Mistakes

Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David, for I will no more do you harm, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Behold, I have acted foolishly, and have made a great mistake” (1 Samuel 26:21).

The quality of a person’s character is not nearly as visible in moments of success and exaltation as it is during moments of error, fault, and humiliation. If our efforts succeed, or if we are proven right about our view on some person, event, or other matter, we feel at least somewhat good about ourselves. But what will we do if we fail? What happens if events do not take place as we had thought, or if everything we thought about someone or something proves to be wrong? What then?

King Saul faced such a situation in 1 Samuel 26. He was convinced that David intended to kill him and his children so as to take over the throne over Israel. Therefore, he hotly pursued David in an attempt to kill him. David is given an opportunity to kill Saul, yet does not do so, and publicly demonstrates this fact, showing that he had no intention of killing Saul (1 Samuel 26:4-20). Saul had been proven wrong. Faced with these circumstances, Saul was willing to humble himself publicly and declare his error. He admitted that he had sinned, acted foolishly, and had made a great mistake (1 Samuel 26:21). A good argument could be made that Saul was only putting on a show, and internally still wanted David, his rival, dead. We are not in Saul’s head; we cannot know for certain. Nevertheless, we can see that Saul was willing to at least profess that he had erred and was wrong.

Recently a gentleman made a prediction that the “rapture” would come on a certain day. He declared that the Bible guaranteed his prediction. And yet that day came and went. But did he admit that he was wrong? No; he would go on to declare that the day was “an invisible judgment day” involving a “spiritual judgment,” and expects the end of the world to come in a few months.

The assertion, no doubt, is quite ridiculous. It is quite evident that what was predicted did not happen. As opposed to just coming clean and admitting his error, however, he instead took the easy way out, attempting to dodge the force of the disappointment and the public humiliation and degradation he brought upon himself because of his previous proclamations.

Such disappointing behavior is not new or specific to that gentleman. If we are honest with ourselves, we can reflect upon many times in our own lives when we have been proven wrong but refused to admit it, or things have happened that do not fit into the way we see people or events and therefore have tried to dismiss it. The temptation is very strong to indulge in our own private fantasy land in which we are pretty much always right and very rarely wrong.

Yes, there are times when things may not be exactly as they seem– we might actually have a point, or our views, on the whole, are accurate. Yet the majority of the time we are being tempted to let our pride get in the way, since we always want to be right, and we never want to swallow the bitter pill of our own errors, insufficiencies, and weaknesses.

This is when we ought to remember the example of Saul: when confronted with evidence that shows us that we are wrong, it is always better to admit the error, confess the mistake, apologize, and move on. The bitterness of the humiliation during that painful moment is real, but to pile on error after error in order to justify the original error only extends that humiliation and directs us away from reality toward our idolatrous fantasy land. We must remember that the Lord resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6-10, 1 Peter 5:5b-6).

It is always easier to duck and run from responsibility. Anyone can make a denial. It demands integrity in character to be willing to take up the courage to admit when we are wrong, to apologize, and to be willing to correct our views and actions accordingly. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it seems scary. Yes, it might mean that we have to entirely change the way we look at people and/or things. But is it not ultimately better to come to grips with reality than to believe the delusion and be condemned for it (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12, 2 Timothy 4:3-4)? Let us be willing to to admit our mistakes and our error when it is exposed, as Saul did, and remain humble, so that the Lord may exalt us in due time!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Rejecting God’s Words

And Samuel said, “Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).

The time was right.

The Amalekites were a foul stench in the nostrils of the LORD. While He was trying to lead His people Israel to His mountain, the Amalekites presumed to attack Israel (Exodus 17:8). While Israel was victorious, God made sure that this indignity would not be forgotten (Exodus 17:9-14). It was decreed that day that Amalek would be utterly destroyed (Exodus 17:14-16).

It would take about four hundred years before the day would come when the LORD would fulfill this promise. After Saul the king had defeated the Philistines and many other enemies of Israel (cf. 1 Samuel 14), God told Samuel His will for Saul.

And Samuel said unto Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the LORD. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I have marked that which Amalek did to Israel, how he set himself against him in the way, when he came up out of Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (1 Samuel 15:1-3).

The command, as disturbing as it may seem to modern ears, is quite clear: utterly destroy Amalek. Men, women, children, and animals. Spare nothing.

So Saul went forth and began to carry out the command. He fought with Amalek and defeated them (1 Samuel 15:4-8). Yet, as it is written,

But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but everything that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly (1 Samuel 15:9).

