Quick Note – 1 Samuel 30:6 – Strengthened in God

1 Samuel 30:6 – “And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters.  But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.”

How do you handle a large amount of stress?  Do you go out for a walk to cool down, clear your head, and come back to solve the problem?  Do you meditate and pray?  Do you exercise to get the endorphins pumping so that your problem is seen in a “happy” light?  There are many ways people try to cope with stress.  Some will talk about it with another person, sharing the heavy burden and lightening the emotional load.  Some people take a deep breath and count to ten to prevent any rash reactions.  Some people just allow themselves to have a big cry.  These are just a few of the ways people try to deal with their stress.  I, for example, tend to hoard it in, until suddenly, when it can’t be held in any longer, I unload it on someone unfairly.  I then have to do a lot of apologizing for my temper.  I definitely would not recommend that anybody follow my example for handling stress.  But one thing I do advise you to do is to follow David’s example in our passage today, for by turning to the Lord, David not only found strength and encouragement but a solution to his problem.

1 Samuel 30 starts with David and his men returning from the front lines in an upcoming battle to their homes in Ziklag.  They had left their wives, their children, and their possessions there.  But when they returned, they were not greeted by the cheers and applause of their families instead they found their whole city burned and their families and possessions taken by the Amalekites.  This situation caused the men to weep uncontrollably (to the point where they had no more strength (vs.5)) and act impulsively.  They were so distraught that they even considered putting David, their leader, to death by stoning.  Finding himself in this situation, David, like any normal human being, was in great distress.  He not only had to deal with the loss of his own family members, but he also had to figure out a way to calm the people down so that they would not kill him.  This was definitely a high-stress situation that could have pushed anybody over the edge.  But instead of wrapping himself up like a little ball and crawling into a corner, David went straight to God; he sought the LORD his God for strength, and God provided.  David did not try to find comfort in his own wisdom.  He did not try to find comfort in his friends or advisors.  And he certainly did not seek comfort in a bottle of alcohol.  No!  He sought strength from the only true Source of infinite strength – the LORD God.  He knew who his God was – the Creator of the universe, the Lover of mankind, the Lord of lords and King of kings, the caring Father, the Shield, the Rock, and the Deliver, and of course, his Friend.  He knew that God would not leave him or forsake him even in a situation as bleak as this was, so he sought Him and found Him.  He was strengthened in the Lord his God.

As Christians, we can find strength in David’s God, for He is our God as well.  All that God was to David, He is still to us, for He is also our Shield, our Provider, our Rock, our Lord, and our Savior.  David did not find strength in just the knowledge of who God was but in God Himself, for he had a deep and loving relationship with God, one that allowed him to be intimate with God.  It was not a strength founded in knowledge but a strength founded in trust; it was not a peace springing from what he would hope would be done but a peace coming from knowing Who would do it.  It was not God, the source of strength, but God the strength.  David encouraged himself by reminding himself about who God is to the world and to him personally.  When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He opened the door for us to have that same intimate relationship with Him; all we need to do is to place our faith and trust in Him as Lord and Savior.  When we do, we start that personal relationship with Him that allows us to draw on Him for strength, for He becomes our Strength, our Hope, our Comforter, and our Deliverer.  Isaiah 40:31 reminds us that those “who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”  Place your hope in Christ, and the next time you are stressed, lean on Him, for He will be your Strength.

Quick Note – 1 Samuel 22:4-5 – Leaving a Place of Comfort to Follow God

1 Samuel 22:4-5 – “And he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him all the time that David was in the stronghold.  Then the prophet Gad said to David, ‘Do not remain in the stronghold; depart, and go into the land of Judah.’ So David departed and went into the forest of Hereth.”

About two-three years ago, I made one of the hardest moves in my life – I went to live in Bethesda, Maryland.  Now, certainly, Bethesda itself was not the reason the move was hard, for that city is a high-profile area for the wealthy and a great place for scientific and medical research (a perfect place for a scientific researcher like me), since it is the home of the National Institutes of Health.  So Bethesda was not the problem; what was difficult was that this move was the first time I ever lived away from my parents in Los Angeles, CA for an extended period of time.  I had done two ten week sessions out in Boston some summers previous, but I had never lived away from them for a year’s length of time.  I would be away from my parents, my family, my friends, and everything I ever knew to stay in a place halfway across the United States alone.  It definitely was a new experience that brought both fear and adventure, both anticipation and sadness, both loneliness and independence.  The move brought on a great big ball of various emotions, because I would be leaving a place where I felt comfortable and safe and entering into the unknown.

