May 2, 2015

Daily Scripture and Comments, May 3-9

May 3

1 Sam. 2:22-36,  Jn 11:30-57
1 Sam. 3,  Rom. 2

Commentary,

 1 Samuel 2:22-36

The sons of Eli are wicked, and their office will be taken from them. Samuel will take their place. Though not a Levite, the office of the priest will be given to him, and he will be the faithful priest that shall do according to that which is in the heart of God (vs.35). And yet there is another Priest, the great High Priest, who is the source and the fulfillment of the Old Testament priesthood. He is faithful beyond the faithfulness of any mere human priest. And the sacrifice He offers atones for all of our sins forever.  He is Christ, our Lord.

1 Samuel 3

God's Covenant with Israel included the promise that he would raise up another prophet like Moses and that the office of the prophet will continue as long as Israel remains faithful to God. But, in this dark age of apostasy, God has almost entirely withdrawn the ministry of the prophet.  “The word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” This means prophets are rare, and the few who exist do not often speak publicly. Of course the people still have the books of Moses and Joshua, and these books are sufficient guides to faith and practice.  So the children of Israel are not without the knowledge of God and His will.  Their real problem is not lack of knowledge, it is lack of obedience to the knowledge they have.  They have the truth, but  they hold and suppress it in unrighteousness, In its place they imagine and follow vain and false ideas, and their foolish hearts are darkened.  So, by not sending an abundance of prophets to them, God is simply giving them what they want.  They want to be free of Him, and He has turned them over to their reprobate desires (see Rom. 1:19-32).

Verses 2-18 record God calling Samuel and charging him with his first message.  It is a message of sorrow for Samuel, and for the house of Eli. The sons of Eli are priests in the Tabernacle of God by virtue of being of the tribe of Levi.  But they are wicked men, and they abuse their calling and their people.  Therefore, God is going to remove them from their office.  Even Eli will be taken from the office, for he knows the sins of his sons, but he “restrained them not” (vs. 13).  Eli accepts this as the justice of God.

Samuel’s calling and ministry become well known in Israel.  The people of Israel, who had stayed away from the Tabernacle, begin to come again to sacrifice and worship God.  They know the house of God is served by honest  ministers again, and they know the Lord is there and He speaks through Samuel.

What grace and patience we see in our long-suffering God.  Israel has broken the Covenant (again), and He would be perfectly just to cast them away and let the entire world die in its sin.  But He continues to work in and bless this rebellious and foolish people.  And He continues His plan to bring the Saviour into the world through Israel.  He does not continue to work with Israel, or us, because we are good, or valuable, or worthy of His love in any way.  The whole point made here is that all people are completely unworthy of God, and are of no value to Him.  It is precisely because we are unworthy and without value that He condescends to save us.  He saves us because He is merciful, not because we are worth saving. This teaching of Scripture is completely incompatible with the popular slogan, “I know I am somebody because God doesn’t make junk.”  

May 4

1 Sam. 4,  Jn. 12:1-19
1 Sam. 5, Rom. 3

Commentary,

1 Samuel 4

The chapter begins with a Philistine victory over Israel.  The Philistines occupy an area of western Canaan, along the Mediterranean coast.  Today it is know as the Gaza strip.  The Philistines have been particularly troublesome to Israel, and they will continue to harass and oppress her.  They are the ones who gave Samson so much trouble.  Goliath was a Philistine.  A united Israel could have easily defeated the Philistines, but isolated tribes with policies of appeasement rather than defense, could not stop their constant invasions.

Following their defeat, Israel decides to take the Ark of the Covenant into the next battle.  The Ark was built at Sinai and contained the stone tablets we know as the Ten Commandments.  The decision is not a religious one.  It is not a sign of repentance, or returning to God by Israel.  It is an act of superstition.  The Ark is treated as a good luck charm, and Israel hopes its magic is strong enough to enable her to defeat the Philistines. 

The hope is in vain.  God not only allows the Philistines to inflict a terrible slaughter on Israel, He also allows the pagans to capture the Ark.  The sons of Eli are killed in the battle, and Eli also dies when he receives the news.

The name of Eli’s grandson is a summary of the social/spiritual condition of Israel.  Ichabod, 
“The glory is departed,” means the Ark is passed out of Israel, and the glory of God has withdrawn also.

