Samuel & the Kings: Do you hear what I hear?

A thousand years into the Old Testament saga of God’s people, we land on this sad little commentary:

In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. 1 Samuel 3:1

God had guided Abraham, endured Jacob, blessed Joseph, empowered Moses, and encouraged Joshua. Yet as this nomadic nation finally became new homeowners, they somehow lost God.

Could God be found again?

The book of Samuel opens with a tender story of a brokenhearted woman who yearns for a child of her own. In desperation, Hannah makes a rash vow: “God, if you give me a child, I’ll give him right back to you.” Her request is granted and she courageously follows through—dropping off her utterly adorable 3-year old Samuel to grow up in the temple at Shiloh.

The nation of Israel would become great benefactors of Hannah’s heartrending sacrifice. From his earliest years, her young lad possessed a truly remarkable gift. For a nation headed off its rails, Samuel’s unique ability would steer them back on course.

What was his specialized skill?

Samuel could hear God’s voice. Through learning to listen to God, Samuel redirected the forlorn people back to a place of experiencing greater peace while achieving their highest purpose.

In our era, it’s easy to be cynical about people who claim to hear from God. Whether it’s the slick TV preacher who informs us that God is telling you to send in your money or the suicide bomber who destroys in God’s name, we rightfully question the personal motives and emotional stability of those who claim to hear from God.

Yet let’s not let the few crazies among us keep us from seeking to hear God’s voice. Like Samuel, we’re also invited to allow God to re-direct our lives toward a place of greater peace that reveals our highest purpose.

I’ve never found it easy to hear from God. My restless heart and racing mind often cloud up my soul. Yet as I slowly read Scripture and invite it’s words to shape my prayers, a certain settling seems to occur. My whirlwind of thoughts and stormy emotions eventually blow through to allow in a sense of peace and purpose that’s often remarkably powerful.

I pray you can sense remarkable peace and clarity of purpose as you continue your life-long pursuit of listening to God.

enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings: Each link offers the entire day’s readings, listed in succession via Bible Gateway—just keep scrolling down to read the next selection of verses.

These readings present the compelling character development of four very prominent leaders. From my perspective, the storyline of 1 & 2 Samuel into 1 Kings portrays some of the best real-life drama ever crafted.

  • Samuel: 1 Samuel 3; 8:4-22. At a very early age, Samuel learns to listen to God’s voice. That doesn’t mean, however, that what he would hear would be easy on his ears. Samuel struggles with the transition of the nation towards a king, and uses this change of plans as an opportunity to prepare the people for the difficult journey ahead. I wonder: what person(s) has God brought into your life to prepare you for difficult transitions?
  • King Saul: 1 Samuel 10:17-27; 13:5-15; 15:10-23. Here’s a swing and a miss. The first choice for king quickly turns sour. Lurking underneath King Saul’s natural good looks and commanding presence lay significant insecurities and a tendency towards panicking under pressure. Though Saul would remain in office for a full 40-year stint, God and Samuel start the search process for a new leader.
  • King Saul vs. Young David: 1 Samuel 16:1-13, 18:6-16. David emerges as the unexpected heir to the throne. Everyone adores him, except King Saul—whose personal paranoia is driving him towards a mental breakdown. This isn’t unusual: when young leaders emerge, the established order tends to push them back down. What younger person in your life deserves some much needed prayer, support and encouragement?
  • King David: 2 Samuel 7:1-17, 12:1-15, 1 Chronicles 28. David emerges as the Old Testament’s most charismatic leader. His heart for God, love for people and skill in leadership are all truly spellbinding. His dramatic fall from grace is equally gripping. After all the highest of highs and lowest of lows, he completes his life’s journey by empowering his impressive son Solomon to carry forward God’s calling for the nation.
  • King Solomon: 1 Kings 3:1-15, 2 Chronicles 5; 1 Kings 11:1-13. No one gets off to a better start than Solomon. His natural humility, God-given wisdom and visionary planning bring the nation to the pinnacle of worldwide prominence. Sadly, it wouldn’t last. Solomon’s achievement swells his self-centeredness and corrupts his own soul. Success isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, is it?

Joshua, Judges, Ruth: Hornet’s Nest

My recent reading in the Old Testament book of Joshua created a bit of a buzz.

The God of Israel says . . .

“The citizens of Jericho fought against you . . . but I gave them into your hands. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you . . .” (Joshua 24:11-12)

Hold it. The hornet? What’s that?

This bugged me. So I conducted a little theological ornithological research project.

I discovered that biblical scholars don’t all fly the same direction in regards to what “the hornet” really means.

  • Some believe “the hornet” refers to an actual army of angry wasps God stirred up ahead of Joshua’s army. In climates like Palestine, deadly hornets (individually sized up to three truly terrifying inches) can swarm and sting—causing excruciating pain and even loss of life for humans and livestock. Maybe this explains why some of Joshua’s enemies seem ready to surrender before any battle actually begins.
  • Other scholars view “the hornet” as a metaphor for God’s Spirit. The word from Hebrew translated “hornet” is unclear—so it could mean “terror” or “panic”. It’s possible that before Joshua’s army ever appeared, God had already invaded his enemies with an unnerving bout of internal anxiety.

