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Posts Tagged ‘God’s judgment’

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 14:47-15:9

Our topic today, the destruction of the Amalekites, is really just background in terms of what is focused on in the broader story of 1 Samuel 15, which is Saul’s disobedience. We will come back to this theme.

Background

The events of Exodus 17:8-16 set up our story. This tells how the Amalekites attacked Israel, when they were leaving Egypt. And God promised there that because of this “I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (v. 14).

And then Deuteronomy 25:17-19 says, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.” These verses establish Amalek’s guilt. They sought to destroy Israel, killing the weak among them. And so God will use Israel to destroy them.

If you’re wondering why the material on Saul’s family and military pursuits comes here, it shows that the right conditions have been met, according to Deuteronomy 25, “when God has given you rest.” Israel had rest under Saul and so now is the time to deal with Amalek. (V. Philips Long)

Questions

Now as Christians we rightly have questions about the destruction of whole peoples. If this was merely background in their day because this kind of warfare was known and practiced around them (and so we see no reaction to it recorded in Scripture) for many today this is the focus (even the only focus) of reading this passage.

We know that God loves and cares for all people. So, why would God command this, and previous to this the destruction of the Canaanite nations? These are the two, and only two places where this command is given.

Devotion to destruction

Referring to the Canaanites Deuteronomy 7:2 says, “you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.” And Joshua 6:21 records the fulfillment of this in relation to Jericho – “Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.”

And these are Samuel’s words to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:3 – “Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

These verses speak of the practice of Herem, a Hebrew word which refers to something beyond normal warfare – protecting land or invading but making treaties and intermarrying. It is translated here as “devote to destruction,” something more brutal and bloody than the already brutal and bloody warfare of the day in which they lived.

So this is our topic.

What should we say about this?

First, we need to see what actually took place, which is to say that 1. not everyone was killed. Scripture itself makes this clear.

In the case of the Canaanites, Joshua 10:40 says, “So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded.” (This refers to the conquest of southern Canaan. See also Joshua 11:12 for his conquest of northern Canaan.) So Joshua was successful and fulfilled the command of the Lord (Deuteronomy 7:2).

But . . . later Joshua 23:12 talks about “the remnant of these nations remaining among you” and gives instructions for how to relate to them. (See also Joshua 13:13; 15:63; 16:10; 17:13. Also Judges 1:1-4. And note the contrast regarding Hebron between Joshua 10:36-37 and Judges 1:10.) Many Canaanites remained.

So there’s some hyperbole going on here. You can actually see this in the space of one verse in Joshua 10:20 – “When Joshua and the sons of Israel had finished striking them with a great blow until they were wiped out, and when the remnant that remained of them had entered into the fortified cities . . .” it goes on to say that Joshua’s army came back to him. So they are “wiped out,” but in the same sentence, it acknowledges that a “remnant” remains.

In the case of the Amalekites, Saul was faithful to the command. As 1 Samuel 15:8 says he, “devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword.” Except, of course, he left king Agag alive and as well, the good livestock. There’s no criticism of him other than these two things. So a straightforward reading of the story seems to tell us that all the rest of the Amalekites are dead.

But . . . later 1 Samuel 27:8 says, “Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the inhabitants of the land from of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt.” Many Amalekites remained. Even in the same geographical area. And later in chapter 30 they attack David. (See also 1 Chronicles 4:43. In the book of Esther, Haman was an Agagite.)

So there’s some hyperbole going on here too. Just as Joshua destroyed the Canaanites, and is praised for being faithful – but many remained, so Saul destroyed the Amalekites, and carried out the instructions in this regard – but many remained.

In both of these cases a Herem war can come across as the complete destruction of a people. Now, this was, no doubt, a bloody affair, but it was not this. In the first, Joshua dealt a crippling blow to the Canaanites to establish Israel in the land. In the second, Saul dealt a crippling blow to the Amalekites who were mortal enemies of Israel.

