1 Samuel 31 – A Long Slow Death

Have you ever watched a movie that ended abruptly, without a resolution? You’re waiting for things to turn around, but it never happens. It just ends with a heavy “thud.”

The book of 1 Samuel ends this way.

The final chapter ends the book (and the life of Saul) with a heartbreaking “thud.” You find yourself thinking back over Saul’s life and asking, “How did things come to this?”

Though 1 Samuel chapter 31 tells us when Saul came to his end, the entire book tells us how Saul got to that point. He got there gradually…little by little. He got there by…

  • Focusing on the quick way rather than the right way.
  • Worrying more about his image than his integrity.
  • Being motivated more by fear than by faith.
  • Serving himself more than serving God or others.
  • Being impulsive rather than being disciplined.

Saul was dying throughout the entire book…little by little. Chapter 31 is just the conclusion of a long, slow death.

Maybe you’ve asked the question, “How did things get to this point?” about your own life.

The record of Saul’s life is a warning to us. If we respond to things as Saul did, we too will be dying a slow, lingering death. We may live a long life, but spiritually we will die a slow death. Remember the words of Jesus…

“Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35 NLT)

1 Samuel 9 – The Master Chess Player

I’m not very good at chess. I can’t think like a chess player. Really good chess players think many moves ahead, as if they already know what’s going to happen.

God is a really good chess player.

When you look at 1 Samuel chapter 9, you will find one “coincidence” after another…pointing to God’s sovereignty and intricate timing. For example…Saul, looking for some donkeys that had run away, “just happens upon” Samuel. For this to happen…

  • The donkeys had to wander off at the right time.
  • The servant had to think of consulting Samuel just when they were close to the town Samuel was in.
  • Saul had to encounter the women who knew where Samuel was.
  • Saul and the the servant had to catch Samuel before the feast began.
  • Etc.

You can’t read 1 Samuel chapter 9 without seeing God’s complete control and sovereignty. That, in itself, is amazing. But even more amazing is the fact that God’s complete sovereignty and control is used in accordance with God’s great love and mercy. (1 Sam. 9:16)

After being rejected time and time again by His children, God could have used His sovereignty to punish them. But instead, He continues to orchestrate every little detail, so that He might continue showing mercy and grace.

When it comes to chess, God is the Master chess player. He sees many moves ahead of us. So look at your circumstances and situations. They may not be what you want (as when the donkeys ran away), and they may not be what God wants (as when Israel rejected Him and wanted a king.) But God is still in complete control and He’s moving all the pieces around the board to give you the greatest shot at being who He wants you to be.

1 Samuel 8 – Teenage Rebellion

In 1 Samuel chapter 7, we compared the nation of Israel to little children who get distracted and wander away from their parents. But sometimes, God’s children are more like willful teenagers, opposing what God wants and willfully choosing a different direction.

This is what you see in 1 Samuel chapter 8. Israel decides that they want to be like everyone around them, rather than look like their parent (God.) They want God there when they need help, but they still want to do their own thing. And even after they are warned about the difficulties and dangers their choices will produce, they still want what they want. And they are willing to enter back into a slavery of sorts to get what they want.

The truth is, we are more like the Children of Israel than we want to admit. How often we disregard what God wants in favor of what we want. How often we turn our back on His provision and find ourselves in slavery to what we thought we wanted/needed.

And like a good parent, God will hang back and watch us make poor choices. He will allow us to willfully turn away from Him, while all, the time waiting for us to realize the slavery and mess we’ve chosen. Then, when we cry out to Him, He will step in to help us walk out of our mess.

God wants children who will stay close and dependent to Him, not teenagers who will willfully break away from Him. The question is…which are you?

1 Samuel 7 – Wandering Off

You’ve seen it before. A young child is walking through a store with a parent when the child gets distracted and wanders off. But when the child realizes they can’t see their parent, they begin to feel vulnerable and scared. Their lip starts to quiver, tears begin to roll, and they cry out for their parent with increasing panic and volume.

This is a picture of 1 Samuel chapter 7. The children of Israel have wandered off from God to explore other things. When they begin to miss God’s presence, they mourn, believing God had abandoned them. (1 Sam. 7:2) Samuel points out it was they who abandoned God. (1 Sam. 7:3) Samuel calls them to stop chasing after things that don’t satisfy and instead seek and obey God. (1 Sam. 7:3)

The people respond rightly and return to God. In turn, God’s presence (not their prowess) saves them and brings them security. (1 Sam. 7:10-11)

Like that wandering child or those wandering Israelites, we get distracted by other things (success, financial security, material things, relationships, pleasure, etc.) and we wander off from God. We typically don’t realize it at the time…until things start to fall apart.

Then we wonder why God has left us…when in fact it was we who left Him. (Heb. 13:5) But if we will cry out to Him and submit to Him, He will joyfully and powerfully respond. (James 4:7-10)

So how about it? Look around. Do you see God close by, or have you wandered off from Him. If you’re off by yourself…you now know what to do.

1 Samuel 5-6 – When God Parents Teens

Parent is a difficult job, no matter the age of your children. But it is especially difficult to parent teens. Teens strongly demonstrate and exercise their self-will. They are also very good at diverting blame and misrepresenting loving discipline as punitive retribution.

