How true the outcome: I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!

 

 


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