Considering that (a) the apostle Paul was in Thessalonica for three Sabbath days (Acts 17:2), and (b) a good portion of the church was made up of former pagans (Acts 17:4, 1 Thessalonians 1:9), it is remarkable how much the apostle had to remind them of in his first letter (you can’t remind someone of something they don’t already know).
I shall not fail to remind you of things like this although you know them and are already established in the truth. I consider it my duty, as long as I live in the temporary dwelling of this body, to stimulate you by these reminders. I know that I shall have to leave this body at very short notice, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. Consequently I shall make the most of every opportunity, so that after I am gone you will remember these things.
–2 Peter 1:12-15, J. B. Phillips New Testament
Paul, what about you? Anything new?
To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
–Philippians 3:1b, ESV
Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old command that you have had from the beginning. The old command is the message you have heard.
–1 John 2:7, HCSB
I copy-pasted every instance where the English translators placed Saul’s words in quotation marks and analysed his speech. In my last post I looked at Saul talking to his subordinates and his son.
Saul speaks to (and about) Samuel
In chapter 9 we’re introduced to Saul and his servant as they are on an errand to recover his father’s lost donkeys. A couple of perplexing things emerge from their dialogue:
Saul did not know of Samuel even though all Israel did (see 1 Samuel 3:20).
It was the servant, not Saul, who suggested seeking help from the prophet.
Samuel and Saul next talk in chapter 13, after Saul offers sacrifices he shouldn’t have offered. When Samuel asks for an explanation, Saul shifts the blame for his actions from himself to the soldiers (who were scattering), to Samuel (who was late) and to the Philistines (who were assembling nearby). He takes no personal responsibility.
Chapter 15 records their last meeting. Earlier, Samuel had given Saul a command to fulfil a promise Yahweh had made during the wilderness wandering period (Deuteronomy 25:17-19, see Exodus 17:8-16). Saul partially obeyed. Unsurprisingly, he shifts the blame—to the soldiers. In his conversation with Samuel, Saul uses “Yahweh” nine times. I found it disturbing that his greatest concentration of God-language was right after he had disobeyed a direct order from God. And while he does say, “I have sinned,” (15:24, 30) he is more concerned for what the people think of him than what God thinks of him.
He speaks again to Samuel in 28:15 at the medium’s house. By his own admission, God had turned away from him.
Saul speaks to (and about) David
Saul speaks to David before he went to fight Goliath (1 Samuel 17:33, 37). While David’s words exude faith in God, Saul’s are pragmatic (17:33). In 17:37 Saul says, “Go, and may the LORD be with you.” Was he just being pious, or did he really mean it?
In chapter 18, he offers in marriage each of his two daughters in turn to David. Before this, he had been unsuccessful at killing David and only made these offers as part of an underhanded plan to get David killed in battle (18:17, 21, 25).
Chapters 24 and 26 tell of two separate incidents when David spared Saul’s life. Both times, Saul’s first words are, “Is that your voice, David my son?” In chapter 24 he weeps and declares David to be more righteous than he. He goes on to make a predictive prophecy that David would surely be king and that Israel would prosper under him. In chapter 26, he acknowledges his sin and promises to not harm David again.
Both times he seemed genuinely contrite, but on neither occasion does David return to Saul’s court.
Saul’s last recorded words
Said to his armour-bearer: “Draw your sword and run me through with it, or these uncircumcised men will come and run me through and torture me.” (1 Samuel 31:4, HCSB)
Said to an Amalekite: “‘Stand here by me and kill me! I’m in the throes of death, but I’m still alive.” (2 Samuel 1:9, NIV2011)
Having dwelt sufficiently long on Saul’s flaws, I’ll now change tack and focus on the evidences of God’s grace in his life.
Out of all the tens of thousands of eligible men in Israel, God chose him, Saul son of Kish, to be leader over Israel.
He had access to God through a prophet and a priest. He ignored the one and killed the family of the other, cutting himself off from divine revelation and guidance. When he was finally desperate for a word from God, he found none and sought it through a method expressly forbidden in Torah (see Leviticus 19:31, 20:6; Deuteronomy 18:10-13).
Yahweh showed him exceeding kindness and patience. It isn’t clear how long he ruled after being rejected as king, but it was a great mercy that he wasn’t immediately struck down.
