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1. The assurance of God’s word. Series: How can I know I’m saved?

We’re talking about something very practical today and for the next few weeks. How can I know I’m saved? How can you know that you’re saved? It’s a pretty important question.

Can you know for sure that God has forgiven your sins; that you are saved, right here and right now and that you are an heir of God’s eternal blessings? Or are you just hoping for the best?

Is the Christian life one that is characterized by confidence in where you stand with God?Or are we to always be insecure in our relationship with God?

We are talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. And let me say that I believe very strongly that you can know, and that you should know. We can have security in Christ.

Now, this doesn’t mean you won’t have occasional times of struggle or doubt. This is a part of a life of faith.

And certainly we are not to have a sense of assurance when we are knowingly and willfully rebelling against God. In the Scriptures, both Old Testament and New, words of assurance are given to those who are walking with God and finding forgiveness when they fail; assurance is given to those whose hearts are set on God, even though it’s hard.

But words of warning and judgment are given to those who choose the path of sin. So beware of false assurance. Beware of those who say, “Peace, peace – when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Who say everything is OK, don’t worry – even though you are choosing a lifestyle of sin.

But beyond this, yes, Christians are to be characterized as those who have great confidence and joyful assurance of their standing with God.

  • John says this, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” – 1 John 5:13. We can know.
  • The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.

So, for the next few weeks, I want us to look at this topic and specifically three interconnected bases for our assurance of salvation. And today we begin with the assurance of God’s word.

And so, first of all, we need to know –

God’s promises or word to us regarding salvation

 Let me summarize these from the preaching found in the book of Acts.

1. God promises to forgive our sins. Peter says in his sermon on the day of Pentecost that God offers “the forgiveness of your sins” – Acts 2:38. Later, he says it this way, “that your sins may be blotted out” – Acts 3:19.

So this is good news! Our sins, which separate us from God and bring us death can be taken away! We can have a fresh start with God, and in life, because of what Jesus has done.

2. God promises to give us the Spirit. Peter speaks of this promise from God to his listeners on the day of Pentecost, when he says, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38. And we see this gift bestowed in several of the stories in the book of Acts.

  • The Spirit gives us new life: we are born anew, we are a new creation in Christ, we are raised to new life in Christ, we have eternal life.
  • And the Spirit also gives us power to live differently.

So these are God’s promises of salvation to us. But it is also important that we hear God’s word about what is required of us. God’s promises often come with things we must do. And if we don’t meet the conditions, then we are being presumptuous with God’s promises.  Two things stand out here, from the book of Acts:

1. We need faith in Jesus. We need to believe that he is indeed the Messiah, who has brought us God’s salvation. Peter said to Cornelius “everyone who believes in him,” that is, Jesus receives salvation – Acts 10:43. Paul preached “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” – Acts 20:21.

2. We need to repent. Peter talked about “turning . . . from your wickedness” – Acts 3:26. Paul’s message was, “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance” – Acts 26:20.

So this is God’s word to us, both promises of salvation and what he asks of us. Now we look at –

How God’s word gives us assurance

 Let’s suppose that you are here today and you don’t have confidence in your relationship with God; you don’t know that you have eternal life. Maybe it’s that you don’t feel saved. Maybe it’s that you are going through some difficult circumstances which make you question where you stand with God. Maybe someone is telling you that you need to do something beyond God’s word to be saved, and it raises doubts for you.

Here’s what you need to do – 1. Hear God’s word, just as you have today. God’ word says that when we come to Jesus in faith and repent of our sins, we will indeed be forgiven our sins and receive new life by the Spirit of God; we will be saved.

Hear God’s word on this, not just in your head, but deep in your heat. Let it come into your heart right now.

2. Agree with God’s word. And this is not just an intellectual thing in your mind. God’s word testifies to us of its truth in our hearts. Agree with this in your heart. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “the word of God is alive and active.” It has a vitality and power to it. And when we receive it in our hearts, it comes alive and God speaks to us through it. God’s word speaks to our hearts with convincing and convicting power. And so we need to agree with this. “Yes, God. Your  word is true.”

What I am really saying is that God’s word creates faith within us, if we choose to agree with it, as God speaks in our hearts. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

How do I know I’m saved? Because I know from God’s word that when I have faith in Jesus and repent of my sins, my sins are forgiven and I have new life and a hope for the future. I accept and agree with what God says about me through his word.

3. Hold fast to God’s word. This means that when we don’t feel saved, or when our circumstances are difficult, or when others say things that don’t agree with God’s word that make us doubt our salvation – it means that we make a choice, and it is a choice, not to live by these feelings, circumstances, or the words of others. We choose to live our life based on God’s word and truth.

Does your assurance seem weak?

Perhaps this is where some are this morning. Well, then keep God’s word in your heart and mind. Read it, study it, meditate on it, confess it, act on it. For it is God’s living word that builds faith within us. And so absorb its powerful testimony and align yourself with it.

Yes, if you focus on your feelings, your circumstances, or what others say – your faith will be weak. But the more you let God’s word into your heart, the more your faith will grow, which means your sense of assurance will grow as well.

And then, finally –

Apply God’s word to any other concerns you might have

 Here are some examples . . .

Do God’s promises apply to me? Jesus said, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” – John 6:37. Are you coming to Jesus? He will not turn you away. You will be accepted. Paul said, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” – Romans 10:13. The promise applies to all, including you.

Am I too sinful? Of course you are, that’s the point! But Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” – Mark 2:17. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . ..” – 1 Timothy 1:15. Believe and repent of all your sins and the promises are yours, regardless of your past. 

Will God fail me? Impossible! Paul said, “He who calls you is faithful” – 1 Thessalonians 5:24. This is at the core of God’s identity – faithfulness to his word and promises. As Paul also says, “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” – 2 Timothy 2:13. This is simply who God is.

Let God’s word be the foundation of your assurance with God. Know with confidence where you stand with God, based on what he says! And if you don’t have a relationship with God today I encourage you to hear his word and act on it, even now.

Saul’s foolishness (pt 2). 1 Samuel 14:36-46

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 14:36-46

Well, it has taken us a number of weeks but we’re finally to the conclusion of the story that started in chapter 13. Jonathan started a revolt against the Philistine overlords. Saul then went to Gilgal, but disobeyed the Lord by not waiting for Samuel to come and give him instructions. Then, while facing a massive Philistine army, Jonathan once again, in faith, took the initiative to bring about a great victory.

But as they were chasing the retreating Philistines, Saul made an oath that his men couldn’t eat that day. This caused Jonathan to stumble, because he didn’t hear the oath and ate a bit of honey. And it caused the army to stumble. They were starving and when they could eat they ate meat with the blood in it. And the victory was diminished because of the army’s weakness.

We saw how Saul’s relationship with God was broken due to his unrepentant sin, and so he’s just making decisions based on what he thinks is right; that is he’s not following God; he’s making foolish choices.

Our story today picks right up where we left off with Saul’s continued foolishness. Let’s see what God has to teach us in this.

1 Samuel 14:36-46

36Then Saul said, “Let us go down after the Philistines by night and plunder them until the morning light; let us not leave a man of them.” And they said, “Do whatever seems good to you.”

