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1 Samuel 9:2

Richard Cory’s Problem

In chapter 9 of 1 Samuel, we are introduced to Israel’s first king. This is what we learn about him: “There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward, he was taller than any of the people.” Tall, dark (probably), and handsome! Suited to be the national hero in every way. We also know that Kish, his father, is a man of great wealth, so we can add “rich” to the description. He becomes Israel’s first king, so we can also add “famous” to the description. What a way to start out life! He had it all.

We, the common people of the world, will often look at Hollywood celebrities or sports idols as having it all. They have big houses, cars, and bank accounts. The news media always want to know what they think about current issues. I’m not sure what qualifies someone who acts to have profound insights into political issues, but we like to hear what they think. They have everything. King Saul seemed to have it all, also.

We often look at the rich, attractive, and famous people as having everything while we have little. But everyone is born with the absolute same chance of happiness and contentment in life. Tall, dark, handsome, rich, and famous add nothing to our prospects. As a matter of fact, they often cause the most pain and misery. I’ve always loved E. A Robinson’s poem, Richard Cory.

WHENEVER Richard Cory went downtown,

We people on the pavement looked at him:

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,

And he was always human when he talked;

But still he fluttered pulses when he said,

“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich,—yes, richer than a king,—

And admirably schooled in every grace:

In fine, we thought that he was everything

To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,

And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,

Went home and put a bullet through his head.

I can think of many during my lifetime that did what Richard Corey did. There’s Marilyn Monroe. No other woman had what she had. There was the original Superman, George Reeves. There were many others that took the Richard Corey road. Saul, After his many character failures, disobedience to God, and attempts to murder David, Saul ends his own life with his own sword. I think Ben Franklin said, “Contentment makes poor men rich while discontent makes rich men poor.”

1 Samuel 8:10, Various

Getting What I Want

Israel finds itself in a world with nations all around them. These nations have kings. They have relationships with those around them and they have the ability to mobilize for war quickly. So, Israel clamors for their own King. Samuel, God’s Prophet, explains the consequences of having a King: High taxes, drafting sons and daughters into government service, taking fields and crops for support of a lavish lifestyle, etc. But the nation either doesn’t care and is willing to pay that price, or they just won’t listen. They insist on becoming like the nations around them. Samuel further warns them that when this oppression becomes too severe for you and you cry out for help from God, “but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” All you’ll get from me and God is, “I told you so.” Psalm 106, verse 15, in the King James Translation, says, “And He (God) gave them their request, but sent leanness into their souls.”  This was specifically referring to Israel’s demand for meat to eat rather than the manna.

Our daily life sometimes seems like we are just getting manna to eat over and over again. It gets boring after a while. Imagine having nothing but manna to eat for 40 years! Be quiet and eat your gruel! I think God wants us to learn contentment in all of our circumstances in life. When Paul wrote his famous passage to the Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” he was not talking about winning a football game. He was talking about being content in all circumstances of life, even being in prison unjustly. My life often feels like 40 years of “manna.” I can live with that, trusting God to work out his own good plans for me. If we insist on having something we want, God just might give it to us and bring leanness into our souls. We can be confident that when God doesn’t answer our prayers, He has a good reason. Since He knows the future, and we don’t, we should trust His decisions. When he doesn’t give us what we want, it’s often because we don’t actually know what is really good for us. He does! The next time you feel down because you didn’t get what you want, sit tight and be happy because God is thinking of something better to give you. By the way, God doesn’t just give us gruel to eat. At mealtime, I thank God for filling the world with color and giving me eyes. I thank Him for filling the world with music and giving me ears. I thank him for filling the world with good things to eat and giving me the ability to enjoy it. If we’re honest, we have much more in our lives in Christ than just manna!

Courson adds an exhortation to his comments on this idea. He writes, “Be careful, dear saint, what you insist upon, for it could have disastrous results. Unless you are in the center of God’s will, the desire of your heart could lead to leanness in your soul (Psalm 106:15). We make so many mistakes by complaining and griping and murmuring about what God is doing in our lives. And sometimes the Father says, ‘If that’s what you want, have your way.’ Saints, go with the flow of what God is doing. Yes, offer your requests, but always in submission to the perfect will of God.”[1]

[1] Courson, Jon. 2005. Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: Volume One: Genesis–Job. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Haggai 1:7, Various

Considering My Ways

One more time, Haggai 1:7 says, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways.” This phrase appears six times in the book. It’s a call to reflect on life as a whole and my own life in particular. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I would argue that the wise man of scripture is the one who is always “considering” his ways or examining his life. Many Christians hold a little disdain for Philosophy. They shouldn’t! Philos means love, and Sophia means wisdom. It’s the wise man in Proverbs who loves wisdom.

