Saturday, April 21, 2012

Great Distress

Reflections on 1 Sam. 30:1-6

No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.
-- 1 Cor. 10:13 NET
Saul and David lived in the same world and faced similar trials, but one found strength in the Lord and the other did not. The difference was not in God, who is impartial, but in the seeker.

SIMILAR TRIALS. Saul was in “great distress” (1 Sam. 28:15) because he and the Israelite army were facing a formidable Philistine army. At about the same time, David was “greatly distressed” (v. 6) because David had found Ziklag plundered and his family taken captives by a marauding band of Amalekites. Both were under added stress because their men and the families of their men were also at risk. Some of Saul’s officers had deserted him to go to David, and David’s men spoke of stoning him (v. 6). In their distress, both sought the Lord, but only one was strengthened.

ONLY ONE STRENGTHENED. Saul did not find strength in God because he had cut himself off from God by disobedience. He cut himself off from the prophet Samuel when he refused to acknowledge his sin, and he cut himself off from the priests when he murdered an entire family in Nob. Even when he finally sought the Lord in desperation, he was seeking his favor without seeking his will, for he was seeking the Lord in an unauthorized way, through a medium. David, on the other hand, had a dynamic relationship with God. He regularly sought the will of God, and he followed the will of God whether spoken by the prophet Gad or Abiathar the priest. His psalms show that he regularly meditated on God’s words and blessings, and praised God in all circumstances. Consequently, when he sought the Lord, he found strength in him.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Prince

The Prince by Francine Rivers is a good historical novel about Jonathan, the son of Israel's first king. Generally, I do not enjoy fiction about Bible characters because authors take too many liberties with the story, often adding details that are inconsistent with Scripture, but Francine Rivers is quite faithful to the Bible story while filling in details in the lives of Saul, David, and Jonathan.

Rivers is remarkably accurate about minor details such as locations of minor cities and the times soldiers from Gad, Manasseh, and Reuben joined David's men when he was an outcast. She also narrates events in the same order as the Scripture with one curious exception: she puts David's short stay with Achish the king of Gath before David's visit to the priests at Nob.

Any work of historical fiction based on Scripture is going to add details which are not recorded in Scripture. Most of the time, Rivers does this in a way that is consistent with other Scripture. For example, she has Samuel telling Saul when he is anointed to write a copy of the Law for himself with his own hand. The Scripture does not say Samuel told Saul to write a copy of the law for himself (1 Samuel 10:25). However, in Deuteronomy 17:18, Moses did command that the king was to write for himself a copy of the law. In another case, she suggests that David fled to Gath not so much for safety as to find out the secret of forging iron. We don't know that he went to Philistia for that reason, but it is true according to Scripture that the Israelites did not have that technology at the time.

On the other hand, in the case of Israelite marriage law, Rivers is not consistent with other Scripture. In Rivers' story, Jonathan criticizes Saul for giving his daughter Merab in marriage to a man outside the tribe of Benjamin. He tells Saul that Moses required Israelites to marry within their own tribe. Accordingly, when Jonathan marries, he refuses to consider the daughters of wealthy men from any other tribe and marries a poor farm girl from the tribe of Benjamin. Actually, what the Law did not permit was for Israelites to marry the daughters of the nations they were to drive out (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Furthermore, it did not permit the high priest to marry anyone except the virgin daughter of an Israelite (Leviticus 21:14), and it did not permit daughters who inherited land from their fathers to marry outside their own tribe so their tribal land might not become the possession of another tribe (Numbers 36:8). This could happen when a man had no sons. Otherwise, Israelites could marry other Israelites without regard to their tribe.

I enjoyed this book of fiction and would highly recommend it. I give it a rating of four out of a possible five.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Killing and the Courts

Long ago in another culture where there were no policemen and no laws against owning or carrying weapons, Moses gave some laws which covered cases where someone was killed (see Numbers 35). A relative could avenge the blood of a person slain unless the killer fled to a city of refuge. In the city of refuge, judges listened to the case and made a decision. Some of the criteria for determining whether the killing was murder were these: the killer used a weapon, the killer hated the victim, or the killer had lain in wait. In that culture, relatives of victims had the responsibility of seeing that murderers were punished, and the judges in a city of refuge had the responsibility of seeing that the accused was judged fairly.

We don't live in that culture, and its laws are not our laws. We don't want relatives avenging the blood of a victim. We give that responsibility to our government. We expect our government to protect the innocent and punish the evil doer. In the case Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, both the accused and the family of the victim need to be shown that justice will be done. In my opinion, and I speak only as a citizen concerned that justice is done, the case deserves the attention of the courts because a weapon was used, hateful words were spoken, and one or both people felt threatened. The case would have received the attention of the judges under Mosaic Law, and I think it should receive the attention of the courts today.

What I have written should not be interpreted as unqualified support for Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, or any of their supporters or detractors.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fair-Minded Christian Responses to Current Social Issues

In the book Culture Shift: The Battle for the Moral Heart of America, R. Albert Mohler discusses a number of issues facing our nation today. Those issues include public policy (Can Christians enter the debate on public policy?), the "right" not to be offended (Can free speech be denied because someone is offended by it?), terrorism (Have Americans learned anything from terrorism?), public schools (Should Christians have an exit strategy?), abortion (Why are liberals debating whether abortion is good or bad?), natural disasters (How do Christians explain and respond to disasters?), Islam (What challenges does Islam present to our political system and our faith?), the American family (What shape should the American family take?), and reproductive technology (What problems does reproductive technology create?).

One of the things I like about how Mohler deals with these and other issues is that he attempts to understand and represent fairly those whose views differ from his. Furthermore, he does not over-simplify the issues. When there are difficulties, he recognizes them. Finally, he presents his own Christian viewpoint without apology but in a manner that is not intentionally offensive.

As an example of Mohler's method, consider the chapter entitled "God and the Tsunami" about the great natural disaster which struck Indonesia and many surrounding countries in 2004. First, he describes the disaster and the human suffering it caused. Then he asks the question raised by secularists about how religious people can explain the disaster and suffering. Their conclusion is that while a wholly natural explanation is not satisfying, it is at least more coherent than belief in an all-powerful and good God who uses neither his power nor his goodness to prevent such a tragedy. Then Mr. Mohler notes two widely circulated Christian responses that were inadequate for one reason for another. He observes that the tragedy is difficult to explain, but that Christians best not try to explain what Scripture does not fully explain, but demonstrate God's love, weeping with those who weep, offering real assistance to those in need, and bearing witness to Jesus who brings life from death.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, especially the chapters on Christians and public policy. I would have liked more discussion of some issues, so I rate it at four instead of five. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Unfinished Business

He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.
-- Rev 3:5

The Son of Man observes that saints in Sardis have a reputation for being alive, but he says they are dead. They have not completed the tasks he has given them. Evidently, they began well, but they have lost their focus, and now most of them have soiled their clothes with sin. The Son of Man reminds them that if they are going to complete their work and actually possess the kingdom, they will have to refocus on the word they had received and heard. Then they would have to obey it. Those who overcame would be dressed in white clothes of righteousness, and their names would remain forever in the book of life, which is the roll of citizens in Christ's kingdom.

Sometimes we need to check to see if we have lost our focus and so failed to complete the tasks set before us when we became his servants. When we focus on the cares of this life, his life withers and dies within us. Then we will fail to complete the task of possessing the kingdom for eternity.