His army has now eaten and is refreshed. So he makes a proposal to continue to pursue the retreating Philistines. He wants to fix what he messed up with his oath; he wants to bring about a total victory.

But he doesn’t seek God about this. He’s all ready to go –

But the priest said, “Let us draw near to God here.” 37And Saul inquired of God, “Shall I go down after the Philistines? Will you give them into the hand of Israel?” But he did not answer him that day.

The priest has to stop him to seek God’s guidance. But, then no answer is given.

38And Saul said, “Come here, all you leaders of the people, and know and see how this sin has arisen today.

Saul interprets God’s silence as a sign of judgment. There are grounds for this in Scripture (e. g. 1 Samuel 8:18). But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes it can just mean keep doing what you’re doing, or you don’t need further instructions, or you are in a time of testing when God chooses to be silent. In any case, here it does mean that something is wrong.

When he says, “this sin” he specifically means who broke the oath and ate food when they weren’t supposed to. Remember, an oath means that you call on God to curse you if you don’t fulfill the terms of the oath. And here Saul put this oath of not eating on his men. And we saw last time how Jonathan unknowingly broke this oath.

Saul then swears another oath –

39For as the LORD lives who saves Israel, though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die.”

He doubles down on his previous oath, even though he saw how it backfired and caused trouble for his people. He now swears to kill the person who broke it, even if it’s his own son. It would have been wise to just move on.

One has to ask, ‘Why so extreme?’ ‘Why death?’ Especially since we know that in Jonathan’s case it was inadvertent.

This is not a good decision. This is foolishness on top of foolishness.

But there was not a man among all the people who answered him.

Many, if not all of the army knew what happened with Jonathan. But no one said anything. They are protecting him.

40Then he said to all Israel, “You shall be on one side, and I and Jonathan my son will be on the other side.” And the people said to Saul, “Do what seems good to you.”

41Therefore Saul said, “O LORD God of Israel, why have you not answered your servant this day? If this guilt is in me or in Jonathan my son, O LORD, God of Israel, give Urim. But if this guilt is in your people Israel, give Thummim.” And Jonathan and Saul were taken, but the people escaped.

Urim and Thummin were most likely dice-like objects, perhaps different colors that were cast to discern answers. It’s possible that you had to get the same answer several times in a row for it to be clear. And perhaps when God didn’t answer Saul that’s what happened.

Here he asks a simple question, ‘Is the guilt with this group or that group?’ Urim likely means accursed and Thummin acquitted.

Jonathan and Saul are taken. One of them has sinned. The rest are acquitted.

42Then Saul said, “Cast the lot between me and my son Jonathan.” And Jonathan was taken.

So this process accurately picks Jonathan. He is, in fact guilty of breaking the oath, even though he didn’t know anything about it. Frustratingly none of this process addresses Saul’s own knowing sin. And how it was his foolishness that led to Jonathan’s unknowing sin. He keeps the focus on the failures of others, not his own – a sin with no technicalities involved.

43Then Saul said to Jonathan, “Tell me what you have done.” And Jonathan told him, “I tasted a little honey with the tip of the staff that was in my hand. Here I am; I will die.”

Jonathan’s response highlights Saul’s continued foolishness. He says, “I tasted a little honey . . . I will die.” This last phrase may well be a question, “I tasted a little honey . . . I will die?” It points out the harshness of the situation. The sentence is way out of proportion to the offense.

And it certainly contrasts with Saul’s decision when he was walking in God’s ways. In 1 Samuel 11:3 when some men had questioned his role as king and the crowd said they should be killed, he said, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.” Like in our story, they had just won a battle. But here Saul is ready to kill his own son.

And then, as if Saul is unable to learn, he again swears an oath, tripling down on his first oath.

44And Saul said, “God do so to me and more also; you shall surely die, Jonathan.”

Notice Saul’s complete lack of empathy or concern about his son. He should have commended Jonathan for his faith and bravery.

Is he jealous of him and his faith and boldness and how he was the one God used to deliver Israel? Clearly Saul is being out-shined. Is he trying to secure his son’s death? This certainly foreshadows how Saul will later treat David (his son in law) in similar circumstances.

But then our story, thankfully, takes an unexpected turn –

45Then the people said to Saul, “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die.

The army has some wisdom and courage to challenge the king. If the priest stops him before to seek guidance, the army stops him here from killing his own son. They counter Saul’s oath with an oath of their own.

They point out that God’s use of Jonathan to bring the victory is much more important than his unknowing breaking of a foolish oath. Clearly they respect Jonathan more than Saul.

46Then Saul went up from pursuing the Philistines, and the Philistines went to their own place.

Our story began with pursuit and here the pursuit ends once and for all.

All you can say after reading this is –

What a mess!

Because of Saul’s oath the victory over the Philistines is diminished. And Jonathan and the army are led to stumble into sin.

And then, because of his refusal to back away from it, he makes an oath to kill whoever broke his first oath and Jonathan is almost killed.

The story ends with him being alienated from his son and the army. And with him under the condemnation of his two oaths in this story. He said in v. 44 – “God do so to me and more also” that is, if he didn’t kill Jonathan. And he didn’t kill him.

How much better if he had sought the Lord in the first place. How much better if after his foolish oath he had acknowledged this and let it go. How much better if when God was silent, he took responsibility for causing the army and Jonathan to stumble and sought forgiveness. What a different story this would have been!

What do we learn from this?

Did you know that we are not to swear promises? Oaths are certainly allowed in the Old Testament, but Jesus raises the bar when he says in Matthew 5:34, “Do not take an oath at all”; and James 5:12 says, “But above all, brothers and sisters, do not swear . . ..” If you haven’t looked at this before, I invite you to study it for yourself.

The key lesson however is that if you are walking in foolishness, stop! Foolishness is not following God, but making our own choices based on what we think is right. This is what Saul was doing.

And today we learn that if you are walking in foolishness, don’t cling to it. When you see if for what it is, stop. Don’t be too proud to admit it and then move forward. Don’t double and triple down like Saul here. When you are in a hole of your own making stop digging – as the saying goes. You just go further and further down. You have to put the shovel down and crawl out of the hole.

Take responsibility for your foolish choices. Don’t put the focus on others or make excuses. Set aside your bad choices, and begin to follow God and walk in his wisdom.

Saul’s foolishness (pt 1). 1 Samuel 14:23b-35

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 14:23b-35

Our story today is a continuation of what we have looked at over the last two Sundays. Starting in chapter 13, Jonathan started a revolt against the Philistine overlords. Saul went to Gilgal as Samuel instructed in chapter 10:8, but then disobeyed the Lord by not waiting for Samuel to come. Then Jonathan took the initiative again and attacked a Philistine outpost, which led to a great defeat of the massive Philistine army. Our story today has to do with the Israelites chasing the remnants of the Philistine army as they retreat.

Before we jump into our story, let’s take note of –

Saul’s spiritual state

 –  at this time. And I’ll just say that it isn’t good! He disobeyed the Lord’s specific command to wait for Samuel and Samuel responded to him in 13:13, “you have done foolishly.” He acted on his own and not based on God’s command, which is a good definition of foolishness.

