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Series on Faith in God

We are continuing on in our series on Faith in God. As Scripture tells us we need faith to receive God’s promises. James says without faith we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7). But Jesus tells us that with faith, “all things are possible” (Mark 9:23). All that God has for us is made available to us by faith.

We also talked about how there are three parts to faith:

  1. A word from God, which gives us something to stand on.
  2. Firm trust in God and God’s word.
  3. And appropriate action based on his word to us.

We need all three of these to have the kind of faith that receives from God.

But the sad fact is that in various ways we often get off track in our attempt to have faith in God and to receive God’s promises. We will focus on one particular problem today, which is rooted in the first part of faith, having something from God to stand on. When we try to act in faith without a word from God, this is called –

Presumption

Here’s an illustration from everyday life. I have faith in my wife that she is kind and hospitable. But if I invite over a large group of people for dinner without her saying it’s OK, well, that is presuming upon her and would likely have dire consequences for me!

To be presumptuous is to move forward with unwarranted confidence. It’s to have misplaced assurance. In the things of God our confidence is unwarranted because it’s not based on a word from God.

Now easy examples of this have to do with when Jesus will return. Not too long ago Harold Camping and his followers proclaimed that May 21, 2011 as the day. Do you remember? These people really believed. They had certainty (the second part of faith). They even had actions of sacrifice and boldness (the third part of faith). But nothing came of it because it was not based on God’s word (the first part of faith). They found themselves waiting for God to act, when God never said he would.

The point today is that we need to make sure that we are standing on God’s word with our faith; that what we claim as a word from God is indeed a word from God. Otherwise, although we may look like we have faith, it’s simply presumption or fake faith; it’s a cheap substitute.

Now there are many –

Different paths that lead to presumption

I will just give a few examples today. 1. You misunderstand a word from God. This is quite common. For instance, you might say, if I raise my child right, they will become a Christian. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Well, this is a proverb, not a promise. It talks about the way things usually work out. Not the way it always works out. So this doesn’t give us a guaranteed end result for every person. And as we know from other Scriptures we must all make our own moral choices in the end.

Another exampleif I have faith, my whole family will eventually be saved. Acts 16:31 says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This is a misunderstanding of the context of the verse. Paul is saying that the promise of salvation by faith is not just for the Philippian jailer, but for everyone in his household. That is, if they believe, they too will be saved. He’s not saying that if he believes his whole household will be saved or will eventually be saved. Again, each of us have to make our choices. They can’t be made for us.

Another path to presumption is when 2. You claim a promise that has conditions, but you don’t meet them. For instance, God will always forgive me. You read the last part of Matthew 6:14 – “your heavenly Father will forgive you,” and you say, ‘Hey I prayed for forgiveness and God has promised to forgive me. I am standing on this promise!’ But you left out the “if” part; the first part of the verse. There’s a condition. It says, “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” You won’t receive the blessing of forgiveness, unless you meet the condition of forgiving others.

Many of God’s promises have such conditions that we need to be aware of.

Another path to presumption is when 3. You trust in your own plan to fulfill God’s promise. You act without listening to how God wants to bring it to fulfillment.

Genesis 16 tells the story of Sarah and Abraham who come up with a plan to get their promised son through Hagar the servant. But this wasn’t God’s will; this wasn’t God’s plan. And it caused many problems.

Another example can be seen in Matthew 26. Peter knew that God’s kingdom was being made real through Jesus. But when the police came to arrest Jesus he took a sword and cut off a man’s ear. He thought he could make the kingdom of God come by violence, instead of the suffering love of the cross; in his own way and not God’s way.

When you act on your own to fulfill God’s plan you end up further from the blessing (not closer). And it makes a mess of things.

A final example of a path to presumption is when 4. You take a general promise and make it rigidly apply to you. You take God’s general will, and say it has to happen to you in a certain way or time.

For instance, Psalm 91 talks about the one “who dwells in the shelter of the Almighty” – and it says some pretty amazing things:

  • 10 – “no evil (harm) shall be allowed to befall you.”
  • 14 – “I will deliver him, I will protect him.”
  • 15 – “I will rescue him.”
  • 16 – “with long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

So you say, ‘this is what the Word says, God will protect me from all harm and give me a long life.’ Well, what should we make of Paul’s many trials which he enumerates in several of his letters, not to mention the trials of our Lord. Or the promise that it is through many trials that we must enter the kingdom? Act 14:22.

No, this Psalm talks about the way God works in general. God loves to deliver his own and bless them. But this doesn’t always happen, just as the righteous don’t always have long lives in this world. But this Psalm does speak to how it will be in the end for each of us. We will be delivered and blessed and live life eternal without evil or harm.

Now, if you get a specific word from God by the Spirit that says, he’s ready to deliver you or to keep it from coming to you in the first place, this allows you to have something specific to stand on, to pray in bold faith.

The difference between faith and presumption

Let’s look at the big picture. This is how real faith works: 1) We have a word from God as a foundation to stand on. 2) We have firm trust in God and God’s word to us. And 3) we have appropriate action. And then God comes through for us and we receive the blessings.

But when we 1) have no word from God to stand on, 2) we have misplaced trust, and 3) we will have wrong actions; not in accord with God’s will. And we receive nothing from God. And we will likely look foolish and cause others to scoff or stumble.

So it’s really important to learn –

How to avoid presumption

And the key here is to discern God’s will. Here are some things that will help guard us from presuming upon God.

1. Know God’s word. Know what God’s will and promises are, what the context and scope of each promise is, and any conditions that apply.

2. Know God’s voice. Now this isn’t always easy. But you can get to know what God’s voice is like. It’s clear, pure and different than you. And of course, always check any such word against the word of God which is our standard.

