Old Testament Challenge

Week of 10/13/19 - Pages 138 - 150

These are tragic chapters.  King Saul has lost hope. The grief of loosing his three warrior sons, including Jonathon, and many, many soldiers shows the cost of his waywardness from the God he once served.  Saul takes his own life with some help from his armor bearer. In the bigger arch of the unfolding story between God and Israel the nation stays divided. Israel, the northern kingdom follows Abner, a commander in Saul’s army and makes Ishbosheth their King. Joab, Abisha and other leaders/clans align themselves with David in Judah, the southern kingdom. They crown him as their King. The division continues. There is stalemate for bringing the Israel and Judah together as one Kingdom.  God’s intent. Through a series of smaller battles between the two kingdoms the power eventually shifts to King David.   King David stays focused on doing what is right in God’s eyes.  King David showed disdain for betrayers or those who didn’t consider the impact of their actions, for example King Saul’s armor bearer decision to assist King Saul ends in death. In this backdrop of violence though there is a huge counterpoint in this section of Samual. 

King David showed compassion with how he dealt with some of King Saul’s servants and relatives. I see this as a foreshadowing of Jesus atonement for all peoples when you look how King David treats Ziba and Mephibosheth and his small family.   Mephibosheth is treated like royalty and cared for even though he has crippled feet.  I think that is noteworthy when you look at the standards for Aaronic/Levitical priests. Clearly they could not have physical deformities or have any imperfections to serve in the sacrificial/temple system. To deal with Holy objects and rituals, King David shows kindness, acceptance, and generosity to an imperfect person. Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathon, the son of fallen King Saul, who used to serve God and then turned against God.  I feel we are getting a glimpse of God’s mercy, love, acceptance and compassion for the imperfect against a terrible backdrop. It may not be apparent but think about it.  Mephibosheth is at a banquet every day in the Holy City, Jerusalem! 

“And Mephibosheth, who was crippled in both feet, lived in Jerusalem and ate regularly at the king’s table.”

Week of 10/6/19 - Pages 125 - 138

Abigail’s actions.

Many years ago, I had the good pleasure of viewing Michelangelo’s famous “David” sculpture, housed in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy. This renaissance rendering of David, sparsely clad for his battle with Goliath, is remarkable. His appearance is perfect. There is a “presence” to the sculpture – look into the eyes of David and find strength, God-given confidence and determination, and perhaps even humility.  A true masterpiece!

Michelangelo carefully chiseled the honoring aspects of David, omitting any hint of the less flattering character flaws, such as David’s impulsiveness. 

In this week’s reading, we find a jealous and prideful Saul, hunting down David like some sort of felonious fugitive. Rather than fearing Saul, David is a man fearing only God.

Even in the face of consistently caustic counsel from his cronies – “Here’s your chance, kill Saul!” – David deferred to God’s plan and timing. The result? The full and final fall of Saul, and the righteous rise of David!

Although it’s easy to skip to the end – “Long live King David!” – another person in this story deserves special attention. Her name:  Abigail. She was “a sensible and beautiful woman” (1 Samuel 25:3). And she had a crude, mean, selfish fool for a husband named Nabal. 

When Nabal hurled insults toward David, how did David respond? Did he seek God’s counsel? Was he waiting on the Lord?  No! David impulsively set out to kill Nabal and his household.

I can practically hear David’s men cheering for the coming vengeance, with no pause to perceive God’s perspective. Although David has many brilliantly bright days, this particular one is desperately dim until Abigail approaches. Her plea to David is beautiful. And persuasive. Even endearing! And most certainly effective.  The hero of this day is not an avenging David, it is the astute Abigail.  And David knows it!

David replied to Abigail, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you to meet me today! Thank God for your good sense! Bless you for keeping me from murder and from carrying out vengeance with my own hands. – 1 Samuel 25:32-33

Abigail’s actions and advice altered the course of David’s life, and David rightly recognized God as the ultimate source of this eloquent and enchanting intervention.

Personally, even though I know I need help and sound advice every day ,my impulses too often govern my actions. Pause to seek God’s perspective? That just takes too long! My lack of patience stands in stark contrast with God’s indescribable grace and mercy for me. 

As you ponder the story of David and Abigail, personally consider:  What if my impulses were fully replaced by a right reaction – an impulse to urgently seek God first?

Week of 9/29/19 - Pages 111 - 125

When I think of the story of David and Goliath I think of another miracle of God favoring his chosen people.  When I read it again this week, I realized that there are a lot of other things I don't typically think of:

Preparation: David's path of preparation for that anointed confrontation with Goliath.  The bears and  lions David had confronted as a Sheppard to protect his sheep had prepared him for Goliath.  When I look back at some of the accomplishments in my life, I too can examine some of my prior experiences and see how God had used them to prepare me.  