And on top of this, he was unrepentant about what he did. So you can see that there’s a break in his relationship with God. And as a result he is disconnected from God’s guidance. Samuel left without giving him instructions for how to fight the Philistines. And when Jonathan acted in faith and was bringing about a great victory Saul was so caught off guard that although he asked the priest to seek God’s will, he stopped him so that he could go into the battle.

And this theme will continue. Saul doesn’t look to God for guidance as the leader of God’s people, but makes his own choices. That is, he acts foolishly.

1 Samuel 14:23b-35

14:23bAnd the battle passed beyond Beth-aven.

This would be west of Michmash along the path of the retreating Philistine army.

So the Israelites are chasing them, when Saul puts his army under an oath.

24And the men of Israel had been hard pressed that day, so Saul had laid an oath on the people, saying, “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies.”

An oath is when you invoke God to curse you if you don’t fulfill the terms of the oath. Here Saul invokes a curse on his men, God’s judgment, if they eat food before evening.

Why the oath? Well, the men had already been through a lot and they are getting spread out over a large terrain chasing a scattering Philistine army. And so he does this to keep them focused and to push them further.

Remember, he doesn’t have any explicit instructions from God, since Samuel left, and he told the priest to stop seeking guidance. The oath seems to be a way of putting the fear of God in his soldiers, short of  instructions from God.

There is a word play going on here in Hebrew. The word for “laid an oath” looks very similar to the root word for “foolishness.” As we will see, Saul’s oath is very misguided.

So none of the people had tasted food.

25Now when all the people came to the forest, behold, there was honey on the ground. 26And when the people entered the forest, behold, the honey was dropping, but no one put his hand to his mouth, for the people feared the oath.

What a temptation! Huh? They’re exhausted and hungry and here’s an easy fix. But it says, “no one” ate of it. Now our culture doesn’t take oaths seriously. But in the ancient world, if you broke your oath you fully expected God’s judgment. That’s why it says, “they feared the oath.”

Jonathan is caused to stumble

27But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath, so he put out the tip of the staff that was in his hand and dipped it in the honeycomb and put his hand to his mouth, and his eyes became bright.

So here is Jonathan, who has been fighting longer than anyone else and who wasn’t with Saul and the troops when the oath was given, because he took the initiative to start the battle, here he has a taste of honey and is strengthened. “Bright eyes” speaks to life and vigor. Even today we talk about whether some has a light in their eyes, when they are full of energy.

28Then one of the people said, “Your father strictly charged the people with an oath, saying, ‘Cursed be the man who eats food this day.’”

Jonathan finds out after it’s too late. He ate without knowing, but he’s now technically broken the oath and is cursed. Saul’s oath has caused him, the hero of the day and his own son, to stumble.

The oath’s effect on the people is noted –

And the people were faint.

Jonathan then expresses his criticism of his father and the oath.

29Then Jonathan said, “My father has troubled the land. See how my eyes have become bright because I tasted a little of this honey. 30How much better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies that they found. For now the defeat among the Philistines has not been great.”

We’ve already seen tension between Saul and Jonathan, in that Jonathan didn’t tell his father that he was going to attack the Philistine outpost. Here he is outright critical.

If the soldiers could have eaten, just a little – the defeat of the Philistines would have been greater. Perhaps they would have broken the back of their rule once and for all. But since the soldiers are faint from hunger this can’t happen.

Not that they didn’t have success –

31They struck down the Philistines that day from Michmash to Aijalon.

They chased them all the way back to Philistine territory. Aijalon is over 12 miles from Michmash, along the Philistine border. But it’s not what it could have been.

We are reminded again of the effect of the oath –

And the people were very faint.

Notice the progression – they had no food, they were faint, and now they are very faint. What’s the result?

The army is caused to stumble by Saul’s oath. It’s evening and so the oath is over.

32The people pounced on the spoil and took sheep and oxen and calves and slaughtered them on the ground. And the people ate them with the blood.

Eating with the blood in the meat is strictly forbidden. This command was given to Noah in Genesis 9:4 and it is repeated in the Law of Moses several times (Leviticus 17:10ff; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23-25).

They are so famished after a day of hand to hand combat and chasing the Philistines for miles they can’t wait to go through the proper procedure of draining the blood.

Our story ends –

33Then they told Saul, “Behold, the people are sinning against the Lord by eating with the blood.” And he said, “You have dealt treacherously; roll a great stone to me here.” 34And Saul said, “Disperse yourselves among the people and say to them, ‘Let every man bring his ox or his sheep and slaughter them here and eat, and do not sin against the Lord by eating with the blood.’” So every one of the people brought his ox with him that night and they slaughtered them there. 35And Saul built an altar to the Lord; it was the first altar that he built to the Lord.

So Saul steps up to stop the men from sinning and provides a solution, a stone that can be used to drain the blood. This is also referred to as an altar in v. 35.

But of course, it was his foolish oath that caused them to stumble; it made them susceptible to sin. But he takes no responsibility.

Notice also the hypocrisy here. He is furious about their sin, “you have dealt treacherously.” But he himself has not obeyed God or sought God’s guidance for the battle. 

What do we learn from this?

First of all, did you know that we are forbidden to eat blood? Acts 15:28-29

The Apostles and the Jerusalem council taught that Gentile Christians (us) are not to ingest blood. This is found in what is called the Apostolic Decree. This forbids eating blood, along with eating food sacrificed to idols, both spoken of in Leviticus 17. And it forbids us to be involved in any of the sexual activities that are spoken of in Leviticus 18.

Now, this isn’t a common thing, because our meat is butchered to drain the blood, but there are some dishes that contain blood. And we should not eat them! (If this is something new to you I invite you to study Acts 15 for yourself.)

But the key lesson of our story today is simple, don’t be foolish!

Saul here is a portrait of what it looks like to be foolish. He doesn’t obey God, but makes his own choices based on what he thinks is good and right.

And we see the results. Things don’t go well. He ends up undercutting his own goal of having a great victory over the Philistines. Instead it is lessened because his troops are starving. And he leads his son and the army to stumble. He takes a miracle victory connected to the faith of Jonathan and messes it all up. He makes trouble for Israel. And as we will see next time, as his foolishness continues, things get much worse.

Well what about us? What’s your spiritual state? Are you walking in fellowship with God? Or are you cut off from God because of your unrepentant sin? And so you are making decisions based solely on what you think is right and good.

The result is the same as with Saul. Things don’t go well for us. We wander around in darkness and futility. Even if we have outward success it is empty and meaningless. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” And as we’ll see next time Jonathan is almost killed!

Learn from Saul! That’s the message today. Learn from Saul. If we want God’s blessing in our life; if we want God’s purposes to be fulfilled, then we need to obey God’s commandments and seek out his guidance, even if what God says seems hard or risky. This is the path of wisdom.

Jonathan & God’s great victory. 1 Samuel 13:19-14:23

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 13:19-14:23a

Our story today is a continuation of what we looked at last week. Jonathan, Saul’s son, began a revolt by defeating a Philistine garrison. Saul then went to Gilgal according to the instructions of Samuel the prophet, given all the way back in chapter 10:8. But Saul went on to disobey God’s command by not waiting for Samuel to come. As a result, he is judged. He will no longer have a dynasty. And he is left without instructions as a massive Philistine army is poised to attack. Today, we look at what happens next.

battle scene 1

Just to get you oriented, this is a close up of the battle scene.