Haggai’s call to “consider your ways” goes deeper than to question my actions. He really calls his readers to think about the source of their actions. Proverbs 23:7 says, “As one ‘thinks,’ so is he.” Philippians 4:8 says, “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely… think about such things.” Romans 12:2 says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “Take every thought captive.” John Locke was right, “The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts.” When you take your thoughts captive to God’s word, your actions will follow. Frank Outlaw expresses the importance of taking our thoughts captive, even from a secular point of view. He wrote, “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become actions. Watch your actions. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Watch your character. It becomes your destiny.”

In reflecting on our lives, it’s important to come to grips with where you came from. If you believe you’re an accident of the mud, sun, and scum, you will live like it. If you believe God made you, you live differently. If you believe you’re a product of chance, you will not find any purpose in your life.  However, if God made you, there’s a reason for your existence. But there is another question that is important also. “Where am I going?” Martin Heidegger believes that man is a “being unto death.” Others feel we are headed for a final “nothingness.” If one assumes the evolutionary hypothesis regarding man’s origin, this is our destiny. But like Dr. Norm Geisler says, “Christians have a greater long-range optimism. They believe that God’s kingdom will come, and His will shall be done ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ Christians believe history is moving in a specific direction and will accomplish God’s purposes. Bible-believing Christians believe ‘there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun.’ They believe in what C. S. Lewis called ‘the great divorce’ of heaven and hell, which will provide eternal bliss for those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and an eternal woe for those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done.’”

In the modern science of Anthropology (The study of mankind), the issue of man’s origins is usually ignored. If there is a comment on man’s origin, it’s always from the evolutionary point of view. It is so presented that whoever might consider the case for the creator must be of somewhat lesser intelligence. But Biblical Anthropology studies a much wider field. It begins with the most significant questions of life and gives us the answer upon which we can build hopeful and meaningful lives. It’s simple: no God, no purpose! Know God, Know Purpose! Man came from God! Man was created to worship God, and man was created to live forever. Considering our ways, as Haggai suggests, leads us to the realization of our sinfulness. Once that is understood and appreciated, we have hope. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Haggai 1:7, Proverbs 4:6

Why Am I Here?

Haggai 1:7 says, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways.” This phrase appears six times in the book. Haggai wants the children of Israel to look at their life choices and to consider them in light of their history with God. It’s more than a call to see how much evil you are doing and what bad choices you are making. It’s a call to reflect on life as a whole and my own life in particular. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I would argue that the wise man of scripture is the one who is always “considering” his ways or examining his life. Many Christians hold a little disdain for Philosophy. They shouldn’t! Philos means love, and Sophia means wisdom. It’s the wise man in Proverbs who loves wisdom.

The most profound reflection is “Where did I come from?” I discussed that briefly in a previous post. Another question is, “Why am I here?” Jean-Paul Sartre answered that question by contending that “All of life is an empty bubble on the sea of nothingness.” Of course, that proceeds from the answer to the first question. If there is no creator, there is no purpose. If all life evolved by chance, life can have no true significance or meaning beyond the day to day pains and pleasures of life. Then Shakespeare is right. Life is only a fleeting shadow. It is an actor playing out his part on the stage of life and signifying nothing. I’ll have nothing to do with such a description of the greatest gift we have: life itself.

Those who believe Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God…” answer the second question much differently, and therefore, they view life much differently. Christians often speak of the abundant life in which we exist to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. I am always astounded when unbelievers find themselves facing questions that are totally unanswerable because they assume the validity of the evolutionary hypothesis regarding the first question, “Where did I come from?” Even Sigmund Freud said, “Only religion is able to answer the question of the purpose of life. One can hardly go wrong in concluding that the idea of a purpose in life stands and falls with the religious system.” It’s simple: no God, no purpose! Know God, Know Purpose! The wisest man in the world tells us in Proverbs 4:6, “Do not abandon wisdom, and it will watch over you. Love wisdom, and it will protect you.”

