1 Samuel 24 - 26
During the course of David fleeing from Saul and for his life, you can imagine the angst he would have felt in knowing he was always in danger. So when an opportunity presents itself to oust Saul, you can further empathize with David’s temptation to finally free himself from this dread. However, not only once, but twice David spares Saul’s life when he was clearly handed the chances to kill Saul (Ch. 24 & 26). Sandwiched in between these two opportunities is another display of David’s mercy towards Nabal, at the behest of his wife Abigail. In all three of these instances, David displays mercy towards those who rightfully deserved judgment and wrath. He is able to value Saul’s life- despite that fact that Saul had been on a murderous rampage for his own- on the account that he still considered Saul to be “the Lord’s anointed” (24:6,10; 26:9,11). Unlike Saul, David is able to prioritize the sanctity of life and God’s anointed over and above his own interests. In seeing what also happened to Nabal, David learns that justice does not always need to be carried out by his own hands. David’s continuous propensity to be merciful in these three accounts further prepare him for the throne. This would be David and Saul’s last direct interaction before Saul’s ultimate demise.
Reflect & Connect
Throughout the narrative in 1 Samuel 24, there is a recurring imagery of “cutting off.” David cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe as a visible sign of his mercy (24:11). Then, Saul requests that David would not cut off or kill his offspring once David took the throne- a customary practice that would take place in the changing of hands of authority. Much of this imagery may also draw from those who are cut off from the covenant community without the sign of circumcision (Gen. 14:17). To be cut off was a significant consequence in the Israelite context. Reflect on the passage below from Ephesians, and meditate on the immensity of God’s grace through Jesus that prevented us from being cut off from God. How has God shown us mercy despite our sin? Consider the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice for us that we might go from being aliens to family members.
- Rev. Nameun Cho
1 Samuel 19 - 21
Saul’s anger and jealousy towards David reaches its peak in this portion of the narrative, so much so that it pits him against his own children. In her attempt to cover for David’s escape, Michal prioritizes her husband over her father (19:11-17). Jonathan’s naivete deters him from seeing his father’s anger at first. But Jonathan learns of Saul’s true intentions during David’s absence at the New Moon feast. Enraged that Jonathan had excused David from being at the festival, Saul curses and throws a spear at his own son (20:30,33; much like he did towards David in 19:10). Saul’s anger has blinded him so much that anyone associated with David deemed worthy of incurring the same judgment.
David and Jonathan’s love for one another is reaffirmed through this section. Their friendship goes to serve as the stark antithesis to Saul’s anger, almost as if to depict how Saul should have treated God’s anointed instead. In their warnings to each other (20:8,14) and their bitter farewell (20:41-42), the concept of God’s loving kindness (See explication of Hesed from Day 37) is referenced and embodied. David is now forced to be a fugitive, but God is still in control. Much like how the harmful spirit that stirred Saul’s anger was God-ordained (18:10; 19:9), so this temporary exile will serve a purpose for David towards his eventual throne.
Reflect & Connect
In an attempt to flee from Saul’s murderous decree, David braves an escape even into enemy Philistine territory of Gath in chapter 21. But even across enemy lines, David is recognized and almost revered (21:11). David fears that with his identity revealed he is in grave danger still. Feigning insanity, David narrowly escapes yet another close call for his life. Much of his life experience during this fleeing inspired the words from Psalm 34. Read over this psalm and meditate on David’s experiences. While being immersed in the fragility of his circumstances, let the words of hope and trust in God’s sovereignty lift you through whatever difficult trials you may experience or are even experiencing today.
- Rev. Nameun Cho
1 Samuel 16 - 18
As a natural flow of narrative following the disqualification of Saul, God then points Samuel in the direction of the new soon-to-be king of Israel. Saul himself demonstrates the reality that outward appearance, external circumstances, or even good intentions are not what God requires of a good king. Samuel is tasked to find a man after the Lord's own heart. In his visit to Jesse’s family, the least expected candidate is chosen to be anointed (note: David isn’t even in the house when Samuel is discerning God’s chosen, as Jesse assumed that surely it was not his youngest son). While a comment is made on his physical appearance, David is anointed simply because the LORD chose him (16:12). From that moment forward, the Spirit of the Lord rushes upon David to equip him for God’s work.
