Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The People's King, part 2

      The story of Saul is a cautionary tale of how our perspectives can change as circumstances unfold through our lives. Saul's story is not uncommon, as far as emotions & their reactions. There are lessons to be learned though his story, & God reminds us in the New Testament to take Old Testament lessons to heart - that's why He recorded them for us (Rom. 15:4; 1 Co. 10:11). So here are a few I took from this story.
1- God's plans are always the best & designed for His reasons! When you start thinking your plan is better than God's, watch out. God told His people again & again to do things His way. Every time they strayed, it ended in disaster. Saul's "better idea" cost him the kingdom, the blessing of God, & eventually his life.
2-  We are all accountable for our own decisions & choices. Others can influence us, threaten us, or challenge us but in the end it is our choice to follow God's path or go our own way. Saul tried blaming the people but God, through Samuel, rejected his attempts to pass the blame.
3-  Sacrificing, even for spiritual reasons, is less important to God than obedience. No matter how we try to make up the difference or what we give up in order to appease God, the gap remains. No amount of sacrificing can usurp the blessing of obedience. Disobedience is as idol worship...we become our own god by taking control. (and you know how God feels about idol worship!) 
4-  God already knows. Rationalizing, justifying, blaming, whining, & pouting do not change the fact that we have fallen. God isn't swayed by our crocodile tears, our excuses, or our tantrums. He knows the innermost thoughts & motives of our hearts & sees through any attempts to sugar-coat truth. We think we're so clever, but I am sure God just shakes His head & wonders who we think we're trying to fool!  God knows...& don't forget it!
5- Pride really does come before a fall. Samuel reminded Saul that once he was small in his own eyes & he should have kept that perspective. God wants us to succeed & do great things for Him, through His power & in His way. Pride is deadly because it takes the focus off of God & shines the light on us instead. That kind of scrutiny is never a good thing. Flaws surface, cracks become visible, & eventually the disintegration of emotions with their reactions causes the complete collapse. None of us has anything God hasn't given us so it will never be in our own strength or ability. The creation has nothing that the Creator didn't design. Pride really has no place.
6-  You are never the sole "beneficiary" of your mistakes. Generations can be affected by choices & decisions you make. Others are watching, learning, reacting, & being influenced for good or bad by your choices so seek God, listen to what He says, & then do what He says. Like ripples in a pool, we never know how far the repercussions will go.
      Saul's story is a sad one, not only because of how it ended but because there were so many points along the way where he could have repented & turned back to God. We all make mistakes & fail in so many ways. Until life is ended, there are numerous opportunities to return to God. He waits for you to repent & desires nothing more, so don't waste another day in self-pity, regret, or fear. Give Him your failings & let Him redeem them into something good. It will give you a freedom you never knew was possible. Don't delay...just do it!!

Friday, October 4, 2013

The People's King, part 1

      I have been studying the life of Saul, the first king of Israel. His story is an example of what happens when we choose our ways over God's ways. The story of Saul is recorded in 1 Samuel.
      The Lord has been the ruler over Israel & has led them through many trials, but they want to be like surrounding kingdoms...they want a king. God knows that eventually they will cry out because of their choice but the people refuse to hear God's words (1 Samuel 8:18-22). So he gives them a king.
      At the beginning of his story, Saul was not power-hungry or even prideful. When we meet him, he is chasing after some lost donkeys. When Samuel the prophet of God begins to tell him that he will rule the people, Saul is full of arguments, much like Gideon was when the angel of the Lord greeted him with the words "Hail, mighty man of valor".  Saul argued with Samuel, "Am I not from the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest tribe of Israel? And is not my family the least of all the families of the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? So why do you speak to me this way?"  Saul has no kingly aspirations but he is the chosen one. When the lots were cast & Saul was chosen, they had to go find him. He was hiding among some baggage. When he stood before them, he seemed a kingly choice: tall, good looking, from a good family. Unlikely though he thought he was, he became the people's king.
      At first, Saul appears to lead Israel well. God gives him battle favor and the people of Israel were happy. Our first glimpse of Saul's darker side comes when he tries to execute his own son, Jonathan, for breaking an oath that Saul should not have insisted upon (having soldiers in battle fasting) & that Jonathan did not hear, for he was already in the field.  Saul's insistence upon Jonathan's death is overruled by his own troops, and Jonathan's life is spared, but Saul's pride & arrogance has begun to rear its ugly head.
      Then came the time of fateful decision:  the battle with the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15. God's instructions were to totally wipe their kingdom from the earth as punishment for their treatment of Israel. (As the Israelites were fleeing Egypt, the Amalekites were cutting off & destroying any stragglers. They attacked them again after those initial times & forced them back to the Sinai wilderness - Exodus 17:8-16; Numbers 14:39-45) God's instructions were very clear. He wanted all remembrance of them eliminated. But when the battle was finished, Saul had saved both their king & the best of their livestock. Presumably the king would have been Saul's trophy & the animals would have added to his considerable wealth. Saul had chosen arrogance over obedience.
      This is where the turning point was made. When confronted by God, through Samuel, Saul could have repented & turned back to a life of righteousness but he did not.
      Initially, he acted as though he had obeyed. Greeting Samuel he boasted that he had performed as the Lord commanded (vs 13). When Samuel confronted him with the truth, he began blaming "they" & "the people."  He tried to put a religious spin on it by saying it was for spiritual sacrifices that the animals were spared. (vs 15-16) but Samuel immediately stopped his excuses by reiterating God's command. Saul tried to rationalize again & argued that he did obey God by destroying the Amalekites, only saving the king, but it was "the people" who took the best things to be sacrificed to the Lord. (vs. 20-21). This time there was no argument that would hold.  When Samuel said, "Does the Lord delight in sacrifices more than obeying His voice? To obey is better than to sacrifice..." Saul tried one more argument - "I disobeyed because I feared the people," but he knew it was futile & began seeking absolution. The blame game was finished & the buck stopped at Saul's feet. God would not rescind his judgment. The kingdom would be taken from Saul's family and given to another, one who was a man after God's own heart. Although he remained Israel's king throughout his life, the Lord's favor was removed from him. Saul spent his years in mental torment, bouts of extreme jealousy, & the devastation of betrayal. His life ended when he committed suicide after being wounded in battle-  a sad end for Israel's first king.
     That's the story. In part 2 of this blog, I will share the lessons that God spoke to my heart as I studied.  I hope they will impact your life as they have mine.  Blessings...