Haggai 1:5f, Proverbs 2:6

The Wisdom Of God

The key challenge from Haggai is to “consider your ways.” It appears six times in the book. In a way, it’s a call to reflect on life as a whole and my own life in particular. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I would argue that the wise man of scripture is the one who is always “considering” his ways or examining his life. Many Christians hold a little disdain for Philosophy. They shouldn’t! Philos means love, and Sophia means wisdom. Philosophy is the love or the pursuit of wisdom when rightly understood. The wisest man in the world, Solomon, shares his wisdom with the world in the book of Proverbs. He argues that the only true wisdom in the world has its origin in reverence and respect for the creator God. It is those who fear God who have the pulse on true wisdom. Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

Haggai says, “Consider your ways.” This is more than just an exhortation to evaluate one’s behavior. All actions come from some kind of presuppositions in life. I think Haggai wants us to reflect on them as well. Think about your life. “Where did I come from?” It is the first and most important reflection on life. If we see ourselves as coming through a random evolutionary process, we will view all life from this foundational premise. It says nothing plus infinite time plus chance equals everything that exists today. Even though I’ve argued in favor of this perspective in the past, it has never been completely convincing to me. Even though it’s the predominant view in our world, it is the most unsatisfactory view I can imagine. Thankfully, there is another option. I’m thankful that at 32 years of age, God opened my mind to His truth. It’s the only reasoning that really makes sense.

Tozer writes, “Everything has an origin. When you hear a bird sing, you know that once that bird was packed in a tiny little egg. It came from somewhere; it came from an egg. Where did the egg come from? It came from another little bird. And that bird came from another little egg, and that egg came from another bird, and so on, back, back, back to the heart of God.” Behind everything that exists is an intelligent Being who started it all. God’s Word, the Bible, begins with the answer to the most important question of philosophical reflection for all of life. It says, “In the beginning God…” He not only started the process but continues to guide it with some ultimate purpose in mind. When we think about that, we will adjust our “ways” accordingly. Ignoring or rejecting that leads only to every man doing that which is right in his own eyes.

Exodus 20:13

Thou Shalt Not Kill

The New Testament, instead of being the cause of demeaning of women, was the cause of liberating women. Just one verse in Galatians, “There is neither male nor female,” has set half of the world free. It took some time for this truth to sink in, and it might not be finished yet, but any advances society has made regarding the equality of women can be attributed to this one verse.  But as great as those advances are, they truly pale in comparison to the advances that Christianity brought in the elevation and development of children. Nothing has improved the status of children in the world more than Christianity. William Barclay notes correctly that under the Roman law of “patria potestas” (“the father’s power”), “A Roman father had absolute power over his family. He could sell them as slaves; he could make them work in his fields, even in chains; he could take the law into his own hands, for the law was in his own hands, and he could punish as he liked; he could even inflict the death penalty on his child. Further, the power of the Roman father extended over the child’s whole life, so long as the father lived. A Roman son never came of age.”

James M. Boice points out, “There was also the matter of child repudiation, leading to exposure of the newborn. When a baby was born, it was placed before its father. If the father stooped and lifted the child, the child was accepted and was raised as his. If he turned away, the child was rejected and was literally discarded. Such rejected children were either left to die or were picked up by those who trafficked in infants. These people raised children to be slaves or to stock the brothels. One Roman father wrote to his wife from Alexandria: ‘If—good luck to you!—you have a child, if it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, throw it out.’ Against such pagan cruelty, the new relations of parents to children and children to parents brought by the Christian gospel stand forth like sunshine after a dismal storm.”

Although infanticide was a common practice in the ancient Mediterranean world, it fell out of favor, largely due to the influence of Christianity.[1] The connection between child sacrifice scorned in the Old Testament and the modern practice of abortion has led every state to pass laws making abortion at certain stages of pregnancy illegal.  According to many conservative views, there is no difference between abortion and infanticide. They both end a human life. This was Tertullian’s view in the early years of Christianity. He wrote, in the “Apology,” of the acceptable practice of infanticide in the Roman Empire. But, speaking for Christians, he writes, “To us, to whom homicide has been once for all forbidden, it is not permitted to break up even what has been conceived in the womb, while as yet the blood is being drawn (from the parent body) for human life. Prevention of birth is premature murder, and it makes no difference whether it is a life already born that one snatches away or a life in the act of being born that one destroys; that which is to be a human being is also human; the whole fruit is already actually present in the seed.”[2]

[1] Grenz, Stanley J., and Jay T. Smith. 2003. In Pocket Dictionary of Ethics, 60. The IVP Pocket Reference Series. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[2] Stott, John. 2018. The Preacher’s Notebook: The Collected Quotes, Illustrations, and Prayers of John Stott. Edited by Mark Meynell. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

1 Samuel 7:12, Various

A Stone Of Remembrance

In the early chapter of 1st Samuel, we read that the Philistines defeated Israel and took possession of the Ark of the Covenant. This grieved Israel, but it didn’t take long for the Philistines to feel God’s curse on them for having the Ark in their possession. God moved Israel to war again and gave them a great victory over their enemies. The Ark and its contents were returned to Israel. After God blessed Israel with victory over the Philistines, we read in 1 Samuel 7:12, “Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, till now the Lord has helped us.” It sounds like Samuel is saying that God has helped them “until” now. But what is meant is that God has been with them all the time up to and including now. He wanted to memorialize God’s providential care of Israel.