The well-known story between David and Goliath further demonstrates the power of obedient faith and God's favor. When challenged by Goliath and the Philistines, it is Saul who is obligated to serve as the nation’s champion. Instead, he cowers and is greatly dismayed (17:11). Saul continues to show his lack of faith by being swayed by daunting appearances and circumstances. When David inquires of the challenge, only courage and faith are exuded from his words and actions. For David, Goliath’s challenge was not a matter of military strategy or even physical strength, but of a spiritual nature. Three times David refers to Goliath’s threat not as a challenge towards his people, but to the living God (v. 26, 36, 45). And when considering a threat to the covenant God of Israel, David has full assurance that victory is on his side.
Following Goliath’s defeat, David grows stronger in his victory and influence as a leader in Israel. So much so that Saul grows jealous and angry towards David’s success. Despite numerous attempts to thwart David’s upward trajectory, Saul is faced with the inevitable judgment that his reign is coming to a close. This theme of juxtaposing diligent faith with wavering disbelief since the beginning of the book will continue on through its close- Hannah and Eli, Samuel and Eli, Jonathan and Saul, and now David and Saul.
On the precipice of his father’s extreme jealousy, the author of 1 Samuel begins chapter 18 with a beautiful display of covenantal love. Jonathan and David’s friendship is described as souls being knit together, loving the other as his own soul, and a stripping of one’s possessions and status in service to the other. With his seat on the throne threatened, Jonathan had all the reason and more that Saul did to be jealous of David. Instead, we see a counter intuitive movement of grace and sacrifice towards David that epitomizes the definition of friendship. In what ways do we see Christ’s love for us as this kind of movement? How is the Lord convicting you today to convey that love onto others?
4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
- Rev. Nameun Cho
1 Samuel 13 - 15
After Saul is anointed king, there seemed to be a promising start to his authority as we read that “God gave him another heart” (9:9). But these chapters highlight Saul’s spiritual descent that made him unfit to be king over Israel. While the pretenses of his rise to power was so that Israel could be like “all the nations,” the LORD affirms that the leader of the covenant community must be held at a higher standard. Had the requirement to be Israel’s king solely rested on military prowess and success, there might not have been any problems with Saul on the throne. But there came a spiritual requisite of obeying God’s commands and not defiling His practices that Saul failed to comprehend. In Chapter 13, Saul took it upon himself to make sacrifices- a practice strictly reserved for priests- when Samuel did not arrive by the appointed time. In Chapter 15, Saul disregarded the entirety of God’s commands to wipe out the Amalekites (15:3), and instead reserved a portion of the spoils as a result of pressure from others (15:21,24). As a result of these two incidents, the Lord rejects Saul (15:26) and Saul no longer has God’s favor while on the throne.
Sandwiched between these two chapters is an episode of Jonathan’s unlikely victory against the Philistines. Jonathan’s trust in the Lord is the centerpiece of this narrative and starkly contrasts with yet another example of Saul’s overwhelming concerns about external circumstances. Not only does this narrative emphasize Saul’s disobedience in the preceding and following chapters, it foreshadows the need for a king that would be after God’s own heart.
Reflect & Connect
For all intents and purposes for Saul, he believed he acted with good and reasonable intention in both accounts that ultimately disbarred him from the throne. In fact, many of us may have acted in a similar fashion if put in the same situations. But what Saul failed to understand was that God’s favor is not merited by mere outward ritual practices. Saul didn’t disobey just some parts of God’s law and keep others. But by showing that he was more swayed by circumstances and others’ opinions, his distrust in God was the slippery slope towards his sin and rejection.