David was challenged with a similar ordeal in our passage today.  In 1 Samuel 22, we find David on the run from King Saul, who was looking to end David’s life for being anointed the next king of Israel.  He had found a stronghold to hide out in for the time, but without warning or explanation, the prophet Gad told David to move from this safe place to the land of Judah (vs.4-5).  There was no reason given to him why; there was no guarantee of safety somewhere else; all he was told was that God wanted him to leave the stronghold and go into Judah.  This must have been a difficult decision for David, being that he had found a safe place where he could likely settle into for the time being.  But instead of setting up shop there, David was called to wander back into Judah, where he could be captured and killed by Saul.  God was asking David to give up his newfound comfort to wander and be at risk of death again.  The funny thing is that we don’t see David question God’s plan, ask for a sign, or disobey by staying in that same place.  David immediately departed and went into the forest of Hereth.  David trusted God’s words and left a place of comfort for the unknown.  He trusted God to safely lead and guide him, just as Abraham did when he left his home in Ur for a place that God would show him (Genesis 12).  Both these Bible characters chose to trust God, leave their place of comfort, and follow His will.

As Christians, we must do the same.  Who knows where or when or if He will ask us to do so?  But if God calls us to leave a place of comfort and do His will, we must obey.  We must be like David and Abraham, trusting God to supply all our needs and to work all things according to His will.  There is no doubt in my mind that the decision to give up comfort for the unknown will be unbelievably difficult, but if God has called us to do something, the best choice is to obey.  He might call you to leave your family and go out and become a missionary in a foreign land.  He might call you to leave your comfortable high-paying job and begin working in the ministry like he did with Charles G. Finney.  He might call you to move from a growing ministry to one that needs fixing.  Who knows what God will call you from and to?  But our best response is obedience.  My fellow disciples of Christ, if God calls us from our place of security to the unknown, let us obey Him wholeheartedly, for He is faithful and will work all things together for good to them that love Him.  The “where” matters not when you know “Who” is leading.

Quick Note – 1 Samuel 10:6 – A Truly Changed Man

1 Samuel 10:6 – “Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.”

People often talk about “turning over a new leaf” or “becoming a new man” after they have had some life-changing experience.  It is at that time of heightened emotion that they start turning their lives around from the unhealthy condition it was in to a better state.  They start kicking off their addictions, separating themselves from harmful temptations, and acting like a completely different person.  But after a few weeks, and in some exceptional cases a few months, the emotional high wears off, the old habits return, and the “changed” person that you expected to see looks a lot like what you started with.  What happened?  Simply, the changes were temporary.  This so-called “transformation” was nothing but a cheap paint job that peeled right off the dilapidated vehicle.  It was like a Band-Aid over a shotgun wound or a cork in the hole of a dam.  It was nothing but a temporary fix that provided a false sense of security and no lasting impact.  No permanent change actually happened.  There was no new man, only some make-up to cover up the unpresentable parts at that time.  The question that we need to ask ourselves then is “What can bring lasting change?”

In our passage today, we read about the one thing, or really, I should say the one Person that can change a life completely – the Spirit of the Lord.  In 1 Samuel 10, the prophet Samuel told Saul, a young man from the inconsequential, small tribe of Benjamin, that he would become the king of Israel.  Saul was to “reign over the people of the LORD” and “save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies.” (vs.1).  This nobody who described himself as follows, “Am I not a Benjaminitie, from the least of the tribes of Israel?  And is not my clan the humblest of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin?” (1 Samuel 9:21) was called to rule over God’s chosen people.  He could hardly believe it, much less anybody who could have caught wind of what was said.  He had no history of being a warrior, no history of being a leader, and certainly no history of being a ruler, yet God would come into His life and make him into a completely different man.  In vs. 6, Samuel described how this would happen, “Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.”  Samuel did not say that Saul would go through some difficult training regimen like Boot Camp or that he would study at the feet of a the greatest priests and prophets of the day to gain knowledge or even to attend some self-help seminar.  No!  Samuel made it clear that what would change Saul was the Spirit of the Lord coming into his life.  And it certainly did.  For the Spirit of God rushed upon him in vs. 10 and caused him to prophesy among the prophets in Gibeah.  It also came over him in 1 Samuel 11:6 and moved him to fight against the Ammonites to rescue the people of Israel in Jabesh-gilead.  The Spirit of the Lord turned this unwilling coward, who hid from being crowned king (1 Samuel 10:20-24), into a powerful warrior and king for the people of the Lord.  The Spirit of the Lord changed him completely.  And when it eventually left him, he was devastated (1 Samuel 16:14-23).