I think we all know of the chief character in Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly businessman who is reformed when the ghost of his business partner haunts him on Christmas Eve with visions of the past, the present, and a very gloomy future. The old man sees the error of his ways, and his sour views turn cheery. Despite his transformation, however, the character is remembered as the embittered miser and not as the reformed sinner, and his last name has entered the English language as a synonym for a miser.[1] The interesting thing to me is his first name: Ebenezer. Dickens chose this name to raise the idea of being of an immovable nature.

The setting up of stones for memorials was not Samuel’s original idea. If you want something to be permanent, you put it in stone. In Israel’s case, it was setting up stones. It had been part of the Hebrew culture since Genesis 28 when Jacob set up a similar memorial at Bethel. Joshua set stones in the midst of the Jordan to mark the place where the waters opened, and Israel crossed into the Promised Land. Stones were set up in the Achor Valley to remind the Jews of Achan’s disobedience. Another heap marked the burial place of the king of Ai. More stones were placed at a cave at Makkedah to mark where five kings had been defeated and slain. Before his death, Joshua set up a “witness stone” to remind the Israelites of their vow to serve the Lord alone and obey Him. “Ebenezer” means “stone of help” because the monument was a reminder to the Jews that God had helped them that far and would continue to help them if they would trust Him and keep His covenant.

The idea of “Ebenezer” is that God’s care is solid and stable, and we can depend on it. Wiersbe tells us that the founder of the China Inland Mission, J. Hudson Taylor, had a plaque displayed in each of his residences that read “Ebenezer—Jehovah Jireh,” Together, these Hebrew words say, “The Lord has helped us to this point, and He will see to it from now on.” Things written in “stone” are said to be permanent. When we build our houses, we want them built upon strong “stone” foundations, not wood, hay, or stubble. The stones set up by Israel were reminders for all generations of the faithfulness of God to His people.

[1] “Scrooge, Ebenezer.” 2015. In Compton’s Encyclopedia. Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia.

Deuteronomy 32:11-14, Hebrews 13:4

God Protects The Faithful

The Bible often refers to the exclusivity of the marriage relationship with the exclusivity of His own relationship with His people. The Old Testament often refers to God’s marriage with His people, Israel. The whole book of Hosea is about the infidelity (adultery) of God’s people by picturing the unfaithfulness of a wife named Gomer. In all His dealings with His people, as He led them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, he promised blessings for faithfulness and cursing for spiritual adultery. In Moses’ song in Chapter 32 of Deuteronomy, he teaches the people about how great God’s blessings are when we are faithful to him. God is the eagle that protects His young. God is the one who brings blessings upon His people for their faithfulness. Verses 11 through 14 present those blessings as they are identified because His people resisted the allure of foreign gods. It says, “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the LORD alone guided him. No foreign god was with him. He made him ride on the high places of the land, and he ate the produce of the field, and he suckled him with honey out of the rock and oil out of the flinty rock. Curds from the herd, and milk from the flock, with the fat of lambs, rams of Bashan and goats, with the very finest of the wheat…”

The author of the book of Hebrews (13:4) tells us to “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterous.” God must always be number one in our lives. We don’t need to find the one; God is the one! Whether married or single, it’s an exclusive relationship. When we enter into the biblical marriage relationship, we don’t put our spouses in the number one place. They automatically become number two. God is always involved in a marriage and always has an interest in its success. The second half of this verse expresses judgment on God for immorality and unfaithfulness. God directs us to remain loyal and faithful to our spouses regardless of our feelings. Being faithful mates is being faithful to God. Being unfaithful mates is being unfaithful to God.

The passage from Deuteronomy above is from a part of the book known as The Blessings and the cursings. Judgment on unfaithfulness is the reversal of fortune in life. Everyone involved in dishonoring a marriage, whether their own or someone else’s, has placed themselves under God’s judgment. M. J. Evans says, “This verse takes for granted the fact that marriage is ordained by God and that it is a unique and exclusive relationship. The marriage covenant is never to be treated lightly, either by the partners involved or by those outside; God himself will act against those who break such a covenant.” But along the same lines, God will act favorably towards those who keep Him number one in our marriage relationships.

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