Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Revelation - Lesson 2

Gaining Perspective & Momentum

Prayer: God, help us as we consider this magnificent book of prophecy.  Help us to understand it in light of the whole of scripture, and help us to understand it on its own.  Help us to have and keep a healthy perspective while studying, with minds open to what you have to teach us.  Amen!

Last week we got through a whole whopping 3 verses, this week I'm going to attempt to get us through a second portion of chapter 1.  I say attempt because in order to go forward I felt as if it were important to take a step back... let me elaborate.  

Humor me for a moment and imagine you're standing on a rocky beach on the North Shore, and imagine how you might describe the rocks below your feet to a friend.  You might simply continue to stand, and remark about the variety of colors & shapes, and stop there at your explanation - but that wouldn't really do justice to the rocks there.  You might stoop down and take a closer look, picking up individual rocks and noting the various types & their crystalline forms, you might mention agates in particular - doing this would give a friend a better understanding.  You might also give an overview of the topography of the area, how it was shaped & formed (glaciers) - and doing that would provide a friend with an even better understanding.  You could look at the rocks under a high-powered microscope, or attempt to describe the scene as viewed from space - but those descriptions might be more than your friend wants to know.

So what I'm going to try to do is this:  Like your description standing there looking down at the rocks we're going to read the chapter & take it in at face value.  Like your description involving the topography, how things were shaped & formed, I'm going to attempt to do a brief overview of the Bible & Revelation in general.  And like stooping down and examining the rocks I'm going to spend some time picking up and looking at individual verses.  I'm going to try to keep from getting too hung up in minutia, and I'm going to try to keep from backing away so far that you can't see what we're studying.

First, lets simply read this entire chapter out loud, to give ourselves the general picture of what we're studying.  (Rev chapter 1)

Now to some basic things I want you to know about the Bible.  The word Bible simply means Library, what we call our Bible is a library of sorts containing 66 individual books by over 40 different human authors, but acting as a single whole integrated message.  

Central Themes:
Old Testament - account of a nation, Israel.
New Testament - account of a man, the God-man Jesus.
The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the new revealed.

Central Character: Jesus!
Jesus as Creator (John 1:1-3) - the Creator becomes a man, His appearance is central not only to the Bible but to all human history (whether or not people acknowledge Him).
Jesus as Redeemer - He died to purchase our lives, to pay the price for our sins.
Jesus as Sanctifier - He continues to intercede on our behalf, to draw believers into more intimate fellowship with Him.
Jesus as King - Jesus is the Prince of Peace & King of Kings, He reigns in heaven & I believe He will have a literal 1000 year reign on earth from David's throne.

In the Old Testament there are 1845 references to Christ's (Messiah's) rule on the earth, 17 Old Testament books give prominence to that issue.  The Jews were so fixated on the ruling aspect of Messiah that they failed to recognize Him when He came (a warning to us).  The Jews knew the passages about Messiah being a Suffering Servant, such as Isaiah 52:13-53:12, but they didn't think one Messiah could fulfill both rolls (they expected 2 Messiahs), and they didn't expect that Messiah would be God Incarnate (God come in the flesh).

In the New Testament there are 318 references to Jesus 2nd coming, mentioned in 23 of the 27 New Testament books.  For every prophecy of Jesus 1st coming (which were fulfilled literally) there are 7-8 regarding His 2nd coming.

Overview of the Bible as it pertains to Christ:
  Old Testament- Christ in Prophecy - He comes.
  Gospels - Christ in History - He dies.
  Acts - Christ in the Church - He lives.
  Epistles - Christ in Experience - He saves.
  Revelation - Christ in Glory - He reigns.

Just to hint at how integrated this message system we call the Bible is I'm going to mention the book of Joshua.  Joshua, or more accurately Y'Shua, is the Hebrew name that is the same name as Jesus (which is an Anglicized version of the Greek name).  That should be a hint to us to pay attention to that book... it involves some very odd behavior on the part of the people of Israel, especially as involves the battle of Jericho.  If you want to challenge yourself take another look at the book of Joshua again in comparison to Revelation, you'll find there are many strange and interesting parallels.

Back to the Bible as a whole... since it is one message we would expect that things which started at the beginning of the scriptures (specifically in Genesis) would come to a conclusion at the end of the scriptures (in Revelation) - and they do.

The following is from the book The Revelation Record by Dr. Henry M. Morris:

Now on to some overview items/thoughts about Revelation.

Some things that are currently out-of-place are put in place in Revelation (this is not a complete list):
Israel as a nation finally inhabits the whole of the promised land.
The Church, the body of believers, is in heaven.
The Lamb is on His own Throne.
Satan is bound & eventually destroyed.

I want to stop for a second and say something that I'm going to tell you is my opinion, but that I think the scriptures back up.  Take it as simply opinion.  I believe that Israel (faithful Jews) and the Church have different destinies, different purposes.  Though Israel & the Church share a common God and a History they obviously are different.  In fact I think that the Saints, the true believers in God, fall into 3 categories:
Old Testament Saints - faithful Jews of the Old Testament times (perhaps some current & future as well - this is for God to know), Israel is in scripture equated with the Wife of God (at times unfaithful - see Hosea).
New Testament Saints - faithful believers in Christ, the true Church, a.k.a. the Bride of Christ.
Tribulation Saints - those who come to faith during the Tribulation (the Holy Spirit may not be available to them).
That said, it's my opinion and not something to get hung up about.