The Lord is… patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
–2 Peter 3:9, ESV
Random fact: Did you know that Saul, first king of Israel, is only mentioned once in the New Testament—by another Saul also from the tribe of Benjamin?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Saul’s kingship was a disaster. Not finding many resources on Saul in the places I normally look, I came upon the idea of studying all the words the narrator attributes to him. I copy-pasted every instance where the English translators placed Saul’s words in quotation marks (when written, Old Testament Hebrew had neither vowels nor punctuation so the placement of quotation marks may vary between translations). I observed some patterns in the resulting four-page document, though a better-trained mind than mine would no doubt find more to chew on.
First, I was struck by how much of Saul’s direct speech was in the form of a command or an implied command. Maybe I’m reading too much into the text, but this seems to accord with the warnings in 1 Samuel 8.
Second, Saul doesn’t pray much. We have him seeking guidance (presumably through the priest) in 1 Samuel 14:37, 41. In the latter of these two verses, the narrator specifies that he prayed to “the LORD the God of Israel”. That phrase must be significant, but I don’t know how.
Third, the narrator lets us in on Saul’s thoughts in chapters 18, 20 and 23. The subject of all these internal monologues is David. Tellingly, this happened after God withdrew His Spirit from Saul and sent the troublesome spirit (1 Samuel 16:14, 18:10).
Saul speaks to his men/ servants
Chapter 11 is the apex of Saul’s career as king. The Israelites had wanted someone to lead them into battle (1 Samuel 8:20), and that’s what Saul did (11:8). Saul verbally credits Yahweh for the victory (11:13).
However, Saul changes. He takes the glory for Jonathan’s victory (13:3-4). A few verses after that he commands that the animals for sacrifice be brought to him (14:9), usurping Samuel’s role. In 14:24, he placed the Israelite army under an oath not to eat until he had avenged himself on his enemies.
In chapter 18, he has his servants relay messages to David in order to manipulate him. His speech in 1 Samuel 22:7-8 gives us a glimpse into his paranoid mind. Shortly after that, his men defy his order to kill Ahimelech the priest; Doeg the Edomite carries out Saul’s command with much relish. In chapter 28, he asks his servants to find him a woman who was a medium, to which they have a ready answer.
Apart for his concern for others in 1 Samuel 11:4 and his restraint in 11:13, Saul’s words to his subordinates are mainly focused on himself—self-aggrandisement and eliminating his (perceived) enemies.
Saul speaks to Jonathan
Jonathan, Saul’s son and heir, did not know of the oath his father had taken and ate some honey (14:27). When it was revealed that Jonathan was guilty, Saul took another oath (14:44) and would have killed Jonathan had the men present with them not restrained him. In 19:6, he makes another oath to Jonathan—one which turned out to be prophetic.
In 1 Samuel 20:27-31, he has a heated discussion with Jonathan in which he insults his son and hurls a spear at him. Note that the first part of verse 31 is again prophetic: Saul was speaking better than he knew.
In the next post: Saul’s words to Samuel and David.
Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say! Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply. Alleluia!
Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won: Alleluia!
Lo! our sun’s eclipse is o’er, Alleluia!
Lo! he sets in blood no more. Alleluia!
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell: Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids his rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened Paradise. Alleluia!
Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save; Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory, O grave?” Alleluia!
Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted head; Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia!
I imagine that Charles Wesley (author of this hymn) was a prim and proper British gentleman. But some of his hymns—this one included—just beg to be sang at the top of one’s lungs with reverently reckless abandon. After all, in the first stanza, he calls upon the entire created order—human beings, angels, the earth and the heavens—to join in praise. That can hardly be a quiet, dignified affair (unlike the video I’ve embedded 😉 ).
So this resurrection day, pull a David and sing like crazy to Jesus Christ, for “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Romans 4:25)
This hymn comes from the last section of a seven-part Latin poem written in either the 12th or 13th century. Each of the seven sections focuses on one aspect of Christ on the cross—His feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart and head.
O sacred Head, now wounded,
With grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded
With thorns, Thine only crown.
O sacred Head, what glory,
What bliss till now was Thine!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I joy to call Thee mine.
