1 & 2 Samuel

1_2_samuel

“Be Careful What You Ask For” could be the title for this history lesson found in the two books of Samuel.  Here, the people made demands for a King to rule over them, consequently making a premature selection (by casting lots).  God chose Saul as the first contender, but Saul couldn’t keep his eyes or heart on God. The books of Samuel are a biography of its namesake with the main theme around King David.

Samuel didn’t write both these books based on the notice of his death (1Sam 25:1) however whoever (some think the following prophet Nathan) took up the quill to finish it wrote it in the same spirit as Samuel.

The first book of Samuel is a transitional book between the era of Judges to the establishment of a human kingdom.  It shows Samuel as a high priest, prophet, an anointer of the first two kings, and even Samuel as a ghost (1Sam, 28:13-15).  Samuel is a personification of Jesus who possessed all the traits in one: Prophet, Priest, and King. Samuel’s name means “asked of God.” There is a harmony in the theme between these books and those of Kings and Chronicles.

Speaking of names, the name Ebenezer, meaning a stone of help (1Sam. 7:12),  is recorded by Samuel as he the place he commemorates a victory over the Philistines.  Most recognize the name from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with Ebenezer being Scrooge’s first name.  Like the possible regeneration in defeating the Philistines, Scrooge’s name hints at the regeneration of his heart by story’s end.

The Israelite people desired a king, imitating the governments of the nations around them. God heard the people and gave them a king with all the caveats revealed to them (like upcoming taxes) beforehand.  They persisted in their desire. The king was the people’s representative to God, as the king went spiritually so did the consequences fall on the people he ruled. The Samuel books start with Saul and end of David’s reign.  The book points to the next King Solomon.  Each reign of these kings was for about forty years.

While the people cried out for a king, Hannah, Samuel’s mother, cried out for a child.  She was cruelly being ridiculed and accused as unworthy by other women due to her barrenness. Hannah’s life shows a trust not misplaced for a God who knows our stories from beginning to end; everything has a purpose. God answers her prayers.   Samuel was a miracle child, resembling Jesus’s birth.  He is only one of six births significant enough to be recorded in the Bible.

We read of Samuel’s calling, then, in turn, him doing likewise with the first then the second king (Saul and David respectively). The last Nazarite in Judges (Samson) is a contrast to Samuel, also a Nazarite who took to God’s ways in his calling. When Saul stop focusing his governing under the authority of the Lord’s kingship, David was anointed and called to be the next royal instrument of the God’s to rule over Israel.  It will still be several years after the anointing though before David takes the throne.

Through Hannah’s prayers to serve the Lord, and promised Him to give her son back to Him.  Hannah ’s recorded song of thanksgiving to answered prayer is prophetic, as she mentions the future coming of the “anointed” Messiah for the first time in verse 2:10. After desperately wanting a child, she gives Samuel up to apprentice in ministry under the priest Eli.

It’s unimaginable what it must have been like to give away such a wanted child; to not be able to raise him and experience the rewards of motherhood.  Giving a child roots in life, turns out, is the easy part. The part where wings develop, and they fly away is tough. No one ever mentions the most challenging part of motherhood is when they grow up and leave.  The time comes when they fill in the rest of their life story by striking out on their own.  It’s a parent’s job to rear their children to be self-sufficient.  Damn it, though, if my children didn’t grow up to be almost too independent of me.  Rumi says, “Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.”

While being mentored by Eli, 12-year-old Samuel was awakened one night hearing his name called out.  Thinking it was Eli, Samuel went to him saying “Here I am, did you called me?” It wasn’t Eli calling him, and Samuel was sent back to bed.  It happened two more with Samuel arousing Eli from his slumber.   Eli discerned it was God calling Samuel.  He told Samuel that next time he heard his name called to respond, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Samuel obeyed his mentor.  Unfortunately for Eli, what Samuel heard was God’s message about Eli’s son’s disobedience.  Even though Eli now had this knowledge, he didn’t or wouldn’t restrain them.   Samuel’s absolute allegiance was to God as the chief overseer.   A human overseer’s authority can be intimidating, but, as Samuel proves: God is the primary overseer.  This prioritization presents the world’s, or the loved ones to whom we are closest, possible cynicism about our faith.  Even if there is a relationship fall out with others because of one’s faith, Samuel remains steadfast throughout his life.