Michmash and Geba are about a mile apart. The wadi is a seasonal river/creek bed. On either side of the wadi in the East there are steep canyon walls, but at the pass there is flat land.

 

Our verses today begin with some important background.

1 Samuel 13:19-14:23

Israel’s difficult situation.

19Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.” 20But every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle, 21and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads.

So Israel’s Philistine overlords, as a part of their strategy to keep them subservient, forbade all metal working. And then they charged the Israelites exorbitant rates to sharpen their farming implements, which kept them economically disadvantaged.

The result shows up in v. 22.

22So on the day of the battle there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan, but Saul and Jonathan his son had them.

We already saw how Israel was outnumbered. Saul had 600 soldiers and the Philistines had “troops like the sand on the seashore” (13:5) along with 6,000 horsemen and 3,000 chariots.

This brings us to the beginning of the conflict.

23And the garrison of the Philistines went out to the pass of Michmash.

 They are positioning themselves to come to Geba and fight.

 14:1One day (that is, that day) Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.” But he did not tell his father.

Remember it was Jonathan who took the initiative in the first battle with the Philistines, not Saul. And so it is here.

The fact that he didn’t tell his father may mean that he doesn’t trust him, or perhaps he thought Saul would forbid him from going.

2Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah in the pomegranate cave at Migron. The people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3including Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the LORD in Shiloh, wearing an ephod. And the people did not know that Jonathan had gone.

Here we have a reappearance of the line of Eli – his great grandson, Ahijah is Saul’s priest.

Jonathan’s attack.

4Within the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistine garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side and a rocky crag on the other side. The name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh. 5The one crag rose on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba.

battle scene 2

Here we see the Philistine advance to the pass and Jonathan’s attack to the East on an outpost. Bozez appears to be (a past of?) the northern canyon wall and Seneh the southern canyon wall.  Bozez means “the shining one” and Seneh “thorny one,” perhaps because there thorn bushes on it.

 

Michmash terrainPicture of the scene from Bibleplaces.com.

Michmash cliffs

Picture of the canyon walls that Jonathan climbs down and back up on the other side, which would have been no easy feat. Bibleplaces.com.

6Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” 7 And his armor-bearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.”

Now, according to natural thinking this is a suicide mission. But Jonathan is acting in great faith. He believes in God and hopes that God will work through him.

Although his father is very focused on counting his soldiers, Jonathan is very clear that what matters is that God is with him, not how many people he has. God can save “by many or by few.”

Now, Jonathan doesn’t know for sure what God will do, as he said, “it may be that the Lord will work for us.” So he suggests a sign.

8Then Jonathan said, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we will show ourselves to them. 9If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. 10But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the LORD has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.”

“The Lord has given” is what Jonathan’s name means in Hebrew.

11So both of them showed themselves to the garrison of the Philistines. And the Philistines said, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves.” 12And the men of the garrison hailed Jonathan and his armor-bearer and said, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing.”

Notice how Jonathan’s sign puts them in a more difficult scenario. They give up the element of surprise and the Philistines are left with the superior position. They have to climb up the steep rocks to get to them.

And Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.” 13Then Jonathan climbed up on his hands and feet, and his armor-bearer after him. And they fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer killed them after him. 14And that first strike, which Jonathan and his armor-bearer made, killed about twenty men within as it were half a furrow’s length in an acre of land.

And then God intervenes in a powerful way.

15And there was a panic in the camp, in the field, and among all the people. The garrison and even the raiders trembled, the earth quaked, and it became a panic from God. (ESV note)

This is God working, causing an earthquake and putting fear into the hearts of the Philistines.

16And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked, and behold, the multitude was dispersing here and there. 17Then Saul said to the people who were with him, “Count and see who has gone from us.” And when they had counted, behold, Jonathan and his armor-bearer were not there.

18So Saul said to Ahijah, “Bring the ark of God here.” For the ark of God went at that time with the people of Israel. 19Now while Saul was talking to the priest, the tumult in the camp of the Philistines increased more and more. So Saul said to the priest, “Withdraw your hand.”

Saul is seeking to discern God’s will. But circumstances were moving too fast.

He says to the priest, “withdraw your hand” because the previously mentioned ephod had a pocket in it that contained the Urim and Thummin, which were like dice, and used to cast lots to discern God’s will (Exodus 28:30; 1 Samuel 14:41). He’s saying stop, take your hand out of the compartment to get the Urim and Thummin.

20Then Saul and all the people who were with him rallied and went into the battle.

So it took a while. He counted the people to see who was missing, and he tried to discern God’s will. But finally Saul gets into the battle, although really after God has defeated the Philistine army himself.

And behold, every Philistine’s sword was against his fellow, and there was very great confusion.

So the Israelites have no swords? That is not a problem for God. Confusion and fighting against one another are common ways that God defeats an army.

battle scene 3

 

In this map, we see how Jonathan’s attack caused a panic that spread to the main body of the Philistine army which made them begin to retreat.  And then Saul comes into the battle.

 

 

Reinforcements.

21Now the Hebrews who had been with the Philistines before that time and who had gone up with them into the camp, even they also turned to be with the Israelites who were with Saul and Jonathan.

So here we learn that that some in Israel were fighting on the Philistine side, but turn against them as the battle went on.

22Likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle.

These were those who previously “hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns” (13:6).

23So the LORD saved Israel that day.

What do we learn from this?

We learn what faith looks like. There is a contrast in these verses between Saul and Jonathan. And it is Jonathan that is the example of faith for us.

The Philistine raiders are out and their army has assembled for battle, but Saul is not acting. So Jonathan takes the initiative in the moment of crisis.

And he does so against overwhelming obstacles as we saw. The Philistines had swords and chariots and horsemen and a vast army. But he takes the initiative. And when God gives him guidance through his sign he acts boldly. He climbed treacherous rocks, fought the enemy and God used him to defeat the entire Philistine army. This is an amazing portrait of faith in action, risking it all for God.

We also learn that nothing is too difficult for the Lord. Are you facing a massive army? No problem! In 14:15 God caused the huge army of the Philistines to be terrified. In 14:20 God confused them and they turned on one another.

The battle wasn’t won because of Saul, who came late. And it wasn’t won by the reinforcements who came even later. As 14:23 says, “the Lord saved Israel that day.”

To put this all together, if you are here today and you are facing difficult obstacles, even really difficult ones, step out in faith like Jonathan and God will fight for you and save you as well. For no situation is too hard for God.

The beginning of the end for Saul’s kingship. 1 Samuel 13:2-18

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 13:2-18

We’re back into the book of 1 Samuel today, covering most of chapter 13; what is the beginning of the end for Saul’s kingship, at least under the blessing of God.

Just to help you remember where we’re at in the story. Israel requested a king and God chose Saul. And this choice was affirmed in numerous ways in chapters 9-12. He is privately anointed king by Samuel, in a story filled with acts of divine providence that brought them together. And this is confirmed to Saul by three miraculous signs.