Revelation - a brief outline:
Chapters 1-3: The Church Age
Chapters 4-19: Period of Judgement - Tribulation, split into two halves:
4-11 - first half, 12-19 - second half
Chapter 20: Kingdom Age, 1000 years, Millennium
Chapters 21-22: Eternal Age

Some people point to the fact that the Church is never mentioned after chapter 3 as proof of a Pre-Tribulation rapture of the Church - most who interpret the scriptures with a literal bent follow this line of thinking.  One of the commentators I like to listen to says we'll be "watching from the Mezzanine".

Something you'll come to recognize very quickly is that the number 7 occurs frequently in Revelation.   The number 7 typically represents fullness or completion.

The following is from the book The Revelation Record by Dr. Henry M. Morris:

Something to make you think: why do most cultures throughout the world & throughout history use a 7 day week?  It's not astronomical or physiological.... something to ponder.

In Revelation the 7s are even more interesting when you realize that some major events come in 7s with the 7th event in the series ushering in the next series of 7s:
7 Seals, the 7th of which ushers in...
7 Trumpets, the 7th of which ushers in...
7 Bowls...
It is called a Heptadic (seven-fold) structure.

Lets start looking at the individual stones...

We've already done a lesson on verses 1-3, so we won't be repeating those (see Lesson #1).

v4-6: John - he needs no further introduction, those who initially received this letter would have known him by this singular name.  This is the disciple John, the one called "the beloved", one of the two "Sons of Thunder", a former fisherman in Zebedee's (Dad's) fishing business, business partners with his brother & fellow disciple James, also business partners with the brothers & disciples Peter & Andrew.  John was an early disciple of John the Baptist, later called to follow Jesus.  He was well connected & knew the High Priest & Nicodemus (Israel's most revered teacher).  He was one of Jesus' inner circle which included James & Peter (and on at least one occasion Andrew) who had been given extra exposure to Jesus & His miracles & teachings.  John is the only disciple who visited Jesus while He was on the cross, and was the disciple to whom the care of Jesus' mother was assigned - historical accounts indicate he took this assignment seriously & it is believed that the book of 2 John may have been written specifically to Mary.  He is the writer of the Gospel of John, I-II-III John, and Revelation.

John reaches further back than any other Bible writer to before creation (John chapter 1), and further forward than any other Bible writer (Revelation chapter 22).

I had pointed out to me by a commentator that John was likely the youngest of Jesus 12 disciples, the "baby" of the group & perhaps only a teen when walking with our Lord.  That he was the youngest was indicated by the fact that he leaned against Jesus at the last supper & asked Jesus questions.  In traditional Jewish families at Passover the youngest got to lean against the Father and ask questions.

To the seven churches - in this case "churches" would have a similar meaning to today's use - the gatherings of believers.

Province of Asia: a Roman province, we might call this Asia Minor, today this area is part of the country of Turkey.

Grace & Peace: Charis - typical Greek greeting & Shalom - typical Hebrew greeting, both with much more meaning in the minds of believers.

Who sends Grace & Peace - none other than God the Father (who was & is & is to come), the Holy Spirit (7 Spirits or 7-fold Spirit), and Jesus Christ - all three persons of the Trinity.  Some might argue that the "7 Spirits" are Angels - but the context doesn't bear that out.  In Isaiah 11:2 we get a 7-fold description of the Holy Spirit, or 7-fold may simply be speaking to the fullness/completion of the Holy Spirit.

Normally we read the Trinity in the order: Father, Son, Holy Spirit... but this time the Son is mentioned last, probably to allow for the more expansive description that follows:
Faithful Witness: fulfilled perfectly the Father's will while walking the earth.
Firstborn From The Dead: first to be resurrected. 
Ruler of the Kings Of The Earth - this during His millennial reign.
His titles deal with 3 tenses - His job as Witness is past, completed at the cross.  His job as the Firstborn is present, His current state.  His future role is to be the Ruler from David's throne - in the millennium.

We also see these tenses in the description of the Father, and we see these tenses in the actions that Christ does for us:
Loved us - died for our sakes, and continues to love us.
Frees us from our sins - this is continuous.
Made us to be a kingdom & priests - our future role in service to the Father.

Don't be surprised to see other examples that fit the "tenses" of past / present / future within this book.

Notice that when it says we are a kingdom of priests its to serve His Father - it's interesting that it's worded this way, and it points to the difference in His relationship to His father (only begotten son) and ours (adopted sons).

v7-8: He is returning just as He said He would - Matthew 24:30 & 26:64.  He will be seen by all the peoples of the earth, even those who pierced Him (Jews), and they will mourn - Zechariah 12:10.  That He was pierced is recorded in John 19:34, with a partial fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy noted in John 19:37

The first of 7 "I Am" statements is given in verse 8, the Alpha & the Omega.  It's interesting that I had pointed out to me by one commentator that "I Am" as we would use it in casual speech is only one of the two words that gets translated into "I Am", that the two words combined give special emphasis not in casual speech.  It would be more like "I, I Am" or "I Am who I Am", perhaps we might write it "I Am the Self-Existent One".

The following is from The Interlinear Bible, published by Sovereign Grace Publishers:

(to be continued…)

Prayer: Lord God thank you for giving us the ability to look at your word in a variety of ways, and help us as we seek to gain understanding to not get a viewpoint that is either too expansive or too narrow.  Lord for each that is studying this passage help them to come away with something new that they have learned, a precious stone of knowledge they can carry with them.  Amen!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Revelation - Lesson 1

A Singularly Magnificent Revelation

Prayer: God you are magnificent, and yet even that word doesn't start to express your majesty, you are wonderful and have created a universe filled with wonders, a universe that is phenomenally complex on both a grand and a minute scale.  We are puny and insignificant, in the words of the David (Psalm 8:4) "What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?" - yet, you invest yourself if mankind, you reach out to these puny rebellious creatures with love and compassion beyond understanding.  Help us God to grapple with this Revelation that you have given to us as a precious gift, help us to treat it as a precious gift, help us to not be frustrated or confused by this Revelation, help us instead to respond to it with awe and wonder.