One day in chapel while attending grad school, there was a commissioning, a send-off ceremony for classmates going into seminary or the mission field.  The marching song usually sung during these kinds of services is “Here I am Lord” written by Dan Schutte.  The refrain is:

“Here I am Lord; is it I Lord?

I have heard You calling in the night.

I will go, Lord if You lead me.

I will hold Your people in my heart.”

It was during this service when I had the nagging awareness of being an outlier from my classmates and even my family.  During the chapel message, current trends were cited for the upcoming weekend for the majority of Americans as opposed to that of the commissioning.  What struck so close to home for me was the predicted trends (the purchase of a gas grill and refinance mortgages).  Both were on the agenda back home.  There is nothing wrong with those plans except it, at that moment, I wanted to be detached from worldly acquisitions (and influence!); to be a part of an endeavor outside myself and personal wants. I was in the world, with the all the stuff happening in it, but my heart and hope were longing for something else more substantial (Jn. 17:14-16).  I felt this chasm between the two parts of my life.  I had reconciled myself that the mission field I identified to serve, that fit within my role in the family, was the mission field outside my local door (Rom. 15:2Eph. 4:25).

Harvard School of Business defines the use of three words:“…that tend to be used interchangeably and shouldn’t be. They are vocation, career, and job. Vocation is the most profound of the three, and it should do with a calling. It’s what you’re doing in life that makes a difference for you; that builds meaning for you, that you can look back on in your later years to see the impact you’ve made in the world. A calling is heard in your heart and mind.  You don’t hear it once and then immediately recognize it. You’ve got to attune yourself to the message.”   The word vocation has the Latin root of “voice,” literally meaning “to call.”

A calling is so instinctive that the person would do it regardless, and often without adequate financial compensation.  We, for the most part, associate the word “calling” with religious service.  The positions of teaching, soldiering, working in the nonprofit sector come to mind as other examples of callings in this country.  Many people pursue their passions outside of their traditional job because of the lack of adequate financial provision from their passion. There are a lot of bi-vocational pastors because of this.

Depending on the generation you are born into, the viewpoint of a person’s identity is usually wrapped up in that era’s dominant story.  Canadian writer F.S. Michaels explains hypothesizes that the governing pattern of a given culture is their master story, one narrative in society that dominates others, forming a monoculture. When living in a master story of a given period in history, she says the tendency is to accept its definition of reality.  The power of the monoculture; is its ability to direct and influence actions without being aware (subliminal).  Life marches on, and another monoculture develops replacing the old for a new generation.  Reflect on the last 50 years and what the dominant themes of the decades were.  For example, (and by no means a conclusive list):

In the 1960’s birth control pills were introduced, the space program launched, Martin Luther King ’s historically reverberating speech: “I have a dream speech and civil rights legislation.

The 1970’s ushered in Watergate and disengagement in the war of Vietnam, both resulting in distrust of the U.S. government.

The 1980’s saw the introduction of the worldwide web, the aids epidemic, and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall signifying the end of the cold war after World War II between the east and the west.

The Soviet Union dissolves in the 1990’s, and Google and Amazon came onto the Internet scene as did the portable mobile phones.

The decade of 2000 brought attention to global terrorism after 9 11 forever changing life in the United States, the entry, after 30 years, into still long-standing war, and Facebook enters the social media scene.

I fall under the sociological group categorized as the Boomer Generation (those born between the approximate years of 1946 to 1964).   This generation profoundly identified themselves by what their professional occupation. Consequently, we get wrapped up in the tyrannical notion of work/life balance.  Leisure is not as essential to the human spirit but considered as a self-indulgent luxury reserved for the privileged or, at its worse, the deplorable thought of idleness reserved for the lazy.  We were the largest generation of my children’s generation just recently passing us in numbers, but then we did birth them.  I share these sociological and historical markers because it all shapes a person.  The shifting sand of time and change can make it hard to get a footing without a  supporting firm spiritual foundation.

