Don’t be Sorry

“Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me”

1 Samuel 8:7

School children will be well aware that they are now in the final term for the year and that means Christmas is drawing near. They will soon, if they haven’t already, be making a list for parents and grandparents. No parent will give their child that they love a gift that will harm them.

God loves all people and will not give any gift that will bring harm but He sometimes allows people to have what they demand so they can experience the consequences with a view to a change of heart. Those who do not know God in a personal way interpret God’s restrictions as hatred and so they respond to God and His people with hatred. They fail to understand that the commands of God are to lead us into green pastures and keep us from the dead barren desert.

In Ezekiel 18:32 we read, “’For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord God.” God has no pleasure in judgment after a person dies (Hebrews 9:27). God has provided the greatest Gift possible in Jesus Christ who takes away our sin by bearing it in Himself. The Lord is not willing that anyone perish (2 Peter 3:9). The evidence of this is that Jesus Christ has already borne our sin on the cross.

While some may attest that they want to go to hell to be with their friends, if they had any real idea of hell as described by Jesus (Mark 9:42-48) they would not wish for such a thing. There is only one reason a person will end up in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10, 15); they have rejected Jesus as God’s only remedy for sin. They will have what they wanted; existence without Jesus Christ but they will not be at all happy or content.

As with Israel in Samuel’s day, God sometimes gives people what they demand but they will be sorry they rejected Him. There is no way to God except through Jesus because He is the only One who has dealt with sin. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Peter wrote “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

People who do not know Jesus see God as a harsh dictator out to spoil their fun. In reality He loves them and sets boundaries to protect us in the way a good shepherd does his sheep.

Consequences Remain

“And the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of asking a king for ourselves’”

1 Samuel 12:19

After suffering years of conflict with their neighbours, who had kings, the people of Israel thought that they should also have a king. The conflicts arose because Israel turned from following the Lord; but the conflicts were the means the Lord used to bring them to repentance and renewed faith. Each generation had to learn this anew.

Israel had God as their King, but they were not satisfied with the way things were going for them. They didn’t want the attacks from neighbours – and reasoned that a great king would prevent the attacks. They did not recognise that this was a spiritual war and that the physical wars were serving God’s objectives for Israel.

The Lord had warned them through Samuel on several occasions not to seek an earthly king and told of the costly consequences, but they persisted. We notice that this was a trait of Saul also (13:12). He felt compelled to act even against what he knew to be the command of the Lord (13:13).

In demanding a king, Israel was rejecting the will of the Lord. They were following the way of the world when they should have been leading the world in God’s ways. When Christians follow the ways of the world instead of leading the world in the ways of the Lord we sin in the same way as Israel.

What we observe in the verse above is that Israel eventually realised their sin and repented of it. In God’s grace He forgave them but He did not remove the consequences – and those consequences would bear a great cost to the nation. Samuel records that cost in 8:11-18. There would be great economic loss; there would be great loss in family relationships (due to the military and public service); and worse, there would be great spiritual loss, “The Lord will not hear you in that day” (8:18).

When we sin, forgiveness is available if we truly repent and confess that sin to God. Our fellowship with Him will be restored. However, the consequences of that sin will often remain. Remorse will demand that the consequences be removed; a contrite heart accepts whatever the Lord grants. Words spoken cannot be taken back and deeds done cannot be undone. Better to obey the Lord from the outset.

Pleasing the Crowd

“So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd released Barabas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified” Mark 15:15

In democratic countries of the world the political systems have deteriorated into essentially politicians seeking to please the people in order to be elected to office. One only has to take a casual look at the style of electioneering to observe this. When leaders of a country have only their own interest at heart and thereby seek to gratify the crowd then righteousness will be crucified.

In Daniel’s explanation of king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream regarding his and future kingdoms, the last kingdom in the image prior to the Lord’s return is a mixture of iron and clay (Daniel 2). These substances cannot hold together. We know that the iron represents the oppressive dictatorship of the Roman Empire but in the last days that will be mixed with a weak form of government depicted by clay in the feet and toes of the image. Just as iron and clay cannot mix, neither does a dictatorship and democracy. Just as iron is strong and clay crumbles, so a dictatorship is strong and democracy is weak. The weakness of democracy is in the fact that in order for politicians to be elected they must please the people. If the people seek righteousness it is strength but when they seek unrighteousness the weakness of democracy is revealed.