3. Only claim general promises in a general way. We can only stand in faith on as much as we have from God.

A good example of this comes from Daniel 3:17-18. The three young men were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace. And they said, “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” They are saying, ‘God can do it, but even if he doesn’t we are fine with that.’ God loves to deliver the righteous, but he doesn’t always.

If you want more specificity in a case, pray and ask for it. “God what is your will?” “How do you want me to pray?” And then you can pray with bold faith. But short of something more from God, ask, but leave it open to what God chooses to do.

4. Ask others for discernment. Ask other Christians, ‘Do I have something from God here?’ Let them see if it rings true to them. This is one of the ways we can help each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

I want to end with a Scripture that sums up what I’m saying today from –

1 John 5:14-15

“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.”

He’s talking about firm faith or as he says, “confidence” toward God. And he makes the point that our faith comes to fruition if “we ask . . . according to his (God’s) will.” That’s when we receive what “we have asked of him.”

Series: Faith in God

Last week we looked at the importance of faith. It’s crucial to our Christian lives because as James (1:7) tells us, without it, we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord.” But with faith, as Jesus tells us (Mark 9:23) “all things are possible.” All that God has for us is made available to us by faith. This is how we receive from God.

Today we look at the kind of faith that receives from God, getting a bit more specific. There are actually three parts to faith. And if you want to receive from God, you need all three of these working in your life.

Let’s jump right in. First of all, you need –

1. A word from God

You need something from God concerning his will and his purpose to believe in. You need something to stand on; something to claim that comes from God, not from your own mind or what someone else thought up.

Jeremiah 23:16 speaks of “vain hopes” that are not based on God’s word, but the words of people who have not heard from God. And this is what our faith is if it’s not based on what God says – “vain hope.” Rather, as the Psalmist says to God, we are to “hope in your word” – Psalm 119:114.

What we need is a knowledge of God’s promises; an understanding of God’s word; and the ability to hear God’s voice by the Spirit speaking to us. This is what makes faith possible.

As we saw last week, Abraham had a promise from God for a son. He had something from God to stand on.

  • In Genesis 12:2 the Lord said, “I will make you a great nation,” which means he has to have a child.
  • God said in Genesis 12:7, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
  • And in Genesis 17:16 God said more specifically, “I will give you a son by Sarah.”

As we see in this example, from “the man of faith” as Paul calls him (Galatians 3:9) our faith must be grounded in a word from God. Without this it’s fake faith; it’s simply presumption on our part, not faith. Without a word from God we will find ourselves vainly waiting on God to do something he never said he would do! We’ll talk more about this in a later message.

Second, you need –

2. Firm trust

I also call this “faith proper,” because this is what Scripture usually means when it talks about faith.

Hebrews 11:1 speaks of this. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” First of all, we have “things hoped for” and “things not seen.” These refer to what we are looking for God to do, based on his word to us. What we are hoping for but can’t see yet.

The firm trust is referred to by the word “assurance”, or it can also be translated “confidence.” And also by the word “conviction” which can be translated “certainty.” So, firm trust means being sure of God’s word to us. Being certain in our hearts that what God has said to us, God can and will do.

Abraham trusted in God’s promise to him. After hearing that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, it says, “he believed the Lord” – Genesis 15:6. That is, he trusted in God and God’s promise to him.

As Paul says, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – Romans 4:20-21. He had nothing to go on in the natural; they were both too old to have children. But he had “an assurance of things hoped for” – a promise from God; and a “conviction of things not seen” – that God would give him a son.

He trusted that what God told him would come to pass; that his circumstances wouldn’t remain the same. He was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – which is an excellent definition of firm trust. We too need to be fully convinced that God is able to do what he promises us.

Finally, we need –

3. Appropriate action

– which flows from our certainty in God’s promise. Paul calls this the “obedience of faith” – Romans 1:5. This has to do with our actions of obedience to God in light of the promises that God gives us.

Abraham is an example. He acted on his faith in a way appropriate to the promise given to him. He left his family and home behind. He moved to Canaan. He waited for a son.

You can see his certainty in the way he acted. He would’ve never done these things if it weren’t for the promise and his firm trust in God and God’s promise. In the same way, when we are truly convinced of God’s word to us, it will show up in our actions. 

As Jesus said, a “tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44). What is within us, in our heart, whether faith or unbelief – is made known in our words and actions, what comes out of us. There is a correspondence between what is inside us and what comes out of us; the fruit of our lives.

A sure sign that we don’t really trust God is that we will hesitate to act on God’s promises. And conversely, when we have true faith, we are willing to act on that.

Putting these three parts together faith is trusting in and acting on God’s word to us.  We hear God’s word, we fully trust God in our hearts, and this flows out into how we live our lives.

So this is –

The kind of faith that receives from God

We need, not just one part or two parts, but all three.

  1. You need a word from God as a foundation.
  2. You need firm trust in this word from God.
  3. You need appropriate actions that flow out of this certainty and make your faith complete.

You need all three to receive from God.

And, in fact, all three of these are a part of the Greek word for faith:

1. This word can be translated as “the faith,” referring to what we believe , or God’s word to us. Jude 3 says, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to you.” (Other examples: Galatians 1:23; 3:23, 25; 1 Timothy 4:1, 6; 6:21)

2. Or it can be translated as “faith” meaning firm trust, which is the most common meaning. Just to give one example, in Mark 11:22 Jesus says, “Have faith in God” that is, trust in God and God’s promises.

3. Or this word can be translated as “faithfulness.” For instance, in Galatians 5:22, “faithfulness” is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It refers to our actions of faith. (Other examples: Matthew 23:23; Romans 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4)

(The context determines whether it means on specific part of faith or all of them).

These are all a part of faith, and we need them all if we want to receive from God.

This, then, brings us to –

God’s faithfulness

When we have all three parts of faith working in our lives, the result is that we receive what God has for us. God comes through on his word to us; God acts on our behalf!

