1 Samuel 9 has us learning of a man named “Kish….a man of wealth….he had a son whose name was Saul….he was taller than any of the people”. Kish had an issue in that he had lost his donkeys. So he sent Saul and one of his servants to go track them down and bring them back to their place. They head off and look everywhere, but to no avail. As they were just about to give up, the servant suggested one more thing – to find the local seer and see if he can help. So Saul agrees and they head toward town to try and find him.
“Behold, there is a man of God in this city, and he is a man who is held in honor; all that he says comes true. So now let us go there. Perhaps he can tell us the way we should go”. That seemed like a good plan except they were out of food and didn’t have much to offer the seer for his help. But the servant pulls out a small piece of silver and they decide to go try to find him. They head toward the city and are told that the seer (or prophet) was in town and would soon be heading up the hill to bless the sacrifice, so they should hurry.
God knew all this was going to transpire. “Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed to Samuel….Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines”. No surprise here – God had already prepared the way. When Samuel saw Saul coming he knew what was up. And he knew this was the one God wanted to lead his people for a time.
So Samuel invites Saul and his servant to come have some lunch with him. And then to spend the night. “Saul ate with Samuel that day….a bed was spread for Saul on the roof, and he lay down to sleep. Then at the break of dawn Samuel called to Saul on the roof, Up, that I may send you on your way”. They begin to head out of town and Samuel asks Saul to send his servant on ahead, as it was time for Samuel to give Saul what he came for – answers to his questions about the donkeys, but more importantly a word from God. God has big plans for this young man, and now Saul is going to fill him in.
1 Samuel 8 has him making his sons judges over Israel. He had two – Joel and Abijah – and they were made judges. Unfortunately “his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain….took bribes….perverted justice”. They were bad dudes and took advantage of their position to line their own pockets. God is not pleased. The elders of Israel came to Samuel and said “you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways”. They knew Samuel was not behind their greed and selfish ways, but probably wasn’t even aware at his age of what his sons were up to.
Samuel prayed to the Lord. He does the one thing all parents need to do a lot more of. We need to take our kids to the Lord in prayer. Samuel explains to God the request the people have made – to give them a king to judge them. It wasn’t that they didn ‘t want a king, it was that they wanted judges that were fair and didn’t take advantage of their power or position for their own gain. God tells Samuel “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them”.
So God tells Samuel to give them what they want but “solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them”. God’s going to give them what they want, but He wants to show them exactly what they are going to get. Their sons will become part of the army, their daughters to be part of the working. He will take their fields and vineyards and orchards and a tenth of their flocks. There will be a significant cost to the kingly model. And Samuel works to make it very clear what will happen.
But when man gets his mind made up and set on the wrong things, they become stubborn about their sinful actions. “The people refused to obey the voice of Samuel”. In spite of the warnings, the people insist they want a king. And God informs Samuel to give them exactly that. God is already fed up with their failure to obey so He’s willing to let them have what they ask for and then suffer the consequences. That is often how God deals with us. He warns us, or the Holy Spirit whispers in our ear that we are about to make a bad decision, and yet we plow ahead only to find out we should have listened and changed direction. The people don’t do that so here it comes.
1 Samuel 7 has the ark of the Lord in Kiriath-jearim for some 20 years. The people there consecrated Eleazar to have charge of caring for the ark. Samuel challenged the people to get their lives in order. “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods….and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only”. The direction was clear. Get rid of everything that interferes with worshipping God and get after that with a singlemindedness and a heart that serves only Him.
Is it worth it? Samuel gives the ‘then’ part of that if/then question. “He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines”. Yes – it is worth it. If we walk with God and worship Him alone, then He cares for us. Samuel saw their commitment to turn around and worship God, so he offers to get involved. “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you”. If the people come together, Samuel will pray for them. And that mattered a lot. When the Philistines heard it, they decided to attack and try to stop Samuel. But it didn’t work.
Samuel cried out to God and “was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were routed before Israel”. The enemy decided to attack and try to stop the prayer to God, but God showed up and dealt with them directly. The Israelites didn’t really have to do anything beyond clean up. They chased the enemy and struck them down. But God enabled it. He showed up and was their God.
God still shows up today. He is still the same God and in charge of all things. Just like “the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel”, God is alive and active in our world today. He loves to show up and show Himself for who He is. Because of Samuel’s faith and trust, “the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel”. He moved and not only dealt with the enemy that day, but all the days of Samuel. God is our refuge and strength. We need to call out to Him!
Deuteronomy 31 has Moses finishing up his preparation for death and the movement across the Jordan to the Promised Land. “I am 120 years old today. I am no longer able to go out and come in. The Lord has said to me, You shall not go over this Jordan”. Moses knows what is not going to happen. He isn’t making the trip across the river to receive God’s promises. Yet he didn’t ever stop leading. It would have been easy for him to just throw up his hands long ago when he was told he could never receive the final gift. But he never stopped, and to his death he remains focused.