In Saul’s day the people demanded a king like the surrounding nations. In doing so they rejected God as their King (1 Samuel 8:7). The final renunciation of Jesus by the chief priests is expressed in their words, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). In these days we observe that politicians, in order to please the crowds of lobbyists, are choosing to crucify Jesus all over again by turning from righteousness to unrighteousness and oppression of His people.

God gave Israel the king they desired essentially saying, “You can have the king you desire but you will be sorry” and “You will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:18). Samuel had just told the people of Israel that the kind of king they wanted would tax their hides for his own luxury and a vast military force.

If, as a nation, we demand unrighteous leaders (by our democratic vote) God may give what we ask for but we will be sorry.

In the current alignment of nations and the raising up and pulling down of nations, we are observing the horizon of fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures drawing ever nearer. “… knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).

Ask Anything

“Whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” John 14:13-14

These verses have been abused by some with the result that they have been led to believe that Christianity doesn’t work. When we read them it is important to read them in their context but also to read every word. There is a qualifier and the desired outcome given so that we might not misunderstand the limitations that apply to the invitation to come to the Father with our requests that carry a guaranteed positive response.

We are invited to pray always and in all situations and for everything but we are not given blanket assurance of a positive response.

The qualifier is “in my name.” After all, I am a child of God. No father who loves his child would give his child everything that they ask because some of their requests might result in harm.

Some years ago I was employed by a company that gave me the right to sign cheques up to a certain value without a second signature. However, there were limitations given not only in value but also the need to comply with procedures and instructions. It was not my money and it was not my name on the cheque. I was under delegated authority and I was required to act within the authority given.

In a similar way, when Jesus says “ask anything in My name”, He is saying that we must have authority from Him for the specific request, and we must abide by the limitations He has imposed if we are to have assurance of a positive outcome. When we fulfil the requirements He will do it. The outcome will be that “the Father [is] glorified in the Son.

We see an example of this kind of delegated authority in 1 Samuel 25 when David sent men to the foolish Nabal. “David sent ten young men; and David said to the young men, ‘Go up to Carmel, go to Nabal, and greet him in my name’ (v 5). “So when David’s young men came, they spoke to Nabal according to all these words in the name of David, and waited” (v 9).

The young men only had authority to speak the words that David had given them. They were acting in his name under his authority.

While we readily see that there are limitations, we can also see that there is a huge scope for prayer. The scope is revealed in the Bible – we need to read and soak it up in order to know the multitude of things for which we may ask that are according to the will of God and therefore have an assurance of a positive response.

We could pray in accord with 2 Peter 3:9 or with the prayer of Paul in Ephesians 1:15-23 and many other prayers and invitations to pray. If it is in the revealed will of God we may ask with confidence of receiving that for which we ask (1 John 5:16).

By all means, pray with regard to everything – and in everything give thanks – because God wants to commune with us and He does answer prayer. In God’s grace he has revealed some matters for which we may pray and have an assurance of His positive response. That will encourage us to pray such prayers.

Fit to Give

“Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king” 1 Samuel 15:23

Saul became king of Israel because the people wanted a king like those of the surrounding nations. The Lord was Israel’s King but they rejected Him and sought one that fitted their desire (1 Samuel 8:7). Not surprisingly, the king of the people’s desire would be like them and also reject the Lord.

King Saul was given the task, under delegated authority from the Lord, to utterly destroy the Amalekites (15:3). This was not a difficult instruction to understand but Saul did what many of us do; he interpreted the instruction to suit his desire rather than take it literally. Consequently he expressed his own initiative by sparing Agag and keeping the best of the flocks and herds.

He may genuinely have believed that he had obeyed the Lord when he stated, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (v 13) when in fact he had not fully obeyed. His excuse is also one that is used to this day. He claimed it was to honour God with a better sacrifice (v 15). This was how he and we often justify disobedience. We think we can please God by offering something that we think is better than He has asked.

