Observing 1Sam 7 — What sorrow is this?

Israel was being Israel. It’s doubtful that there was ever a time when she was whole-heartedly devoted to the Lord.

1 Samuel 7:2-4 From the day that the ark remained at Kiriath-jearim, the time was long, for it was twenty years; and all the house of Israel lamented after the LORD. Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the LORD with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the LORD and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” So the sons of Israel removed the Baals and the Ashtaroth and served the LORD alone.

The Philistine domination of Israel (chpts 4-6) coupled with the Lord’s judgment on the people of Beth-shemesh (6:19-21) scarred the national psyche. As a result, Israel is said to have “lamented after the Lord” for twenty years (7:2). Since this Hebrew verb (and corrsponding noun) is used to signify the kind of mourning that accompanies a tragic loss (see Jer 9:17-19; Ezek 32:18; Micah 2:4), it seems safe to say that Israel was convinced that she had lost the Lord. Even though the ark’s return to Israel signified the Lord’s return to the land (see 6:20), the people still labored under a sense of divine opprobrium.

Twenty years is a suprisingly long time to lament after the Lord without any kind of response unless you take into account the people’s continued dalliance with their idols. In that case, what’s surprising is that the people needed a prophet to state the obvious: remove the idols, return to the Lord, and all will be made right.

It’s tempting, and not entirely unreasonable, to interpret Israel’s duplicity as an OT example of what Paul calls worldly sorrow (2Cor 7:10). That is, Israel was more concerned with what she had lost—possessions, security, status—than who she had lost. While there might be something to this line of thinking, it’s hard to square with the text’s assertion that the people lamented after the Lord.

Another approach would be to read 1Samuel 7 in light of Ezekiel 20:

“I said to them, ‘Cast away, each of you, the detestable things of his eyes, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.’ 8 “But they rebelled against Me and were not willing to listen to Me; they did not cast away the detestable things of their eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. (20:7-8)

“Also I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands, 16 because they rejected My ordinances, and as for My statutes, they did not walk in them; they even profaned My sabbaths, for their heart continually went after their idols. (20:15-16)

“When I had brought them into the land which I swore to give to them, then they saw every high hill and every leafy tree, and they offered there their sacrifices and there they presented the provocation of their offering. There also they made their soothing aroma and there they poured out their drink offerings. (20:28)

Reading 1Samuel in isolation, we feel as if we’re coming across a unique instance of spiritual dimwittedness; but Ezekiel indicates that this supposed anomaly was, in fact, the norm for a nation with divided loyalties. Israel was being Israel. It’s doubtful that there was ever a time when she was whole-heartedly devoted to the Lord.

With the added light from Ezekiel 20, I take away three reminders from 1Samuel 7.

First, God is (unfathomably) “slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6). So much so that “if we are faithless he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2Tim 2:13). My apathetic and guilt-ridden heart needs to hear and believe these truths.

Second, God’s promise of forgiveness isn’t conditioned on perfect penitence. If his forgiveness depends on the quality of my repentance, there is no forgiveness to be had. God help me, I need to repent of my repentance!

Third, in God’s economy one day of repentance is more than sufficient for twenty years of habitual sin because one sacrifice was sufficient for all sin (Rom 3:21-25).

Observing 1Samuel 1 — Artistic silence

Our church has begun a study of 1Samuel on Sunday mornings. This is, I hope, the first of many posts to flow from the study.

1 Samuel 1:7-8 It happened year after year, as often as she went up to the house of the LORD, she would provoke her; so she wept and would not eat. 8 Then Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep and why do you not eat and why is your heart sad? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”

This brief snapshot almost feels like the script to a sitcom. Here we have the well-meaning husband and his (seemingly) tone deaf encouragement for his wife who’s been traversing the wilderness of infertility. We wince at Elkanah’s words and brace ourselves for Hannah’s response–will it be an outburst of bitter sarcasm or a heart-rending expression of grief? We get neither. Hannah remains silent. Three verses and a new scene later Hannah finally speaks–not to her her husband but to the Lord. The “delayed” speech leaves us not just sympathetic but stunned by the godliness of a woman who holds her tongue in the face of persecution and platitudes, choosing instead to entrust herself to the Lord (1Pet 2:23). Her model response is even more striking when compared to the speech of Israel’s matriarchs as they walked through barrenness (Gen 16:1-6; Gen 30:1ff).

1 Samuel 1:12-14 Now it came about, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli was watching her mouth. 13 As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard. So Eli thought she was drunk. 14 Then Eli said to her, “How long will you make yourself drunk? Put away your wine from you.” 15 But Hannah replied, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the LORD. 16 “Do not consider your maidservant as a worthless woman, for I have spoken until now out of my great concern and provocation.”