6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Rev. Nameun Cho
1 Samuel 7:3-10:27
We see a period of reform and flourishing in Israel upon the return of the Ark as Samuel serves as yet another judge over the nation (7:3-17). But we know Samuel to be the last Judge because here is where there is a significant shift in Israel’s leadership history when they demand for a king and monarchy thereafter. For whatever reason(s) the Israelites so strongly desire a king [e.g. military security, to be like all the other nations (c.f. 8:5,20)], they fail to see the irony in asking God for one. In articulating the need for “a king over us…that [he] may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles,” the Israelites were too blind to see that they already had a God-king amongst them doing just that! Having the Ark and God’s very presence with them was not enough, and so they demand Samuel for a fabricated sense of security in a man-king.
Despite Samuel’s reluctance and God’s warning of an earthly monarchy, the Jews are given what they so desperately covet. Chapters 9 through 10 introduce the person of Saul who will inaugurate kingship in Israel. There is not much that we know about Saul that uniquely qualifies him as king over others aside from the fact he was very handsome and was taller than everyone else (9:2; 10:23). But the reality to highlight here is God’s favor upon Saul to bring him from the mundane to royalty. Having come from the “least of the tribes of Israel” (9:21), God raises Saul from obscurity, and through a rather ordinary series of events, lays the crown to Israel right on his lap. The narrative further demonstrates the sovereignty of God and the need that we have as human beings to depend on Him.
Reflect and Connect
While in hindsight we can label the convictions of the Israelites for a king as stubborn and short-sighted, we would be guilty of hypocrisy. What are ways in which we usurp God as king over our own lives? Is there an area that you have difficulty fully trusting God and find yourself wrestling control away from Him? Meditate on Isaiah 9:6-7 and the very identity of the king Jesus claims to be.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
- Rev. Nameun Cho
1 Samuel 4:1-7:2
The significance of the Ark of the Covenant goes without question when considering Israelite history. Known to be the visible sign of the presence of God, the Ark was taken into battle as a reminder for the Jews to say, “God is with us!” However, one thing that the Ark was not was a mere token of accomplishing what man wanted done. After suffering a loss on the battlefield against the Philistines, the Israelites think that simply bringing the Ark would help them succeed in areas that they failed. But the Lord allows for a second defeat to the Philistines the next day and the Ark is captured. As a way of fulfilling God’s judgment on Eli and his sons, we read of their demise during and following the battle.
The rest of the narrative interestingly does not account for Samuel or any other Israelite for that matter. Instead, the story narrates the Philistine perspective of housing the Ark in their country. The Philistines showed some acknowledgement and fear of the covenant God of Israel and even recalling to mind the plagues in Egypt (4:8). For the duration of the seven months that the Ark is with the Philistines, it does nothing but bring plague and tumors to those who come near it. The Philistines then shuttle the Ark from city to city hoping to rid themselves of the unwanted side effects of this spoil of war. The final resolution is to return the Ark back to Israel along with guilt sacrifices as a way of acknowledging their defilement of such a consecrated artifact.
While it is quite remarkable to see the various means to which the Philistines approached the Ark, one thing is made certain: it did not belong there. As a way of being sentenced to their demise, the Ark is lost while in the spiritual care of Hophni and Phinehas (4:4). But the presence of God always belonged to the very people he established His covenant with. What Jesus does in his salvific work is invite us into that covenant community, the very community that communes with the presence of the living God.
4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:4, 5, 9, 10
- Rev. Nameun Cho
1 Samuel 1-3
As we close out the period of the judges in Israelite history, we are introduced to Israel’s last judge, Samuel. These first three chapters highlight the birth narrative of Samuel along with his call to serve the Lord. The common theme that runs through these opening chapters is the effect of displaying a life faithful to God. In Hannah’s barrenness, she turns to the Lord in desperation. Here, she displays the utmost faith by being willing to give up the very thing she is asking for: a child. Hannah's prayer in the beginning of chapter 2 is a beautiful expression of both gratitude and humility, and is often compared with Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).