1 Samuel 5

The glory of the Lord did not descend upon the Philistines with the Ark.  Instead of blessing, the Ark brought sorrow and death to them. Verse 6 says, “The hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emrods.”

Ashdod is just a short distance from the Mediterranean Sea.  It is best known as the site of the temple of the Philistine god, Dagon.  The Ark, captured from Israel, is brought to this town because it is deep in Philistine territory, and is fairly safe from attack by Israelites seeking to retrieve the Ark.  Capturing the Ark is a  major event for the Philistines.  To them it signifies that their Dagon has overcome the God of Israel, but God soon relieves them of this delusion.  He smites the Philistines with emrods, or, tumors.  Many, many Philistines die.

Attempting to rid themselves of the Ark, the people of Ashdod move it a few miles east to Gath.  But the same tumors kills many in that city, and they decide to move the Ark north to Ekron.  Ekron does not want the Ark to enter it.  Its people even accuse the other Philistines of trying to kill them by bringing the Ark to their city.  They offer the only intelligent answer to the question of what to do with the Ark; “let it go again to its own place” (vs. 11).

May 5

1 Sam. 6,  Jn. 12:20-50
1 Sam. 7, Rom. 4

Commentary,

1 Samuel 6

The foolish and idolatrous Philistines are wise enough to send the Ark back to Israel with a  sin offering.  The offering consists of five golden replicas of tumors, and five golden images of mice.  We understand that the tumors represent the tumors which killed so many Philistines, but the significance of the mice is not as clear.  Some scholars believe the bubonic plague struck the Philistines while the Ark was in their possession, and that the mice represent it as the carriers of the disease.  It is questionable whether the people understood the connection between mice and plague at that time, but it is one possible explanation.

The Ark is placed on a cart pulled by milk cows, and sent on its way toward a town near Bethlehem called, Beth-shemesh.  But the foolish men of Beth-shemesh look into the Ark instead of calling the priests to handle it as the Law demands, and the Lord strikes them dead, just as He did the Philistines. They also want to ride themselves of the Ark, and convince the people of Kirath-jerim to take it.

1 Samuel 7

The Ark remains in Kirath-jerim for twenty years.  During this time there is a small revival of faith and Godliness among the people of Israel.  By God’s grace, He has prepared for this time of revival.  Samuel is now prepared to lead Israel as a prophet, and as a central figuer in civil governance.  Samuel is something like a new Moses, and he continues the functions onece performed by Moses.  This is a great time in Israel’s history.  She has neglected and rejected God, but God has not rejected her.  His grace still blesses her, by sending a prophet like unto Moses.

Israel gathers at Mizpeh (near Bethel) to worship and seek God.  The meeting is called and led by Samuel.  As they meet, the Philistines invade, intending to destroy the army of Israel in one, devastating campaign.  But God intercedes.  An unnaturally loud peal of thunder surprises and demoralises the Philistine army.  The soldiers begin to retreat, but they are deep in Israel, and safety and reinforcements are far away.  By the hand of God, Israel is given a massive victory.  They pursue the Philistines out of Israel and deep into Philistine territory.  The Philistine fortresses of Gath and Ekron fall before Israel.  Verse 14 seems to indicate that this invasion went all the way to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  The hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel, and there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.  Samuel makes continuous rounds through Israel, judging, preaching, and teaching Israel to learn and keep the Law more importantly, He unites Israel into a Godly people again.

May 6

1 Sam. 8,  Jn. 13
1 Sam. 9,  Rom. 5

Commentary,

1 Samuel 8

The primary subject of chapter 8 is Israel’s request for a king. In the context of the times, this does not seem to be an unreasonable request. Samuel is old, and unable to make the constant journeys necessary to hold the nation together, either politically or spiritually. He has passed much of his ministry on to his sons, but they are wicked men who pervert justice for bribes. In addition, Deuteronomy 17:14-20 seems to promise to give Israel a king. So this was in God's mind as well as in Israel’s mind. Why then is God displeased?

His displeasure seems to be with the spirit of the request rather than the request itself. Israel is not asking God to fulfill a promise. The people are not asking for a godly king who will rule under God. They are asking for a king because they don't trust God to give them peace and security. Their request is an act of unbelief and an expression of their lack of faith. It is a step away from God, and a step back toward the practices of the unbelieving nations around Israel. It is a step back into unbelief. Admittedly, the request is not a complete return to paganism, but it is a definite step away from God.