As I was sitting to prepare today's lesson I approached this lesson with more than a little caution.  The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse beyond the veil, a glimpse into the future as well as a glimpse into the throne room; but it does much more than that, it gives us a glimpse of the mind of Almighty God.

If we approach this book expecting to come away with a completely clear understanding of it, then we approach it with arrogance.  I don't want to be arrogant, that's not what God wants me to be!  Don't get me wrong, God wants us to study this book, God wants us to understand and know what He is communicating, but sometimes our very ability to think and reason can get in our way.

As I was pondering all this, and praying, I glanced at my cat Oreo.  I thought about how she trusts me and loves me and wants to be near me even though she doesn't understand a word I say; even so, she loves it when I talk to her.  I thought Oreo could probably understand God much better than I do, she simply trusts and loves, and that's how we should approach God.  As we approach this particularly special book of the Bible we need to approach is with simple trust, seeking to know God better and love Him more because He cared to talk to us and tell us these marvelous things - things we aren't likely to completely understand.

Before we even crack open the book of Revelation there are a couple other passages we need to look at first.
James 3:1 - a warning to teachers - my prayer is that nothing I teach would confuse or mislead or be against God in any way, I take this warning seriously.
Acts 17:11 - the Bereans - I want you to make sure you don't simply believe everything Annette teaches, I want you to prayerfully and carefully examine the scriptures for yourself.

I was reading a commentary by J Vernon McGee and he called out two reasons why he was approaching doing a commentary on Revelation with caution.
First - he felt that to understand Revelation you must first have a firm grasp on the other 65 books of the Bible.
Second - he felt that he was in the midst of dark, evil days - and that was in 1975.

I find I disagree with McGee in this: I think Revelation has something to teach every believer no matter how well they know the remainder of scripture; however, the better grasp you have of scripture as a whole the better you'll be able to understand it.   Because general Bible knowledge is needed for a better understanding there will be times when I will sidetrack us to other portions of scripture, which shouldn't be a surprise to those who have been attending this class.

I agree with McGee that the times we live in are evil, we live in a time when the light of God is becoming more and more obscured - some from forces outside the organized church, some from within the organized church.  
Mark 4:30-32 - mustard seed - the mustard seed was the smallest seed known & used commonly throughout Israel, they are very tiny.  When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God here He was speaking of the Church, His Church, the True Church which is the collection of His believers throughout the ages.  His Church is now humongous, there have been millions if not billions of believers throughout the ages.  His Church can be found among multiple human denominations, and you might think of these "branches" in the parable as a denomination or particular theological viewpoint.  Some of these branches have become a place for birds to perch - what does this mean?  Birds are symbolic in scripture of evil spirits, in fact in an earlier parable in Mark 4 they are specifically associated with Satan.  Satan and his minions are busy at work not just to attack the church from the outside but to attack it from within as well.  So the light of God in this world is obscured, the True Church is under attack, and believers are becoming more and more ineffective.  God's light hasn't changed it is still there but not clearly seen.  

My Dad's best friend is named Terry, his wife's name is Mary.  When I was a kid we did a lot of camping, when Terry & Mary were dating they came on a camping trip with my family and some other families we were friends with.  Mary was from L.A., she'd grown up there & lived there all her life, she'd really never been far from L.A.  The camping trip in question was in a remote area in the Desert.  At night, at some point, she was away from the campfire and the lights & looked up at the night sky, and was completely terrified... she thought the sky had exploded!  The city of L.A. is so bright with city lights she'd never seen the stars well, and the Desert is so dark and such a wide expanse and so dry that it makes just about the best place to view stars with the naked eye.  The sky hadn't changed, the stars had been there all along, Mary had just never seen anything like the starlight she saw in the Desert that night, once she knew everything was OK she was in awe.  My prayer for each of us as we study this marvelous Revelation is that we would be astonished by the light it brings, that we would come away with a deeper awe and reverence for God.

What is the title of this book?  Not Revelations, but Revelation - one singular marvelous revelation.  In the Greek the word is Apocalypsis, but it doesn't mean something terrible it means: an uncovering, an unveiling, a disclosure, something that is revealed to us.

Revelation 1:1: Whose revelation is it?  God the Father gave it to Jesus who gave it to His Angel who gave it to John (the beloved).  The Revelation is God's (the Father's), it was given to Jesus by the Father in some form of communication that is completely foreign to us.  Jesus somehow managed to communicate this Revelation to His Angel, an Angel specifically chosen to serve Him in this manner.  The Angel then communicated it to John.  Some translations are clearer in the meaning of a portion of this verse which indicate that Jesus sent and signified it by His Angel to John, this wording is important as it tells us that Jesus had to interpret the revelation for the Angel in order for the Angel understand and transmit the message to John.  Right away we are being told that symbols and figures are needed to communicate this message since the communication that went from the Father to the Son is more than even this Angel could understand.  Finally John communicates it to you and I, one thing you will recognize is that there are things in this book that John struggles to attempt to put  into human language, so word-pictures & figures are needed.  The particular greek word for signified means to give a sign, to indicate, to make known - this indicates that there are symbol-codes or figurative representations, symbolic language.

This brings us to our first hurdle in the study of Revelation - the various positions regarding the events in this book.  Some of these differences are because of the symbolic language... that doesn't mean that the entire book is nothing but symbols though there are some that hold that position.