David was not a one hit wonder:  No pun intended!  After David defeated Goliath he moved on to many additional victories as a soldier and leader of military forces.  

Even in success David had relational issues:  He had to deal with Saul's mounting jealousy.  He became David's enemy for the rest of his life.

Several words came to mind and I wrote them in the margins as I read this weeks assignment.

1.  Faith - "The Lord who rescued me from the claws of lions and bears will rescue me from this Philistine!"

2.  Revenge - "Saul urged his servants and his son Jonathan to assassinate David."

3.  Jealousy - as described above

4.  Love - "Both of them (David and Jonathan) were in tears as they embraced each other and said goodbye."

5.  Consequences - Samuel said to Saul "because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he has rejected you as king".

6.  Admission and Excuses - Saul admitted to Samuel, "Yes, I have sinned, I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord's command" and followed with an excuse "for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded"

There were a lot of lessons and takeaways for me, and they jumped write off the page at me.

Week of 9/22/19 - Pages 100 - 111

Saul had it all.  He was handsome, the most handsome man in all of Israel.  He was tall, a full head taller than anyone else in Israel.  He was God’s chosen one, anointed by Samuel to be the first king of Israel.  Yes, Saul had it all until he lost it all.

Saul started out very well.  After being anointed by Samuel, God gave Saul a new heart.  The Spirit of God came upon him and he began to prophesy.  When it was publicly revealed that he was God’s chosen king for Israel, he was found hiding amongst the baggage.  Perhaps the significance of the moment overwhelmed him, humbled him.  Then his first act as king was to lead Israel in a great military victory over Ammonites, saving the Israelite town Jabesh-gilead from the violent oppression of king Nahash.  When the people shouted for him to take revenge on his doubters within Israel, Saul responded with forgiveness.  “No one will be executed today, for today the Lord has rescued Israel!”  Yes, Saul started out very well, but then something changed.

Saul ruled Israel for 42 years.  Somewhere along the way that old enemy pride must have crawled into his heart.  Perhaps he started thinking it was his leadership, his skill, his strength, his charisma that was leading Israel to all these great victories.  Maybe he started thinking that God chose him because he had the right stuff.  Whatever it was, it came to fruition in Gigal.  Samuel didn’t show up when he said he would.  No problem thought Saul - I can sacrifice to the Lord, I can do what is preserved only for God’s priests, I can please God, I can manipulate God for his help, I’ve got the right stuff.  So Saul demanded the offerings, disobeyed God’s commands revealed will through Samuel, and then everything changed.

Isn’t this the same old problem that started in the garden?  Our hearts are wicked and deceitful.  When things are going well, my heart says “I don’t need God, I’m strong, I’m happy.”  And that leads to disobedience, sin and consequences.  Although Saul’s kingship continues for 42 years and he was victorious over Israel’s enemies, the die was cast.  His kingdom would end.  The Lord had already appointed a new king, a man after his own heart.

Proverbs 3:5 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”  This scripture is so counter-cultural.  Modern wisdom tells us to follow our heart, be true to yourself, chase your dreams – but scripture warns us that our hearts are deceitful, and sometimes following your heart can result in dire consequences.

Saul’s story reads like a Greek tragedy, a morality play.  He started out so well, but then something changed in his heart.  This led to foolish decisions, disobedience and ultimately to the end of his kingdom.  My heart is not much different than Saul’s.  It is prone to wander, vulnerable to pride.  Fortunately, the gospel gives us a much better ending than a Greek tragedy. 1 John 1:3 reminds us that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  Hebrews 4:15-16 says we have a high priest (Jesus) who is able to empathize with our weakness, because he was tempted in every way just as we are – yet he didn’t sin.  So we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence.  This is beyond amazing, and gives me great hope that a sinner like me will receive grace and mercy.  Thanks be to God!

Week of 9/8/19 - Pages 81 - 88

The book of Ruth tells the story of God’s working in ways we cannot always see and understand.  Because of a famine in the land, an Israelite woman named Naomi moves to the neighboring country of Moab with her husband and two sons to find food.  They settle there and the son’s marry Moabite women.  Soon her husband and sons die and Naomi is left with her two daughter’s-in-law.  One returns to her homeland and  Ruth and Naomi need to return to Judah (Naomi’s homeland) to continue to live.  There they meet a man named Boaz who becomes their family redeemer.  Through Boaz, and the love and faithfulness of Ruth, the story depicts God’s faithfulness to his covenant promise to the Israelites.  

The book is primarily a story of Naomi’s transformation from despair to happiness through the selfless, God-blessed acts of Ruth and Boaz.  She moves from emptiness to fullness, from destitution to security and hope.  The book of Ruth shows that David’s Moabite ancestor was a woman of true faith in the God of Israel.  