This step will have tragic consequences, which Samuel sadly warns them of in verses 11 through 18. Israel will suffer these consequences many times under the rule of greedy and wicked despots. Other nations also have, and continue, to suffer under cruel and oppressive governments. Flawed and frail human beings have a tendency to abuse power. The same power that can be used to defend the people can also be used to oppress them. Beware of placing too much power in too few hands.

1 Samuel 9

Saul is exactly the kind of man Israel wants for a king.  Very tall and handsome, outwardly religious, yet able to compromise the faith for expedience and convenience, he is the kind of person the world naturally follows.  He has no reservations about assuming the role of priest, and  he will use his position as king to further his own wealth and power.  People in leadership positions tend to do this, don’t they?

May 7

1 Sam. 10,  Jn. 14
1 Sam. 11,  Rom. 6

Commentary,

1 Samuel 10

Samuel gathers the people at Mizpeh, a small village about 8  miles north west of Jerusalem.  Verses 1-16 tell of Saul’s anointing and preparation for assuming the role of king.  Verses 17-26 tell of Saul’s public coronation.  Samuel wisely tells the people “the manner of the kingdom,” and writes the same in a book, which he places in the Sanctuary of God, for there is no Temple at this time.

What was in the book of the “manner of the kingdom?” The Rev’d. Matthew Henry believed it was a written text of Samuel’s warning to Israel, as found in 1 Samuel 8. He wrote, it was about the “arbitrary power kings will assume,” written as a witness against Israel to remind the people that “they had drawn the calamity upon themselves.”  Doctors Keil and Delitzsch believed it contained regulations about “the rights and duties of the human king in relation to Jehovah the King on the one hand, and the nation on the other.” There is also the possibility that the book could have included both, and more.

1 Samuel 11

The chapter opens with Saul in his hometown of Gibeah.  He is doing something every civil and religious leader should do regularly, he is plowing.  He is doing humble, manual labour.  He learns that an Ammonite named Nahash has besieged the Israelite town of Jabesh Gilead, of the tribe of Manasseh on the eastern side of the Jordan River about 20 miles south of the Sea of Galilee.

The people of Jabesh Gilead offer themselves as servants to the Ammonites if they cannot get help from other Israelites.  Nahash’s retort promises humiliation and pain, but also agrees to allow the town to seek help.  Nahash should have simply taken Jabesh Gilead.  His offer to allow the town to seek help seems to be based on the assumption that Israel is still suffering under the disunity and isolationism that characterised it in the time of the Judges.  He is wrong.

When Saul learns of the threat, he kills his oxen and sends the pieces throughout Israel with the message, “Whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen.”  This could mean Saul will make war on those Israelites who do not join him in defending Jabesh Gilead. It could mean that, letting the Ammonites take Jabesh Gilead gives the enemies of Israel an open invitation to conquer Israel piece by piece and tribe by tribe. A combination of meanings is also possible.

Whatever the message, the Israelites get it. Three hundred thousand men come from the tribes of northern Israel.  They are joined by thirty thousand from the tribe of Judah.  Saul divides the army into three companies.  The largest one makes a frontal attack on the Ammonites.  The other two attack the right and left flanks.  With Jabesh Gilead on the rear, Nahash is surrounded, and suffers an enormous defeat that almost annihilates his army.

An enthusiastic crowd wants to kill all Israelites who opposed Saul (10:27).  Saul wisely counsels forgiveness and unity.  This act of mercy, coupled with his astounding victory at Jebesh Gilead, endears Saul to the people.  They gather at Gilgal in the territory of Benjamin.  There they again formally recognise Saul as king, and give their allegiance to him.  


May 8

1 Sam. 12,  Jn. 15
1 Sam. 13,  Rom. 7

Commentary, 

1 Samuel 12

Samuel addresses the gathering in Gilgal.  He reminds Israel that it was God, not Moses, or the Judges, or Samuel who established and defended Israel from Egypt to Canaan.  The point is that it is not Saul who gave the victory at Jebesh Gilad.  Nor was it the formidable might of a unified Israelite army.  The victory is from God, not man.

He reminds the Israelites that their demand for a king was a sinful affront to God (vs. 12), yet God promises that grace and blessings will come to Israel through the king if the people, and the  king, obey the commandments of God.  This obedience must be neither mechanical, nor done to manipulate God.  It must be done with the whole heart; from love of God and gratitude for His wondrous grace to Israel.  The essence of Samuel’s sermon is in verses 24 and 25.