Positions:  There are 3 major positions: Amillennial, Post-Millennial, and Premillennial.
Amillennial - there is no literal 1000 year reign of Christ (a.k.a. Millennium).
Post-Millennial - we are already in the Millennium or it has already occurred - i.e. we are within or living after the 1000 year reign of Christ.
Some Amillennial and Post-Millennial viewpoints:
These views are held by some liberal and orthodox churches:
Preterist - applied to the problems and persecutions of the early church, intended to encourage the church throughout its trials under Rome at that time, and written in a way to prevent the book from being understood by unbelievers.
Idealist - the entire book is simply allegorical - its a series of parables designed to encourage troubled believers to trust in the ultimate triumph of good over evil, of Christ over Satan.
These views are/were held by many protestant churches, which consider Roman Catholicism to be an evil force in this world.
Historical - the events symbolically represent a sequence of events from the time of the writing of the book until the coming of Christ. 
Cyclic - similar to Historical, but in a repetitive & cyclical manner.
Most who are of the Amillennial or Post-Millennial positions don't bother to study most of Revelation because it honestly isn't something they're concerned about.  Either they don't think it involves real events or they think the real events are mostly or fully in the past (exceptions between the viewpoints start at about chapter 20).  I'm going to just state up front that I'm not going to keep these two viewpoints in mind as we study.  That said lets stop here and be very clear, we must not be divisive if we have differences of opinions with our brothers & sisters in Christ, let us be gracious and agree to disagree.
Premillennial - literal future fulfillment.  This is the position I take, not because it is the position of the Baptist church in general, but because a simple straightforward reading of the passage leads me to believe this.  Among those who are Premillennial there are 3 major positions: Pre-Tribulation, Mid-Tribulation, Post-Tribulation.  This has to do with the timing of the resurrection of the saints - whether it's before (Pre) in the middle (Mid) or after (Post) a 7 year period of trouble described in Revelation which we call the Tribulation.  Those among the Premillennial who take things more symbolically tend to lean toward Post-Tribulation, those who are more literal tend to lean toward Pre-Tribulation.  Personally I've heard very good arguments for all 3 positions and the philosophy I take on it is this: I'm hoping for Pre & preparing for Post.

Revelation 1:2: This verse points out that the John in question that is given the Revelation is the John who testified to Jesus Christ, the John who was called the beloved (the one the Jesus loved), one of Jesus inner circle, one of the pair of brothers known as the "Sons of Thunder" - a nickname given to them by Jesus.  We'll talk a bit more about John when we get to verse 9.
Revelation 1:3: Why should we study this book of Revelation?  It is the only book of the Bible that promises a blessing to those who read or hear it and take it to heart.  If you read this book, if you study this book, you will be blessed - this is a promise of God and His promises can't be broken!  It also tells us the time is near - near in our terms, it's hard to know, but near in God's terms - in other words it is imminent, it will come to pass.  I want to point out something else in this verse, it proclaims this is a book of Prophecy.

Revelation 1:1-3 (re-read): God, right up front, is telling us what the purpose of this book is - it is His revelation given to us, given to us to bless us, given to us so that we will know what will take place.  God very specifically sent this revelation for our sakes, and did some pretty remarkable things to get the message to us, that alone should get our attention & create in us a hunger to understand the message He is sending.

Before I close us in prayer are there any questions?

Closing Prayer:  Lord God we've just barely scratched the surface, yet already we've learned that you have a blessing in store for us.  Thank you for this very special message that you revealed to us.  Amen.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sorry about that… for those on a "feed"...

Sorry about all the new posts that occurred today, I was having to re-organize the way I was using this blog and there just wasn't any way around creating a bunch of new posts to replace some content that had previously been available in another form.

Thanks for your understanding,

Life Of David - Lesson 16

Saul's Bitter End & David's Bitter Grief - 1 Samuel 28 - 29

Prayer: Lord God, you know physical death is difficult for us to grapple with, our perspective is earthly while Earth is our home.  Though we know there is an eternity ahead we struggle with the painful circumstances of this temporary physical realm.  It's even harder Lord when the death is that of one who is not of Your faithful... there is a part of us that cries out for that person to have one more chance, so as we grapple with death help us Lord to trust you to be the one who is completely competent and fair to Judge those who have passed from this life into eternity.

We've come to a bitter & tragic passage this week, Saul & his forces are facing horrendous odds against a much larger & more powerful foe - the Philistines, and this time God is not on Saul's side.

1 Samuel 31 v1-10 (NIV), compare to 1 Chronicles 10 v1-10 (NIV)
What additional detail does Chronicles give?  Saul's head hung in the temple of Dagon.

What a tragic end for Israel's first king.  Remember how he started?  He was a bit timid but trying to do what God had asked of him.  But how did he end?  He sought out a medium, an act that is in defiance of God, he refused to bow his will to God's, and in his last moments refused to turn to God and trust his life in God's hands - instead he did what he'd habitually done, took matters into his own hands, sought to control the situation instead of submit, and took his own life.  Saul wanted control, Saul wanted to decide his own fate, and Saul got a fate I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy - an eternity separated from God and all that is good.

Lets look at what else we learn from this passage: 
v2: Jonathan, David's best friend & Saul's son, dies at the hand of the Philistines. 
v3: Saul was critically wounded.
v4: Saul asks his armor bearer to kill him, he wouldn't so Saul killed himself.  Note: a common practice of the day was to humiliate and mutilate prize victims - the Philistines had done so previously to Samson during the time of the Judges (Judges 16:21-25).
v5: The armor bearer, seeing Saul is dead, takes his own life.
v7: Israelites living in the area flee & the Philistines take over their towns.
v9: Saul's head is cut off, messages of victory are spread throughout the Philistine territory - giving honor to their gods.
v10: Saul's armor is hung as a trophy in the temple of the Ashtoreths, Saul's body is fastened to the wall of the city of Beth Shan (likely the outer wall of the city, displayed as a sign of strength & victory), and Saul's head (1 Chronicles) is fastened in the temple of Dagon.

