‘So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”
But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 1Samuel 28 v8-9
The thing I find most striking about this account is that the woman – in response to the King’s request to call up a spirit from the grave – shows more integrity than Saul in that moment. “Surely you know what Saul has done.” Or put another way, ‘Saul, you of all people should know as you are the King who has driven away mediums and spiritists like myself!’
At this point, the woman thinks that King Saul is intent on tricking her so that she can be arrested and killed – hence her response: “Why have you set a trap… to bring about my death?” Of course, what the woman doesn’t realise is how far the mighty man has fallen. How far Saul has transgressed and broken relationship with God to the point where he is prepared to turn to the dark side rather than face Him and be presented with the reality of his vindictive life and damaged decision-making.
In truth, all of us will at some point in our life find ourselves so desperate and far away from God that we will seek out our own way to move forward (without God). Saul’s issue was his pride. Setting it aside by admitting his weakness and mistakes was his problem!
To understand this event we need to get to grips with the backstory as prior to David’s anointing, Samuel takes Saul aside for disobeying God in that he had not fulfilled his duty in respect to Agag – the king of the Amelekites – and ignored the destruction of their livestock. Mortified at learning he had been rejected by God, Saul tries to make amends by:
‘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 powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.’
Back to David, God’s replacement. Although a child, his pedigree is clear. David…
- blaming the failure on his men saying he was afraid of them (Sam 15v31)
- begging Samuel to return back with him so he won’t lose face. (Sam 15v26-30)
- failing to do his duty so Samuel is forced into doing it instead for him (Sam 15v33)
- takes after God’s heart
- is fearless in his actions that are motivated by his loyalty to God
- strives to do the right thing, defending the weak and poor
A loyalty and respect for God and those over him that will lead David into the service of King Saul, putting him in jeopardy as he attempts to do be obedient and do right by God.There’s no comparison between these two kings.
‘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.
‘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!
‘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.
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!
Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again. However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. Numbers 11v25-26.
Aside from God coming down in a cloud, the description of the Spirit resting on Moses which then separates into strands to rest on the elders present (causing them to prophesise) is very similiar to the Christian experience of Pentecost where the tongues of fire reach out to touch each of them (Acts 2v3)
.The only exception being the incident with the two elders who were absent from the group yet still ended up being moved by the Spirit to prophesise in the place where they were located.
Of course, the major difference between the two different experiences is with what is happening in the spiritual realm as the Spirit directs His work. The Old Testament experience of God’s Spirit resting on a person was always understood as a temporary measure to equip the person for a particular task or calling. However, in the New Testament, the understanding was that when the Holy Spirit entered the believer, there was nothing temporary about it. God now lived within the believer and was made permanent as God moves from ‘resting on’ the person to ‘dwelling in’ the person.
Yes, human rebellion can lead to grief and lessen the work of the Holy Spirit within us for a time but the presence of God – as secured through sacrifice – can and will always lead to ‘Christ dwelling in you – the hope of glory! (1Cor 1v27) Hallelujah!
‘But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.’ Genesis 45v37
Now, while I don’t want to rock the boat, it seems to me that the use of ‘spirit’ in these verses from Genesis is neither ‘animistic’ or ‘dynamistic’ in origin but rather everyday language we might use to describe feelings. For example, Bob was rather down in spirit after his rugby team lost in the finals last week. Yes, I’m down but this relates to my emotional state which revives after a good night’s sleep and time to forget a lacklustre performance. Understanding the spiritual dynamics and how they operate within us will help us to know ourselves better in the same way Jacob revived when he realised it was true that Joseph was alive – an emotional transformation!
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.’ (Galatians 5v16-23)For many Christians, the call to faithfulness is obvious. The trouble is that while God’s Holy Spirit lives within each believer, our ability to make good decisions depends on the way we choose to orientate our freewill – either towards God or away from Him. That’s why Paul writes:
‘Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.’
Faithfulness to God requires that just like real fruit, spiritual fruit is cultivated through the discipline and desire to nurture it to its full potential. A process that means setting aside our own agenda and taking up God’s plan as we allow this to permeate our daily lives. Yes, there will be times when we take a wrong turn and follow a different drum but the call of God is always to faithfulness.