The circumstances surrounding Eli’s encounter with Hannah is a great example of atistic ambiguity. Eli assumes that Hannah is drunk but why? Maybe Hannah’s comportment was exceptionally strange. Maybe this wasn’t the first time that an intoxicated worshipper had stumbled onto the tabernacle grounds. Perhaps we get some sort of clue in Hannah’s reply and its connection with a later passage. Hannah pleads with Eli not to consider her a worthless woman which is the word used to describe Eli’s sons in 2:12 (i.e. “the sons of Eli were worthless men”). If the spiritual leaders are worthless it’s no wonder that Eli would assume the worst from anyone who looked a little “off.”

All that’s fit to sing

“Let me write the songs of a nation–I don’t care who writes its laws.” -Andrew Fletcher

From time to time a member of the Merritt brood will make a comment or ask a question that gives rise to a 10-15 minute family colloquy. The most recent one arose when one of the teenagers called into question the biblical accuracy of a (currently) popular Christian song and the appropriateness of using said song in a music set at church.

While we took the time to address specific lines in the song, we also used it as an opportunity to talk more broadly about how we ought to think about music in the church. I don’t remember everything that was said but the discussion set me to thinking on a verse that ought to play a larger role in these friendly music critiques.

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. {NAS}

Two observations are in order. First, “teaching and admonishing one another . . .” helps to explain the command “let the word of Christ richly dwell within you.” Most likely we’re to understand this teaching/admonishing either as the command’s result (i.e. what happens when the word dwells in us) or as its means (i.e. how we let the word dwell in us). Either way, the point is that the teaching & correction Paul has in mind is decidedly Word-based. Second, this Word-based teaching & correction is done in the church’s singing.

Certain implications follow when we consider the relationship of singing to biblical instruction:

  1. Our songs ought to articulate biblical truth. By this I do not mean that the only viable songs consist of Scripture set to music (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Rather, our songs should be more like a good sermon, declaring and expounding what God has revealed in his word. Practically, this means avoiding songs that are so theologically impoverished that we can only commend them on the ground that “there’s nothing wrong with it.” We need more than “not wrong” for teaching and correction. [Try this thought experiment: if you removed the sermon from your church service, how deeply and how clearly would your singing preach the glory of God and His saving work in Christ?]
  2. We sing to each other. “Singing for an audience of One” turns out to be too narrow a view of what the church is doing when it sings together. Yes, we’re singing to the Lord but we’re also singing to one another. In this light, the relative merit of a song turns not only on what it says to me but on what it says to the member next to me. And if I’m singing for the other’s instruction an unmistakably clear message should be the order of the day. Let’s drop the ambiguous and innocuous and clamor for something with definition and depth. If our songs leave every man to interpret what is right in his own eyes we’re missing the mark.
  3. Our singing is formative. Good teaching is more concerned with long term results than momentary effects and we need more of this perspective as we sift and select our church music. Too much singing these days is short-sighted and one dimensional as if our main concern is setting a positive tone for this particular gathering. If even a good song can ring hollow when confronted by the vagaries of a sojourning life, we ought to consider the benefits of diversifying our music catalog. Otherwise, how will we sing under the shadow of death? What songs will give us a meaningful response to spiritual (or clinical) depression? When will we sing of the cost of discipleship?

Say the Word. Pray the Word. Sing the Word.

Although I am in the wilderness

Help me to see that although I am in the wilderness
it is not all briars and barrenness.

I have bread from heaven, streams from the rock,
light by day, fire by night,
thy dwelling place and thy mercy seat.

I am sometimes discouraged by the way,
but though winding and trying it is safe
and short;

Death dismays me, but my great high priest
stands in its waters,
and will open me a passage,
and beyond is a better country.

While I live let my life be exemplary,
When I die may my end be peace.

The Valley of Vision, “Shortcomings”

Sounds familiar

Jeremiah develops the idea of prophets who are deluded [23:25-32], contrasting the power of the genuine with with the worthlessness of the counterfeit. He finishes with an attack on the cheapening of the Lord’s word, where it is everywhere sought but only to be tamed, and where everyone’s claim to have it makes it impossible to hear a true word when it comes.  –Gordon McConville (New Bible Commentary, 691)

Reformation 500: Zwingli’s turn to ‘sola scriptura’

When I was younger, I gave myself overmuch to human teaching, like others of my day, and when about seven or eight years ago I undertook to devote myself entirely to the Scriptures I was always prevented by philosophy and theology. But eventually I came to the point where led by the Word and Spirit of God I saw the need to set aside all these things and to learn the doctrine of God direct from his own Word. Then I began to ask God for light and the Scriptures became far clearer to me.

–Bromiley, Zwingli and Bullinger, 90-91 (as cited in George, Theology of the Reformers).

The Crucifixion

I recently began reading The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ and have been very appreciative of what I’ve read so far. If Part 1 is any indication this may be the first of many passages I share from the book.

[Note to the Haters: the author, Fleming Rutledge, is an Episcopal priest and {gulp} a woman! How do ya like me now???]