1 Samuel 31 v11-13 & 1 Chronicles 10 v11-12: A group of valiant Israelite men from Jabesh Gilead put themselves at great personal risk to travel to the city of Beth Shan to retrieve the bodies of Saul & his Sons - apparently the sons were also fastened to the city wall.  It doesn't mention them going into the temples (which would have been a suicide mission) so I can't help but conclude that they didn't recover the armor, and that they didn't recover Saul's head.  They burned the bodies, this was not common practice in that day - it's believed this was done to prevent the bodies from being further abused by the Philistines should they be captured & the bodies recovered.  The bones were taken back to Jabesh (in Israel) and buried, and a time of fasting & mourning occurred.

Why would this group of Israelites risk their lives to spare Saul's body from further humiliation?  Hadn't Saul been a harsh & cruel leader?  The answer to this takes us back to 1 Samuel chapter 11, when Saul was still young and useful to God - it records that the Spirit of God came upon Saul and he was empowered to save the people of the city of Jabesh Giliead, and kept them from being mutilated by the Philistines. (1 Samuel 11:1-11)

1 Chronicles 10 v13-14: Saul's death marks the tragic end of a life that refused to submit to God, and Saul's death will result in something Saul desperately tried to prevent: David's rise to be King over Israel... but we're not there quite yet.

2 Samuel 1 v1-3: David and his men have returned from rescuing their people and getting plunder from the Amalekites who had raided Ziklag while they were away.  Its now two days later and a bedragled messenger arrives to bring David the news about the Philistine war against Israel.  That this messenger isn't exactly a friend, despite the fact that he bows down before David, can probably be seen in his statement in verse 3 that he "escaped the Israelite camp".

v4: David wants more details, so he presses this man for information, only to learn that his old nemesis Saul, and his best friend Jonathan, have fallen in battle; additionally, he learns that Israel has suffered great losses.

v5-10: David wants the details, so he continues his inquiry.  We find out some interesting things here:
v6: According to the messenger Saul was wounded but alive when he arrived.
v8: The messenger is an Amalekite - this is the same people group that David has just defeated in battle.
v9: According to the messenger Saul asked this man to finish him off.
v10: According to the messenger he killed Saul, and took his crown & arm band to bring to David.
I say "According to the messenger" because there are some problems with this guy's story.  He was an Amalekite hanging around a war between the Philistines & Israel, this raises interesting questions all alone.  He claims to have been the one asked to finish off Saul, but that was the armor bearer.  He claims to have come upon Saul alive & killed him presumably as an act of mercy, but it is more likely that he was there as a scavenger to loot the bodies.  He doesn't appear to know that David has just come back from defeating other Amalekites.  He does have the crown and arm band, its possible that he thought he could win favor with David & perhaps be rewarded.  

v11-12: David and his men respond properly to the news of the demise of Saul, Jonathan, the Israelite army and the Israelite people.  They tear their clothes, mourn, weep, and fast.

v13-16: The messenger is still hanging around hoping to profit from his actions, but he couldn't have been more wrong.  He didn't understand that the King he had looted & claimed to have killed was God's anointed, and he didn't understand how David would react to anyone acting against God's anointed.  The messenger's miscalculation & misunderstanding of God's people & God's ways cost him his life.

v17-18: David composed a Lament, a poem/song of grieving to remember this time, and ordered that his men be taught this lament of the bow - the bow was the most common weapon of Israel, it's possible that as part of the training in use of the bow the men would be taught this song.  The text indicates that the song, or perhaps the order regarding the song (or both), were recorded in the Book of Jashar.  We don't have this book as part of our scriptures, I don't know much about this book except that it's no longer known to be in existence, a later book by the same name is a known forgery.  This book is also mentioned in Joshua 10:13 and from these references it is presumed to be a book of hymns and/or poems that form an account of Israel's early battles.

v19-20: David laments the fall of the mighty ones of Israel, he doesn't want the news spread that would cause Israel's enemies to rejoice.

v21: David desires that this place of defeat, where the mighty were defiled, become a place that is put to shame by being unable to be fruitful.  

v22-23: David speaks respectfully of these two mighty warriors, Saul & Jonathan, father & son, who he knows would have fought valiantly & not turned away from battle.

v24: David laments for Israel, the loss of Saul & his men would be a loss for Israel as a whole - we know from the previous chapter they had already lost many fighting men as well as many cities.

v25-26: David laments his best friend Jonathan, a friend he dearly loved & missed.

v27: Israel's army is defeated, its leaders are dead, thus ends David's lament.

Closing Prayer:  Lord, dealing with death of any kind is painful for us.  Help us Lord to look at death with an eternal perspective.  Help us to find joy in the fact that a believer's death is an eternal promotion to a life lived in paradise with you, but help us to never forget that death for an unbeliever is an eternity of torment - and let this knowledge spur us on to sharing your truths with the unbelievers in our lives.  Amen! 

Next week we will switch things up and start working through the book of Revelation for a while, so I thought I'd end this lesson a little differently and have us reflect back on what we've learned from the study of David so far:

1. What have you found interesting about David as a person?
2. What good qualities do you see in David?
3. Which of David's good qualities would you like to see in yourself?
4. What bad qualities do you see in Saul?
5. Which of these bad qualities do you see in yourself?
6. What have you learned about God through studying David's life?
7. What does studying about God through the lives of David & Saul teach you about how God would have you live? 