God is always faithful on his end. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 – “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” He will do what he says he will do.

Abraham had faith and so he received the promise of a son. Isaac was born to him 25 years after the promise was originally given (Genesis 21). God came through for him. And God will come through for us as well.

Let me emphasize again, as I said last week –

Our faith is key

We have looked at four things today:

  1. God gives us a word
  2.  We trust in God’s word to us
  3.  We act in faith
  4.  God acts to fulfill his promise

Notice that God begins the process, and God ends it. But we have a crucial role in the middle connecting the beginning and the end. Our faith is the bridge between what God promises and what God does. (God has chosen for it to be this way)

Faith is what gets us from the promise to the reality. Before God acts to fulfill his promise we must trust and we must act on our faith (#2 and #3). God wants to see us trust and act first.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Our faith isn’t anything in itself. It’s just like the completion of a circuit so that the electricity can flow through it. It’s the electricity, or power of God that’s the big deal. God flows through our faith and then works his will in this world, bringing promise into reality.

This is what I think: God has tons of blessings, and he wants to pour them out. God want to use us in amazing ways. But we only receive a small amount. We are limited by our lack of vision and so that’s all we get. We need faith so that we can receive all that God wants to give us.

As we end, let me share with you a –

A call to faith

We are studying and praying about how God wants to use each one of us to lead people closer to Christ; that they might know him and walk in his ways. Whether that is planting seeds or harvesting, or whatever.

God’s will for us is to “make disciples of all peoples.” And this comes with the promise that Jesus is “with us always to the end of the age” to help us do this – Matthew 28:19-20. This is our foundation; a word from God for us.

And so we need to choose to have firm trust in God that he can and will use us. We don’t look at the outward circumstances – “I’m too shy,” or “I don’t know what to say,” or “I’m not good at this,” or “I don’t know many people.” We trust that God can use us.  We know that God spoke to Balaam through a donkey, so I’m pretty sure he can use me and you!

And we need to act when God opens doors for us to share with others. When the door opens, we should be courageous to speak, or serve or listen or bless – or whatever is called for in the situation, to help the person toward Christ.

Do you have this kind of faith? This is the faith that brings God’s promises into reality. This is the faith that makes all things possible. And this is the faith that I am calling you to, so that God might use you to touch people’s lives.

Series: Faith in God

I want to begin a series today on Faith in God. Faith is absolutely central to our lives as followers of Jesus and I want to encourage you in your faith as we go through this. And this especially so, since we as a congregation are all seeking to have God work through us during this year of discernment; that God might use us to bring people to know him.

Now, when you talk about faith certainly Abraham comes to mind. In fact, in Galatians 3:9 Paul calls him simply “the man of faith.” So I want us to look at his story, and specifically at –

Abraham’s faith in God’s promise of a child

Now this story covers ten whole chapters in Genesis, but don’t worry, I’m gonna squeeze it down for you and go through it quickly.

First of all, in Genesis 12: He receives the promise. Abraham was seventy-five years old and living in Haran. And God spoke to him, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation. . .” (12:1-2)

Of course, to be a great nation means that he will have a child. And this was a big deal because Sarah couldn’t have children (11:30). Nevertheless, in faith, he packed his bags and all that he owned and went to Canaan. And once he got to there, God reaffirmed the promise in 12:7,  “to your offspring I will give this land.”

 Well, time passes. He goes to Egypt and fears for his life and then comes back. He splits the land for grazing with Lot, his nephew. And he has to rescue Lot after he is taken captive. But there is no child yet.

This brings us to Chapter 15: Where God confirms the promise. (See too the encouragement in chapter 13:14-17). And here we see Abraham’s humanity come out.

God spoke to him again about blessing him. But Abraham said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless . . . you have given me no offspring.” (15:2-3)

Then God said, “. . . your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” (15:4-5)

And after this amazing promise it says, Abraham “believed the Lord . . ..” (15:6). He had faith in God.

And then Abraham said, “How am I to know that I shall possess it?” (15:8). This is an honest question. He was already old. How would he know that this will happen after he is gone? And so God let him see into the future, and God made a covenant with him – a guarantee (according to the culture of that day) and then reiterated, “to your offspring I give this land . . ..” (15:18)

Next, Abraham tries to fulfill the promise on his own, through Sarah’s servant Hagar, who bore him a son named Ishmael. And this caused a great deal of conflict in his household.

This brings us to Genesis 17-18: Where God confirms the promise again. God changed his name from Abram to Abraham. God said, “for I have made you the father of many nations.” He speaks of it as if it is already done. And now Abraham has as his name “father of many nations.” How ironic that everyone calls him this, “father of many nations,” even though he has no child from Sarah.

God said to him – “I will give you a son by her” (v. 16), that is Sarah, his wife. And Abraham laughed (v. 17) because they were so old! Abraham is now 99 years old, and Sarah is 90.

Abraham asked, “Why not Ishmael?” You know, this would be a lot easier. But God said no. The son will come from Sarah and the name will be Isaac, which means “he laughs,” because Abraham laughed. And then God said that it would happen within a year (v. 21).

Then we have another story where Sarah laughs about having a child. Then Lot is rescued from the destruction of Sodom. And we have another story of Abraham’s weakness, where he was afraid he would die.

And then, sure enough, a year later, in Genesis 21: Isaac is born!

“The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.” (21:1-2)

Abraham got off track at times, he was afraid, he questioned, he laughed about the promise, but he believed. And because he believed, he received the promise. He was 100 years old. And he had waited for 25 years.

Let’s look briefly at some –

Lessons on faith from this story

1. Be prepared for the unusual. God often works in unusual ways. He does it his way, not necessarily what we want. We want things to be quick, smooth and easy. But as we see with Abraham there were lots of difficulties and obstacles. And so it will be with us. Walking in faith is an adventure with God.