On the significance of Christ’s crucifixion to the Christian faith Rutledge incisively observes:

In the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the only word used in connection with the entire span of Jesus’ life is “suffered.” “Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.” Who, today, notices how extraordinary this is? What a way to describe the life and ministry of a man so famous for his teachings, parables, healings, exorcisms, and other works! None of these things are even mentioned in the creeds, and very little is said of them in the various New Testament epistles. The wording of the creeds is a vivid demonstration of the early Christians’ conviction that the passion was the culmination and consummation of everything that Jesus accomplished, so as to subsume everything else in the magnitude of its significance. Yet various versions of Christianity stripped of suffering and devoid of crucifixion are more common than ever in affluent America.

Miscellany

♦ I take most of the Barna, Rainer, et al stuff with a grain of salt, but Rainer’s Five Reasons Church Members Attend Church Less Frequently is at least anecdotally true.

♦ If Rainer’s diagnosis is accurate we ought to look for remedies.

♦ As proof that I remain blissfully ignorant of so much tripe in pop culture, I pass on this piece of musical propaganda circa 2013(!). I’m spotty on the details but apparently a portion of this video was worked into a larger presentation on “gender fluidity” that was presented at a Grand Rapids high school.

♦ A memorable passage from Chesterton’s Heretics:

A great silent collapse, an enormous unspoken disappointment, has in our time fallen on our Northern civilization. All previous ages have sweated and been crucified in an attempt to realize what is really the right life, what was really the good man. A definite part of the modern world has come beyond question to the conclusion that there is no answer to these questions, that the most that we can do is to set up a few notice-boards at places of obvious danger, to warn men, for instance, against drinking themselves to death, or ignoring the mere existence of their neighbours…

Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about “education”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.” This is, logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.” He says, “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.” This, logically stated, means, “Let us not settle what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.” He says, “Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.” This, clearly expressed, means, “We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.”

Explaining the Lord’s Supper through Deuteronomy 6

…we should want to provoke the inquisitive nature of our children by exposing them to things they don’t understand.

There was a time not so long ago that kids sat with their parents during a church service. My history is fuzzy but I think it was in the days after child labor laws but before we discovered the retarding effects of acute pediatric boredom (APB).¹ But societal evolution marched on and our ecclesiology eventually caught up so that programs like “children’s church” have nearly eradicated APB (and similar disorders) from our gatherings.

Of course, societal evolution rarely comes without a trade-off. For us, the boon of children’s church meant the absence of young children when we observed the Lord’s Supper. So, in what I hope was a small, first step, our leadership decided to change the service order once a quarter so that our children’s church kids (K5-3rd grade) could experience the sacrament.

Better minds have attempted to work out their corporate worship according to the text and pattern of Scripture only to reach varying conclusions on practices like children’s church. I have no desire to jump into that discussion here except to make one observation.

It’s interesting to note that a full understanding or appreciation of God’s commands are not prerequisites for obedience. Or, to put it another way, sometimes we obey so that we may understand (Psa 119:100; Jn 7:17). For our current discussion the point is that one of the ways God would have our children learn the faith is by experiencing things they don’t understand.

And that brings us to Deuteronomy 6 where God prescribes a parent’s answer to a child’s question:

Deuteronomy 6:20-25   “When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the LORD our God commanded you?’  21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the LORD brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand.  22 ‘Moreover, the LORD showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household; 23 He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.’ 24 “So the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today.  25 “It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the LORD our God, just as He commanded us.

At the risk of stating the obvious [A besetting sin in your teaching ministry. –Shive], this proverbial son is watching, if not participating in, things that seem strange to him; and his lack of understanding is what draws him in. I take it, then, that in we should want to provoke the inquisitive nature of our children concerning our faith by exposing them to things they don’t understand.

To that end we might even consider keeping a fidgety kid in the pew every now and then on a communion Sunday just to pique his curiosity.

And if your son asks you, “What is the Lord’s Supper and why are you doing this?” then maybe you could say something like:

 ‘We were slaves to sin, and the Lord freed us from the curse with a mighty hand.  Moreover, through his death and resurrection Jesus Christ has shown us great and distressing signs and wonders against death, the devil and all his works;

God brought us out from the domain of darkness in order to bring us in to the kingdom of his Son, to give us an inheritance which He has promised to us.’

“So Jesus commanded us to observe the Lord’s Supper, to fear Him for our good and for our salvation, as we are doing today. “It is a sign of our righteousness when we keep this command before our LORD and Savior, just as He commanded.

 


¹We now know that APB is merely the symptom of bigger problem–excitement deficit disorder (EDD).

The winds move fast

Last night: the greatest Super Bowl game in history.

This morning: SB51 stories headline espn.com

This evening: NBA basketball stories headline espn.com

SB51 doesn’t even hold the top spot for a day. Not 1 day.

Psalm 103:15-16  As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.  16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, And its place acknowledges it no longer.