Life Of David - Lesson 15

God Is Watching Over His Chosen - 1 Samuel 28 - 29

Prayer: Lord as we open your word this morning watch over us.  Teach us your truths and lead us by the power of your Holy Spirit.  As we read this account help us to see how you worked in David's life, then help us to see your hand in our own lives as well.

Quickly Form Groups and answer the following questions:
1. a. Have you ever faced a crisis where you wondered where God was in the whole thing?  (for those who answer yes, answer b & c)
b. How did it feel?
c. Over time what did you discover about God's actions in the midst of your crisis?
2. How might you encourage a friend facing a crisis?

Setting the Scene: David has been living amongst the Philistines & King Achish thinks he has David under his control (but he doesn't).  The Philistine forces are gathering to attack Israel, David & his army have been commanded by King Achish to join the Philistine forces.  It would be an understatement to say that this was a conflict of interest for David.  There are some, such as Chuck Swindoll, who believe David's lapse of faith in going to stay in Philistine territory has led to this crisis - and this is possible; however, we'll see that David continues to be shrewd & has not turned his back on his people or his God.

1 Samuel 29 v1-5: The Philistine army is gathering from the far reaches of the Philistine territories, each Prince among the Philistines presents his troops in an orderly fashion, the last to present his troops is the King & David's crew is among them.  These Princes would be like Generals or Commanders of our day, when they see the enemy amongst their ranks they are not happy & confront King Achish.  Achish tries to convince them that David is under his control, but the Princes don't buy it.  These warriors know David's reputation, they've heard the Hebrews sing about their warrior-hero, and they don't trust David and his men among their ranks.  The Princes demand David be sent back to Ziklag.

1 Samuel 29 v6-10: Achish basically tells David "I know you can be trusted, but my men just don't trust you, so you've going to have to go back home".   David feigns injury, asks what he's done to deny him the privilege of fighting Achish's enemies.  David is keeping up his ruse, keeping Achish convinced that he's on his side.

David had gotten himself in a bind, he was expected to harm his own people, expected to harm God's people... all because he sought refuge amongst the Philistines.  I'm completely convinced he'd have never raised a sword against God's people, but would have done as the Philistine commanders suspected.  If he had defected from the Philistine forces think about the danger to the families left behind in Ziklag, they'd have likely been killed or enslaved.  Lucky for David that God was protecting him even as he was a refugee in enemy territory.

1 Samuel 29 v11 - 1 Samuel 30 v5: David & his men return to Ziklag, after a few days of traveling back they were probably looking forward to the comforts of home & family, but when they return all is not well.  While David & his men were away their town got sacked, all their people had been taken and the town was burned.  Uh-Oh, trouble had come to the families anyway despite God's protection.  I think sometimes we believe that God is protecting us only when nothing bad ever happens, that's not true, bad things still happen in the lives of God's people - the difference is God turns those things into good for His people.  David & his men are crying out with distress, they are inconsolable.

I was reading in the book "A Heart Like His" by Rebecca Manyley Pippert and she pointed out something interesting.  Both David and Saul were in distress, each at one of the lowest points in their lives, at about the same time.  We've seen how Saul responded to distress - now we'll see how David responds.

v6-8: David is such a good example here, things are about as bad as they could get because now even his own men are speaking of stoning him because their grief is so great & they feel somehow that David is responsible - after all they've been trusting in and following him, leaving their families behind defenseless.  What does David do?  He turns right to God, he chose to find strength in God, and he seeks out the priest in order to discern God's will for what to do next.  The Ephod was brought out & the Urim & Thummim put to use - the result: David's army is to pursue the Amalekites, David is told they will overtake them and recover all.

v9-10: David & his men head out after the troop that had attacked their town, they are weary from just returning from the Philistine battle lines & some of the men just aren't up to chasing down this troop & engaging in battle.  Instead of pushing them to continue David leaves them behind with the supplies (v24) at the Brook Besor.  I'm sure all of them would have preferred to continue, but going into battle when weary isn't wise; also, by leaving the supplies & the weary behind the men who continued could travel lighter & faster.  David is showing wisdom in taking a disadvantage (weary troops) and turning it into an advantage (unencumbered fighting men), and not putting his weary troops into a situation where they'd likely be harmed.

v11-15: David & his men are chasing down troops, but they have no idea who they're chasing or where those people have gone, then by God's providence they find a slave who was left behind to die.  The slave had been sick & instead of showing compassion his master deserted him, so can you imagine his surprise that this band of warriors would bother to stop and show him compassion?  When they came across the man they might not have had any idea he could give them the very information they needed, the poor guy hadn't had anything to eat or drink for 3 days & probably wasn't in any condition to give them any information.  Their compassion paid off when the man regained his strength, they recieved God's blessing in the form of a new friend and an important informant who was able to provide them with both the identity and location of their foes.  This got me wondering, how often do we miss the opportunity of receiving a blessing because we're too busy to slow down & demonstrate compassion?

v16-20: David was led right to the camp of his foes, the Amalekites must have been quite numerous to be described as "spread out over all the land".  What are his foes doing?  They are celebrating, eating & drinking & dancing, in a party-like atmosphere.  It says David attacked at Twilight, after the sun had gone down, so I wonder if David waited a little while to let them get a bit drunk & tired from all their partying.  An advantage David would have had with darkness was that he could clearly see his target, but he could not easily be seen approaching in the dark.  David & his men attack, and the battle lasts through the night and until the next evening.  David & his men are victorious, only a small group with camels were able to escape, and they recovered not only their people but all of the Amalekite plunder as well.