God was not pleased at all. He was sorry that Saul was made king, and Saul would pay dearly for this offense (1 Samuel 15:10-12). And yet what does Saul continue to say?

And Samuel came to Saul; and Saul said unto him, “Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD” (1 Samuel 15:13).

And Saul said unto Samuel, “Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the devoted things, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal” (1 Samuel 15:20-21).

It sounds so holy and pious, and in the eyes of Saul, it was. Saul had gone out plenty of times to fight battles, and when he returned, he would devote all the best things to the LORD. Apparently, in his mind, however rebelliously intentioned or not, “to devote to destruction” meant “destroy the unworthy people and animals, and devote the rest of the spoil and animals to God at the Tabernacle.” Or, perhaps, Saul understood God’s command, but the people assumed that they were to take the best back to God, and Saul did not bother correcting them. Nevertheless, Saul was still convinced that he had done the will of the LORD.

Samuel devastates this view with 1 Samuel 15:22-23. Sacrifices offered in disobedience to God’s commands are vain. God would much rather have obedience than sacrifice. Rebelliousness is just as bad as witchcraft and idolatry. And, in the end, Saul had rejected God’s word. Therefore, Saul and his line were rejected for the kingship.

Yet this seems overly harsh. Rejecting the word of God? Did Saul not go out and fight the Amalekites because God said to do so? Had he not devoted to destruction all the unworthy things because God said to do so? Yes indeed. But God had commanded Saul to devote everything to destruction. By adapting God’s words Saul had invalidated the whole message. By adapting God’s words Saul had really rejected God’s words.

And this is the powerful lesson that we need to consider. It is very easy, when confronted with a difficult command or example, or when a given command seems like other commands but is not exactly the same, to adapt things a bit. It is easier to do all things consistently. When things get tough, and especially when God’s words are in direct opposition to the highly esteemed values and “virtues” of our society and culture, we find it easier to modify or mollify what God has said.

In doing so we may not think much of it. We may still feel that we are obeying the commandment of God. After all, it may be mostly like what He said. It might just be a “little different.” It is just “updated” to fit “our culture” and “our way of doing things.” No matter; it very likely is, in the eyes of God, a wholesale rejection of His Word.

We do well to remember that if we start adding parenthetical comments or force a passage to say something other than what it says to fit our view of other passages, we might very well be entirely changing God’s words. When God’s words get changed, they are no longer God’s words. The serpent in the Garden added one word to God’s two words, and they were no longer God’s words at all– they were a temptation, a snare, and death (cf. Genesis 3:3-4).

God’s words are powerful– they provide life (cf. Deuteronomy 8:3) and are the basis of the creation (Hebrews 11:3). We do well to respect God’s words and not attempt to modify them explicitly or through interpretation. We just might find ourselves in Saul’s position– rejected by God because we, in truth, rejected His words. Let us understand God’s will and not seek to adapt God’s will!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Hearing the Voice of God

And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no frequent vision. And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place (now his eyes had begun to wax dim, so that he could not see), and the lamp of God was not yet gone out, and Samuel was laid down to sleep, in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was; that the LORD called Samuel;
and he said, “Here am I.”
And he ran unto Eli, and said, “Here am I; for thou calledst me.”
And he said, “I called not; lie down again.”
And he went and lay down.
And the LORD called yet again, “Samuel.”
And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here am I; for thou calledst me.”
And he answered, “I called not, my son; lie down again.”
Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, neither was the word of the LORD yet revealed unto him. And the LORD called Samuel again the third time.
And he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here am I; for thou calledst me.”
And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child.
Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, “Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, ‘Speak, O LORD; for thy servant heareth.'”
So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
And the LORD came, and stood, and called as at other times, “Samuel, Samuel.”
Then Samuel said, “Speak; for thy servant heareth” (1 Samuel 3:1-10).

The days of Eli and Samuel were difficult days for Israel. Whereas in times past there were some prophets or prophetesses who heard the voice of the LORD and provided Israel with His guidance, such was now rare. That changes here in 1 Samuel 3 when God begins to speak with Samuel, the prophet who will now guide Israel for many years.

The example here of Samuel’s call is very instructive for us in the early twenty-first century. We live in a world where many people deny that there even is a God who would speak to humans, let alone to believe that He has definitively spoken in ways that we should all be able to “hear.” It is common for us to hear today that people who lived so long ago were in the “darkness” of “ignorance” and “superstition,” with the implicit belief that we are so much more superior today because of all of our discoveries and insights. Indeed– the word of the LORD seems quite rare these days.