2. Faith can involve a lot of patience. As we saw, Abraham waited 25 years. And there were years at a time where there was nothing from God about the promise. Just silence and waiting, for two, five or maybe seven years at a time. And we will need patience too as we look to God in faith.

3. God often acts when we are at our weakest. God acted when they were both too old to have children, so no one would doubt that this was a miracle; that it was God working – and not just the natural course of things. And often with us as well, God waits until we know we can’t do it in our own strength, and then he answers.

These are some good things to remember. But most basically, this story teaches us that –

You need faith to receive God’s promises

And this is my point today. Abraham received the promise because he believed God and he acted on his belief.

Paul gives us an amazing description of his faith.

Romans 4:18-21 – “In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations. He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

He did not look at the outward things, his circumstances;  how they were both too old to have a child. He looked to God and knew that God was able. And that’s all that really matters.

And just as Abraham received God’s promise by faith, so this is true of all God’s people. As Hebrews 11:33-34 says, They, “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness . . ..” This was all through faith in God.

And just as Abraham and all these other examples received what God had for them by faith, so we receive all that God has for us by faith.

  • What do you need to receive new life from God? Faith! John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
  • What do you need to receive God’s provision for your needs? Faith! In Matthew 6:30 Jesus tells us not to be anxious or to have little faith, but to trust that God will provide for our needs.
  • What do you need to overcome the evil one? Faith! Ephesians 6:16 says, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”
  • What do you need to overcome the world? Faith! 1 John 5:4-5 says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
  • What do you need to have your prayers answered? Faith! Scripture says that God gives generously to all, “But let (each one) ask in faith, with no doubting . . .” – James 1:6

And what do we need to be used by God to work at bringing people to know the Lord? Faith!!!

We can be like the people of Nazareth who received very little of what Jesus could do because of their “unbelief” – Mark 6:6. Or we can be like the disciples who, though stumbling, had faith and received what Jesus had for them. Think of them at Pentecost and in the book of Acts.

We can choose doubt, but then as James says, we will not “receive anything from the Lord” – James 1:7. Or We can choose faith, for as Jesus said, “all things are possible for the one who believes” – Mark 9:23.

Do you believe that God can work through you to touch other people’s lives that they might come to Christ, and grow and be encouraged and helped? Do you believe? It’s your choice. I choose faith. And I encourage you to do the same.

We are looking at Isaiah 40:28-31 this morning, verses which are both powerful and encouraging.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted. But they 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.

We see in these verses that . . .

God’s people were weary

They were discouraged and overwhelmed because they had been defeated by another nation and taken from their homes and now were living as strangers and exiles in a foreign land – Babylon. Yet they also knew, they had heard, that God still had a purpose for them as a people. And that God had promised to bring them back to their home – Jerusalem.

But in their weariness and despair they wondered: Can God’s promise really be true? Is God really able to come through on it? They were enslaved by the most powerful empire of their day and they were at the mercy of its king. How in the world would they ever be able to leave and return home

Considering all this they were tempted give up, “to faint” as our text says. In the ordeal they were facing, as v. 30 says, “even youths shall faint and be weary and young men shall fall exhausted.” Even the strongest among them were overwhelmed.

And so the prophet speaks God’s word to them.

First of all, he tells them that God is able to come through for them. God is the everlasting God. God is the God who created all things. God is the God who doesn’t grow weary or faint. You know, God isn’t now all of a sudden tired and weak and thus unable to help Israel.

Yes, their situation seems impossible, but God is able to bring them back to the land at the appointed time. God is able to keep his promise to them.

Secondly, the prophet tells them that the Lord can strengthen themInstead of giving up in their difficult situation, to “faint” or to “fall exhausted,” they should “wait for the Lord” – v. 31. To “wait for the Lord” means to have an expectant and confident trust in God and his promises, knowing that God has heard us and knows our situation and will come through.

The prophet is saying, if they look to the Lord in their difficult situation, that is, if they wait on the Lord, God will strengthen them – v. 29. Even though it’s so bad that it overwhelms the strongest among them in their own strength, God gives of his strength to those who look to him. And because of this, their strength will be renewed – v. 31. And they will be able to walk, and to run, and to fly. That is, to keep going even in the midst of their troubles in exile, knowing that God can handle their problems and will deliver them.

And you know what? God did come through for them! God raised up another nation which took over and released the Israelites to go to their home. The promise was fulfilled, they were returned to their land, and God worked out his purpose for them.

Well, I share this with you today because . . .

We too can become weary

We all go through difficulties, whether health crises, financial crises, broken relationships with family or friends, personal failures and weaknesses or in general – experiences of deep pain and suffering.

And we will continue to do so throughout our lives. Our faith is not “escapist.” A false promise that things will be just fine, if you have enough faith. No. This life is full of trials and God doesn’t just step in and take them all away.

And as we go through these hardships we can become overwhelmed, discouraged and faint. And even though we know that God has a purpose for each one of us, and that God has given us “his precious and very great promises” as 2 Peter 1:4 says; promises to help us, to save us and to bring us into his eternal kingdom – we too still doubt at times. We become fearful and exhausted.

And in our despair we ask: Can God’s promises really be true? Is God really able to come through on them? And will God come through for me? We are tempted to give up, “to faint,” to give in to our weariness.

And so we too need to hear the message of the prophet, because there is a word in this for us, each one of us. We need to hear and know that God is able to come through for us. For you and for me!

We may be overwhelmed by our circumstances, but God is not. v. 28 says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” God is able to help us. God is able to keep his promises to us, just as he did with the Israelites.

And we also need to hear and know that the Lord can strengthen us. We too are to “wait for the Lord” – v. 31, knowing that he hears us and knows our situation. And we are to put our hope and trust in God and rely on him. And when we do this God gives us of his strength. As 29 says, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.”