Judging from all this, it seems that the commands to “devote to destruction” (Herem) were never meant to accomplish complete destruction.

Now, in all of this, we need to understand that 2. God is the sovereign judge of all peoples and nations. As our creator, God has the right and even the obligation to judge evil. Do we not get frustrated when God doesn’t deal with evil as quickly as we want?

And all nations and peoples deserve judgment because of human sin and evil. This is not the world God intended. And it is this way because God allows us to make our own choices. And we are accountable to our creator for these choices.

And God can choose how and when judgment will happen. That’s what it means to be sovereign. The timing and severity of God’s judgments are set by God. Some things are more fully judged in this life, and some will be more fully judged in the age to come. So yes, God can bring about a severe judgment on the Canaanites and the Amalekites for their evil, and others experience less intense expressions of this. Just as God brought a more severe judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah – fire from heaven – than on other sinful peoples.

And God still raises up nations to judge other nations in various ways – just as God used Babylon to judge his sinful people, Judah and then in turn judged Babylon for their sin and evil at the hand of the Persians. And God continues to use the governments of nations to punish evil among their citizens.

The bottom line is that this is not Israel acting on its own. This is God the rightful judge of he universe, sovereignly choosing to judge the Canaanites and the Amalekites.

And judgment, whether in this life or the next is never a pleasant thing. It involves suffering and death. As Paul says, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” – Hebrews 10:31.

We know that none of this was God’s original plan. And given who God is, as Ezekiel 18:23 says, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked?  . . . and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” – given this, we know that God judges with a heavy heart.

Now, if we accept the message of the book of Job, that we as humans are not in a place to assess the full moral calculus of God’s administration of this sinful world, we should still note that 3. God is working here in the context of a moral framework.

In both cases we are looking at, the Canaanites and the Amalekites, there are reasons for judgment.

  • Amalek’s attempt to wipe out Israel, which we have seen. (In 1 Samuel 15:18 God call them “the sinners.”)
  • And the religious and moral depravity of the Canaanites. This is noted in numerous passages – things like idolatry, child sacrifice, religious prostitution, incest and more. (Genesis 15:16; Leviticus 18:24-25; 20:22-24; Deuteronomy 9:5; 12:29-31; Hebrews 11:31.)

But also in both cases there is amazing patience on God’s part.

  • He gave the Canaanites 400 years to change according to Genesis 15:16. And no doubt God was working among them, seeking their change. But they didn’t. They got worse.
  • And likewise there is a similar span of centuries between Amalek’s attack and the judgment for this. And no doubt God was working among them. But they continued to be hostile to Israel.

Also, we need to remember that non-Israelites could escape by becoming a part of Israel, just as Rahab and her family escaped Jericho. They were to show no mercy, but there was mercy for those who turned to the true God. No doubt many of the remnant of the Canaanites that remained in Israel eventually became a part of Israel.

God also severely judged his people when they practiced what the Canaanites did. God doesn’t play favorites. The northern kingdom of Israel was judged and passed from the annals of history. The southern kingdom of Judah was judged and spent 70 years in exile, vomited out of the land for their sins, just as the Canaanites were. (Leviticus 18:28; Jeremiah 25:9; Amos 3:2)

We also need to take into account 4. the context of God’s larger purpose. These severe judgments were a part of a bigger process of movement forward meant to bless all peoples and nations. This was God’s purpose for Israel. He said to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 – “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Israel had to be established, and protected from the influence of idolatry to accomplish its mission to the world (Deuteronomy 7:4; 12:29-31). And as the prophets foresaw, this mission comes to include even Israel’s foremost enemies (Zephaniah 3:9-10; Zechariah 9:7; Isaiah 19:23-25) including for sure the Canaanites and the Amalekites.

Finally, 5. God’s highest revelation in Jesus commands us to love even our enemies. One of the most difficult parts in all of this , is that God used his own people as the instrument of his judgment. So could God come to us today and command us to do this? The answer is clearly no.