Saul did not understand his error and insisted that he had performed what the Lord had commanded, “But I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites” (v 20). He did not obey. He brought back Agag. He had not followed the command of the Lord literally but interpreted it in a way that would give him the praise of men.

Can you see that sin subtly captivated his mind so that he really believed that he was obeying the Lord when in fact he was not? We live in a period of church history that must grieve the Holy Spirit greatly. People who claim to belong to Jesus Christ are not taking His word literally but interpreting it such that it gives man at least some of the glory due to the Lord.

Sacrifice of material things has its place but it is never a substitute for obeying the Lord’s will. If the Lord sends us to a task then we must perform it, not pay someone else to do it.  No amount of giving to the church or missions or any other enterprise related to the kingdom of God will substitute for obeying the Lord when sent by Him.

Because King Saul did not take the Lord at His word and perform it he lost the kingdom. If we make the same error we will lose fellowship with Jesus Christ and become ineffectual in His kingdom. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (v 22). The sacrifice that Lord desires is “a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17) and that we “present our bodies a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). Paul commended the Christians in Macedonia that they “first gave themselves to the lord” (2 Corinthians 8:5) and then they were fit to give material things.

Married to a Fool

“The Lord will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord fights the battles of the Lord” (1 Samuel 25:28)

Nabal lived up to his name which means “fool.” If he was ignorant of the Lord’s anointing of David then we might conclude the Lord’s judgment of him was severe. However it is clear in the context of the quote above that Abigail, Nabal’s wife, was well aware that David had been anointed by Samuel in the will of the Lord to be Israel’s king. Since she was aware it seems reasonable to assume that Nabal was also aware but their responses were quite different.

Even though he had been the beneficiary of David’s protection Nabal chose to show contempt toward David and rejected him as God’s anointed. On the other hand, Abigail valued the protection they had received and believed the report that David was the Lord’s anointed to be king. Her works of faith (v 18ff) backed up her words of faith (v 28 ff). Abigail’s statement of faith, “And it shall come to pass, when the Lord has done for my lord according to all the good that He has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you ruler over Israel …” (v 30), is one of the clearest testimonies of faith we will ever read. This is the expression of genuine faith in the heart.

Abigail was in a covenant relationship with her husband which could only be broken by death (Romans 7:2). Through Adam’s sin we are in a binding relationship with Satan which also can be broken only by death (Romans 6:23). When the Lord struck Nabal so that he died Abigail was free to marry another (Romans 7:3). We read in 1 Samuel 25 that when David heard that Nabal was dead he immediately asked Abigail to be his wife. He recognised her faith in the word of the Lord.

This account helps us to visualise the differing responses of Israel toward the Lord Jesus Christ. Nabal is of the same mind as unbelieving Israel and Abigail of the same mind as believing Israel. However, it also has application to Gentiles.

As God struck Nabal dead the Lord Jesus Christ has struck sin and Satan on the cross when He became sin for us (Romans 5:8; cf. Genesis 3:15). He took sin to death thus destroying the binding hold Satan and sin had over us. In so doing He has made us free to be bound to another (Romans 7:3). All those who, like Abigail, believe the report and express their faith in the Lord’s anointed are free to “marry” another. That other is the anointed King, namely, Jesus Christ.

Abigail is a picture of all true believers who will have expressed the same kind of faith. We have been delivered from our former bondage to Satan because of sin by Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross and thereby have been made free to enter a new covenant with the Jesus Christ.

Like David in Abigail’s day, Jesus is not yet on the throne of David but it is only a matter of time. Jesus came the first time at just the right time (cf. Galatians 4:4, 5) and He will come at just the right time the second time. Jesus is the Christ (Anointed One) and He will sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16). Maranatha.

A Monument for Himself

“Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the Lord … Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams” 1 Samuel 15:1, 22

The warning from the Lord to Saul came because the Lord knew what was in Saul’s heart. The occasion described in this chapter is a lesson to all people that the word of the Lord should be taken at face value. The command given to Saul (v 3) is quite explicit but it is apparent that Saul interpreted it with a measure of liberality for his own honour among the people.