We tap into the strength of the Everlasting God himself; we lean on him, the One who never grows weary or faints. In this way, despite our troubles, our strength is renewed. As 31 says, “the Lord shall renew their strength.” And through this strength we are empowered to move forward in our times of difficulty, because we hope in the Lord; because we know that he will fulfill his promises to us.

We can move forward, as v. 31 says, “They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” In the midst of our problems we will walk and not faint, we will run and not be weary, we will mount up with wings like eagles.

Are you weary this morning? Do you feel overwhelmed? God invites you to come to him and find hope and strength.

 

Today I want us to focus on “How we should relate to one another” in our congregation.

God doesn’t just call and work through individuals. He has called us to be in community; a part of the people of God. That’s how God has always worked. Being in a community together has many advantages –

  • we can accomplish more together
  • we can support one another, and
  • we complement each other with our different gifts as the body of Christ

For these reasons and more to be a Christian means to be a part of the church. It means to be plugged into and active in a local congregation.

But it is also true that being in community with one another can be challenging. Misunderstandings, different personalities and points of view can lead to conflict and pain. But God uses this. This is a part of God’s purpose for having us be together, and not just off all by ourselves serving God independently. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Our interactions with each other are meant to make us better.

God puts us together, as different as we are to stretch us and to teach us what love is really all about. And you can’t learn this unless you are in relationships with others. And I dare say in relationship with people who are different than you are. And like all love, this can be painful.

The problem is that when we experience relationship difficulties we too often respond in inappropriate ways, which compounds the situation. We do what comes naturally to us – in our human weakness and self-centeredness. Things like gossip, slander, always thinking we are right, always wanting our way, holding on to resentments and negative attitudes, being mean, being cliquish, being impatient,   being hard-hearted. The list could go on and on.

We have all seen or experienced or even practiced these kinds of things. (It’s amazing what can happen in churches.) And because of this and the pain it brings, many draw back and don’t want to be a part. And thus God’s purpose is defeated.

And so we need to be reminded, not of what comes naturally to us in the flesh; we need to be reminded of what comes supernaturally to us by the Word of God and the Spirit of God working in our hearts – to care for each other in our relationships with one another.

And to remind us of what this looks like and to challenge us to be this way with each other I want us to look at the “one another” passages this morning. These are various verses in the New Testament that have the phrase “one another” or “each other” and which tell us how we are to relate as brothers and sisters in the Lord. (These are most of the positive exhortations that have to do with two Greek words that mean – “one another” or “each other.” [αλληλων; ῾εαυτου. The latter is marked by an asterisk.])

 I have arranged them into several categories. As we go through these I want you to think about how these might apply to you, and how you relate to others in our fellowship. Where might God be challenging you this morning? Who might you need to make things right with?

1. We are to love one another

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” – John 13:34. Love means acting for the well-being of another. And in this verse Jesus gives us himself as an example. We are to love one another just as Jesus loved us. That is, we are to lay down our lives for one another. We are to sacrifice for the good of one another.

Several other verses also speak to this: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” – 1 John 4:7. “Love one another with brotherly affection.” – Romans 12:10. Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” – 1 Peter 1:22

Do we love one another? It’s not about just words or feeling, but about how we treat one another.

2. We are to welcome one another

Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.” – Romans 15:7. The context here is that of Jews and Gentiles getting along in the church at Rome. Although from very different backgrounds they are to accept each other as fellow believers.

Closely related to this is “Show hospitality to one another.” – 1 Peter 4:9. Hospitality means to be warm and friendly, to make room for someone, to include that person, even if they are different.

Do we welcome one another? Are we warm and friendly with one another?

3. We are to bear one another’s burdens

 Paul says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2. The context here is that of gently correcting each other if we fall into transgression. This is a way of showing our concern for one another. As James 5:19-20 says, “if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death . . .”

But certainly bearing burdens can cover working with all kinds of needs. We are to help one another with our life burdens. The law of Christ is the commandment, “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

4. We are to be at peace with one another

 Jesus said, “Be at peace with one another.”  Mark 9:50. The context here is in part that Jesus’ disciples were arguing with each other about who was the greatest. Not only does he tell them that to be great you must be the servant of all, he tells them to be at peace with one another.

Other verses that speak to this: Live in harmony with one another.” – Romans 12:16. Be at peace *with each other.1 Thessalonians 5:13 (own translation).

Are we living in peace with one another? Do we work through our disagreements and conflicts? Being at peace doesn’t mean pretending that we get along. It means working through things with love and respect for one another, so that our relationships are whole and life-giving.

5. We are to serve one another

 Through love serve one another.” – Galatians 5:13

 A similar verse applies this to using our spiritual gifts to serve each other – “As each has received a gift, use it to serve *one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” – 1 Peter 4:10.

6. We are to bear with one another

. . . with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love . . ..” – Ephesians 4:2. This means to put up with, to tolerate or to endure. If you are married you know that even those couples that love each other the most still have to do this in areas. Here it has to do with the weaknesses in another believer or the things they say and do that might rub you the wrong way.

How are you doing with this?

7. We are to be kind with one another

 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted.” – Ephesians 4:32. That is, don’t be hard hearted, but rather mild, generous or considerate.

8. We are to forgive one another

Our previous verse goes on to say, “. . . forgiving *one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32. When someone has wronged you, choose to love them, and seek to work through it, and when they make things right, restore the relationship.

9. We are to be humble before one another

 Peter says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another.” – 1 Peter 5:5.

A specific example of this comes from Paul, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” – Romans 12:10. Lift up your brother and sisters in the Lord. It’s like a competition,  not for praise, but to give honor and praise to others.