1 Samuel 13

The remainder of Saul’s first year passes in relative quiet.  Saul, rather than using the time to organise the nation, seems to fritter away the time.  At the end of his second year he raises a tiny army of 3,000 men.  1,000 are with his son, Jonathan; 2,000 are with Saul.  Meanwhile, the men of Israel return to their homes.  This allows the Philistines to advance into Israel again.  Their control of the territories of Judah and Benjamin is so complete that the Israelites are without weapons, and are forced to hide goods and food, and even themselves from the Philistines.  The Philistines even have a garrison in Geba, in central Benjamin, just a few miles from Saul’s base of operations, Gibeah.

This means the tribes of Israel have drifted back into isolationism.  They have allowed their enemies to invade their southwestern and central areas, and to keep troops within those areas.  The Philistines continuously plunder and pillage the Hebrews, and have forcefully disarmed the local citizenry.  Israel’s lack of weapons leaves them open to any and all Philistines depredations.

Saul sends Jonathan on a successful raid against the Philistines at Geba.  But the Philistines are enraged, rather than disheartened by their defeat.  They send a massive army into the heart of the Benjamite territory, and the Israelites flee and hide from the invaders.  Saul remains in Gilgal, along with some loyal, but very frightened people.

Apparently Saul has received word from Samuel that he is coming to Gilgal to pray and sacrifice with the people.  But Saul is impatient and takes it upon himself to offer the sacrifices.  Now Saul is not only incompetent, but also sacrilegious, as he takes upon himself the office of priest and prophet.  In one sense, we can identify with Saul’s actions.  Samuel is late by several days.  The people are afraid and many soldiers are deserting.  The Philistine army less than 10 miles away, and can strike easily and quickly.  The situation is desperate, and seems to call for desperate action.

Saul’s actions are exactly what the world would expect and admire in a leader.  He takes decisive action to unify the people and disperse their fears by leading in the prayers and sacrifices.  But Israel is still the Church of the Old Testament, not a secular nation, and God is still the real King of Israel, and He has called and established the priests to lead the prayers and sacrifices.  Saul’s actions, therefore represent a lack of faith as well as overt disobedience.  He does not trust God to deliver Israel in His own way and own time.  He does not trust God to keep the Philistines away until Samuel arrives.  Worse, Saul usurps power and positions that are forbidden to him.  He assumes he is the head of the Church, and, therefore, the chief priest, and acts accordingly.

The result of this usurpation is devastating for Saul and Israel.  The kingdom is taken away from Saul.  This means his sons and grandsons will not be kings.  That office will go to others, not related to Saul.  Most of the other kings will be even worse than Saul.  They will slay the priests and prophets, pervert justice, and lead Israel into idolatry and immorality.  It seems that all of the bad things God warned Israel about happen continuously due to ungodly kings.  Few of the good things happen under the leadership of Godly kings.   Thus we see again one of the Bible’s continuing themes: God requires us to do things His way, and trust Him with the rest; but we insist on dong things our way, and want God to bless them. 


May 9

1 Sam. 14:1-23, Jn. 16
1 Sam. 14:24-52, Rom. 8

Commentary,

1 Samuel 14

In spite of Saul’s disobedience, God gives Israel a great victory over the Philistines.  The two armies meet a few miles north of Gibeah at Michmash.  God sends an earthquake that fills the Philistines with so much fear they begin killing each other in their attempt to flee.  Though weak in other skills, Saul is a fairly competent military leader.  He does not allow the fleeing Philistines to re-group.  He pursues them throughout the day, forbidding the Israelis to eat.  By evening the hungry men eat sheep left behind by the Philistines, and Jonathan finds and eats honey.  The soldiers eat the meat with the blood, meaning, they did not follow the required ritual for killing and eating the animals.  Rather than draining the blood, they simply killed and ate.  This is a violation of God’s law.  Thus, even in the midst of a God given victory, they ignore His commandments to satisfy their hunger.  Jonathan eats honey, not knowing of his father’s prohibition.  He is sentenced to die for his crime, but the people do not allow Saul to execute the sentence.


The chapter closes with Saul’s increasing victories over Israel’s enemies.  But the Philistines are not fully defeated.  They continue to fight Israel all the days of Saul.