Thursday, June 30, 2016

The woman of Endor

It's ironic that Saul, who refused to obey Samuel's prophecies when he was alive, would be so desperate as to consult a medium. He had just recently "cleared" the land of mediums and such, and said that any who were found would be put to death. But the king who ignored Samuel in life wanted to hear from him one more time.

Ancient peoples had the feeling that they were living in close contact with a spirit world. There were so many things about their world that they could not understand, so it was convenient to say that things were caused by "spirits." Magicians and witch doctors would make a practice of interpreting ordinary things like the flights of birds, or the stars and the wind.

We've seen in our study that God's opinion of these practices, and of the "arts" of witchcraft and magic, is quite clear. He not only wanted the person who performed the fortune-telling or divination gone; He also blamed the person who consulted the medium, as well.

Saul was so afraid of his own future that he grabbed it with both hands. He manipulated people. He tried to (and did) kill people. He kept trying to control people and his circumstances, and have his life turn out just the way he wanted, all the way up until his death. His disobedience and his guilty conscience instilled a fear inside him that was overwhelming.

The woman of Endor must have seen that in Saul's eyes. She was frightened, too. First, she was frightened when he asked for her to "call up" someone -- even though she didn't yet know it was Saul, she knew that it was the king's order that all mediums and spiritists be cleared out of the country. But the real fear for her came when she actually saw a spirit -- it was she who saw and identified the vision as the prophet Samuel. Since she had never been successful before, this was truly frightening!

I wonder as I read this, if the woman was affected by the words of Samuel. They were a bell tolling for Saul; there was no escape this time from the judgement of God. She seems to have been able to calm her own fears and gently suggest to the frightened and demoralized king, that he needed to eat. Perhaps her own calm and resolve was from a determination to follow the God that Samuel represented. To end the life she knew as a medium, and go forward as a child of Yahweh. We don't know this, for the passage does not say it. But anything is possible, especially when the Lord is reaching down to effect changes. Perhaps her encounter with a true prophet of God caused her to forsake the path that she'd been on for so long.

Saul was without God. And he was scared. His future, and a feeling of not being able to control it, scared him. That's why he kept trying to look "in all the wrong places" for help. We know that God is our only true source of comfort, and of help.

If the Creator of the universe has promised to guide us, to direct our steps, and to reveal what we need to see, when we need to see it, why, oh why, don't we step into our futures with confidence? These are precious promises that we can cling to:
This is what the Lord says" "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. (Jeremiah 6:16)
And we have no need of divination, do we? Listen to what God asks each of us: "Should not a people inquire of their God?" (Isaiah 8:19a)

When we ask, this is our assurance:
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. (Psalm 32:8)
I hope the woman of Endor's life was changed after her encounter with Saul.

God will protect us from evil, and He will make Himself known to those who follow Him and love Him. We can truly step into the future with confidence!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The woman of Endor

We've been studying an unusual story in our Bibles; it is the story of a king who consulted a psychic! Let's get back to our study!

King Saul had found a fake. We can tell this because verse 12 of our passage in I Samuel 28 says:
When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”
Why was she so surprised? Seriously! She was shocked to see Samuel "called up from the dead." Because she was a fake, and she had never actually talked to the dead before.

The woman of Endor couldn't have talked to the dead because the Bible tells us more than once that when a person dies, they don't come back.
They are now dead, they live no more;    their spirits do not rise. (Isaiah 26:14)

Contrary to what we may see in popular movies, there's no floating around here on earth, after death.
Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, (Hebrews 9:27)
There's no visiting or communicating with the living. Remember when Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus? Both men died, and Lazarus was brought to heaven -- the rich man was escorted to hell. It was such a terrible place to be that the rich man called out to Father Abraham, asking him to send Lazarus to warn his brothers. He wanted them to change their lives and not end up in hell. Here is Abraham's answer:
....between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us. (Luke 16:26)
I think we can safely say that the dead do not return, they're not allowed to. This only happened because God caused Saul to "see" Samuel at this time. The only one who actually saw a figure was the woman - hence, her shock. Saul heard the prophecy, but didn't see anything because he prostrated himself on the ground in shock and fear.

Well, you may be thinking, why is it such a big deal if we know this occult stuff is fake? Why would God not like it if I look at the horoscope in the daily news? What's the harm in sitting around a Ouija board, giggling and poking fun at the "answers" to our questions? Why does God say he hates these things (Deuteronomy 18:12)?

I believe that the problem with all of these things is that Satan can use them to gain control of our thoughts and use them to manipulate our decisions. These things can change our views of ourselves, and influence how we view our future -- whether minutes from now or years from now.

And we have the best alternative ever!
When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. (Isaiah 8:19-20)
There are many, many examples of people who have a huge knowledge of horoscopes, etc and depend upon that to guide their paths each day. There are people who consult psychics and tarot cards, and many other means of "knowing" the future. The danger of the occult is that we begin to put faith in these predictions that we read or hear.