The birth and growth of Samuel is strategically juxtaposed with the decline of Eli’s house. While one household devotes its life in service to the Lord, the other descends to its demise with its continued unfaithfulness. Notice here that the pronouncement of judgment is not just towards Eli’s sons, but to Eli as well. Hophni and Phinehas’ priestly blasphemy is just as heinous as Eli’s failure in disciplining his sons. While Eli is tasked with fostering Samuel, we see Samuel’s strong faith in spite of Eli’s track record. God works His grace supernaturally within Samuel to equip him for his future ministry as both judge and prophet. These testimonies of (un)faith will foreshadow the trajectories of Israel's soon-to-be-kings, Saul and David.
Reflect and Connect
What are the areas in our life that are difficult to give to God in faith? Close out your time by re-reading aloud both Hannah’s prayer (2:1-10) and Mary’s Magnificat as your own prayers. Allow these words to tend to you and be the desires of your own heart.
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
- Rev. Nameun Cho
Jim Partridge, elder
Yesterday we considered the major biblical theme of “hesed”, or love based on commitment and sacrifice, as it is displayed in the book of Ruth (and also in many other classic OT texts like Ex.34:6-7, Deut.7:9, Pss.63:3, 89,103:8 and Isaiah 54:7-8). Today we consider a second theme that is closely linked, that of “redemption”. Boaz, who first enters the story subtly in 2:3, is later identified by Naomi in 2:20b as “…a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” In the economy of ancient Israel, a “go’el” (Hebrew noun meaning “redeemer”) had the power to act on behalf of the “redeemed” in a way that could affect great good in their lives. In the case of Naomi, she had literally lost everything in the death of her husband and two sons in Moab, and was in a very vulnerable place upon her return to Bethlehem. Though her daughter-in-law Ruth had joined with her in committed “hesed” love, Ruth’s own social status as a female foreign widow was extremely low; this reality requires Naomi to act in great faith and her own version of hesed love. She concocts a daring plan in chapter 3 to secure Boaz as a husband for Ruth. In the providence of God (not good fortune or luck), the plan works out in chapters 3-4 in such a way that Naomi, the community and ultimately the nation are blessed by the birth of Obed, the grandfather of David the king, to Ruth and Boaz. Redemption in this story restores life to Naomi and provides a rich legacy for Ruth, “the Moabitess.” (As she was named in the old King James translation.)
Take note of the flow of the narrative in the book of Ruth, as well as the context of suffering that we see at the outset (not to mention the larger context of its place in the time of the Judges). Redemptive or gospel stories are shaped like the letter “J”. Life in a broken world, while created good and with good intentions, descends into death but then moves up into resurrection for the people of God because that God is powerfully sovereign and good and committed to His people with a hesed love. The suffering experienced by His people (from their sin, the sins of others, or just plain “life in a broken world”), is His “crucible for love.”1 His redemption of them from those factors involves a journey that was first taken by their ultimate Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, in His life, death, resurrection and subsequent glorification. Our lives as believers in Christ are mapped onto His.
Reflect: Can you recognize a possible gospel story, or “J-curve” in the events of your life, even including suffering? Consider Romans 6:3-11 in this regard. Can you identify with and imitate Christ in His descent into love at Calvary (the redemption of His people) via the incarnation and His wait for resurrection to return to the Father?
Connect: Meditate on the amazing humility of our Lord Jesus in His humiliation and exaltation as described in Philippians 2:1-11 and what it means for believers to be united to Him by faith.
Philippians 2:1-11 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
1cf. “A Loving Life In a World of Broken Relationships” , Chapter 1 by Paul Miller
Jim Partridge, elder
So after a whirlwind tour - through about 300 years depicting the downward spiral from conquest and entrance into the promised land to spiritual apostasy among the Israelites – we ended with the sad commentary “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The biblical narrative now lands in a beautiful oasis in the wilderness: the book of Ruth. Here we encounter the classic love story of the Bible and a superb work of narrative art, set in the context of the aforementioned downward spiral, and yet one that has powerful themes with enduring relevance.