The genealogy at the end of the book lists ten generations leading up to King David.  In Jesus, the great “son of David” and his redemptive work, the promised blessings of he kingdom of God find their fulfillment.

Praise Jesus!

Week of 9/1/19 - Pages 65 - 80

After reading the book of Judges my first thought was Thank You Jesus. Having never really read the book of Judges, just small snippets for bible study here and there through out the years. I honestly thought it would be a book, like its title, about judges. Basically that we would see how the person that the Lord put in charge decides on matters or places judgement on others.

What I discovered is that this book is cyclical. What I mean by that is that we see over and over how the people of God continue to go back to their old ways. The people break their covenent with God. The people disobey His laws, by engaging in idolatry, disbelief and immoral behavior. We are told several times that there was no king but God was their King. The consequences of their behavior is that there is lots of lives lost, because God allows them to be oppressed by the Philistines. Until he raises up a judge, Samson. We continually see this pattern from the Israelites, they complain, say they will obey the rules, only to break the rules and then seek God to save them. They repent and turn back to God. Until the fall again and begin the cycle all over again.

Fortunately for us we also see who God is, his love for his people and how he chooses people for his good. Like he did when he chose Manoah and his wife, as told by the angel of the Lord of the impending birth of Samson. Judges 13:5 NIV - “You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

Samson was born to do great work for God. God’s gift to him was his tremendous physical strength. Judges 14:6a NIV - says, “The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat.” Sadly, we see Samson use his abilities unwisely. He was a jokester, fell for the pretty girls and misjudges who he could confide in. For example, when he tells Delilah where his strength comes from and then she uses against him. The Philistines, seized Samson, gouged out his eyes and imprisoned him because of Delilah’s betrayal. It is then that the Lord leaves him. We see that even the ones dedicated to God are flawed. Samson is a good example of the cyclical behavior. Samson is born dedicated to God, follows God, then walks away when Samson relies on his own strength, then to finally turn back to God. Judges 16:28 NIV - “Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” 30 Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died then while he lived.”

My take away is that God does hear our cries, our prayers. It’s never too late to start over. Our past fails are just that, in the past. Today is where we can start by putting our trust in Him, our King.

Week of 8/25/19 - Pages 52 - 65

A God Who Sees Us

After seven years of Israel being under the thumb of the Midianites, they cried out for God’s help. As a response, the Lord called Gideon to save Israel. At that moment we learn Gideon’s status within Israel’s tribes, his family, and even his view of himself. In verse 15, Gideon could not understand how he could save Israel . He is from the weakest clan of the tribe of Manasseh and the least of his father’s family. One of the most amazing things about God is that He sees us for who we are, apart from the labels placed on us by culture or society. God called Gideon a “mighty man of valor,” which from the outside seemed the furthest from who he was.

The first thing God required of him was to destroy Baal's altar and replace it with one for the Lord. So Gideon did this under the cloak of darkness, out of fear of his family and the people of the city. When discovered the people renamed him Jerubbaal, let Baal defend himself- yet God called him “a mighty man of valor.” Although God has already reassured Gideon he was with him, Gideon asked for confirmation through a sign using fleece, not once but twice. God patiently provided what Gideon needed to continue to move forward. Many would criticize Gideon for this action as a lack of faith, however, I see it as part of  Gideon becoming who he was, “a mighty man of valor.” God goes on to greatly reduce Gideon’s resources to do the very thing God is asking him to do. With a small army of 300, Gideon followed God into battle and defeated the Midianite army of thousands. God was very clear that the victory was His, bringing glory and honor to Himself. Through that process, Gideon became the man God always knew he was.

 When I think of this passage, I'm reminded of who the Bible says we are in the eyes of God, regardless of who others say we are. Our Father, Savior, Creator and Friend says we are sons and daughters of God. (Galatians 3:26) We are part of the body of Christ (1Cor 12:27), a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), a priesthood, and we are His. (1 Peter 2:9) God sees who we really are.  Like Gideon, as we learn to trust God more and more, we become who we are meant to be, someone who God can use to do great things in His name.

Week of 8/18/19 - Pages 41 - 52

The period of the Judges marks a dark and difficult era of Israel’s history.  It covers the time between Joshua’s death to the time that Israel would later be ruled by a king (1 Samuel). There are several applicable themes within the book that are worth noting as you read Judges:

1.    Israel’s Disobedience and Forgetfulness of God leads to Disaster after Disaster.

Judges reveals a brutal cycle of disaster when God’s people fail to remember and adhere to His instructions.  So much of what God had shared with Israel in their covenant agreement was designed specifically for their own safety, protection, health, and prosperity.  But almost all these grace-filled parameters were ignored and replaced with selfish, motives and action – “in those days, everyone did what was right in his/her own eyes…” (Judges 21:25).