Either way—one thing’s clear: God swarmed ahead of Joshua’s army.

When facing our own battles, we tend to feel alone and vulnerable—as if we approach a fully fortified enemy who has long prepared for our arrival. Yet is it possible that God’s stinging Spirit has buzzed ahead for us in each spiritual skirmish? This happened with Jesus. When he descended into any spiritual battle scene, most every evil spirit got scared and scampered away.

We all have battles to face this week—encounters with our anxiety, conflicts with our conceit, bouts against our bitterness, and fights to sustain our faith. Let’s stop living in fear of these enemies—knowing that God’s Holy Hornet has already been released. He’s stirring up true terror against our most troubling spiritual adversaries.

Battle on,

enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings: Each link offers the entire day’s readings, listed in succession via Bible Gateway—just keep scrolling down to read the next selection of verses.

  • Joshua, the Jordan, & Jericho: Joshua 1:1-9; 4:1-14; 5:13-6:21. After 400 years of slavery and 40 years of wandering, Abraham’s family is finally ready to enter their Promised Land. Joshua has been prepared to lead this charge. Over the past years what has God been preparing you to pursue?
  • Conquest of the Land: Joshua 14:6-15; 23; 24:11-28. Getting older doesn’t necessarily require getting softer. The inspiring examples of the aging Caleb (chapter 14) and Joshua (chapter 23-24) offer a brave new vision for the challenge of our later years.
  • The Judges Cycle: Judges 2:6-23. After all they had endured, you’d think that settling into the Promised Land would create happiness and bliss for the people of Israel. Painfully, their very nice living conditions produced some very bad lifestyles. It’s a stern reminder: a life free of pain often leads to a fall far from God.
  • Deborah, Gideon, & Samson: Judges 6:1-16, 16:4-31. God uses some truly flawed people to produce some rather remarkable results. I guess that means there’s hope for us all. Even when we are at our worst (Samson is most notable here), God doesn’t give up on his plans for our lives.
  • Ruth: Ruth 1, 3:1-13. After the ugly downward spiral of the storyline of Judges, the sweet little saga of Ruth offers a warm ray of sunny hope. I deeply appreciate the character of Naomi (Ruth’s mother-in-law). She’s brutally honest in her despair . . . and quite clever in navigating towards a future hope.

Exodus-Deuteronomy: Restless Hearts

You might notice a certain pattern while reading through the stories of our spiritual ancestors:

  • Adam hid away from getting caught.
  • Noah floated away from certain destruction.
  • Abraham walked away from his boyhood home.
  • Isaac dug away to find good water.
  • Jacob slithered away from most every conflict.
  • Joseph was sold away by his own family.
  • Moses sped away from murder charges.
  • The Israelites moved away from their Egyptian oppressors,
  • then later backed away from their own Promised Land.

These folks don’t settle down very easily, do they?

From this list of nominees for most nomadic, I’d give the nod to Mr. Moses. After forty years of moving through Egypt’s elite educational system, he took a long distance transfer to a four-decade stint picking up after somebody else’s sheep. For retirement he returned to Egypt as a miracle working tour guide who took a massive entourage on a wild forty-year ride though a winding wilderness wasteland. For all his wanderings, we wonder: what awards did Moses earn as a platinum rewards travel member?

Notice the opening line of his acceptance speech:

 “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” (Psalm 90:1)

Though never given the opportunity to settle into a nice neighborhood, Moses discovered a different kind of homecoming each day. For all his decades on the road, he found God’s presence offered him a genuine sense of security and comfort.

On the surface, we appear significantly more settled that our spiritual ancestors. Most of us keep living in the same homes, enjoying the same friendships, sending kids to the same schools, working at the same jobs, possibly even driving the same cars. Yet underneath all the familiarity, we’re often quite restless. We’re searching for something more—yet unsure of the next best turn to take on the road of life.

What’s our next step toward a more settled life?

We can try to learn what Moses eventually discovered: only God goes with you through all your life’s meanderings. Put in a more clichéd way: Home happens to be a place in your heart, not necessarily where you hang your hat. Despite our rather restless nature, God is always waiting and wanting to offer us a genuinely warm-hearted welcome.

As you read excerpts from the account of the Israelites wanderings this week, I pray you’ll encounter St. Augustine’s great discovery: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”

enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings: Each link offers the entire day’s readings, listed in succession via Bible Gateway—just keep scrolling down to read the next selection of verses.