The Amalekites were similar to bedouin peoples & they were camel breeders.  Camels were an advantage for peoples who traveled long distances, in this case they allowed a small portion of the young Amalekite men to escape.

How many men were with David in this battle? (see v10)
How many young Amalekite men escaped on camel? (see v17)

I think this is one of those times when you see God's power & faithfulness.  Only a relative few Amalekites survived, and not one thing of David's was lost, despite the incredible odds.  I imagine that the plunder included not only the people, livestock, and possessions taken from Ziklag, but also the plunder from other towns as well as many camels (valuable for both food and transportation).  David gathers back his people and claims the plunder for them as well.

v21-25: David has some men who are being troublemakers, they don't want to share the spoils with the men who were weary and stayed with the supplies.  It's interesting that they have an attitude that they've earned the spoils, in truth the spoils were given to them by God - God led them and provided His power to help them succeed.  This is a good reminder to us, the good things we have are all gifts from God.  How tightly do you hold on to things?  How hard is it for you to share what you have with others?  David sets things straight - what God has given will be shared, and those who guarded the supplies will be given an equal share.  David was so resolved in this matter that he put an ordinance in place.

v26-31: David returns to Ziklag with an abundance of plunder, probably more than he could reasonably use and more than was reasonable to hold on to - after all they didn't expect to stay in Ziklag permanently, they were expecting to have to pick up and move on again some day.  So what does David do with the excess?  He sends gifts to the elders of Judah who've likely been suffering under Saul oppressive reign, to the elders in the regions of Israel where David and his men had been known to rove, and I'm sure this doesn't hurt David's reputation & gains him favor.

Closing Prayer:  Thank you Lord for watching over David and his men, and thank you Lord for watching over us.  Help us Lord to respond to your faithfulness and your protection in a manner that demonstrates our love for you.  Help us Lord to live out our faith by demonstrating your love and your compassion to the world.

Quickly Form Groups Again, and answer the following questions:
3. Take a few moments to stop and think of someone or some group that could use a little compassion.  What can you do to demonstrate compassion for this particular person or group?
4. What has God given to you to share with others?  What will you do to make sure you are sharing what He's given?
5. Why is it difficult to be compassionate or to share with others?

Life Of David - Lesson 14

Saul's Slip & Slide - 1 Samuel 28

Prayer: Lord I pray that as we come to study your word we would each have hearts that desire to draw closer to you, hearts that desire to live in purity because of our passionate love for you, hearts that are offered up in sacrifice to you so that you may do the work of purifying our minds & our lives.  Lord your Word warns us that there are evil forces at work in this world that desire to draw us in; help us to understand these forces in order to resist them, but not to be so curious as to be drawn into their seductive traps.

At the end of the last chapter David has been living in Philistine territory for 1 year & 4 months.  During this time David has been reporting to King Achish (Philistine) that he's been raiding Israelite territories when in reality he's been attacking & obliterating the non-Philistine enemies of Israel.  Because of these reports Achish thinks he has David under his power, and David is happy to let him think this.

1 Samuel 28 v1-2: Since Achish thinks he's got David under his power, he commands David & his men to go into battle against Israel.  Indicating that if David lives up to his reputation in the battle Achish is going to make David his personal bodyguard.  This sounds like it could undermine what God has in mind for David to do.... but God has different plans in mind, and we'll see what God does when we get to chapter 29; however, for the remainder of this chapter Saul is going to be the focus as we see how he responds to the approaching Philistine forces.

Quickly Form Groups and answer the following questions:
1. Discuss the following list of activities, for each do you think they are harmless or dangerous?  Why?
  a. Playing Cards or Board Games
  b. Reading Your Horoscope
  c. Playing with a Ouija Board
  d. Having a Tarot Card, Palm, or Tea Leaf Reading
  e. Consulting a Psychic
  f. Consulting a Medium
  g. Attempting to contact the Dead
  h. Attempting to contact or control Spirits
2. What alternatives are available to believers instead?

v4-6: The Philistines have gathered, Saul sees their forces and is terrified.  Saul cries out to God but God is silent.  Saul basically had 3 means of receiving direction from God.  God could speak directly to Saul through dreams or visions, but God was not speaking to Saul directly.  God could send a messenger, an Angel or a Prophet, to speak to Saul on His behalf but God is not sending Saul messengers.  God could direct Saul through the use of the Urim & Thummim, instruments contained in the Ephod of the High Priest, but Saul had been slaughtering Priests.  In chapter 23 we learned that the one Priest who escaped the slaughter had sought refuge with David, bringing the Ephod with him, so the Urim & Thummim weren't available to Saul.

What are the Urim & Thummim?
We're going to take a little sidetrack - I was looking into these a bit and realized I had made assumptions about what they were, and my assumptions are probably wrong.  The truth is we don't really know exactly what they are, what we do know is that they were associated with the breastplate of the High Priest, located over the heart of the Hight Priest, and that they were used to discern the will of God.
Urim: the meaning is believed to be a plural version of "ur" which means: light.
Thummim: the meaning is believed to be a plural version of "tōm" which means: perfection or completeness.
For both words Jewish tradition holds that the plural form of these words doesn't involve numerical plurality - it made me think of the unusual plural tense used in  Genesis 1:26 where God says "let Us make man in Our image" & the original language pluralities are odd - indicating multiple beings but the grammar used is that for a singular being.
Urim & Thummim: literally means lights & perfections or lights & completenesses - whatever types of objects they are we can think of them as revealing God's will (or God's perfect light) into the affairs of man.
Some things they could be, and are believed they could be: 
  • Something like lots or dice - this is what I had assumed and from what I've read is probably wrong.
  • One dice-like object with Three outcomes: Positive/Yes, Negative/No, Neutral
  • Three stones, pulled out of a bag (or other sort of thing), each with a word indicating: Positive, Negative, Neutral.
  • Stone(s) in the breastplate itself (or on the shoulders of the ephod) which changed color and/or glowed to indicate Positive, Negative, Neutral or to indicate impending Victory or Defeat.
  • Stone engraved with the name of God on which the priest meditated in order to become capable of prophesying or hearing the voice of God.
That was the long answer, the short answer is that we don't know what the Urim & Thummim are.  Apparently what they were was well known to Moses and the Israelites of old, with no need for explanation, but that information is lost to us now.