But God says He is a jealous God. He wants to be the One Who shapes our future, for He has awesome plans for us! He wants to be the Master of our lives, and shower us with grace. Jesus told us that we can't have two masters; it just doesn't work.

We will either look to God for answers about our futures, or to look to the occult.  King Saul had a huge problem with that. Over and over again, he had tried to serve two masters. He had tried to always be in control of his future. He would go along for a while trying to serve God, but when things got a little uncomfortable, or didn't seem to be going the way he preferred, Saul would put God back out of the picture and try to control things himself. This was the first time he had consulted the occult, but it's just another in a long line of incidents where he had disobeyed God. He had rebelled against God routinely -- and rejected His authority.

That is what we are doing when we dabble in the occult. Let's stay away from that stuff!

We'll finish our study of the woman of Endor tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Verses that inspire

Recently I heard someone in the news using an analogy comparing humans and sheep. Of course, my thoughts went right to the Psalms . . .
Know that the Lord is God.    It is he who made us, and we are his;    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:3)
Come, let us bow down in worship,    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;for he is our God    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care. . .  (Psalm 95:6-7a)
He knows we are prone to go astray, and He will search for us, rescue us, and bring us back to the comfort and care that only He can provide.

In the wisdom of this world, one small sheep would be written off if it wandered away. But in God's way of thinking, it is more of a cause to celebrate when that one runaway is brought back, instead of celebrating the ninety-nine that were already safe in the fold.

Contemplate the compassion and love of our God today.

Have some verses inspired you lately? Leave us a comment and a verse if you will.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The woman of Endor

Our "woman of the week" this time is found in I Samuel. We have already studied a lady from this time period when we studied Michal. This time we will look at a woman that her dad (King Saul) visited!
Let's look at the twenty-eighth chapter . . .
The Philistines assembled and came and set up camp at Shunem, while Saul gathered all Israel and set up camp at Gilboa. When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart. He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets.Saul then said to his attendants, “Find me a woman who is a medium,so I may go and inquire of her.”“There is one in Endor,” they said.So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?”10 Saul swore to her by the Lord, “As surely as the Lord lives, you will not be punished for this.”11 Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”“Bring up Samuel,” he said.12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, “Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!”13 The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid. What do you see?”The woman said, “I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.”14 “What does he look like?” he asked.“An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said.Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.15 Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”“I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.”16 Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. 18 Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today. 19 The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.”20 Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel’s words. His strength was gone, for he had eaten nothing all that day and all that night.21 When the woman came to Saul and saw that he was greatly shaken, she said, “Look, your servant has obeyed you. I took my life in my hands and did what you told me to do. 22 Now please listen to your servant and let me give you some food so you may eat and have the strength to go on your way.”23 He refused and said, “I will not eat.”But his men joined the woman in urging him, and he listened to them. He got up from the ground and sat on the couch.24 The woman had a fattened calf at the house, which she butchered at once. She took some flour, kneaded it and baked bread without yeast.25 Then she set it before Saul and his men, and they ate. That same night they got up and left.

Quite a story, no? I think to truly understand it, we need some background!

First of all, let's take a look at the Old Testament and see what God had told the people about mediums, fortune-tellers, divination, and more. Over and over again, God condemned the practices of the occult.
A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads. (Leviticus 20:27)
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft,11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. 12 Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you.  (Deuteronomy 18:10-12)
Even in the New Testament, God declares that He has not changed his mind!
But . . .  the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)
And it's not just the "doers" that God is talking to. The "hearers" are cautioned, too:
I will set my face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute themselves by following them, and I will cut them off from their people. (Leviticus 20:6)
I truly believe that these verses have a lot to do with some of the so-called "harmless" things and "party games" that folks sometimes dabble in. Fortune-telling? Palm reading and horoscopes fit in there. Divination? Reading tea leaves and Ouija boards fall in that category. Consulting the dead? Some folks still try to hold seances or consult mediums . . .

All of these are "out" as far as God is concerned.
Out meaning "you shouldn't ought to do that."
And Saul should have known better.

We'll continue our study of the woman of Endor next time!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday slowdown

Here I am
Down on my knees again
Surrendering all
Surrendering all

Find me here
Lord as You draw me near
Desperate for You
Desperate for You
I surrender

Drench my soul
As mercy and grace unfold
I hunger and thirst
I hunger and thirst

With arms stretched wide
I know You hear my cry
Speak to me now
Speak to me now

I want to know You more
I want to know You more
Like a rushing wind
Jesus breathe within
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me
Like a mighty storm
Stir within my soul
Lord have Your way
Lord have Your way in me

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Michal - a pawn

This week we've been studying a princess -- the daughter of King Saul, who fell in love with David and married the man of her dreams.
After that things went south a little.
Her dad still wanted to kill her new husband, and tried throwing things at him (no dishes, just spears) and then sent for him to be brought from their house when Michal said David was sick. Then they discovered that he'd fled; the "person" on the bed was actually not a person at all, just household items made to look like the form of a sleeping person.