In certain situations, God allowed and even commanded his people to hate (Deuteronomy 23:6) and kill their enemies (Deuteronomy 7:2) in the Old Testament. Jesus notes this and then raises the standard in Matthew 5:43-44. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

And whatever love means, it certainly does not include killing the person. So not only are Christians forbidden to even entertain the thought of devoting people to destruction, we are not to be involved in any situation that would lead us to kill someone.

Things have indeed changed. We are living under the New Covenant, not the Old. Yes, there is still judgment and the final judgment is coming. But God’s people are not to be his instrument of destruction, but his instrument of grace to the world.

(I am indebted to Christopher J.H. Wright, Paul Copan and Stephen N. Williams)

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Follow the link for The literary structure of 1 Samuel 2:1-10

We are finishing up the stories about Hannah in 1 Samuel today. We have covered her prayer for a son, her gift to God of her son and now today we cover her praise to God.

I said when we began this series, that Hannah was a strong and godly woman and I want to take note of this briefly before we get to our passage today in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.

Hannah was a strong woman

  • She endured a great deal of testing – her rival wife’s taunting and a husband who didn’t really get it. She put up with a lot.
  • She prayed boldly at the tabernacle by herself, which must have been unusual in that day.
  • She made a vow to give up her child to God, without talking to her husband first.
  • She placed her child under a Nazarite vow, without talking to her husband first.
  • She defended her character before the High priest and ruler of the land, when he thought she was drunk. She stood up for herself; she spoke up.
  • She named her son, not her husband.
  • She decided when to take Samuel to give to the Lord, 3 or more years later, after he was weaned.
  • She brought Samuel to Eli and offered him up. Even though both she and her husband were there she is the one who says, “I have lent him to the Lord” – 1 Samuel 1:28.

We already know from the story that her Elkanah loved her, but we can see here that he respected her. Her strength was not a threat to him. He accepted her vow to give up the child who was his son as well; he accepted that the child would be a Nazarite; and he accepted that Hannah would fulfill her vow after Samuel was weaned, saying, “do what seems best to you” -1 Samuel 1:23.

She was a strong woman, but also –

Hannah was a godly woman

  • She did not return evil for evil, harm for harm to Peninnah.
  • She took her problem to the Lord, she didn’t scheme; she didn’t fight with Peninnah; she didn’t rely on the flesh.
  • She knew how to pray boldly and persistently
  • She had great faith in God to answer her prayer
  • She kept her word, the vow that she made to God.
  • She was very generous in her offerings to the Lord
  • She gave the gift of her son to serve God forever
  • She publicly worshiped and praised God for his goodness to her.

Well, not only was she strong and godly, as we will see, she was a prophet as well. This leads us to our verses for today.

Hannah’s praise to God

I want to point out four things from these verses. And the first is found in vs. 1-2. 1. Hannah thanked God for answered prayer.

1And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. 2There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.”

She was reviled for not being able to have a child. She was looked down on. Some would have said that God was punishing her. But God heard her prayer and lifted her up. And in response, she not only brought an offering, and gave her son – she also spoke out words of praise to God, publicly, for all to hear. And notice how wholehearted and personal it is – “my heart . . . I rejoice.”

The phrase “my horn is exalted” is not something we go around saying, but it was a way of talking about one’s strength or victory, like an animal that wins a battle and lifts up its head. It can also refer to having a progeny (1 Chronicles 25:5) which she gained through Samuel.

She confesses her strong faith in a God who is beyond compare:

  1. there is none holy like the Lord
  2. there is no God besides God, that is, the one true God
  3. there is no rock like God

And this should remind us that we should also thank God for answered prayer. We might be quick to ask for prayer, but we need to be just as quick to give praise to God when he acts to save and bless us, and to do so publicly. This is only right and it also encourages and strengthens others when they hear what God is doing.

This is a real theme in the book of Psalms. Here is just one example. Psalm 40:10 says, “I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” God had helped him and he told others about it. And likewise, we need to make it known how great God is through our public praises before the congregation. Just like Hannah did.