He tells the people to “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you”. Moses knows God is faithful. He won’t let them down. Now he has to transition power. “Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel….It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed”. Moses makes sure everyone knows that Joshua is the man in charge. He makes a very visible transition for all to see. “Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the tent of meeting….the Lord appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud”.
He then talks to the priests, whose task it is to keep the people walking with God. “At the end of every seven years….you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing….Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land”. Moses wants the people reminded that they have to walk in obedience with God.
But Moses and God know that the nature of the people is to walk in their own way. So Moses is instructed to “write this song and teach it to the people….Put it in their mouths”. God wants a way for His people to remember His commandments, and a song is how He instructs Moses to prepare them. Those words come in the next chapter. For the prediction is this: “when I have brought them into the land….and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant….I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give”. God knows our hearts. We are tempted to do the wrong things. We have to walk with Him in obedience. There is no other option.
Deuteronomy 29 has Moses standing before the people saying “These are the words of the covenant that the Lord commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb”. God made an initial covenant with the people many years ago at Mt Horeb, but now as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, He is making another as part of their entry. Moses “summoned all Israel” to come and hear God’s words, not just the leaders and elders, but every man, woman and child in the land. It is a big deal!
Moses explains where they are – somewhat lost about what God is promising. “But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear”. God has not revealed His covenant since the days 40 years ago or more when He made the first one with His people. Moses reminds them “I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet. You have not eaten bread, and you have not drunk wine or strong drink, that you may know that I am the Lord your God”.
That is a pretty amazing testimony of faithfulness from God. They live in the wilderness for over 40 years without wearing out their clothes or shoes, and without going hungry or thirsty. God has been faithful. Moses now exhorts the people to “keep the words of this covenant and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do”. It all comes down to obedience. God is offering an eternal covenant to His chosen people. He wants to set them apart but they have to do their part and keep the covenant with Him.
If they do, He will “establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob”. God is just carrying out what He promised long ago. There is a catch. The blessing of the covenant is tied to sticking with it and walking in obedience. God says that if things fall apart and His anger comes out “It is because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord”. A covenant is a promise between God and His people where both sides need to execute and fulfill the requirements. God always does. The question is – will we?
Deuteronomy 28 contains some strong promises about obedience. God demands that we obey. “If you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth”. What a wonderful promise. If we obey, God will bless us. And it won’t just be a little, “all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you”. Moses goes on to paint a picture of what the blessed life will look like.
Here is the list:
- “Blessed shall you be in the city
- blessed shall you be in the field
- Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb
- Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl
- Blessed shall you be when you come in
- blessed shall you be when you go out
- The Lord will command the blessing on you in your barns
- in all that you undertake
- he will bless you in the land
- The Lord will establish you as a people holy to himself
- the Lord will make you abound in prosperity
- The Lord will open to you his good treasury
- give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands
- the Lord will make you the head and not the tail
- you shall only go up and not down”
What a list of promises God gives.
There is a catch. They happen “if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them, and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them”. God’s blessings are tied to how we live. There is a flip side to what God promises. “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken me”. How we live matters in God’s eyes.
So here’s the reality of God’s plan. “If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting….as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you”. Being blessed is not a lock. It means we know and live what God has told us to do. It is about obedience to His will!
Deuteronomy 27 has Moses instructing the people about how to enter the Promised Land. In a word – he commands them to be obedient. “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today”. Moses doesn’t tell them to keep some of the law. To pick and choose what they like and want to obey. He is very intentional and clear that obedience means keeping all the law – every last word that God has spoken and written to them. They are to do it without fail, to “obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes”. He expects no less of us today.
In order to help that happen, Moses tells them “on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster….you shall write on them all the words of this law”. We have to be immersed in God’s Word to have any hope of being obedient to it. He gives them a series of things to do to help keep them focused:
- “you shall build an altar to the Lord
- you shall offer burnt offerings
- you shall sacrifice peace offerings
- you shall rejoice before the Lord your God
- you shall write on the stones all the words of this law very plainly”
Very clear and practical steps to be sure they don’t forget God and what He has commanded them.
But Moses goes further and warns them of things that will cause them to lose God’s favor and be cursed. Disobedience moves us from blessing to curse. It causes us to lose favor in God’s eyes. He never leaves us, but He will turn His back and not bless us if we choose to put another above Him. That was really the focus of their warning – putting anything in the place that only God truly deserves. Here is the list of specifics that Moses calls out which will lead to being cursed:
- “Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord
- Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother
- Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark
- Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road
- Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow
- Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife
- Cursed be anyone who lies with any kind of animal
- Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister
- Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law
- Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret
- Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood
- Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them”
Moses has the people respond after each of these areas is called out. He asks for a response “and all the people shall say, Amen”. There was no mystery here, no surprises, as Moses reminds them of God’s commandments and expectations. Now all that is left is to live in obedience!