10. We are to teach one another

 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing *one another in all wisdom.” – Colossians 3:16. We are to share with one another of what God has taught us. To admonish is to teach in a way that warns and corrects.

 Along these lines the writer of Hebrews says, “But exhort *one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13.

11. We are to pray for one another

James says, “Pray for one another.” – James 5:16. We are to care for each other by lifting lift up each other’s concerns before the Lord that he might give grace and help in their time of need.

Do you pray for others among us during the week?

12. We are to confess our sins to one another

Our previous verse in its entirety says, “Confess your sins to one another pray for one another, that you may be healed.” – James 5:16. Certainly this means that we confess our sins to the one we have wronged. And it could, when appropriate, mean confessing our sins more broadly than this. This all requires vulnerability before others and honesty.

And then we pray for healing for the person from any discipline the Lord may have allowed them to go through, because of their sin. Once the sin is dealt with, the discipline can be lifted.

13. We are to do good to one another

 Paul says, “Always seek to do good to one another.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:15. He says just before this that we are certainly not to repay evil for evil, or harm for harm to one another. You know, “I’m going to get them back!” Rather we are always to do good to each other.

14. We are to encourage one another

Paul says, “Encourage one another and build one another up.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11. To encourage means to instill someone with courage; to cheer them up, to comfort them. Close in meaning to this is the word “build up,” which means to strengthen or to make more able.

Similarly, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” – Hebrews 10:24. The idea is that we can become complacent or lazy and so we are to act to get each other focused and moving forward.

So here are 14 ways we are to relate to one another:

  1. Love one another
  2. Welcome one another
  3. Bear one another’s burdens
  4. Be at peace with one another
  5. Serve one another
  6. Bear with one another
  7. Be kind to one another
  8. Forgive one another
  9. Be humble before one another
  10. Teach one another
  11. Pray for one another
  12. Confess our sins to one another
  13. Do good to one another
  14. Encourage one another

How are you doing? Do you need to make some changes?

Let the power of God’s Word work in your heart and mind to show you the way. And ask the Spirit to come in power to change your heart in any way that might be needed, so that our relationships with each other will be strong and pleasing to God in every way. And so that we can work here together in unity to do God’s work.

May our relationships be so full of Christian love that people can sense it when they come in to worship with us. May God make this so.

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 11:14-13:1

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 8-13:1, plus Deuteronomy 17 and 1 Samuel 8-13:1

This morning we’re coming to the conclusion of the story of how Israel came to have kings for leaders. It all began in chapter 8 when Israel demanded a king and amazingly God allowed it.

  • After a time, God chose Saul – and so Samuel privately anointed him as prince.
  • Then Saul was chosen by lots, making God’s choice of him public.
  • Then Saul passed the leadership test by delivering Jabesh-gilead from the Ammonites.
  • And finally today he is officially installed as king.

Our passage today is 11:14-13:1. It’s too long to go through verse by verse, so I will summarize parts of it, but I encourage you to follow along in your bibles.

A change from judges to kings

Saul becomes king – 11:14-15

11:14Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.” 15So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.

In these first verses Samuel calls all Israel together to Gilgal, a central location used for religious and political meetings. And v. 15 says, “There they made Saul king before the Lord.”

And then, after having tried before in chapter 8, Samuel actually gives his farewell speech to Israel.

Samuel’s farewell – 12:1-2

12:1And Samuel said to all Israel, “Behold, I have obeyed your voice in all that you have said to me and have made a king over you. 2And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day.

He has walked before them as a leader for many years and is “old and gray.” And now Saul walks before them as the new king. Samuel will remain as a priest and prophet, but will no longer be the national leader or judge.

And then he goes on to establish his integrity as a leader – 12:3-6

3Here I am; testify against me before the Lord and before his anointed (that is, Saul). Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.”

And in vs. 4-6 they all affirm that he has indeed been a righteous leader.

 4They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.” 5And he said to them, “The Lord is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” And they said, “He is witness.” 6And Samuel said to the people, “The Lord is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt.

Can you imagine doing this at your work? Or even at church or with family?  This is a challenge to all of us to live godly lives of integrity and character, like Samuel. This is especially important for leaders who have power and can misuse it to take advantage of others.

Samuel is also drawing a contrast here between the role of a judge, who doesn’t “take” things, to that of a king who will “take” things (same word), as he warned them in chapter 8:11-17. (Notice the contrast also between Samuel and his sons – 8:3)

Next, Samuel goes through their history to make the point that God is able to deliver – vs. 7-12

7Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers. 8When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place. 9But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them. 10And they cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’ 11And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety.

  • He recalls how God raised up Moses to deliver them from Egypt
  • Then they sinned by turning to false gods and idols.
  • And so God gave them over to their enemies for instance Sisera, the Philistines, and Moab (as told in the book of Judges).
  • But in each case God heard their cry and delivered them. He raised up Jerubbaal (or Gideon), Barak, Jephthah and Samuel – and delivered them.

God has been faithful to save. And after Egypt, they only needed deliverance because of their unfaithfulness.

Now the point of this history lesson is that a king is not necessary to deliver Israel; God is able. God was their only king and there was no lack in God that they needed a human king. But they asked anyway.

12And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king.

It was their lack of trust in God to deliver, that led them to ask for a king. Nevertheless, despite all of this God can use kingship for his own purposes – 12:13-15

13And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you. 14If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. 15But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.

God can use kingship. This is why he allows it, and tells Samuel to obey their voice (chapter 8).

Instead of everyone doing what is right in their own eyes (as the book of Judges talks about) a king has the power to lead the people to obey. Although, just as surely, he can use that power to lead them to disobey.

And besides, even with a king, the question is always the same, “Will Israel follow God or false gods?” Their covenant relationship with God has not changed. And so if they do what is right, God will watch over them; but if they do not, they will be judged.