2. God knows about and judges the arrogant. The focus of verses 3-5 is found in verse three.

3Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth”

The enemies of the faithful are the proud and the arrogant. And these are always boasting and talking it up. They lift themselves up over God’s people. This certainly applies to Peninnah, but also more broadly to the Philistines who were dominating and oppressing Israel at this time.

Next we learn something about God that relates to this.

“for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.”

What she is saying is that God knows and hears all that the arrogant say and do and God will weigh, or judge all their words and actions.

And then we have three examples of how God judges by means of reversal, putting down the arrogant and raising up the lowly who look to him.

4The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. 5Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.”

  • The militarily strong and the weak change places
  • The well fed and the hungry change places
  • The woman who can’t have children and the one who can change places.

In each of these cases the arrogant who are lifted up are put down and the lowly who look to God are raised up by the hand of God.

Who are your enemies? Do you have any; those who oppose and deride you? Hannah’s message is clear know that God hears the boasts of your enemies and will act. You can trust God to take care of things.

In verses 6-9 we learn that 3. God is able to judge the powerful. The focus here is found in v. 9 and works its way backwards (in parallel to the material above – see the literary structure), so we will go through these verses in reverse order.

9for not by might shall a man prevail.”

The enemies of the faithful are powerful in this world’s eyes. But they depend on mere human strength – whether military, social or political. They rely on their own wisdom and resources.

Next we learn something about God that relates to this –

8For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world. 9He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness”

V. 8 is talking about creation and how God has established the dry land on the waters by means of pillars, as it were. And so she’s saying, God is more than able to take care of his own and judge the wicked, no matter how powerful they may seem to be, because he is the same God who created the world and all that is in it.

And then we have another set of three of examples of God’s judgment that reverses the order of things.

6The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 7The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. 8He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.”

God holds the power of life and death. He can raise up and he can put down. Indeed, God can reverse any situation and set things right. The same power that God used to create the world is more than enough to reorder things and bring about justice and righteousness.

Do your enemies seem powerful? Hannah’s message to us is this – God is more powerful than any enemy we have, and he can take care of us.

4. God will use his anointed to bring victory. In v. 10 Hannah looks ahead with regard to her son Samuel and beyond.

10The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

She sees prophetically that her son will be a judge whom God uses to bring about victory over the Philistines. God will thunder from heaven to defeat the Philistines, just as he does in 1 Samuel 7:10. He is God’s anointed being a prophet, priest and judge.

Not only has God given her a victory over her arrogant and powerful enemies, God will act for all Israel through Samuel.

God will “exalt the horn” of her son and give him victory to lift up the Israelites and to put down the Philistines.

(Samuel was not a “king” or called “anointed.” Israel didn’t technically have a king at this time. This language should be taken like the “prince” and “throne” language of v. 8 in a more generic sense. Israel’s leaders could be called princes, as in Judges 5:15, and a judge ruled – Ruth 1:1 – they decided legal cases and they led in battle. But they weren’t a king like the nations around them had, who had total control of a nation state.)

But her prophetic voice doesn’t just address Samuel. It looks forward to king David, God’s anointed and how God will use him to bless Israel. (The titles of “king” and “anointed” fit David better. God also thunders for David  – 2 Samuel 22:14.) And this is where 1 and 2 Samuel is going – the stories of David.

And ultimately her prophetic vision looks forward to the Son of David – Jesus the Christ, or the anointed one.

  • For it is only with Jesus that resurrection comes as v. 6 says, “he brings down to Sheol and raises up”, that is from the dead.
  • And it is only with Jesus that lasting reversal comes, as he talks about in the beatitudes, when the hungry will be well fed, and the well fed will be hungry – Luke 6.
  • And it is only with Jesus that all the earth will be judged as v. 10 says, he will “judge the ends of the earth,” that, is the whole world.

Hannah as a prophet gives us a picture of the future, from Samuel’s adult life all the way to when Jesus returns and rules over the world.

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