Next, Saul was to attack the Philistine garrison near his home, after these miraculous signs, but he didn’t. He hesitated. He was afraid. This was how God’s choice of him was to have been made known, in a military victory. Nevertheless, he is publicly chosen by lots in chapter 10 and he wins a military victory in chapter 11 over the Ammonites. And then finally in chapter 12, Samuel retires from being the Judge of Israel and Saul is established as king.

Our story today connects back to the unfinished business of 1 Samuel 10:8. Basically whenever Saul decided to attack the Philistines, Samuel told him, “go down before me to Gilgal. And behold, I am coming to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do.”

Let’s look at what happens –

1 Samuel 13:2-18

Our verses today begin with Saul selecting his standing army.

2Saul chose three thousand men of Israel. Two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin. The rest of the people he sent home, every man to his tent.

Jonathan’s victory. 

3Jonathan defeated the garrison of the Philistines that was at Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear.” 4And all Israel heard it said that Saul had defeated the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel had become a stench to the Philistines.

It’s interesting that it’s Jonathan, Saul’s son, who fulfills the words of 1 Samuel 10 about Saul doing what his hand finds to do with the Philistine garrison. Although perhaps Saul ordered it. In any case, he certainly gets credit for the victory here.

Jonathan’s act commits Israel to all out war with their Philistine overlords. They are in open revolt. They are a “stench” to the more powerful Philistines.

And the people were called out to join Saul at Gilgal.

Saul goes a ways East to Gilgal, according to the instructions of 1 Samuel 10:8, and to muster the full Israelite army.

And likewise the Philistines gather together their army.

5And the Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, three thousand chariots (NIV) and six thousand horsemen and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude. They came up and encamped in Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven.

This was a truly massive army, perhaps much more than Israel was expecting. They also had better equipment. They had chariots (the tanks of that day). And as we learn later, among Israel, only Saul and Jonathan had swords. The rest presumably used farm implements for their fighting.

6When the men of Israel saw that they were in trouble (for the people were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns, 7and some Hebrews crossed the fords of the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

If the Philistine response is impressive, the Israelite response is not impressive. They knew they were in trouble, if you just go by the numbers, so they hid and fled as far away as they could. Saul still had some people with him but they were shaking in their boots.

This brings us to Saul’s sin.

8He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. 9So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering.

So Saul has finally, through Jonathan, attacked the Philistines and so he knows that Samuel’s instructions from 1 Samuel 10:8 are now in effect. He waited, but not the whole time; not all of the seventh day, as we’ll see.

The offerings are important because they are a means of calling for God’s blessing and help in the battle to come.

10As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him. 11Samuel said, “What have you done?”

So Samuel comes at the last minute, apparently just after the burnt offering, and before Saul finished the peace offerings. Samuel immediately sees that Saul has not done what God commanded. He was to have waited the full seven days, Samuel was to sacrifice and Saul was to wait for Samuel’s instructions for the battle.

This brings us to Saul’s excuse.

And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, 12I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.”

He actually has three excuses. 1) The army was deserting, so he feels he needs to act quickly. 2) He shifts the blame to Samuel. It’s your fault! You didn’t come soon enough! (The “you” in this phrase in v. 11 is emphatic). 3) And, although there is no indication that this was true, he was afraid that the Philistines would come all the way to Gilgal to attack. So again, he’s in a hurry.

So he felt compelled to go ahead and offer the burnt offerings. He’s saying to Samuel, “Hey, I had no choice!”

Notice how each of these excuses has to do with what he saw (v. 11). He’s focused on the circumstances around him. And he chose to act based on his negative circumstances versus what God has specifically commanded him to do. We have already seen that fear is a core weakness for Saul, and this is surely a part of why he did what he did.

God’s judgment.

13And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

Samuel reveals that this was a test. If he had demonstrated faith in God, to obey what God said, his kingdom would have endured forever over Israel. But now his descendants will not succeed him; he will have no dynasty.

Why such a serious judgment? He disobeyed a specific command of God that he was well aware of. And he is the king and much is expected of him as the leader of God’s people. And he was given everything he needed, a specific promise in 9:16 that “Saul shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines.” He was also given a new heart by the Spirit of God working in him. And he acted appropriately before in another crisis by relying on God, showing that he can do it.

But this test reveals something deeper, that something is off in him now. 1) His thinking is off. He thinks that giving a sacrifice is more important than obeying God, when it’s obedience that brings God’s blessing, not a mere ritual or sacrifice (1 Samuel 12:13-15; 25). We will see this again in chapter 15 when Saul once again outright willfully disobeys God.

2) His heart is also off. Obeying God is now to him something to do when it suits him. When it doesn’t create complications for him. But if circumstances demand, then he disobeys. He thinks he knows better than God what to do in a crisis. But God is looking for “a man after his own heart” – v. 14. God is looking for someone who loves him and wants to obey him; who wants to please him; who desires what he desires. And even takes risks to do this. That’s why God has chosen someone else who has this kind of heart, whom we learn later is David. (That this has to do with a different kind of heart – 1 Samuel 14:7, 1 Samuel 15:28, which is in parallel to this; 2 Samuel 7:21; 1 Kings 11:4; 15:3 Jeremiah 3;15; Acts 13:22)

Notice also here how the punishment fits the crime. In v. 13 Saul didn’t keep the “command” or it can be translated “appointment” that God gave him. So in v. 14, using the same word, God has “appointed” or “commanded” someone else to be prince over his people.

The aftermath.

15And Samuel arose and went up from Gilgal.

Notice how in all this Saul in unrepentant. He doesn’t take responsibility. And so Samuel simply leaves without giving him any instructions.

The rest of the people went up after Saul to meet the army; they went up from Gilgal to Gibeah of Benjamin. And Saul numbered the people who were present with him, about six hundred men.

 He went to muster troops but came back with fewer than he had before.

16And Saul and Jonathan his son and the people who were present with them stayed in Geba of Benjamin, but the Philistines encamped in Michmash.

What are they supposed to do? They don’t know.  

17And raiders came out of the camp of the Philistines in three companies. One company turned toward Ophrah, to the land of Shual; 18another company turned toward Beth-horon; and another company turned toward the border that looks down on the Valley of Zeboim toward the wilderness.

If before, after Jonathan’s victory, Israel had the momentum, now the Philistines have it. They send out people to surround Saul, to cut off any reinforcements and to gather supplies for their huge army.

What do we learn from this?

Sin has consequences. When we willfully, knowingly disobey God there will be consequences for us, just as there were for Saul.

Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The soul who sins shall die.” And even when we find forgiveness from God, there is still damage done in our lives. For Saul this meant no dynasty. Sin has consequences.

Our excuses also don’t hold water. In a time of trial, circumstances will be hard, but when God gives us clear instructions, we need to follow them. We can’t say, like Saul, “I had to disobey.” “I had no choice!” To put it in a different set of circumstances we can’t say to God, “I had to lie.” “I had to steal.” “I had to commit adultery.” That doesn’t cut it.

We can rationalize all we want. But God gives us what we need to follow him, even when it’s hard. And when we choose not to obey God that’s on us. And we need to take responsibility for our wrong choice and own our sin.

Finally, our hearts need to be after God’s own heart, to love and obey him, not just when it’s easy.