Next we have a miracle that again establishes the point that God is able to deliver – 12:16-18

16Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes. 17Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king.” 18So Samuel called upon the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.

At the time of the wheat harvest there was no rain, so this was unusual. And, of course, Samuel called for it and God acted right away. Also remember, they often looked to false gods who were supposed to be in control of the rain and thunder. But God shows here that he is the only true God.

So both from their history, including under Samuel’s leadership and from this miracle it should be clear that there is no lack on God’s part to save.

But how often do we, in the face of God’s history of faithfulness and our own present experiences of this, still distrust God? God’s faithfulness is beyond question, we are the questionable ones, because we are often faithless. But still we don’t trust God.  We think that there is some lack in God, when God alone is more than sufficient.

This miraculous sign leads the people acknowledge their sin – 12:19

19And all 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 this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.”

Their lack of faith in God and their demand for a king was evil. As Samuel said above “your wickedness is great” in asking for a king when God was already taking care of you. And they confess this here plainly and they ask for Samuel’s prayers to avert judgment.

The next verses speak to Samuel’s continuing role among them – 12:20-25

20And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. 23Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. 24Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. 25But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”

Samuel is no longer a judge, but he is still a prophet and priest. And as such he admonishes them:

  • He tells them to serve the Lord with all their heart.
  • They are to turn away from “empty things” that is, worthless idols and false gods.
  • And he warns them – If they don’t obey – they and their king will be swept away.

He also promises to pray for them and teach them. In vs. 23 he says, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.”

And then our passage ends with a statement about Saul’s reign – 13:1

 13:1Saul was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel forty-two years. (NIV)

The Hebrew text literally says, “Saul was years old when he became king, and reigned two years.” It appears that the text did not survive intact. Some later versions of the Septuagint have 30 years for his age. Acts 13:21 says that Saul reigned for 40 years. (And in one place Josephus agrees with this). So this would be a rounded number for the possibly original number of 42.

Let me end by taking note of –

How great God’s grace is

God’s patience in this whole episode is truly amazing. The reason they needed to be delivered from various enemies in the first place was their unfaithfulness to God. They sinned and God gave them over to their enemies, just as their covenant agreement stipulated. In other words, it was their fault.

But they had the audacity to blame God for not being able to deliver them. They think God is inadequate to take care of them. They think God is at fault.

But then look at God’s patience and grace. Samuel says in v. 20, “Do not be afraid . . ..” God is not going to judge them for this. They will still be judged for other things, like turning to idols, as Samuel says here, but God doesn’t judge them for this.

And then in v. 22 he says, “For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.” Despite what they have done, God is still going to be their God and they will be his people.

  • He does this for his own reputation – since they bear his name.
  • And because it pleases him that they be his people. That is, because he loves his people.

They reject him as king, but he continues to accept them as his people. They wrongly look down on him and his ability to save, but he bears with their very real failures here.  They slander his ability to save, but he gives them words of encouragement. This is a truly amazing example of grace.

And in this episode we see God’s heart revealed; a heart of love for his people. And God has this same love for his people today; for us. And in this we can rejoice. What a great God and King we serve!

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 10:27-11:13

We’re back to the story of Saul in 1 Samuel today, and let’s start off by remembering some of where we’ve been:

  • Israel demanded a king in chapter 8
  • And after a time, Saul was privately anointed as king by Samuel.
  • At the end of this story of anointing, Saul hesitated to attack the Philistines as instructed, which was to have been how his selection was made public, through a military test.
  • So in chapter 10, he is publicly chosen by lot.
  • And today, in chapter 11 we have an alternate test of his ability to fight.

Now, after Saul was chosen by lot, there is a discordant note, which begins our story.

The deliverance of Jabesh-gilead

10:27But some worthless fellows said, “How can this man save us?” And they despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace.

Just before this some valiant men gathered around Saul. But these worthless ones call him into question, even though he was just chosen by God. They didn’t give a present, that is, a gift to honor Saul and to help fund the new monarchy.

And it’s true that there will always be some among the people of God who question leaders or who have a critical spirit and don’t support or honor them; and it’s no different here.

Can Saul really save us? This question sets up our story.

11:1Then Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead . . .

 Jabesh-Gilead is on the eastern side of the Jordan river. This is where part of the tribe of Manasseh, the tribe of Gad and the tribe of Reuben settled. It is also next to the nation of Ammon. Jabesh-gilead is in Gad and is about 40 miles from Gibeah where Saul is.

We find out later that Nahash’s growing power is in part why the people wanted a king in the first place (1 Samuel 12:12)

Now some translations have extra verses at the end of chapter 10, which come from the Dead Sea scrolls, that are probably not original to the Hebrew Bible, but might be an ancient scribe’s attempt to give us some background. These verses say, “Now Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been grievously oppressing the Gadites and the Reubenites. He would gouge out the right eye of each of them and would not grant Israel a deliverer. No one was left of the Israelites across the Jordan whose right eye Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had not gouged out. But there were seven thousand men who had escaped from the Ammonites and had entered Jabesh-gilead. About a month later . . .” (NRSV)

 So, some possible background information here on what’s going on.

Then picking up again with the rest of v. 1, Scripture says – 

. . . and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you.” 2But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “On this condition (or by this means) I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.”

They ask for a treaty, which means they are willing to pay tribute to Nahash and to live under his rule, if there is peace.

There is a wordplay going on here. To make a treaty is literally “to cut a treaty,”  because animals were sacrificed to ratify these. Here Nahash is saying that the cutting out of their eyes will be the way of ratifying the treaty (Tsumura). (And so, “on this condition” should be translated as “by this means.”)

This was an extreme measure, meant to provoke and shame them and all of Israel, if they allow this to happen to their kinsmen. Almost certainly cutting out their right eye was meant to impair their ability to be skilled warriors, since the right eye was used to aim. It was a way of keeping them under his rule.

