Sunday 29th October – Psalm 29
1 Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of his[a] holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion[b] like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightning.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord twists the oaks[c]
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord blesses his people with peace.
Who is the benefactor of the good things in your life? It’s a worthwhile thing to ask and we could point in different ways; our parents, the kind souls who have taken an interest in us, people who have given us of their time or resources. All these would be true however the Psalmist wants us to ascribe the root of all the good things in our lives to none other than God himself for above all others He is the one who cares about us.
Some have thought that this Psalm has taken an old pagan song of praise to the Canaanite god, Baal, but reframed it with the Name of God at its heart. The Hebrew word for God here, is made up of only four letters JHWH which we translate as Jahweh or Jehovah, and it is repeated again and again throughout the Psalm. One of the reasons for this old Canaanite suggestion is the reference to the weather which they used to believe was under the control of the local deities or Baals but the psalmist wants to say, no, to the contrary, it is entirely under the sovereignty of Jahweh. In fact more than that, he is sovereign over everything and it is to him that due praise is to be directed.
What he is saying is that there is no power which sits ‘enthroned’ above God, neither angelic or spiritual beings (v1) or nature itself (v10) and that those who set their faith on Him will be blessed and given strength (v11).
Samuel Monsell, the English hymn writer took v2 and expanded it into one of the lovely hymns in our tradition “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”. St Francis of Assisi has the substance of this Psalm in his hymn, “All creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and with us sing ”, it says exactly what Psalm 29 is about; it is a summons to worship calling everything and everyone to join together in that enterprise. It’s why we gather every Sunday and what we set our life for in the coming week. “Oh, praise Him. Allelujah”.
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 10:17-27
When Queen Elizabeth died, Charles became King but the Coronation took place a number of months later. The same situation is happening here in that Samuel met Saul and anointed him King at Gibeah (which was Saul’s home) but later he summoned all Israel to Mizpah, which was more or less in the middle of the land, to preside over what might have been called a kind of coronation before the people.
Samuel starts off telling the people that, despite God’s deliverance of them in the past, they have rejected his rule by wanting a King like everybody else and so he has granted their request. It sounds very like their grumbles in the wilderness where God granted them meat (quails) when they complained about their rations but then they were sick afterwards. The Psalmist described it thus, “He gave them their request but sent leanness into their soul” (Ps 106:15). We ought to be careful what we whine about before God lest he give us what we want but let the result show us an impoverishment of soul.
Anyway, the Coronation comes via a pattern of selecting, possibly by lot, tribe by tribe and then clan by clan until Saul is singled out, but where is he – hiding behind piles of supplies! (v22). He is dragged out, a bit like the Speaker in the House of Commons though his reluctance seems genuine, and then Samuel presents him before the people who shout, “God save the King”! Samuel then explains the rights and duties of Kingship, writing them down and depositing them before the Lord, presumably by the Ark in the Tent of Meeting, and the people are then dismissed to their homes and Saul also returns to his home in Gibeah. As with all leadership though, “some scoundrels said, “How can this fellow save us?” (v27). Leadership of whatever kind is never easy.
Tuesday 1 Samuel 11:1-15
Although what happened at Mizpah was a kind of ceremonial presentation by Samuel of the new King, nothing politically happened – Saul went back to the fields working his oxen – it was only in Chapter 11 that we see him as the visible leader of his people.
The cause that sparked this off was a siege on Jabesh Gilead by Nahash the Ammonite who would crush them unless they offered to surrender. Nahash told them his terms which were brutal and humiliating for them and the whole of the people of Israel – they wanted to put out the right eye of everyone in the city. It is true that throughout the ages God’s people will often seek accommodation with the society around (“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” Roms 12:18) but there come times when that accommodation can’t be stretched to a breaking point and a firm stance has to be made.
The people of the city asked for time and sent messengers throughout Israel seeking help. When Saul heard, “the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger” (v6), he cut oxen into pieces and sent the pieces throughout the land summoning all on pain of death to come together so that the people of Jabesh Gilead could be saved. The outcome was as could be expected, the Israelites came together, fought and defeated the Ammonites, and rejoiced. No more was there a question of doubting Saul as King and he was renewed as King at Gilgal. People at any time need to be prepared to change their mind when circumstances show the right thing to do.
Wednesday 1 Samuel 12:1-25
Samuel is in the final years of his life and after the Coronation of Saul he asks the people to witness that he has fairly and honestly been a judge over the people all the years of his life to which they reply in the positive. It is a great tribute to anyone if at the close of their life the people who knew them could give a tribute like this, may we all strive to live our lives in such a way.
However Samuel reminds them that the history of their life has been one of recurring rebellion and resistance against God even though he has sent good and faithful men as guides and leaders, now that he is departing he leaves them with Saul, the King whom they asked for and he gives a solemn warning, “if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God—good! 15 But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you” (v14-15).