Now experiencing a gift of more time in this season of my life that previously was taken up with my role of a mother, slowly I appreciate the transition away from the demands of always going, going, going almost to the point of leaving myself behind. Thoughts still creep in that I am not doing enough, at worse, am lazy while I attempt to live this truism of life: nothing overmuch.  It’s advice for advocating to create margins, or boundaries, of unscheduled downtime into life’s calendar.

An error in my thinking while pursuing my first advanced degree was that being credentialed with a degree would open doors of opportunity easier or quicker than what I was previously doing.  Before my volunteering (which meant for me as building credibility or working my way up through the rank and structure) for 4 or 5 years in a given area built up my credibility in qualifications and reliability.  When I mentioned this to a college colleague, she insisted a degree or position did not indicate a calling.  Her mantra is that when called to do something, a person would do it. No. Matter. What.  I eventually went on to finish the higher degree.  She did not but continues great works in ministry. Who took the correct path?  Both paths are probably correct.  The confusion sets in when I judge myself against the world’s want of a known job title to identify myself not to forget to mention my economic status. David Whyte said at one of his poetry readings that to name things is a way to control something. It’s gotten so skewed that having a credit card is now a form of credibility into today’s society.

It was not so much about what I do rather it was a conundrum to try to identify myself when asked the dreaded inquiry “What do you do?” I yearn for a pithy way to describe all I do and want to do.  The kind of life endeavor I do or exhibit doesn’t fit neatly into a few words. The term used now that is close to describing it is “gig” economy, that of wearing a few different professional hats (which I have always done, once we called it freelancing). “Every human person is inevitably involved with two worlds: the world they carry within them and the world that is on the outside… no one but you knows what your inner world is actually like, and no one can force you to reveal it until you actually tell them about it. There” says Irish Poet John O’Donahue (1956-2008), “are so many people frightened by the wonder of their presence. They are dying to tie themselves into a system, a role, or to an image, or to a predetermined identity that other people have actually settled on them.”

The closest I have come to describing my calling (inclusive for both ministry and secular vocations) is as an advocate for something or someone that contributes to society. I use that as my mission statement.

This identity thing keeps creeping its head up in my life.  I push it back telling myself I am not my professional title.  My worth is not there. The lifestyle, which our employment positions help support financially, is the manner of living that reflects a person’s values and attitude.  Mentioned a few times earlier in this narrative, believers are not their professional title, their skin color, their age, their sexuality.  Believer identity is in God and our entire life should reflect that.

Frederick Buckner captures one of my go-to ideas of what a calling is: “The place God calls you to be is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

To know you are in that place of calling takes prayer.  Samuel’s life pattern is bathed in prayer.  He prayed when he had reservations about the people (1Sam. 8:6-7), and as Samuel became aware of the evil in Saul’s life, he never stopped praying (12:22) for him.  This trait in Samuel’s personality preceded him.  The people knew him to be a great man of prayer and respected him for it (1Sam. 12:19).

How does God speak to us?  He speaks from His Word (The Bible), prayer, fellowship with like-minded, through circumstances (or providence), and through the shepherding of a worship leader.  God called Samuel initially through dreams and visions.  Some say since Jesus left us the Holy Spirit, His advocate to help us (Jn. 14:15-31); God no longer uses dreams to communicate with us.  In the book of Acts, however, we discover that both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit also still offers guidance through dreams and visions to specific people.

One of the Jewish beliefs of their coming Messiah is that he would rule from Jerusalem, bringing peace and security to Israel. To them, Jesus didn’t bring this peace to Israel, which history to current day events reveals so He cannot be the Messiah. The Jews are still waiting for the Messiah to come.  It amounts to a tale of two Kings.

Analogist to who Jesus is can be found in perennial plants. In the first year, their flowers are small. It takes some years of the plant maturing to reach another full flower bloom after the initial burst, yet the full flower is present, in embryo, in the original plant.  Continuity and development of the flower are present, not a contradiction. The full flower was what the first flower was always intended to be (think of Adam in Genesis and Jesus as the second Adam). There are this indwelling peace and security Christians have in their belief in Jesus amidst the turmoil of this world.  Couldn’t this be the type of peace that God intended packaged differently, then what the peace Jews seek for Israel?  A parallel can be made to Jesus as a warrior king when you think about Him defeating death.