1 Samuel chapters 5-6 portray the Israelites much like teenagers. In chapter 4, the Israelites independently do what they want to do, without consulting God. Because of this (and previous offenses,) they bring about a disconnect in the relationship…symbolized by their separation from the Ark of the Covenant.

As a good parent, God works behind the scenes (unbeknownst to them) to reconnect the relationship and return the Ark. Like teenagers, the Israelites are happy to receive the blessing of the Ark’s return, but they continue to do what they want to do. They continue to treat God with casual disrespect. And when God disciplines them for this attitude, the Israelites respond as if God is to blame (1 Sam. 7:2)

Too often, I respond to my Heavenly father as if I’m a teenager. I want what I want, when I want it. I’m glad to receive His benefits, but hurt when He disciplines me. And I’m usually more concerned with Him not leaving me, then with me not leaving Him.

I tend not to recognize:

  • All He did behind the scenes to restore our relationship.
  • The fact that He, more often than not, is the one who makes the first move to restore the relationship.

Yes, 1 Samuel chapters 5-6 make theological statements about the omnipresence of God in a pagan culture. And yes, you see teachings about God’s sovereignty and holiness. But mostly you see a God who goes out of His way to move towards His children…even when they have rebelled and disconnected from Him.

Be grateful God has a heart for teenagers…like us!

1 Samuel 4 – Are You Superstitious?

Would you consider yourself superstitious? Most of us would deny being superstitious. In our modern, scientific, and technologically driven world, we would see superstition as archaic and mythological.

Superstition takes a right concept (the idea that there is an unseen force which effects our lives positively or negatively) and links that right concept with a wrong connection (a certain object or sequence of events.)

In 1 Samuel chapter 4, the Israelites were superstitious, because they wrongly connected God’s favor with the physical Ark of the Covenant. They assumed that God’s favor was in holding onto the Ark of the Covenant, rather than holding onto the Covenant itself. The Israelites saw God’s presence and favor as the result of keeping the box that held God’s law, rather than keeping God’s law itself.

An initial reading might prompt us to say, “I can’t believe these ancients were superstitious enough to think that putting a golden chest in the middle of a battle would ensure their victory!”

But before we’re too hard on the Israelites, let’s be honest. Don’t we tend to think that the more we’re inside a church building the more God will like us? Don’t we tend to think that the more good things we do, the more God will bless us?

We can be just a superstitious as the Israelites.

How often do we feel we’re made right by visiting God’s house, rather than abiding in Him? How often do we feel better about ourselves because we carry and read God’s word, rather than obeying and living God’s word?

We need to turn from our religious superstition by finding our comfort, direction, and strength in God Himself, rather than in the things that symbolize Him.

1 Samuel 2-3 – Does God Choose Favorites?

“Mom always liked him better.” “Dad always favored her.” What sibling hasn’t said or thought something like this?

Some would say God plays favorites, because some people seem to be blessed while others encounter one hardship after another. If God loves us all the same, why doesn’t He give everyone the same deal?

Let’s be clear…God does not show favoritism, in the sense that He arbitrarily chooses to be good to some and not to others. (See Acts 10:34, Rom. 2:11, Eph. 6:9, and Col. 3:25.) God loves each person the same (John 3:16) and will work with each person to achieve His best for them. (2 Pet. 3:9) But each person is responsible for their response to God. (James 4:6-8.) Though it’s possible to experience hardship through no fault of our own, quite often the difficulties we experience are not the result of God’s favoritism, but ours! We show favoritism toward ourselves, rather than God, and in so doing, we choose to honor that which is flawed over that which is perfect…giving us flawed results.

This is what’s happening in 1 Samuel chapters 2-3. There you see a distinct contrast between the life and direction of Samuel and the life and direction of Eli’s sons. Samuel is clearly headed for greatness, while Elli’s sons are headed for destruction. But Hophni and Phinehas’ fate is not because God favored Samuel over them. It’s because they favored themselves over God.

God does not promise each person the same path to travel, but He does promise each person the same love, care, and help for their journey. And it’s His desire to see each person arrive at the right destination. God does not play favorites, but we do. The question is, do we favor ourselves or God?

1 Samuel 1 – How to Start a Great Story

The Wizard of Oz is a great story full of heroes and villains, fear and hope, trickery and bravery. Yet, it starts in simple black and white; with a plain and simple Kansas farm girl who has a dream.

Likewise, the book of 1 Samuel is a story of heroes and villains, trickery and bravery, fear and hope. It tells of the beginnings of one of the greatest kings and kingdoms of history, but it starts in chapter one with a simple woman named Hannah from the hill country of Ephraim who longs to have a child.

It might seem that Hannah wants a child to compete with her husband’s other wife, Peninnah. But that’s not the case, since Hannah had only one child and Peninnah had many.

It might also seem as if Hannah wants a child to win her husband’s favor. But that’s not the case, since v.5 tells us that she already had her husband’s favor.

So what was Hannah’s desire for a child all about?

In Hannah’s time, the inability to have children was believed to be a sign of God’s disfavor or abandonment. Hannah’s desire for a child was a longing for God’s favor. That’s why, when God answers Hanna’s longing for a child, Hannah gives the child back to God in gratitude.

All the wonderful stories found in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel…the forming of a mighty kingdom for God and the regal splendor of the golden age of the Children of Israel…are all founded on a simple woman from the hill country of Ephraim who prayed and asked God to be merciful to her and show her that He cared.

This is how you start a great story, a great book, a great movie, or a great life.