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we have also been given the Spirit of the Lord.  He promised that He would send us this Comforter who would play an impactful role in our lives and the world’s.  It has changed the world completely by bearing witness to the truth (John 15:26) and by convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11).  And it has changed us completely by reminding us and teaching us more about Christ and His Word (John 14:26) as it guides us into all truth (John 16:13).  It pours power and courage into our lives like it did to the Apostles in Acts, making them bold to share the Gospel.  It pours the love of God into our lives (Romans 5:5), so that we will be reminded of His love for us and how it should be poured out for others.  It pours life into our hearts and souls (2 Corinthians 3:6), turning our old husks into glorious temples of His (1 Corinthians 6:19).  It gives us a new purpose in life as we act as His love letters to the world (2 Corinthians 3:3).  It brings in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23, bearing fruit in our hearts that would have never grown in the wasteland of sin that we had been living in.  It makes us completely new.  When the Spirit of God enters into our lives, it makes us the new creatures described in 2 Corinthians 5:17.  The only One that can bring permanent change to the heart of a person is the Spirit of the Lord, which is received when a person gives His life to Christ.  Allow the Spirit of God to change you completely inside and out.

Quick Note – Judges 18:7,27 – Take Heed!

Judges 18:7, 27 – “Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were there, how they lived in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth, and how they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone…But the people of Dan took what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, and they came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, and struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire.” 

It is said that the Babylonian empire fell, when the city of Babylon was conquered by the Medes and Persians.  The rulers and people of that great city had no worries the night they were conquered, for they thought that their heavily fortified walls would keep their enemies at bay.  Unbeknownst to them, the Persians had actually shunted off the water flow into the city by redirecting the river that ran through it and crept into it via the water ways.  Instead of preparing and watching every possible entrance, the Babylonians partied that night and by the morning were a conquered people.  They assumed that because they lived in security, they could never be defeated.  I would assume that a similar attitude was found in Troy, when they accepted that Trojan horse without doing any security checks, eventually falling prey to Greeks.  This attitude of “supposed security” rears its head quite often in history, for many a city/empire has been conquered due to the complacency of its people in protecting themselves from their enemies.

In our passage today, we find the city of Laish, which was filled with such great wealth that it lacked nothing that was in the earth.  From its description, Laish seemed to be the place to live, for it had everything that you could hope for.  But this security in wealth led the people to be unsuspecting of enemies and not prepared for an assault.  When the people of the tribe of Dan saw this city as they were looking for a place to settle in the Promised Land, they not only saw a beautiful land but a perfect opportunity for them to conquer, for the city was undefended and had not seemed to make any allies within the area.  The people of Dan quickly conquered this unsuspecting city and eventually made it its own.

Although when we read this story, we most certainly are happy that the protagonist, the tribe of Dan, eventually found a place to settle, we can glean an important lesson about complacency from the city of Laish.  Due to their vast amounts of wealth and relative security, they did not prepare for any imminent attack.  It goes the same for us as Christians.  There are times in our Christian walk, when everything seems to be on the right track.  Our ministry is blooming; our personal relationship with Christ is flourishing; and our battles against struggling sins are becoming victorious.  It is at these times that we become complacent in our defenses against sin and no longer watch for things that may cause us to stumble and fall.  It is at these times that we fall prey to sins like pride and condemnation of others.  Sometimes we even stumble onto sins that we weren’t even aware we had an affinity to.  By not placing the guards up, we fall.  One clear example is with pornography.  For it usually isn’t the people who have struggled with it before that fall into the addiction, but those who have never seen it, for, unlike those who have struggled, they often do not place the necessary boundaries to prevent them from stepping close to that sin.  1 Peter 5:8 tells us to “be sober-minded” and “watchful” because our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  He will always go for those who think that they are safe and are no longer watchful.  This is why we must take heed to 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”  Keep your eyes open, be vigilant, and continue to actively fight against sin, for once you settle into complacency, that is when your enemy will attack again.