 2.    God’s Discipline is an Instrument of His Mercy.

 It’s amazing to consider that God at any point in these cycles of disobedience could have justifiably called it quits with a people prone to breaking their word, and embracing evil.  Instead, He uses each circumstance to underscore His faithfulness and love.  The Hebrew writer describes both this dynamic and its purpose well:

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son…No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed (Hebrews 12:5-6, 11-13).

 3.    Even in Disaster, Faith Rises

 The author of Hebrews interestingly enough, lists several characters from Judges as models of Old-Testament characters who gained approval through faith (see Hebrews 11). Though Judges highlights the consequences of unbelief in its brutal cycle of destruction, one can also see that even in such periods of darkness, unbelief, and cultural digression, men and women of simple trust and obedience can be a powerful, positive light whose effects can move an entire nation.

The period of the Judges has remarkable application to our own cultural context – meaning You and Me.  By reading both how God’s mercy works through discipline, and the dramatic pitfalls of following one’s own counsel without the guidance of God’s Spirit, Judges has much to contribute to our own relationship and walk with God.


Week of 8/11/19 - Pages 32 - 39

This week we come to the close of the book of Joshua and Joshua’s life. But before the death of Joshua, we see him encouraging Israel to remain faithful to God and to serve Him alone. In Chapters 23 and 24, Joshua summons all the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel and reminds them all that God has done for them. It was God who rescued them from slavery and brought them out of Egypt. It was God who performed mighty miracles as they traveled through the wilderness. It was God who fought against their enemies and who gave them possession of the land. God has been faithful to Israel and everything He has promised has come true. Joshua then implores the people to be strong and to serve the Lord wholeheartedly. Joshua’s final words to the Israelites may be exactly what we need to hear as well. For like the Israelites, we, too, often need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness, His provision, and His power. We need to remember that whatever we are facing it is God who will rescue us and it is God who will fight our battles. We need to focus our eyes on the One we serve and not allow our circumstances to turn our eyes to the right or to the left.   We need to hold tightly to the truth that each and every one of God’s promises will come true. Not a single one will fail! May Joshua’s words encourage us and like him, may we be strong and serve the Lord wholeheartedly.

Week of 8/4/19 - Pages 21 - 32

God is faithful to fulfill His promises.  Do we trust Him?

In pages 22 - 30 in the Kingdoms book, we see the fulfillment of the promises God made to Abraham over a 1/2 century earlier. For generations in their oral tradition they have heard the stories and about the "promised land." This land of wealth and goodness that God has promised to the descendants of Abraham.

It is the beginning of a fantastic time for the people of God, a time where the scripture says there is rest from war. Where God gives them a bountiful land. A land that already is full of villages and towns, even fortified towns. They will enjoy great harvests, and long periods of peace and great wealth. 

But yet as they move in to claim these amazing promises, there are still the signs of the "human condition" that plague both the Israelites and plague us today.

One of the elements of the human condition that I think many of us can relate to, was fear.  All of these people (all except Joshua and Caleb that is) were 19 years old or younger when they started their 40 year wondering in the wilderness. God has been tangibly present for the majority of their lives. They have experienced God first hand providing miracles for daily provision & protection, stopping the Jorden river at flood stage, demolishing major walled cities like Jericho without Israel throwing a stone, and providing them tremendous victories over  the armies of the land. Yet, for some reason they have not taken full possession of the land. Why?  I wonder if it is fear. God has shown up so far, yes, but will He show up and give ME victory over the people in the land I am supposed to fight for? He has saved the armies of Israel, but will He save ME?

They have been given the land. The promise is fulfilled, but they have a role in receiving the promise. For this promise God expects them to be actively involved in its fulfillment.  They must drive the current occupants out of the land.  God promises that they will have victory, and God says he will be with them, BUT they must do their part and the thoughts of what "could" happen generate fear in their human condition, and I think in ours too.

I wonder how many times in my life I am not able to "fully" enjoy God's promises for me because "fear" enters in to my thinking.   I know He offers peace and I know He wants me to experience Joy in my life, but I wonder how many times being anxious about an unknown outcome or uncertain future keeps me from fully experiencing His promises. 

Can I truly be safe, can I be content with a life of trusting Him? Is it that simple, just trust Him.

Have a good work ethic, act justly, live generously, show mercy, and walk humbly with Jesus every day and fully trust Him for the outcome.  

I wonder if the solution to many of the ills of my human condition is to simply walk close to God each day, grabbing hold of all of the promises He offers, and simply trust Him for the outcome.