3The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days’ respite that we may send messengers through all the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you.”

They ask for time to see if anyone will help them.

Now, there is a background story to this one, found in Judges 19-21. It’s the gruesome story of when the men of Gibeah in Benjamin sought to rape a Levite visitor, but instead sexually assaulted and murdered his concubine. He then cut her body into 12 pieces and sent these parts all throughout Israel to call them to punish Benjamin for their crime. Well, Jabesh-gilead didn’t respond to this call. And so as they send out a call here, there is reason to question if any will come to their aid.

4When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter in the ears of the people, and all the people wept aloud.

 Again, there is background here from Judges 21. The other tribes fought against Benjamin and nearly wiped them out. But they didn’t want to lose a tribe, so they relented and sought wives for the remaining men. Since Jabesh-gilead didn’t respond to the call to punish Benjamin and the city of Gibeah, they were attacked and 400 young women from Jabesh-gilead were taken to give to the 600 men that were left of Benjamin. So there is a close kinship connection between Jabesh-gilead and Benjamin, and here specifically the city of Gibeah.

So it’s no surprise that the messengers come to Gibeah and to Saul hoping for a response. And it’s no surprise that there is such weeping.

5Now, behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen. And Saul said, “What is wrong with the people, that they are weeping?” So they told him the news of the men of Jabesh.

Though anointed king and publicly selected, he is still a farmer for now, and as we will see below, Samuel still has a leadership role.

And so he comes in from the fields after work to hear the news.

6And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled.

The Spirit comes to empower Saul to be king and deliverer. Specifically, the Spirit stirs up righteous anger about what Nahash is doing. Righteous anger is meant to stir us up to do the right thing.

And then in a move reminiscent of Judges 19-21,

7He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of the messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!”

(The phrase, “throughout all the territory of Israel” is also found in Judges 19:29.)

He is calling all of Israel to respond to Nahash and his outrageous behavior.

There must have surely been a temptation for people to want to stay home and do their farm work. But the threat is that if they don’t come their oxen, which today would be equivalent to their farm equipment, will be destroyed. Then they won’t be able to work for the foreseeable future.

(That he kills his own oxen might be a sign that he is not going to be a farmer anymore, but will now be king.)

Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. 8When he mustered them at Bezek, the people of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand.

God worked through the message that Saul sent out and everyone responded.

9And they said to the messengers who had come, “Thus shall you say to the men of Jabesh-gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you shall have salvation.’” When the messengers came and told the men of Jabesh, they were glad. 10Therefore the men of Jabesh said, “Tomorrow we will give ourselves up to you, and you may do to us whatever seems good to you.”

The phrase, “we will give ourselves up to you” is more simply translated, “we will come out to you.” Which could mean to surrender or to march out for war. But the Ammonites take it that they will surrender, which instills complacency in them.

11And the next day Saul put the people in three companies. And they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. And those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

So Saul is strategic in dividing up his army and in attacking in the morning watch, sometime between 2 and 6 in the morning, when an already unsuspecting army is further off guard. And it was a complete victory.

(Notice that in the first past of the story that Nahash sought to cut out their eyes. But here the people of Jabesh-gilead say to them “do to us whatever seems good to you or in your eyes” and then the Ammonites are struck or “cut” down.) (The people of Jabesh-gilead were faithful to Saul when he died – 1 Samuel 31:11-13; 2 Samuel 2:4-7; 21:12)

12Then the people said to Samuel, “Who is it that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Bring the men, that we may put them to death.” 13But Saul said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.”

Remember, before “he held his peace” when they questioned him. And here Saul displays real character and grace, by counseling that no one be punished. And he gives full credit to God for the deliverance wrought through him.

This request “bring us the men (the worthless ones – 10:27) that we may put them to death” echoes Judges 20:13, “give up the men, (the worthless fellows of Gibeah) that we may put them to death.”

So Saul has passed the test! and the people are behind him. Next, we will see him being officially recognized as king and Samuel will give his farewell to the people.

Now let’s look at some –

Challenges for us

– from this story. One lesson is that 1. With the call comes the anointing. I have mentioned this before. God doesn’t call us to do things that he doesn’t empower us to accomplish.

  • Saul was called to be king and we see here that God’s Spirit came upon him and enabled him to defeat the Ammonites.
  • Saul is able, in the Lord, to overcome his fear; his core weakness, to do what God called him to do.

This was his finest hour. But this also shows us that when Saul fails in the coming chapters, it was because of his choices and giving in to his fears, not because he couldn’t do it with God’s help.

What does God want you to do? He will empower you to do it. Even if it goes against your core weakness. God’s power is made perfect in our human weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Saul is and example of this here.

2. God is able to save. This is a key theme in this story. The word for save/salvation (or deliverance) shows up 4 times in this story (10:27, 11:3, 9, 13) ending with Saul’s words, “today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.”

This is one more in a long line of examples of how God is able to save his people, no matter what the situation is.

Now, this story can be read typologically, that is, it presents to us a foreshadowing of what is true today in the time of Christ.

Nahash’s name means serpent. The people of Jabesh-gilead are thus under the power of the evil one. Saul the deliverer represents the promised Messiah; God’s anointed one who saves.

And so the question is, what do you need delivered from? Sin and Satan are spoken of as powers that enslaves us.

  • Jesus says in John 8:34, “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” But he also says, “if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.”
  • In Luke 11 Jesus speaks of us as captives of the strongman, Satan. But he says of himself, “when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him . . . he takes away his spoil,” that is, us.

What do you need to be delivered from? God will work through our king, Jesus to set you free! And not only that, he can begin to use us to help set others free, just as the Israelite army does in this story.

God is able to save. God saves us from Sin and the evil one. And God wants to use us to set other people free.