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Day 80 – Thru the Bible
Today we continue First Samuel and Psalms.
1 Samuel 9 – Having insisted on having a king like those of all the nations, the elders get what they asked for in Saul, son of Kish. The story of Saul is one of the least well understood (and hence one of the more troubling) of any in the Bible. But by attending to clues within the text, we can come to a better understanding of why he was chosen and why he failed. And the lessons to be learned from his rise and fall are immense.
Saul is outwardly impressive but largely ignorant of and insensitive to the things of God; even Saul’s servant seems more aware of an important “man of God”. And when Saul encounters the prophet Samuel face-to-face precisely where Saul had been told he would meet the seer, Saul fails to recognize him and asks, rather obtusely, where the seer might be lodging.
Given these hints of Saul’s inward deficiency, which will become more evident as the story unfolds, why would God choose him in the first place? The short answer is that He conceded to the elders’ persistent demand, ultimately to teach them and us of the insufficiency of all purely human deliverance—no matter how noble and capable it may at first appear.
Despite Saul’s obtuseness, God is gracious to him and provides him everything he needs to succeed.
The instructions consist of a two-part charge. First, as soon as the confirming signs are fulfilled, Saul is to “do what your hand finds to do,” assured that “God is with you.” Secondly, as the effect of such an action would be to anger Israel’s archenemies, the Philistines, and provoke a war, Saul is to rendezvous with Samuel, in order to receive further instructions from the Lord.
Saul fails to execute the first part of his charge, despite being “turned into another man,” or given “another heart.” Such language is NOT to be understood in New Testament terms as spiritual regeneration, but as a temporary alteration of Saul’s normal behavior, in order that all the signs might be fulfilled. To prophesy was so out of character for Saul that those who knew him were astonished.
How do we see that the Gospel’s focus is not on outward appearance but on the true condition of the heart? Hint: Romans 2:28-29; 2 Corinthians 5:12.
1 Samuel 10 – Both Saul’s conversation with his uncle and Samuel’s public lot-casting demonstrate Saul’s unwillingness to get on with the task the Lord has given him. The lot-casting was made necessary when Saul’s failure to carry out the first part of his charge meant that he remained unknown to the people.
What accounts for Saul’s failure to obey? The short answer is his failure to trust. The deficiency of Saul’s faith in God will become ever more apparent as the narrative continues.
The story of Saul illustrates a fundamental gospel truth, namely, that “without faith [trust] it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
How often is our unwillingness to act rooted in our lack of trust in God, His Word, and His provision? See John 3:36 and Romans 10:16.
1 Samuel 11 & 12 – Saul’s great victory over the Ammonites and his rescue of the citizens of Jabesh-gilead might seem to contradict the view that Saul was lacking in genuine faith. But the text suggests not only that Saul, in neglect of his calling to lead Israel, has returned to farming but also that the coming of the divine spirit on Saul effects an outward change of behavior but not necessarily inward transformation.
The heart of the gospel is about the state of the heart. How do we see this in Paul’s prayer for believers? Hint: Ephesians 3:16–19.
Overwhelmed by an external working of God’s Spirit, Saul on this occasion does the right thing, but his heart is not right with God.
A hint that Samuel remains concerned about Saul’s suitability to be king under the great King is that, while “Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly” (11:15), Samuel is not mentioned as joining the celebration. Instead, Samuel issues a stern warning: “if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well” (12:14), but “if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king” (12:25).
Drawing together some threads from the story of Saul, we discover a clear gospel balance: just as works without faith count for little with God, so also claims to faith that do not move us to action are meaningless.
How does James address this in the New Testament? Hint: James 2:20.
Psalm 80 – Through familiar prayer, believers have access to a sovereign Shepherd when they are distressed. As He did with Joseph, the Good Shepherd sometimes leads His people into deep valleys. But when He does so, this “great shepherd of the sheep” will “equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight,” for the eternal glory of His grace (Hebrews 13:20–21).
Though rare in the Psalter, the main purpose of “vine” imagery is to comfort believers with the promise that God will save them from fruitlessness and will restore their health. Such tender care by God for His prized plants.
God was faithful to redeem His people in the past by transplanting them as a tender shoot from Egypt to the Promised Land. Changing metaphors, Asaph assures that the Father will restore vitality to His favored “son” in the future. While Israel is the immediate referent, the Son of Man eventually fulfilled all righteousness for God’s people (Matthew 2:15).
While the past and future are clear, present suffering can be perplexing. If God is a faithful Shepherd, loving Father, and tender Vinedresser, why is His current discipline so painful? The answer is because He rescues straying sheep who would not otherwise be turned from the sin that threatens them (1 Peter 2:25). He disciplines His children in love (Hebrews 12:3–11). And He prunes His vines to bear more fruit (John 15:1–7).
How does this Psalm remind you of God’s unending care and love for you?
What other thoughts or questions does today’s reading bring up?
Some of these notes are from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes. We highly recommend this study Bible.
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