Yet is Samuel so completely superstitious and ignorant as a young boy? Consider what happens– he hears his name called three times, and three times he goes and asks Eli what he wants. He assumes what we would all likely assume if we heard someone call our name– some other human near us is trying to get our attention. Samuel does not seem to even begin to connect the voice he is hearing with God.

For that matter, Eli, who is in God’s service as priest (cf. 1 Samuel 1:9), does not automatically connect the voice with God, either. It takes Eli being awoken three times by Samuel for him to even begin to wonder if perhaps it was the voice of God calling Samuel.

Yet, when Eli has that recognition– when he perceives that God is calling the child– everything seems to change. Yet, in reality, nothing has changed but Eli’s and Samuel’s perceptions.

God is a consistent God. Just as He does not compel or coerce anyone into believing in Him or serving Him, so He does not compel or coerce anyone into hearing Him. If we want to hear God’s voice, we must be open to the possibility of hearing His voice, else we will just interpret the voice of God according to our existing presuppositions and worldview, just as Eli and Samuel did.

This is true in terms of the creation. We can see the hand of God in the creation and hear His voice speaking through it, but only if we seek to understand in that way. If we are not open to seeing God’s hand or hearing His voice in the creation, we will just interpret the creation in terms of our own darkened presuppositions and worldview (cf. Romans 1:18-25).

This is quite powerfully true in terms of the Scriptures themselves, the revealed Word of God, and the message they contain about Jesus of Nazareth, the Incarnate Word of God. Consider Samuel again– God calls him, and he thinks he hears the voice of Eli. God’s message often comes through a human vehicle– His voice sounds like that of a human, and He has used His chosen people to communicate His message throughout time (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2). It is easy for people to act as Samuel did at the beginning– believing the voice of God in Scripture to just be the voice of some human beings, perhaps interesting, but not convicting. But if we are open to hearing God’s voice through Scripture, the message becomes quite powerful, very convicting, and life-changing. When we are willing to hear the voice of God in Scripture, we have found all we need in order to live the lives God intends for us to lead (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17). We learn about Jesus the Incarnate Word after whom we are to pattern our own lives (John 1:1-18, 1 John 2:6).

At that moment, everything seems to change. And yet, in reality, nothing has changed but our perspectives.

The word of the LORD is precious in these days. Far too many seem deaf to His call. And yet He continues to call out through the message of Scripture for all men to repent and to follow His Son (Matthew 28:18-20, 1 Timothy 2:4). Let us perceive the voice of God and follow after Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Give Us a King!

But the people refused to hearken unto the voice of Samuel; and they said, “Nay: but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

Everyone would admit that the period of the Judges was difficult.  For three hundred years or so Israel participated in a vicious cycle of idolatry, oppression, deliverance, and a fall back into idolatry.

But things were not getting better.  The Philistines were stronger oppressors than previous adversaries.  While Eli and Samuel were competent judges, their sons did not follow in their footsteps.

What Israel sought seemed logical.  The judge system was not getting them anywhere fast.  Perhaps if they had a centralized authority and administration, they could finally defeat their enemies and have peace.

Yet Israel was distinctive because of all the nations in the world, they had the LORD of Hosts as their King.  By repudiating the system of government which He set up, Israel was really repudiating Him.

Israel would not be persuaded otherwise.  They were not thinking in the long-term, how that centralized authority would virtually enslave them with taxes and levies, and how that centralized authority would end up leading all Israel into some type of captivity.  They wanted a king– and they wanted him now.  Just like all the nations.

As Christians, we are to be a “different” type of people.  We are not to conform to the world, but to be conformed into the image of Jesus the Son (Romans 12:1; 8:29).  We stand as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven (Philippians 3:20), serving Christ the Lord and King.

There is always the temptation, however, to want to be like the nations around us and lose our distinctive nature in order to do what seems to us to be better.  In such a condition, as opposed to obtaining our “inspiration” from God, we get our “inspiration” from those around us in the world.  It may seem logical, and we can come up with all the reasons we want to justify it, but it is the same in the end.

When we seek a “king” so that we can be like “all the nations,” we repudiate the rule of Christ the Lord.  Let us always look to Him for our direction!

If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth (Colossians 3:1-2).

Ethan R. Longhenry