If you don’t obey God out of love; out of a passion and desire to serve God, you’re an empty shell that will one day be exposed in a time of trial, just as Saul was. Maybe some of us need to find our passion and desire for God, once again. It’s not about being religious, Saul offered a sacrifice. It’s about a heart that yearns to do what God wants. It’s about our heart wanting what God’s heart wants.

God’s unfailing faithfulness

Series: Faith in God

Well we’ve come to the end of our series on faith in God. And in this last message the point is quite simple – when you act in faith on God’s word, God will not fail you. Another way to say this is that when you have all three parts of faith: 1) a word from God, 2) trust in God and God’s word to you, and 3) appropriate action, God will come through for you to fulfill his promises.

Let’s look at this.

It is God’s very character to be faithful

That is, faithfulness is a part of God’s nature or essence. Listen to how God describes himself: “Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . ..” – Exodus 34:6

Listen to the Psalmist, “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” – Psalm 36:5. God’s faithfulness is great in scope. Listen again, “For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. . ..” – Psalm 117:2. God’s faithfulness never ends. Indeed, it’s impossible for God not to be faithful to his word and promise.

Even when everyone else is unfaithful, God is faithful to what he has said he will do. In Romans 3:3-4 Paul asks, does human unfaithfulness “nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar. . ..” (NASB) God will be true to himself, even if everyone else is false. As Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:13 – “. . . God remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” It is who God is.

Did you know that this is why we are forbidden to test God? Deuteronomy 6:16 says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test . . ..”  We don’t test God because God’s faithfulness is not in question, ever. It is outrageous to even think that we as humans would ever try to make God prove himself. The ones whose faithfulness is in doubt is us. And that’s why God tests us, to see if we will be faithful.

Let’s look at some scriptural –

Illustrations of God’s faithfulness

As we have seen, God made a promise to Abraham that he would have a son and an heir (Genesis 12:7). Now, Abraham had to wait. He went through many trials. He even got off track at points. But Abraham believed, and after 25 years God gave him a son. God came through for Abraham and God will come through for you.

Now to make this more personal I would like for you to say this, all together: God will come through for me! whenever you see this. And I would ask that you say it loudly and with passion. Let’s try it: God came through for Abraham and “God will come through for me!”

And then there is the story of Moses. God said to him, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10). Moses didn’t want to, but he did. And it was a long and arduous struggle with Pharaoh and with the Israelites at times.

But sure enough, through mighty acts and displays of wonder God led them forth out of Egypt. And when the Egyptians changed their minds, and sought to take them back, God opened the Red sea and let his people pass through, while the waters destroyed the Egyptian army. God came through for Moses and “God will come through for me!”

God said to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:6). And they went forth, and God went before them and they received the promise of land and rest. After some 400 years, God answered the promise. God came through for Joshua and “God will come through for me!”

God called Gideon to save Israel from the oppression of Midian (Judges 6:14). But he thought he couldn’t do it. And God had to confirm it to him several times. Finally, he set out with his army. And God said to him he had too many soldiers (Judges 7:2). The army went from 32,000 to 300. But God gave them the victory. God came through for Gideon and “God will come through for me!”

Jonathan was bold and full of faith. When Israel was trembling and hiding because of the vast number of the Philistines who came out against them, he decided to act. Knowing that his father Saul was raised up to defeat this very enemy, he climbed through a mountain pass and attacked a Philistine outpost, believing that God can save “by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).

And God acted to confuse and defeat the mighty Philistine army. God came through for Jonathan and “God will come through for me!”

David, who was anointed to one day be king, was incensed that Goliath was taunting Israel, and more importantly the one true God. All the soldiers of Israel were afraid of Goliath and wouldn’t accept his challenge to fight. And so with faith in God, David went out to face the giant. He went with five stones and a sling. And he killed that giant, even though he was only a shepherd boy. (1 Samuel 17). God came through for David and “God will come through for me!”

King Jehoshaphat was faced with a vast horde of an army only 25 miles from Jerusalem. They were coming to wipe away his kingdom. This was an impossible situation. But he turned to God in prayer and did just what the Lord said. They went out to meet the army singing praises to God and God’s faithfulness.

And God fought for them that day. They didn’t have to do the work. And it was a great victory. (2 Chronicles 20). God came through for Jehoshaphat and “God will come through for me!”

Daniel was not liked by many in the court of king Darius because of his success. And so they conspired to do him in. They told the king to pass a law that no one was to pray to any god for 30 days, except the king.

But Daniel continued to pray to the Lord God. And so the men caught him and brought this to the king’s attention. Although the king liked Daniel, he was thrown into the lion’s den to be killed. But Daniel trusted in God, and God sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions and Daniel was saved. But his accusers were thrown in, in his place. God came through for Daniel and “God will come through for me!”

And then we have Jesus, who knew that it was God’s will for him to die on the cross. And so he went, entrusting his life into God’s hands. He was treated unjustly, he suffered and he died. But God didn’t let him stay in the grave. God raised him up on the morning of the third day; he was bodily raised from the dead. And he was given a place at the right hand of God. God came through for Jesus and “God will come through for me!”

In one way or another, God will come through

It might be when we are out our weakest point; when only God can fix the problem; after much waiting on our part; after much testing; or at the last minute. But God will come through.

And God might come through in way that we don’t anticipate or can’t even imagine ahead of time. Like resurrecting someone from the dead before the final day, in the case of our Lord Jesus. Or who would have thought that God would part the Red Sea as a way of escape for his people? And God often uses poetic justice, for instance Daniel is saved and his accusers end up in the Lion’s den. And also, God loves to use the weak and the lowly. Think of David facing Goliath.

But, however God does it, God will come through. And that’s the message for today.

Desiring God above all else

Psalm 73 literary structure

Psalm 73 is packed with good teaching, and that on several topics, including the question – “How can God allows the wicked to prosper?”

This psalm is ascribed to Asaph. It’s the first of 11 such psalms in a row by him, that begin the third section of the book of Psalms. Let’s jump right in.

Psalm 73

He begins with a statement of faith about God’s goodness.

1Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.

God blesses his people, that is, the faithful ones among them, whom he calls the “pure in heart.” But our writer immediately goes on to recount for us his near loss of faith in God and his temptation to give up on walking in God’s ways.

And that, all because of his envy of the wicked.

2But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. 3For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

This last phrase in v. 3, “the prosperity of the wicked,” is literally the shalom or peace of the wicked, referring to their easy, peaceful lives.

The stumbling block for him, and for many though-out the ages is why God allows this injustice to go on. It should be true that the righteous are blessed and the wicked are judged. But often the exact opposite is the case, the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer lack.

And so he was envious of the wicked and their good life. He desired what they have. As we will see, a key point of this psalm is about overcoming wrong desires and finding right desires toward God.

Next he gives a poetic description of the prosperity of the wicked.

4For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. 5They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. 6Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. 7Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. 8They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. 9They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.

Just a note, to be “fat and sleek” speaks to their prosperity in that they are wealthy enough to have food; they don’t go without.

Now, everyone suffers to some degree. But how is that the wicked live such good lives? Those who have cheated, stolen, lied, and oppressed others to get their wealth and power – why do they so often live lives that are easy, comfortable, luxurious and full of peace?And how is it that they can go on and even be arrogant and brag about this?

