Sunday 22nd October – Psalm 28
1 To you, Lord, I call;
you are my Rock,
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
I shall be like those who go down to the pit.
2 Hear my cry for mercy
as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
towards your Most Holy Place.
3 Do not drag me away with the wicked,
with those who do evil,
who speak cordially with their neighbours
but harbour malice in their hearts.
4 Repay them for their deeds
and for their evil work;
repay them for what their hands have done
and bring back on them what they deserve.
5 Because they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord
and what his hands have done,
he will tear them down
and never build them up again.
6 Praise be to the Lord,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.
7 The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.
8 The Lord is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
9 Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them for ever.
David makes a plea to God not to turn a deaf ear to him in this Psalm. He often asks this for if God does not hear him he will be like the wicked who ‘go down to the pit’ (v1), which is a metaphor for ‘Sheol’ or the grave – no hope of heaven, resurrection or future glory. This is why he cries for mercy and lifts his hands toward ‘your Most Holy Place’ (v2) which was the tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was, indicative of the presence of God. He is stretching out to God seeking mercy.
He characterises the wicked as ‘those who speak cordially with their neighbours but harbour malice in their hearts’(v3). A good description of the hypocritical life where people hide what is in their inmost being. Jeremiah says, ‘the heart of man is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things, who can know it’ (Jer 17:9), and it is this heart that David prays he might escape from while he asks God to repay the wicked for what their hands have done. Don’t let me be like them, he asks, because ‘they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord’ (v5).
As the Psalm moves to a close his tone changes, moving to praise and thanks, feeling that God has heard him, ‘Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy (v6) and his heart leaps for joy. He emphasises a theme often found in the Psalms that God is a fortress for his people and that the wicked will not win. This truth is one that godly people always hold on to because they know that ‘the pit’ is not where they belong but rather in the arms of ‘the shepherd who will carry them forever’ as the last verse says (v9). A good thought for this trying time. Have mercy, Lord. Amen.
READINGS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
If you don’t have a bible at home you can find the readings on a website such as www.biblegateway.com or an app such as YouVersion
Monday 1 Samuel 5:1-6:12
The Philistines thought that their god, Dagon, had triumphed over the Israelites god and so they brought the ark of the covenant into Dagon’s temple as a sign of Dagon’s power. The idea of images rests in the thought that somehow gods could be managed, people could manipulate them for their support, and indeed this was the way the Israelites had thought before they lost the battle with the Philistines – ‘surely if we have God’s ark with us we will win’, they thought, never thinking that their disobedience in failing to keep the covenant had anything to do with it. Religion easily falls into superstition. Christians are not immune from this.
Well, their god certainly had his comeuppance – the next morning Dagon was face down on the ground before the Ark, his head and hands broken off. God has a sense of humour! The philistines thought they could sort things by moving the Ark away from Ashdod where the temple of Dagon was and they put it in Gath but disaster followed that attempt and the people of Gath were afflicted with tumours and wanting the thing away from them they shifted it to Ekron who were plagued as well. Eventually they decided on a plan, hoping to get rid of the plagues that had struck them.
The Ark was to be put on a cart but not pulled by oxen but by two cows whose calves were kept penned up. If the cows left the calves and headed towards Israelite territory, they would take it as a sign that it was the right thing to do. The cows didn’t appear happy, lowing all the way, but at least they did what was required and took the Ark back.
All in all it was a little lesson to the Philistines that the God of the people of Israel whose presence was signified by the Ark was not to be messed about with – even when his people were in disobedience.
Tuesday 1 Samuel 6:13-7:2
The return of the ark was met with great joy by the people of Beth Shemesh who were harvesting and a time of sacrificing and worship took place for its return as well as the reception of the gifts of the gold tumours and gold rats the Philistines gave.
However all was not joy. The gold objects were contained in a wooden chest but some of the people, when they saw the ark, wanted in curiosity to look into it and seventy of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh were struck down by God for doing so. “The people mourned because of the heavy blow the Lord had had dealt them” (v19).
We may find this strange and a little unsettling knowing that God doesn’t live in a box. Yes, the ark was the physical place where God said he would meet with the people but as the prophet Isaiah says, “Heaven is my throne and the earth my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1) so why this response? Although physical symbols are not the things themselves, they are connected in a way where honour and respect are due them as though to the person connected. Take a wedding or engagement ring for instance, if a husband or wife disrespects them they are disrespecting the one to whom they belong and the relationship which they signify. In Church the elements that we use in Communion are special and important, the minister says “These elements we set apart from all common uses” and it is disrespectful for us not to so accept and use them.
After this tragedy the people of Beth Shemesh wanted to Ark moved and they asked Kiriath Jearim if they would take it, which they did, and it remained there for 20 years.
Wednesday 1 Samuel 7:3-17
Happily it says that after the debacle with the Philistines the people of Israel turned back to the Lord (7:2). Turning back to the Lord of course meant getting rid of the idolatrous equipment, the Baals and the Ashtoreths, gods of the local people which the Israelites had got into the way of worshiping. It didn’t mean that Jahweh, God, was abandoned but that they added other gods. The word for such religious practice is syncretism and it is very easy to get into it, mixing true faith in God with superstitious additions.