  • Moses & Pharaoh: Exodus 3:1-4:17, 7:1-7. After forty years of meaningless labor, Moses is in no mood to ignite a revolution. Yet God won’t take no for an answer. Pharaoh’s rather stubborn, too. Guess who wins this epic battle of wills?
  • Passover & the Red Sea: Exodus 12:24-36, 13:17-22, 14:10-14, 21-31. Two truly historic moments in the history of God’s people: The Passover Meal (the symbolic celebration of God’s protection over his people) and the Crossing of the Rea Sea (God’s miraculous rescue of his people from their enemies). These two events will be highlighted repeatedly throughout the entire story of the Bible—culminating in the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Ten Commandments & God’s Presence: Exodus 19:16-20:21, 33:12-34:9. God dramatically demonstrates the power of his presence to all the people, and then later reveals the compassion of his presence to his friend Moses.
  • The 12 Spies: Numbers 13:17-14:25. Just when you think it’s all going to turn out just fine, a simple reconnaissance mission ends horribly. The fear of 10 leaders creates an unstoppable wave of panic and regret throughout the entire camp. We all get scared sometimes—just be careful how you choose to express it.
  • The Wilderness Experience: Numbers 21:4-9, Deuteronomy 6:1-19. The extra forty years in the wilderness won’t be easy on anyone. Yet the people needed to learn to trust in God’s plans and accept God’s authority. That’s the same lessons we learn best during the difficult seasons of our own faith journey.

Genesis: Milky Way & Peanut Butter

We tend to view God differently.

Some of us marvel at God’s mesmerizing mastery. As the gifted artist and brilliant engineer of the cosmos, God orchestrates the making and running of our universe. The spin of the planets, the blunt force of nature and the complexity of human DNA create cycles of increasing awe. Life in the Milky Way Galaxy is indeed quite a miracle.

Others among us warm our hearts in the presence of God’s intimacy. The Spirit of God guides us through our lives’ small twists and turns. We might experience God’s friendship as much while spreading peanut butter on our Tuesday morning toast as while singing hymns in a stone-arched cathedral. God’s companionship during a simple breakfast like this can seem equally miraculous.

Which God do we meet in Genesis?

While opening the first pages of the Bible’s epic story, we witness the unfolding of most everything we know:

  • The beginnings of our incomprehensible universe.
  • The beginnings of our little planet and all its quirky accessories.
  • The beginnings of the first breath and divine dignity of human life.
  • The beginnings of our maddening bent toward self-destructive behavior.
  • The beginnings of family life—including a tragic early case of domestic violence.
  • The beginnings of divine retribution as an entire civilization gets washed away.
  • The beginnings of our world of nations, languages, cultures and human industry.

The cosmically-charged universe opens up before our eyes. It’s the majestic God of the Milky Way at his very best.

Yet after 11 chapters of celestial concentration, God’s gaze shifts exclusively towards one strangely obscure little family. God catches up with a man who might as well be making his Tuesday morning breakfast. Starting in chapter 12, the Conductor of the Cosmos walks together with Abraham through an astonishing array of personal experiences:

  • Through the pain and panic of personal infertility.
  • Through the confusing birth of an unwanted child.
  • Through the shenanigans of an indulgent nephew.
  • Through the ironically hilarious birth of long anticipated son.
  • Through the heart-wrenching near death of his teenage boy.
  • Through the hopes and prayers of his son’s courtship and marriage.
  • Through the twisted meanderings, tragic missteps and tenuous survival of the next three generations of Abraham’s truly tumultuous family dynasty.

What kind of God have we discovered in Genesis? We’ve found a God who’s both powerfully cosmic and personally close—an ever-present Spirit who’s equally comfortable masterminding the Milky Way as he is watching melty peanut butter drip down our little pinky.

As you read and reflect on this week’s verses from Genesis, I pray you’ll sense God’s power infusing significance into your most mundane experiences.

enCompass Church

This week’s Scripture readings: Each link offers the entire day’s readings, listed in succession via Bible Gateway—just keep scrolling down to read the next selection of verses.

  • Creation & Fall: Genesis 1:27-31, 3:1-19: The majesty and tragedy of the human race occurs in quick succession in the opening chapters of Genesis. It’s not difficult to notice our dangerous curiosity toward sin and our knee-jerk ability to blame everyone else for our problems.
  • Judgment & Division: Genesis 6:5-8, 11:1-9: In order to fulfill the purpose of his original design, God must bring both tragedy (a massive flood) and confusion (language barriers) to his creation. While these acts might cause us to question God’s love, in both cases you’ll notice his deep pain and regret over these necessary decisions.
  • Abraham & Isaac: Genesis 12:1-4, 15:1-6, 22:1-18: God makes big promises to Abraham . . . then takes a very long time to fulfill them. What purpose might God have in waiting so long? It’s a question we’ll all need to answer during difficult times in our journey of faith. Abraham’s quick devotion to God’s commands challenges our own tendency to drag our heels through our own personal struggles.
  • Jacob: Genesis 28:10-22; 32:22-29: Why would God continue his promises through Jacob? He demonstrated an unsavory bent towards manipulative selfishness—with both God and his own family members. Yet the “Great Nation” promised to Abraham would be forever associated with Jacob’s new name: Israel—the God wrestler. Guess that means God continues to love us even when we keep fighting with him.
  • Joseph: Genesis 37:2-11, 41:37-41, 50:14-21: Just when you think the whole family clan has become corrupt beyond repair, along comes a single bright hope: Joseph. Though a rather precocious youth, his life’s severe trials reveal in him a steely resolve to do what’s right. Enjoy watching his life unfold—he’s one of the few Old Testament individuals of truly noble character. He also might remind you of another man who was sold for pieces of silver, endured unthinkable abuse, yet brought forgiveness and salvation to many.