Back to our narrative.  Saul has repeatedly refused to submit to God's will, repeatedly refused to listen to God's prophets & priests, repeatedly refused to repent, and repeatedly sought to kill God's chosen man David.  If Saul had listened to God previously, bowed to God's will, Saul likely would have heard from God. (Isaiah 59:1-2) Saul had chosen not to listen to God, now it appears God has chosen not to listen to Saul.  Saul's compromises started out small & grew, that is how sin works, it snowballs.  Eventually he got to the point where he was completely unwilling to accept defeat, acknowledge his sinfulness, and submit to God.  What small seemingly harmless compromises are you making in your life (Media, People, Places, Objects, Substances)? Are you exposing yourself to things that could potentially draw you in to sinful behavior?  Even worse are you exposing yourself to things that have been stumbling blocks for you in the past? 

God uses His silence for a purpose, sometimes He simply wants us to wait, other times He is attempting to get us to repent and get our lives back on track with His will.  God wants us to submit our hearts, our minds, and our wills to His in intimate relationship - sometimes it's His "No" answers and His silence that spur us to that greater intimacy.  Is God saying "No" to you? Is God being silent? What will you do in response to God?

Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Exodus 22:18; 1 Samuel 28 v3 & 7-10: At some point in the past Saul had obeyed God's laws by expelling the mediums and spiritists from the land, perhaps by having them executed; however, because he's not hearing from God he is now in desperation seeking out a medium.  Saul knows he shouldn't be doing this, that's probably why he's disguising himself and sneaking around, though he may be disguising himself since he's considered an enemy of mediums.  The medium is also being careful, she knows she could be killed because of her actions, and this is a stranger.

God had forbidden any divination, sorcery, witchcraft, or the like.  God did this because these are occult practices, they rely on demonic forces for insight or power.  God specifically called the people of Israel to be pure, set aside for Him, and as part of that they were never to be contaminated by these occult practices.  That list we looked at earlier is seen by some as completely harmless - but as Christians we've also been asked to be Sanctified, set aside for God's purposes.  Of the things on the list only the 1st item is harmless, and there are exceptions there as well (gambling for addicts & games that aren't innocent).

v11-14:  Ok, something interesting is happening here because this medium cries out at the top of her voice. This is a woman familiar with the dark arts, probably speaks to spirits on a regular basis, so there's something about this that has her very upset.  Perhaps she recognizes Samuel, perhaps the manner in which Samuel appears is quite unique from what normally occurs, we don't know, but we do know it startles the woman and she immediately realizes that Saul is the one who sought her out.  Saul also knows, by the description, that this is Samuel who has come.  We don't know why or how this happened, but we know that God allowed this to happen, God is finally going to answer Saul through Samuel.

A Warning: demons are deceiving and very powerful, much more powerful than we are if we're acting in our flesh.  It's possible that mediums really can contact people who have died, it's also possible that the mediums are encountering demons masquerading as people who have died, we don't know.  What we do know is that God forbids this outright, and no matter how bad we might miss a loved one (my Daddy) we are never to seek to contact the dead.

v15-19: Saul tries to justify his rebellion, crying to Samuel about how God isn't speaking to him anymore. What excuses do you make when you rebel against God's ways?  Samuel has nothing but bad news for this rebellious king, God has had quite enough of Saul and his antics.  Samuel in essence says "I told you so", that God is doing what He said He'd do, that the kingdom is getting taken away and given to David, and that very soon Saul will be joining Samuel among the dead.

v20-25: Saul collapses, he has to be convinced to eat something to regain his strength - after all he's got the Philistine army to face.  I wonder what the medium thought as she witnessed all this, I wonder if it caused her to change her ways, I'd like to think that it got her attention & caused her to repent.  If it did it's not recorded in scripture, so I think its unlikely.  That should be a lesson for us, some people will refuse God no matter how much He reaches out to them, that doesn't mean we stop trying to reach people for God, but it does mean that it's not our fault if they reject Him.  Look at all the exposure Saul had to God, yet Saul rejected God.

Closing Prayer:  Lord there are many mysterious things in this passage, things that need careful study but even more careful discernment.  Please help us to study enough to understand the mysteries of your ways and the forces of evil impacting this world, at the same time keep us from getting tempted to put faith in objects or to seek out insight through the ways of demons.  Finally Lord, keep us from taking the little steps of compromise that lead to our downfall, guard our hearts / minds / and wills and keep them focused on You.  Amen!

Quickly Form Groups Again, and answer the following questions:
3. Think of a time when God was silent in your life or God said "No" in response to your prayers, share it with your group.  What did you learn from this time in your life? What do you think God was trying to accomplish?
4. If you have a friend who is struggling with God's silence how might you be able to encourage them?
5. Is there an area of your life where you've taken a step of compromise?  Share it with the group (use generalities if concerned about privacy) and have them pray for you.