With David on the run, Saul decided to give Michal to another man in marriage. How awful for her, after she'd been out on a limb being loyal to David, and loving him enough to go against the wishes of her father the king. Spiteful Saul.
Saul is not the sweetest peach in the basket, eh?

I wanted to see if we could figure out how long she was married to Paltiel, the son of Laish. I consulted some commentaries, to see what the scholars said. David battled Goliath around 1017 BC, when he was around twenty-three years old. Probably his marriage to Michal was shortly after that great victory. Then David becomes king after Saul dies, about 1010 BC, which would make David about thirty years old. The scholars say that the next time they can "assign" a date is about 990 BC when King David went to war with the Arameans. (We can cross reference this with II Samuel 8:6.) So at that time, he'd be about fifty.  The next time Michal is mentioned is before the war with the Arameans, so it's probable that twenty-some years have passed without any word of her life with Paltiel.

Then, suddenly, she is thrown into more emotional turmoil. Do you recall when we studied Saul's concubine, Rizpah, we mentioned that Ish-bosheth (Saul's son) charged Abner regarding a relationship with her (Rizpah)? Well, Abner gets mad and decides to support David in the struggle to calm the kingdom. Perhaps this incident jogs David's memory, for he demands that Abner bring Michal back!
So Ish-Bosheth gave orders and had her taken away from her husband Paltiel son of Laish. 16 Her husband, however, went with her, weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go back home!” So he went back. (II Samuel 3:15-16)
Oh, my. After all those years . . . Her love for David had been so strong before. She probably didn't give up her dream of re-uniting with him for a while. It may have been years before she accepted this new husband and perhaps grew to have some affection for him. Or, perhaps, she has never grown accustomed to Paltiel, and merely tolerates him. Now, many years later, here is David, turning her world upside down, just as her father did before. She is a pawn in these "games."

David has triumphed over his enemies, and has established Jerusalem as the political capital of the nation -- now he has succeeded in bringing the ark of the covenant home, so that Jerusalem will be the country's religious hub as well.

Michal is watching at the window, as the crowd (including her husband the king) comes into town:
Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf.14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”23 And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death. (II Samuel 6:12-23)
Here we see David, who was so overjoyed that the ark was being brought to Jerusalem, that he shed his kingly, ornate robes and danced in the plain linen garment that he wore beneath them, so he looked just like all of the other celebrants. Michal is mentioned in this passage as "Saul's daughter;" I find myself wondering if she had not allowed herself to be truly David's wife again. If her heart was so embittered by these two men who had disrupted her life again and again, that the bitterness was all she had. No peace, no joy, just bitterness and resentment at how her life had turned out.

She looks down from her window and watches him in contempt. Then, when David comes home to the palace, after making sacrifices and feeding the people, she jumps on him with both feet. She condemns his actions, showing that she has no heart knowledge of worship of the true God. I think we can be sure of this because many years earlier, she had a household idol handy to use when she needed to disguise David's empty bed. She didn't seem to have the same "heart" that David did, when it came to matters of worship and devotion to Yahweh.

The real tragedy in Michal's life is the fact that her bitterness became so intense that it ultimately separated her from God.  Like Leah, in our earlier study, she was a victim. But Leah broke the cycle of pain and bitterness by looking past her surroundings to her Creator. Remember the names of her sons? They told a story . . . a story of hoping beyond all hope that her husband would care for her more with each son's birth . . . until the last was born, and she named him "Judah" meaning "praise" to God. If Michal had looked for God before, by this time in her life she had stopped looking. She could not see His grace. She had been tossed about in her life, and then she'd seen the death of her father and her brother. The bitterness welling up in her caused the rest of her life to be very lonely, and very unhappy.  The final verse of our passage notes that she was childless the rest of her days.

Bitterness can separate us from God, too. It can make us unhappy and lonely. No wonder Paul said this:
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:30-32)
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy;without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (Hebrews 12:14-15)
Her bitterness also caused Michal to look with contempt on someone who was focused on worship. She looked on with scorn, and then she doubled down on things with a verbal assault and insults.

How about us? What are our feelings about worship? Do we look at people who are exuberant and full of feeling as less than us? Or, does it go the other way -- do we look at those who remain quiet and reverent as somehow not as worshipful as we are? Are we embarrassed to be seen at worship? Are we embarrassed to be seen at prayer, such as when we are in public and offer thanks for our food?

When our devotion is deep, and when it's real, we will not worry about what others may think. Our focus will be on our God, and our thoughts will be centered on Him.
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
    let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
    and extol him with music and song.
For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
    and the mountain peaks belong to him.
The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.
Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care.   (Psalm 95:1-7)