Samuel then calls on the Lord to send a fearsome thunder and rain in the midst of harvest time as a warning of the wrath of God because of the evil thing they did in asking for a King. The people ask Samuel to pray for them that they wouldn’t die under the hand of God to which Samuel replies, “far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you” (v23).
There may be times when others who we are connected with, be they family, friends, work colleagues, or whomever turn away from what they ought to do despite our warnings. If we are to heed Samuel’s advice we must not cease to pray for them. Letting people go, shrugging our shoulders, giving up on people is not the way of the Lord. Let us remember and heed Samuel’s life and words.
Thursday 1 Samuel 13:1-15
It appears in this chapter that it was an attack by Saul’s son, Jonathan, on the Philistines at Geba that aroused the Philistines to make a determined decision to attack Israel. When they assembled they had a large army of infantry and chariots and when they encamped at Mikmash Israelites fled and hid in caves, some even fled over the Jordan but Saul and his troops remained at Gilgal.
They were “Quaking with fear” (v7) but it appears that they were waiting there for Samuel to come because he was coming to offer sacrifices, presumably to make intercession with God for the people. As time went on the men began to disperse and so Saul thought that he would do the job of the priest and offer the sacrifices himself.
It is important to see that there were two different roles within the people, one being the priest and the other the King and there was a definite separation between them. The role of the priest was Godward, the role of the King was Manward or towards the people. Those roles would only be united in the Messiah (in Jesus) but in all the history they were separate and not to be mixed. Saul took over the priestly role here and gained Samuel’s rebuke when he arrived telling him that he had done a foolish thing and that as a result he would lose the Kingship which God would give to another man (v14). That was still to come but we see the start of the pride and foolishness of Saul in this act.
Whenever the political seeks to take over the spiritual role of a people, things do not go well. The political role needs to listen to and heed the spiritual, but its role is distinct. Saul here did not heed God’s rule and lost the position that could have been his and his family’s.
Friday 1 Samuel 13:16-14:23
The Israelites were not prepared for a battle against the Philistines because technologically they were behind their enemies. The Israelites were low on metal armaments because the Philistines had made sure that they didn’t have the blacksmith equipment. (See v22).
The next two chapters tell of Jonathan’s wily action against the Philistines and God’s assistance of him – he was a different man from his father and was prepared to take bold and courageous steps against the enemy. The question hangs in the air, why was Saul not taking a leading role in the campaign against the Philistines. Jonathan was taking over that role and eventually David would in years to come. If we fail to do what God gives us to do, the task won’t be lost but God will choose someone else. Barak in the Book of Judges (Chapter 4) was commanded by God to take a lead against the Canaanite forces under Sisera, he resisted and hesitated and so God gave the glory of the victory to Deborah, the prophetess.
In Chapter 14 once again we see Jonathon taking a lead and eventually, when Saul is moved into action, we see the Philistines defeated, although it is the intervention of God in causing the Philistines to go into confusion that really brings about the victory. We also see Saul realising that it is in the hand of God to bring about victory when we see him consulting with Ahijah the priest in v18 asking him to bring the ark of God. The part where he asks the priest to “withdraw his hand” (v19) is slightly confusing but most probably refers to the Urim and Thummim, elements on the breastplate of the High Priest which were to serve for divination of the will of God (Exodus 28:30). We almost see him fidgeting in the area of spirituality instead of getting on with what is clearly before him. Jim Elliot, one of the Missionaries who died in South America at the hands of the Auca Indians, said of some of his fellow students at Bible School that they didn’t need a “Word from the Lord” about what they were to do, they just needed a “Kick up the pants”
Saturday 1 Samuel 14:24-35
The next section of the passage in 1 Samuel 14 shows once again the stupidity and godlessness of Saul. He obviously thought that a spiritual thing to do would be to put the people under an oath of fasting until all his enemies were defeated. Notice the phrase until “I have avenged myself on my enemies” – he was only concerned with himself. Jonathan, when he had come back from his own successful forays against the Philistines, hadn’t heard of the fasting oath and the honey he saw in the forest was so enticing he stretched out his staff to get some and was greatly pleased before his men told him about the oath. When Jonathan heard he said, ”my father has made trouble for the country” and he couldn’t have said a truer word.
What happened as a consequence of Saul’s foolish act was that when the men struck down the Philistines, in their exhausted state they pounced on their sheep and cattle, butchered them, and ate them in their bloody state which was against the commandment of God from Sinai days in respect and acknowledgement of the lives given up for them. Saul tried to make amends by summoning the men together and making an altar to sacrifice on with the passage saying, “it was the first time he had done this”. How easy it can be to put on a religious face without ever truly giving oneself to God in obedience. More and more Saul is showing the life of a man who isn’t listening.