Of course it isn’t just superstition that can get in the road – remember Jesus admonition that we cannot serve God and Mamon, God and money, and how the rich young ruler walked away from Jesus challenge to get rid of his wealth and come, follow him. The apostle Paul tells of one of his erstwhile helpers saying, “Demas has forsaken me having loved the things of this present world” (2 Tim 4:10). Serving Christ involves sacrifice and the special assembly that Samuel called at Mizpah involved a day of fasting and confession where the people admitted, “We have sinned against the Lord”
Their time of renewal actually led to an assault by the Philistines which made them afraid and they turned to Samuel for support but they needn’t have feared for this time God delivered them from the fearsome Philistines and a memorial stone was set up afterwards with the word, “thus far has the Lord delivered us” (Ebenezer). Ebenezer means stone of help and in days gone by Christians sometimes spoke of raising an ebenezer -some token of remembrance – so that they remembered the goodness of God to them in some way or other.
Thursday 1 Samuel 8:1-22
The close of Chapter 7 tells us of Samuel’s life that he was a faithful judge over Israel, that he went on a circuit around the land, although always returned to Ramah, his home. By the time we come to Chapter 8 he is an old man. Sadly his sons did not follow in his ways – a reminder of Eli? I wonder if he was away from home too much? Fathers need always to remember that they have a responsibility for their children, a thing that sadly we often see a poverty of in our own country today.
The elders of the land came to Samuel and demanded that he give them a King. We ought to note their addition – “such as all the other nations have” (v5). Ah, we often like to be just like those around us even if that is not the will of God. Samuel felt it wasn’t right for them and that God would raise up judges for them when they needed leadership – as the book of Judges showed – but they were adamant, a King they would have. God’s word to Samuel is that the people are not rejecting him but God himself and to listen to their plea and give them what they ask for but warn them that having a King won’t necessarily answer all their needs.
Froom v10-v18 he certainly gives it to them. This is what autocracy will do for you he says and many countries down the ages could say “snap” to his warning. Give power to one person and this is what they will do.
Friday 1 Samuel 9:1-10:1
We come now to a long story about the man who would be Israel’s first King. It start’s with a brief introduction about his family which was well-to-do and doubtless he did not have a hard upbringing. He was a good looking man a head and shoulders above other men but he was perhaps not the brightest in the pack needing a servant to go with him in the quest to find his father’s lost donkeys. The servant seems more prepared and knowledgeable than Saul.
When they didn’t find the donkeys Saul is inclined to go back but the servant tells him about Samuel, a man of God, who might tell them the way to take. The noteworthy thing about this is that Saul seems ignorant of Samuel yet Samuel has been the itinerant spiritual leader around the country for some years and has been the spiritual voice of God in the land. Saul appears to have been a spiritual blank page although the young women water collectors (v11,12) know about Samuel. How many young men are we surrounded by today who are not unlike the character displayed here? The biggest issue for women in the Church today is – Men! More precisely, the lack of them.
From v14 the narrative centres around Samuel and the word God has given him about meeting a young man who he is to designate as ruler of Israel. Samuel invites Saul to a special feast and at it he is seated at a place of honour and given the choicest portion of meat to eat. Afterward Samuel has a long talk with Saul on the roof of the house that night and in the morning, in private, he anoints Saul saying, “Has not the Lord anointed you ruler over his inheritance?” and then gives him instructions on the way he must go.
We are bound to ask what Samuel thought of this young man whom he talked with during the night. Did he wonder why God had chosen this young man, was he wary about the future? His future dealings with him will not be very positive, nevertheless he obeys the word of God that he should anoint him which he does. God will be in charge, not him.
Saturday 1 Samuel 10:2-16
The details of Saul’s next moves are given by Samuel who tells him various things that will happen to him when he leaves. They could be designed to confirm Samuel’s anointing of him as King when he sees these things happening. He tells him about meeting with prophets. Prophets are not to be thought in our modern sense of people foretelling the future, they were people who spoke out the word of God, or were ‘forth-tellers’ rather than foretellers, although they may at times have foretold things. We see a glimpse here of Samuel’s influence on the country in that he seems to have been a teacher of young men on knowing and worshipping God and in different pockets of the country groups of prophets such as this one grew up whom Saul met when he approached Gibeah. A procession was coming and with musical instruments were singing and proclaiming in an ecstatic way and Saul was drawn into them and began proclaiming and worshipping along with them. The text says “his heart was changed” and when people saw him proclaiming among the prophets they were surprised saying “is Saul also among the prophets”. This probably says something about his previous lack of spirituality.
When his uncle met him, Saul wasn’t ready to tell everything that had happened to him, he only said that Samuel had told him his father’s donkeys were found but he didn’t say anything about the anointing or the Kingship. It used to be said to new Christians, “tell somebody else”, don’t keep it a secret that you have given your heart to Christ, let others know where you now stand. Saul obviously wasn’t sure.