This then leads to his faith struggle.

10Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.

That is, others among Israel see this and think, “they must not be so bad!”

11And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

Maybe God doesn’t know what’s going on down here on earth; or keep track of unrighteousness and injustice.

12Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.

They are doing just fine.

Perhaps you’ve seen this reality in business, work, politics,school or life relationships, where those who cheat, lie, steal and put others down not only don’t get caught, they succeed more than you, when you took the hard path of doing what’s right!

Asaph goes on –

13All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. 14For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.

He’s saying, “maybe it doesn’t matter how you live!” Here he has kept himself clean; he has walked in God’s ways, and unlike the wicked, he has been stricken and rebuked; he has suffered hard times. Is it all in vain? This is his struggle.

Notice how v. 13 directly contradicts his statement of faith in v. 1 – “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” His heart is pure, but the wicked seem to get all the good things, while he suffers.

This brings us to his solution.

15If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

If he had accused God of injustice, he would have spoken what was wrong and led others to stumble.

16But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, 17until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.

This is the turning point. Trying to think this through wore him out. But then, while worshiping, he “discerned their end.”

I see in this an example for us. When you have doubt, bring it to God. We all have doubts and questions at times. Don’t let this drive you away from God. Come before God’s presence with it. Seek God for insight and help with your questions of faith. I encourage you to do this.

What is the end of the wicked that Asaph discerned?

18Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. 19How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! 20Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.

Their end is “ruin” and “destruction” under God’s judgment. This reckoning may be delayed, but it will come. There is justice with God.

And Asaph also experiences a change in his heart, from wrong desire, envy toward the wicked to right desire toward God.

21When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, 22I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.

When he envied the wicked and almost said to others that serving God is vain, he was not seeing things correctly. He was ignorant.

23Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. 24You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. 25Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

It’s not often that life after death in God’s presence is stated so clearly in the Old Testament. But this is just the background here.

The real point is that God is near. “You hold my right hand” speaks to guidance. Like a parent guiding a small child by the hand. “You guide me with your counsel.” In this life God is near and guides him.

And “afterward,” after this life, “you will receive me to glory.” God’s nearness will continue beyond this life after his flesh and heart fail; after the wicked are put to an end; this closeness will continue “forever.”

Now let’s step back and notice the movement in this psalm. It begins with him desiring the prosperity of the wicked. But it ends with him rightly desiring God above all else. He not only realizes that the wicked will be judged and he will continue with God in the future in a blessed state. He realizes that he is blessed now, even without the prosperity he envied. Because he desires something more now – God’s closeness; his relationship with God.

He is saying, “God’s nearness is better than the prosperity of the wicked.” He came to the place where he could say, “There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (It’s important to note that the solution to his problem was not just an intellectual one – there is an afterlife where justice will be served. It’s a fundamental change of heart and desires within him. He now desires something different, even though his circumstances haven’t changed.)

Asaph ends with a statement of faith on God’s goodness, which summarizes his insight.

27For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.

The wicked will be judged. They will be put to an “end.” This is the fate of those who are not pure in heart, who are far from God.

28But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

His testimony of faith, having come through a great struggle of doubt, is that God is indeed good to the pure in heart, to those near him. And he will testify of the good works of God for others to hear and know.

Let me end by asking –

What is your desire?

Can you say with Asaph in v. 25 – “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”

Can you say that you desire God above all else? That you want to be near God? That you want to know God more? That you want to grow in your relationship with God above all else?

Is that burning in your heart? Is that your motivation in life? It’s not hard to tell what’s in your heart. Just look at how you spend your time. Do you pursue deepening your relationship with God in prayer, reading scripture, listening to and worshiping God?

May God work a work in each of out hearts, so that we desire him above all else.

Don’t give up! Faith as endurance

Series on faith in God

We have been looking at the topic of faith in God for the last number of weeks. (Perhaps you might even think the title today applies to making it through this series.) We have also looked at the obstacles that get us off track and keep us from receiving what God has for us.

Last week we talked about the third part of faith, how we need to act on our belief and trust in God’s word to us. Today, we are talking about the third obstacle to faith, giving up. This is when you act on your belief and trust in God’s word to you, but then things get hard and so you quit.

Now, this much is obvious –

Walking by faith isn’t easy

You will experience difficulties and you will have to wait on God. In fact, I think we can say that it’s rare that God acts suddenly or that there are no difficulties.

  • Abraham waited 25 years. From the time he was promised a son until the promise was fulfilled was a long time! And there were many trials and tests related to receiving this promise.
  • The Psalmist says, “For you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer” – Psalm 38:15. The writer here is seriously ill and has enemies who are scheming against him. He’s going through a hard time and waiting for God to answer.

And we will often find ourselves in situations where we are in a test and it seems to be taking forever.

Why do we go through difficulties and have to wait? Let me say just briefly, that God is working in us. God wants to teach us (Deuteronomy 8:3) and shape us and make us more mature. As James 1:3-4 says, “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” This is God’s goal for us.

But also Satan is working against us. He is called our “enemy” (Matthew 13:39), and also our “adversary” (1 Peter 5:8). He opposes our attempts to walk in faith, by making it hard for us. So for these reasons it can be really hard to walk by faith. You will be tempted to give up at one point or another.

Let me ask you –

Where are you struggling with your faith?

Where are you tempted to give up? If you’re in a situation like this I invite you to think about it as we look at the Scriptures this morning. If you’re not currently struggling, let me give you some examples to work with.

1. Starting a new ministry: You step out of your comfort zone to do what you think God is calling you to do. But things don’t go well at first. Not a lot of people are interested and it seems really hard to you. You’re sure that God wanted you to do this, but you have acted and nothing is working out. What do you do?

2. Looking for a spouse: You’re single and you know it’s God’s will that you marry a believer. And you have prayed for God’s help. But no one is on the horizon. What do you do?

3. A financial crisis: You can’t pay your bills. You have cut back and done everything that you can do, but the struggle continues. What do you do?

Well –

We need endurance

– in these situations. We need endurance in our belief, our trust and our action. Endurance means that you keep on doing what you are doing, despite the difficult circumstances and despite how long it takes.

  • You keep believing in God’s truth
  • You keep trusting in God and dealing with any doubt that comes
  • You keep acting on God’s truth and your trust in God

Endurance means that you do all this, despite whatever problems come your way. 

Now this doesn’t mean that you dig in and ignore everything around you, so that you have blind faith. If it really is difficult and taking forever, maybe there’s some presumption going on. It’s not a lack of faith to check. Jesus did this in the garden of Gethsemane. Just before the cross he prayed, “God, is this really the path you want for me?” But once you check and affirm that you’re standing on firm ground, don’t give up!

And here’s –

Why you shouldn’t give up

1) God won’t let you be tested beyond what you can take. Now, I confess I have wondered about this myself. Because it has certainly felt like it is more than I can take at times. I think, “I can’t take any more.” And then more comes. And then more. And then still more.

But Scripture tells us that it is true. “God . . . will not let you be tempted (tested) beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13. God will not let us get in over our heads, and he will provide a way out in due time, if we look to him.