When challenged regarding his failure to “heed the voice of the words of the Lord” Saul’s response was “I have performed the commandment of the Lord” (v 13). It appears that he genuinely believed that he had obeyed the command of the Lord. However, this is not the Lord’s assessment. Saul did not take the words of the Lord literally but interpreted them to suit his own agenda which was to exalt himself in the eyes of the people.

The evidence for this is plain to see. Saul did not kill king Agag but brought him back to parade him before the people to hear their praise. Secondly he did not kill all the livestock as commanded. On the pretense of offering them to the Lord he brought back the best of the flocks and herds. Parading them before the people would also result in him receiving the praise of the people. They could now feast long on the spoils of war. Thirdly, Saul built a monument to himself at Carmel (v 12). Saul had used the gifts of God and the command of God for his own glorification. This would be the root of his jealousy of David when the women sang, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (18:7; 21:11).

This is still common among people who claim the name of Christ in our day. The really sad part of this is that, like Saul, most do not realise they are doing this. Saul apparently believed that he had obeyed the Lord (vv 13, 20) and did not understand why Samuel was accusing him of not doing so.

Throughout history men have sought to steal the glory that belongs only to God. We see it repeated frequently in the Bible, in church history and in the church today. Such people may put on a pretense that the glory is God’s but the reality in the heart is quite different. Saul was able to deceive the undiscerning but he could not deceive the Lord.

The problem lay in his heart attitude toward God. The consequence to Saul was that he lost the kingdom and the enabling of the Holy Spirit (16:14). It also meant that none of his descendants would ever rule God’s people.

When Samuel said, “to obey is better than sacrifice” he was saying that to obey by taking God’s word at face value is better than any other option. Not taking God at His word is to say that we know better than God. Woe to the person who fails to take God at His word literally. This is one of numerous occasions in the Bible where this truth is brought out.

Selective Hearing

“The word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation” (1 Samuel 3:1)

Have you ever been speaking to someone and found that they have been distracted and are not listening to what you are saying? In such a situation do you continue speaking hoping for a return of interest or do you cease speaking? The Bible reveals that God will sometimes keep speaking waiting for someone to hear but at other times He simply stops speaking. There are also times when He stops listening.

When we read that Isaiah responded to the call of the Lord it was because he had a heart to hear and was listening. If God was speaking only to Isaiah He would have said something more personal. By asking a general question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” (Isaiah 6:8) it appears that this is a question being asked of all men. Only one who has a heart to hear and is listening will hear the call as Isaiah did. This is why Jesus often said something to the effect of “He who has an ear, let Him hear …” as He does to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3.

The problem for Israel immediately prior to Samuel’s emergence as a prophet of God was that the men were spiritually deaf or had a very limited range of selective hearing.

Why should God speak to people who have turned a deaf ear to Him? Why should He speak to people who only want to hear what pleases them? Why should He speak at all if everyone is distracted by the pleasures of this world? “The word from the Lord was rare in those days” because no one was willing to hear what He had to say. It is no different today. People who only want their ears “tickled” to make them feel good while being bad will not hear what God has to say. They will listen only to those who say what they want to hear but will not hear those who say what they need to hear. They will not hear from the prophets of God who say, “Thus says the Lord …”

Because Israel was resolute in its deafness we read, “And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:18). Israel wanted a king like the other nations; we want medical healing, prosperity and a life of comfort and ease for everyone. Jesus only promised tribulation and trouble that will, if He tarries, end in bodily death.

Our prayers reveal that we are often telling Jesus how He should run His kingdom (James 4:3) and yet at the same time we are slow to listen to His instructions for living in His kingdom. Why should He hear us when we do not pay Him any attention? Paying attention is more than mental assent; it is doing as He instructs and commands.

Let us pray with all our hearts, “Lord, in grace for the sake of Jesus, grant us ears to hear what you are saying and do it.” This will mean closing our mouths while He speaks.

