A message I preached on Sunday, May 24, at Victory Assembly of God in Bonner Springs, KS.
Spoiler alert: 1 Samuel doesn’t end well for Saul.
In Chapter 28 we have the story of Saul visiting the witch at Endor. He visits a medium to conjure up the spirit of Samuel. There are so many side issues to explore in this story, which is why I like the voice of Walter Brueggemann when it comes to Old Testament commentary. Brueggemann is good at sticking to the story and refusing to jog down rabbit trails.
His conclusion on this passage is the Interpretation commentary is helpful to me. What we need to remember is this passage is about anguish. Saul has exhausted all sources and is desperate to know what to do. Samuel was his only voice from God for so long, and Saul had long ago rejected God, that it is all crashing down on him. He is completely lost.
The point, for Brueggeman, is that the narrative has Samuel at the center. Samuel’s call to follow only Yahweh has dominated the text and here is Saul back to “square one,” so to speak. Saul has to come to terms with his refusal to obey Yahweh.
Brueggemann ends with this thought:
To diffuse the narrative into a pluralism in which other powers have force or significance is to misread the story and diminish its voice for our own demanding religious situation. The narrative is a reflection on how hard and dangerous is the single voice to which Saul failed to give heed.
In other words, we won’t be able to answer all the questions as to the apparition, the use of a medium, etc., because that’s not the story. When reading the text, it’s really a good idea to stick to what the narrative is giving us and realize there will just be a lot of other questions at times.
2 And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.(1 Sam. 22:2, ESV)
If there is anything I could tell anyone at any time it is this: your discontent is welcome at our church.
The questions. The searching. The “wanting to be real.” All of it.
David, as a leader, gathered around some pretty hard-nosed characters but he then directed them in their bitterness toward something greater.
This is the Kingdom of God as well.
Some read the Sermon on the Mount opening as a list of “things to do” or “things to be.” We call it the “Beatitudes.”
Dallas Willard in his book The Divine Conspiracy flipped my thinking on this. It’s not about what to achieve. Jesus is giving a list of “losers” in the current culture that are WELCOME in the Kingdom of God. Just come in and explore what the Kingdom is about.
Poor. Meek. Downtrodden. Beat up. Distressed. Bitter.
Come HERE. Explore the Kingdom. Listen. Understand. Find fresh water. Find some healing.
Bring your questions. Bring your attitude. Just know that the “attitude” you throw around will get banged up by others throwing their “attitudes” around. 😉
The bitter. The questioning. The hurting. The imperfect.
I am referring to Saul in 1 Samuel, but I don’t mind the parallels it might draw to our present day politics. 😉
Israel rejected God as “king” and wanted what everyone else had.
Okay, I can’t help but think of parallels to the American Church as well…
Israel got the king they deserved. He looked like a king (or “presidential” as we would refer to it today). But that was it. He couldn’t lead. Israel got exactly what they asked for.
There are times we beg God for what we think is “best” for us… and we get exactly what we asked for. Then, we are left complaining to God about what we got!
We are far too busy in our day trying to ask God for things we think “we deserve.” We are not interested enough in the King and his agenda. It is leading to heartache and tragedy. It is producing a very weak Church in America.
We need a return to our King. We need a heart that repents and says, “Not MY will, but yours.”
When we will humbly return to our King and his Kingdom, we may get past the life we deserve and find the abundance of the Kingdom once again.
I wanted to jot down some quick observations of the characters in 1 Samuel:
Hannah — the picture of desperation. This is a woman who wouldn’t let go until God answered. We need Hannah’s in our day.
Eli — a man losing control. He couldn’t get his sons in line and favored them over the duties of his job as priest. He lost all of it as a result.
Samuel — the picture of learning to hear God. He developed a listening ear and became that oracle for God that had been absent for generations. We need people in our day listening to God. We have far too many “speaking” for God.
Saul — the perfect picture of the saying, “We get the leader we deserve.” Israel clamored for a king and they got a “kingly looking” man. He looked great, but he was insecure, fearful, anxious, manipulating… you get the picture.
David — a man who understood authority. I need more lessons from this guy. He let God take care of the leadership in front of him. He wouldn’t move against Saul when Saul was right in his hands twice. David gives us a picture of learning how to live under authority.
2 All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him. (1 Sam. 22:2, NIV)
The mark of a great leader isn’t that they seem to be able to hire great people. The mark of a great leader is that they take the people they have and MAKE them great people.
1 Samuel 21
David was on the run from Saul.
There is a show on cable I’ve not watched but a friend of mine loves it. It’s called “Dog the Bounty Hunter.” This guy named Dog is a bounty hunter in Hawaii. My friend loves that plotline because if you’re a criminal who jumped bail… where do you go? You’re on an island!
David was in a similar situation. Israel was a small nation. He was running out of places to run. In a panic he ran across the border to Gath. Gath… that names sounds familiar…
This being before the age of Facebook, not everyone knew David’s face when he walked into town, but eventually the rumors ripple the waters: “Isn’t this the guy that killed our hometown hero?”
David was trapped so he faked madness. The king of Gath had enough crazy people running around, so he let David go.
David ended up in Gath out of desperation. He simply didn’t know what else to do.
Psalm 56 is possibly a reflection later in David’s life as he looks back on that episode. We all have times when we look back on certain moments in our lives and reflect. Those are times when we can gain lessons for what to do going forward.
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” (Ps. 56:3, ESV)
David had a “takeaway” from that episode. He had feared and he ran in a direction that just didn’t work out: right into the hands of his enemy. Yet, the Lord was gracious to help him escape.
We all have moments when we flee to Gath. We flee right into the place we fear the most. The place that can trap us and sink us. It was out of fear or panic, but there we are.
And we can cry out to God and in his mercy he can come and deliver us.
Learn from the trip to Gath as David did.
“For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” (Ps. 56:13, ESV)
1 Samuel 4
When Israel was pummeled by the Philistines yet again, they turned to the ark of the covenant. They didn’t turn there to seek God. They turned to it as a good luck charm. They thought if they took it into battle it would bring them the luck they needed to defeat the Philistines.
When the ark came into the camp, the place went crazy. The emotions were high. The Philistines even heard the noise and got worried for a minute. Then, Israel went out and not only lost the battle, but lost the ark.
Israel was so far from God they didn’t know what the ark was about any longer. To them it was simply a symbol of the presence of God. It was not about coming into his presence to hear from him.
When we do not know what to truly do with worship, the Word, the presence of God, the table of the Lord, etc., they can become our good luck charms.
“I can’t feel the presence of God, so I need to listen to my music.”
“I can’t hear from God, so I need to listen to (fit name of favorite preacher here) so I can get rejuvenated.”
“I am not feeling God, so I need to get to youth camp.”
On and on it can go.
God is not a good luck charm. We don’t go to him to our “feeling” back.
He is holy and worthy of worship. We go to him for his agenda not so he can rubber stamp our agenda.
I want to worship because he is worthy. I want to engage the Word of God in the Scriptures because HE is talking to ME, not the other way around.
I too often get a picture of Scrooge in my head when I read in 1 Samuel about the Ebenezer.
One of my favorite hymns is “Come Thou Fount” and it refers to the Ebenezer:
Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by Thy help I come
And I hope by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus, sought me when a stranger
Wondering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood
Ebenezer was the stone of help.
It was a rock they used to memorialize the help of the Lord.
We can all have our “Ebenezer” and it doesn’t have to mean “Scrooge!”
In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. (1 Sam. 3:1)
The word of the Lord was rare in Israel in those days because no one was listening. Everyone was into their life.
It’s not a matter of God “not speaking” in our world. It is a matter of us not listening.