Another reason not to give up is that 2) The answer might be just around the corner. Another reality of walking by faith is that God often acts when we are at our weakest. Think of Abraham. God acted when he and Sarah were both too old to have children. It simply wasn’t possible.

And with us a well, God often waits until we can’t do it in our own strength. So do you feel weak? Are you ready to give up? That might be exactly when God is getting ready to come through for you.

And then finally,  3) It is those who endure who receive the blessing. Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Don’t grow weary in your situation, because in due season you too will reap the blessing, “if you don’t give up.”

A personal story . . .

Listen to Hebrews 10:36. “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” Endurance in doing God’s will is the key to receiving the promises that God has given us.

I believe that this is God’s word to you here today and I hope you will receive it. Don’t give up.

The completion of faith: Our action

We are continuing to talk about faith in God this morning. Let’s remember together the three parts of faith:

1. A word from God to stand on. The Greek word for faith, when referring to this can be translated as “the faith,” what we believe; God’s promise and will.

2. Firm trust in God and God’s word to you. The Greek word here is simply translated as “faith.”

3. Appropriate action based on God’s word to you. The Greek word for faith, when referring to this can be translated as “faithfulness”

 And this last part is what we are focused on today. In the title, “The completion of faith: Our action” I’m using language that comes from James 2:22 when he says that Abraham’s faith “was completed by his works” or actions. And in the same way our faith, our trust in God’s word to us is completed by our actions of faith.

Now what these actions are depends entirely on what the promise is and what the situation is. To use the example of the man of faith:

  • God promised Abraham the land of Canaan. And the proper response was to leave his home and family and go there, and he did.
  • He waited for a son by his wife Sarah, and didn’t try to make it happen on his own – (apart from that Ishmael episode). And waiting can be the hardest action, not trying to do things in our  own way, but letting God work in his own time and way.
  • When God told him to, he offered up Isaac, the promised child, as a sacrifice to die, believing that God could give him back.

What the action is depends on the situation, but there always has to be action connected to our faith, which leads me to the first of my two points today.

Without action, you don’t have faith

If you don’t have part #3, deeds of faith, then what you are calling “faith” isn’t, biblically considered, faith.

So for instance, believing in “the faith” (part #1) without action isn’t enough. That is, just knowing what God’s truth and promise is, without acting on it.

Think about a most basic tenet of our faith, that there is only one God. Believing this is true doesn’t do you any good, unless it’s a broader part of you putting your trust in this truth and acting on this truth – by surrendering your life to serve the one true God.

James says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” – James 2:19. His point is that believing in this truth of God doesn’t help the demons. Why? Because you have to respond to God’s truth with trust and (our emphasis here is on) appropriate action.

Also, simply trusting in God (part #2) without action isn’t enoughThat’s because when we truly trust God and God’s word to us it will show up in our actions. How do I know this? Because Jesus said a “tree is known by its own fruit” – Luke 6:44. There is an unbreakable link between what is inside us, in our hearts, and what comes out of us, the fruit of our lives; our deeds. So, what is within, in our heart, whether faith our doubt is made known in our outward actions.

Now, the necessity of action with regard to faith is put quite simply by James. He says,

  • Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” – James 2:17
  • “Faith apart from works is dead” – James 2:26

Rather, we show our faith by our actions, as he says in James 2:18.

[James seems to be focused mostly on the first part of faith – a word, or truth from God in these verses. But his statement applies to claiming trust in God without works. Any conception of faith without works is dead.]

However you want to put it, your actions show what you really believe. You can say what you want about what you believe or how much you trust, or have feelings of trust. But you don’t have real faith until you act on your belief and trust.

 A famous tight-rope walker

Let me give you an illustration. This is a well-known story, perhaps you’ve heard it before. In 1859 a circus performer from France known as “the Great Blondin” strung up a tight rope and walked across the gorge just below Niagara Falls.

He was quite amazing. At different times he crossed blindfolded, on a bicycle, on stilts and with a man on his back. He also once pushed a wheel barrow across and he put a stove in it. When he got to the middle he cooked an omelet on the stove and ate it.

As you might imagine, he always gathered large crowds who wanted to see him perform. The story is told that one day he asked the crowd, “Do you believe that I can go across this rope? “Yes,” they answered. Then he asked, “Do you believe that I can do it with a person in the wheel barrow? “Yes,” they answered. Then he asked, “Which of you will be first?” But no one responded.

The point is that, it isn’t until you actually get in the wheel barrow that you show what you really believe. Everything else is talk. There has to be some action on our part.

If we boil all this down to a question it would be how do you know what you truly believe The answer is, you believe exactly what you do; what shows up in the fruit of your life; your deeds. So take a look at your life – a good, honest, sober look. Do you see the fruit of faith in your actions?

And just a reminder here, this is exactly how God will judge you on the final day, looking for the fruit of faith in your actions (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 2:6-11; Matthew 7:21).

Even a “small” amount of faith, if acted on, is enough

 Action is what completes our belief and trust and thus what makes us able to receive from God.

But sometimes we think that we have to be super-spiritual. You know, we have to have great faith to receive from God. We think there can’t be struggle or hesitation on our part. This is a misconception that can trip us up.

Jesus said, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed . . . nothing will be impossible for you” – Matthew 17:20. A mustard seed is a proverbial expression for something really small. Jesus is saying no matter how small your faith is, as long as it is real faith (it has belief, trust and action) God will come through for you.

So don’t sit back and just wait for faith to suddenly and mysteriously arrive, so that it is effortless or easy, before you act. Instead of holding back for something that might never come, simply put into action the faith you have, however small. This is all you need. And this is, in fact, how your faith will grow. It can become easier and easier.

My parachute adventure

Here’s an illustration. Stacey and I, when we lived in Boston in the late 80’s, watched a TV show that featured the characters parachuting out of the back of a plane. We thought, “Wow that looks like great fun.” And so we decided we should go parachuting.

So we found a place in New Hampshire that trained people and let us jump by ourselves – all in one day. The training was hard and lasted for about six hours. They tied the packs on us so tight that I had bruises on my shoulders the next day.

Finally, the time came and we went up in a small plane. Contrary to the image we had in our minds of running out the back of a plane, in this setup you had to climb out onto the wing of the plane and then let go.

So we are up in the plane and the young man who was set to jump first got to the door of the plane. And his face went white. You could see that he was afraid. And not everyone in our group ended up actually parachuting. I won’t mention any names, but I am talking about my wife.

When it was my turn, I got to the side door of the plane and put my hand out to grab onto the wing – and the wind knocked my hand back it was rushing by so quickly. I grabbed again and pulled myself out onto the wing. I held on for a few seconds, and then let go.

Now, my point in all of this is that I didn’t have great faith. Not at all! It was actually terrifying. I had very small faith. But I acted on what little faith I had, and that was all I needed. You can still be afraid, white faced, sweating or nauseous, but if you act on your trust and belief – it is still faith. And with God that is all that you need. Now you can certainly grow in your faith so that after 100 jumps, almost all of your fear is gone. But even a mustard seed is enough.

To boil this all down, we can simply ask, how much faith do you need? The answer is just enough to make you cross that threshold from belief and trust – to action. It doesn’t matter if you are trembling in your boots. What matters is that you are putting your belief and trust into action; what matters is that you have complete faith.