David is appealing to many because despite him being a man of contrasts, he continually strove to be a man after God’s heart as Samuel called him (1Sam. 13:14Acts 13:22).  He was a warrior songwriter poet.  David starts out as a lowly shepherd boy tending sheep, is anointed as a future king, then welcomed into Saul’s household to play his soothing harp for a distraught king.  He kills a giant against enormous odds.  Then with jealousy overwhelming the king, David became a fugitive to save his life from the attacking Saul for thirteen years before he becoming Israel’s most famous King.

I can almost hear David, a nomadic fugitive with a lot of hurry up and wait time,  hiding in caves and desert camps composing his songs and prayers.  The Psalms attributed to David authorship reflect his life choices and circumstances.  We may not have the same problems he had, but the prayers are written in such a universal voice that they can be offered up in most any time of trouble.

Initially, I was startled when a friend once said she thought I was a woman after God’s heart.   The context of our conversation was about struggling with the Q&A’s surrounding faith, yet still, maintaining a belief in faith.   David, like all of us, sinned.  He confessed his sins.  God saw him as a man of war so the promise of the building of the temple went to his son Solomon.  In turn, Solomon at the temple dedication remembered David.  It reminds me of one of my life verses: “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Rev. 3:8).    Like Thomas Merton says, I have come to believe the desire to please God does indeed please God, whether that desire is fulfilled or not in my lifetime.

Pastor and writer Chuck Swindoll defines a person after God’s heart as a person of integrity.  It’s who you are when on one is looking. Meanwhile, we live in a world that still echoes the old phrase “fake it ‘til you make it.”  I get that, for the most part, we are uncertain at times on what to do in the public arena consequently put on a public persona of showing confidence. It is easy to find on MyFace, and SpaceBook (a play on words on the names of prominent social media sites) gives many examples of folks presenting their ideal self to the world.  Most post on social media is projected view of how they want to be seen. You can’t fake it with God though.  He focuses on inward qualities that lie in the character of the heart, and he knows us.

Abraham Lincoln said nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.  The next three sections of the monarchy show this to be true. All of us have some level of power.  It comes from many things:  fame, money, charisma, connections, inner strength and beauty, knowledge, wisdom, self-control, faith or hope just to name a few.  Amid those things, and how you act when no one is looking, defines you.  A quick soul check is living a life that is congruent in every role rather than segregated your persona to suit the environment you find yourself.  As humans, we are identified or recognized as to who we are by connecting what we do with how we act. That’s the sweet spot of finding peace.  A persona shouldn’t change once walked through the door of a home, church or office.  Unfortunately using power for selfish aims can reach levels of perverted peace particularly when consistently living out power by controlling another person’s life other than your own.  It’s a slippery slope when we start putting the endowment of talents and personality received from God above the gift Giver.  Literary stories give us an idea of the outcomes of trading our soul with the Faustian bargaining for knowledge and power or in the case of Dorian Gray’s narcissism.

We can relate to King David, a hero of flesh and blood because he had power mixed in with human moments of weakness of selfish gain.  Once it was apparent to David that God knew what he had done, he acknowledged his sinfulness (2Sam. 12:13).  I am sure David would have turned back the hands of time to undo this wrong if he could. Second Samuel describes the recompenses David lived through (the horrible death, violation, and strife in his family) due to his wrongdoings.   But that’s impossible after the deed is done, then and now.  We can learn from mistakes; which David did.  We repent and make amends the best way we can.

As believers, we don’t run up a massive debt on a sin card and expect a Divine Daddy to bail us out.  It doesn’t work that way.  But the consequences of our actions are enveloped in forgiveness. The healing of the wound caused by sin does not always erase the scar.  David reaped what he had sown, as does everyone else reap, it seems later rather than sooner, who exercises a self-achieving will. I don’t see those consequences as punishment from a mean God.  It is the direct cause and effect of a given a choice.  I know I am forgiven, but it doesn’t wipe away the after effects of my offense or the recompenses due.

 

 

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