In four short and compact chapters that read like acts in a play, we learn a story that weaves together the lives of a broken widow, her bold young foreign daughter-in-law, and a man like no other in scripture (pointing to “The Man” like no other in scripture). As a result, we see a sovereign and good God working behind the scenes in a particular place and time in ancient Israel to show His character and redemptive work through people. This foreshadowed the person and work of His Son about a millennium later.
The biggest theme of the book of Ruth 1 is that of “steadfast love” or “lovingkindness”, or more simply, “kindness”. These words are used in this book and throughout the OT to describe a key concept in biblical Hebrew called “hesed”. It first appears in the text in 1:8 (“deal kindly”), and then in later verses such as 2:20 and 3:10. Hesed love is not based on feelings, but on commitment and sacrifice, which ties it closely to the biblical idea of covenant. This love is displayed beautifully in the story, especially by Ruth in her stubborn commitment to Naomi, as well as the actions of Boaz toward Ruth (and Naomi by extension). These characters and their actions reflect the hesed love of the Lord for His people.
Reflect: Think on the nature of love and the contrast between how it is described and displayed in our popular culture as opposed to the scripture. Which conception of love is most seen in your life? How can you better fulfill Jesus’ greatest commands (Matt.22:36-40)? Ask for the Spirit’s help to become a better hesed lover.
Connect: Read and meditate on the NT unpacking of biblical hesed love by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.
I Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1cf.“A Loving Life” by Paul Miller for a superb feast on the meaning and application of biblical love as found in the book of Ruth.
Rev. Joseph Bianco
*Warning – These chapters contain graphic imagery and sexual assault
The chapters that close Judges have echoes of prior stories. It seems that the author wrote this account in such a way as to intentionally bring these former stories to mind. The first story is the epoch of Sodom and Gomorrah where Lot is given hospitality only to find similar men pounding the door asking to “know him” (Gen. 19:5). The verb “to know” in Hebrew is used to denote sexual relations. The second story is from Gen. 4 where Cain murders his brother Abel. One can’t help but notice that the civil war going on in Israel is not just a war between tribes, but a war between brothers (21:6). The point is this: Israel has returned to the debauched days that existed during the early years of the book of Genesis. Not only is there great immorality (rape, murder, sex trafficking), but the nation of Israel has destroyed one of their own brothers, Benjamin. The refrain that we read throughout the book of Judges, “In those day there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” concludes the book (17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25). This is the overarching lesson of Judges, that when everyone does what is right in their own eyes, the result will be self-destruction, the oppression of the weak and vulnerable (women and children), the denigration of society, and not least, abandoning the LORD. It’s a sad end to the story of Judges, but it is not left without hope. The lack of a king makes room for the future king David to come into power. What is obvious however, is that the Lord ought to be their king, the Sovereign over their lives. In Jesus we see the God-king.
Reflect: As you have now finished Judges and find yourself at the bottom of the pit, the resounding statement, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” deserves reflection. It is easy to look at society as a whole and blame the problems of our day on those doing what is right in their own eyes. While this is true for secular society, it is also true for Christians. Christians are daily tempted to do what is right in their own eyes and not in the eyes of the LORD. Take some time and write out the ways that you think God is wrong in his judgements and commandments. Then go to the Lord in prayer and ask him to reorient your heart, that your eyes and his may be set on the same horizon. Pray for forgiveness and faith. Then take some time to rest in the king of kings and the Lord of Lords.
Connect: Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7 Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
8 It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.
This blog is part of the ministry of City Reformed Presbyterian Church. Unless otherwise noted, the entries are written by Matt Koerber. This is part of a project that our church is doing as we read through the narrative sections of Scripture between early January and Easter 2020. New entries will be scheduled to drop automatically at 5:00 am on the scheduled day.