Surrender of Body

“And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish” (1 Samuel 1:10)

Hannah was not unique in Israel in being childless but the depth of her sorrow may well have been unique. How did she come to be in such bitterness of soul and weep in such anguish? There is no way she could have artificially produced this. The factors that would have brought her to this place in her life are varied but are all under the direction of just One.

In her family she was the more loved of two wives (v 5). The other wife had many children (v 4) and taunted Hannah with regard to her childless state (v 6). This was aided by the need for sons to retain the inheritance of land under the Law. Also, she was a married woman who had a desire to be a mother.

In addition to these more personal provocations was the state of her nation. Along with her husband she was faithful in presenting offerings to the Lord in God’s house. However, this was not the case for the majority. We ought not to forget that at that time the Lord still presenced Himself in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle.

Year by year as Elkanah and Hannah brought their sacrifice to the Lord they could not help but notice the abuse of position exercised by Eli’s sons who did not know the Lord (2:12ff). Eli was the appointed Levitical priest and his sons served under his authority. Eli was complicit in his sons’ actions (2:29) and this would bring about the eventual end of the Levitical priesthood. The priesthood would, from a future time, be led by a “Faithful Priest,” (2:35) namely, Jesus Christ. The state of Israel added its weight of sorrow to Hannah’s heart.

None of these factors arose artificially in Hannah. Bringing them all together is the providential hand of God. Hannah’s part was to surrender her own body to the Lord for His service. In this she is a kind of fore-runner to Mary who also wholly surrendered her body to the Lord for His service and to bring into the world the Son of God. Hannah was granted her heart’s desire because she was wholly surrendered to the Lord. Lack of surrender is evidence of lack of faith in Jesus Christ – and we know that without faith it is impossible to please the Lord (Hebrews 11:6).

We cannot artificially produce the bitterness of soul and anguish of heart that Hannah experienced. If we surrender our whole being, including our bodies (Romans 12:1), Jesus will allow His desires for other Christians and for a world helplessly lost in sin and under the power of darkness to flow from within our own hearts. It will only be then that we will pray a prayer of the kind that Hannah has done. That we don’t anguish over Christians who fail to follow Jesus Christ to the cross and grieve a lost world so that we pray and labour in ministry is evidence that we are not surrendered to Jesus.

We fail to pray and grieve because we have not wholly surrendered ourselves to the Lord. It means that we are not experiencing the reality of “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for Me” (Galatians 2:20).

Whatever Happened to: “Here am I! Send me”

“Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8)

Only a foolish person would suggest that there is ever too much prayer in the church and among Christians. Throughout the Bible we are commanded, exhorted and encouraged to pray. James tells us that “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16) and who would dare argue with him?

What we need to evaluate is how much prayer activity is of this kind. It may well be that much prayer activity stems from a wrong motive (James 4:3) or simply to appease our conscience so that we can say we have done our duty. Has God become our Father Christmas who exists to do our bidding and supply our desires? The focus is often on our agenda and not the Lord’s plan and purpose. God has created us to please Him and perform His will not the other way around.

Samuel said to Saul, “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22) but how much of our praying carries with it the intention of obeying? If we are to really pray it will mean to really listen as Isaiah listened, heard, willingly offered himself as the sacrifice and obeyed.

It is easier to pray than to obey but that kind of praying, though it may satisfy the conscience, is futile. If prayer does not carry with it the intention of obedience to the Lord’s response then it is worse than a waste of time.

Does God act alone in answer to prayer? Yes, sometimes He does and there are examples in the Bible. More frequently He chooses to work through a person who has offered him/herself as a living sacrifice; the sacrifice of obedience.

A few minutes of obedience will accomplish much more than hours of pleading with God from an unwilling heart to be involved in the answer. If we are willing to obey then our Lord may offer us the privilege of being part of the answer.

Should we pray without ceasing? Most certainly but let us be sure that we have the same heart attitude that Isaiah demonstrated. Isaiah saw a need, brought to the Lord in prayer and was willing to be part of the answer. Humanly speaking this will always involve a cost because it is a sacrifice. Please do not come to the altar of prayer without being the living sacrifice you offer (Romans 12:1) and ready to obey His desire.