Quick Note – Judges 6:14-16 – The Underdog

Judges 6:14-16 – “And the LORD turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?’  And he said to him, ‘Please, Lord, how can I save Israel?  Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.’  And the LORD said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.’”

We all love a good underdog story, which is why many movies have been produced on just that premise alone.  There are romantic comedies that focus on the awkward guy who ends up with the beautiful girl.  There are inspirational movies that highlight the “down on its luck” team who ends up winning a championship.  There are action/adventure movies that tell the story of how a simple nobody became a hero.  Over and over again, the underdog is emphasized and praised.  And it’s not just in movies; it’s in books, video games, and real life.  Since it is the NCAA college basketball tournament right now, take UConn and Kentucky as examples of underdogs who have climbed from seventh and eighth seeds to the Final Four.  Surely, there are a number of people who would love to see them upset one of the 1st seeds, Florida and one of the 2nd seeds, Wisconsin.  I, for one, am cheering for UConn.  If you don’t like sports, take comic books as an example.  So many superheroes get there start as lowly underdogs.  Captain America was nothing but a scrawny boy, who after a dose of the Super Soldier Serum, became the symbol of American truth and justice.  Spiderman was nothing but a high school nerd, who became the hero of New York.  And if you feel like pop culture and sports are above you, then look to literature, where dozens of time the protagonist of the story is not someone high and mighty but a simple, lowly fellow who becomes a hero or a much beloved character.  I’m not much of a classical book reader, so I can’t comment on many examples outside of books that I have read, but there are tons of characters like Pip in Great Expectations, Piggy in Lord of the Flies, and for some, even Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.  No matter what type of media or real life situation, the underdog story is one that we love to hear.

The Bible is filled with underdog stories, for God often takes people that nobody would put their faith in to work miracles for His glory.  These stories are scattered throughout God’s Word, but a high concentration of them are found in the book of Judges from which we get our passage today.  In our passage we find Gideon, the lowliest member of the lowliest clan of the tribe of Manasseh (not one of the prominent tribes in Israel).  Gideon was a nobody, who at his calling, was actually beating out wheat in hiding to prevent the Midianites from taking it from him.  This is not the background of a war hero, who would deliver Israel from oppression; if anything, it is the background of a coward.  Yet, God called Gideon, assured him of victory, and turned Gideon into one of the greatest judges in Israelite history.  He was such a great judge that if Gideon had not refused, the people would have made him king.  Another story in the book of Judges speaks of Jephthah (a son of a prostitute who was cast out from his brethren), who eventually delivered the people of Israel from the oppression of the Ammonites (Judges 11).  There is the story of Jael, a simple housewife, who killed the commander of the Canaanite army (Judges 4).  And these are only the stories in the book of Judges.

There are even more stories throughout the Old and New Testament.  Look at David, the lowly shepherd boy, whose father did not even think to mention him to Samuel when Samuel sought to anoint a new king of Israel.  Yet David did not only become the king, but the most important king in the history of Israel.  And his life was filled with underdog stories, from the time he wrestled a lion and a bear to free his sheep to the time he defeated Goliath with nothing but a sling and a stone.  If you want an example in the prophets, you can look to Jeremiah, who was but a young child, who influenced the Bible so much that the two books of prophecy he wrote are considered part of the “Major Prophets.”  These underdog stories are even found in the New Testament.  Take the twelve apostles for example; a group of fishermen, zealots, tax collectors, and nobodies, who turned the world upside down through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Take Saul as an example, the ultimate persecutor of Christians who God transformed into the writer of most of the New Testament.  These are but a few of the examples of how God took what would be considered weak in the sight of man and made it strong for His glory.

Although we love to hear about these underdog stories, we tend to believe that it will never happen to us.  We look at our lives and assume that God cannot do anything with us, because we have sinned “too much” in the past or have “no skills or talents” or are “too shy.”  We have no faith that God can take us, a lowly piece of clay and mold us into a masterpiece for His glory.  But we need to take note of all the stories in the Bible that indicate just the opposite.  1 Corinthians 1:28-29 tells us that “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”  God can take any one no matter how messed up you are in life, how small you are, how insignificant you might feel, how young or old or past your prime and use you for His glory.  All it takes is a heart that is willing to humble itself before Him and do His work.  It is in our weakness that God’s power is shown through more.  Next time, you think that you are an underdog take joy, for God can take and use you in marvelous ways to lift up His name on high.

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