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered,
Was all for sinners’ gain:
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Saviour:
‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favour,
Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
The joy can ne’er be spoken,
Above all joys beside,
When in thy body broken
I thus with safety hide.
Lord of my life, desiring
thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy Cross expiring,
I’d breathe my soul to Thee.
What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine for ever;
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love for Thee.
Be near when I am dying,
O show Thy Cross to me;
And for my succour flying,
Come, Lord, to set me free.
These eyes, new faith receiving,
From Jesus, shall not move;
For he, who dies believing,
Dies safely, through Thy love.
“Christ died for me.” What a simple statement. What a profound statement. As I read the second stanza of this hymn, I imagine the poet with tears in his eyes as the truth of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice sinks in. I deserve death and eternal separation from God, but because of the cross I am His beloved child. I think that’s worth shedding some tears over—tears of sorrow at my sin and of joy at my salvation.
At the end of the fourth stanza is a prayer I’ve appropriated for myself: Lord let me never, never outlive my love for Thee.
The book of Judges describes the downward spiral that the people of God underwent in the time before the monarchy was established. Not only was each generation worse than the one before it (Judges 2:19), but also each judge was more flawed than his predecessor. One way in which the declension in male leadership showed itself was in the change in the role and treatment of the women characters in the book.
Caleb, wishing to get a worthy husband for his daughter Acsah, set up a challenge: whoever attacked and captured the Canaanite town of Kiriath Sepher would have her in marriage. Othniel, Caleb’s nephew, was the lucky guy. But Acsah was no a dainty damsel—having received land from her father, she dared to ask him for more (Joshua 15:18-19, Judges 1:14-15). Caleb happily complied. Othniel would later become Israel’s first judge (Judges 3:7-11).
In Acsah we have a confident and intelligent woman who inspires acts of courage and bravery. Caleb was concerned that she marry well and gave her a blessing in the form of land and springs of water.
Deborah, Jael and Barak
If hesitant Barak was typical of the quality of male leadership in Israel at the time, no wonder Deborah was judge. Translating woodenly, the narrator of Judges introduces her thus: “Deborah, a woman, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she…” This pile of feminine descriptors indicates the unusual nature of the situation.
Because of Barak’s wavering, Deborah predicted that the glory in a decisive battle wouldn’t be his, but a woman’s (Judges 4:9). Enter Jael, a non-Israelite. Like a previous judge, Ehud, she uses deception to kill a foreign oppressor. Like another previous judge, Shamgar, she uses an unconventional weapon.
In Deborah and Jael we see women stepping up to take male roles: leadership and the destruction of enemies
Gideon, Abimelech and the woman on the wall
Gideon let victory go to his head, and married multiple wives who bore him seventy sons. He also had a concubine whose son was Abimelech. Abimelech murdered his seventy brothers (only one escaped) and later massacred the people of his mother’s home town. He met his end when a woman in a tower threw a millstone on his head.
Previously, Jael had delivered Israel from a foreign oppressor by a fatal blow to the head. Here, an unnamed woman delivers Israel from an Israelite oppressor by a fatal blow to the head using an unconventional weapon.
Jephthah and his daughter
Jephthah’s mother was a prostitute, and for this reason his half-brothers exiled him (Judges 11:2). His kin called him back to help them fight the Ammonites. Jephthah made a vow to God that in the case of victory, he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house to greet him. His only daughter had that misfortune.
An Israelite woman became the victim of her own father’s lack of wisdom, in stark contrast with Acsah who received a blessing and a source of agricultural fertility from her father.
Samson and all those women
It is probably significant that the angel of Yahweh appeared—twice—to Samson’s mother and not to his father. Anyway, when Samson is grown, he marries a Philistine woman from Timnah. His lack of wisdom and restraint led to the deaths of her and her father.
His weakness for women comes out most clearly in his dealings with Delilah, who was instrumental in his subduing and humiliation. In this instance, Samson plays the part of Sisera to Delilah’s Jael. She is a Philistine ally who lures him to his downfall.
After the Philistines capture him, they blind him and put him to grinding grain—woman’s work.
Micah and his mother
The story in brief: Micah steals silver from his mother, she utters a curse, he panics and returns the goods, she commissions a craftsman to make a carved image covered with some of the silver, he places it in his house along with other religious items and hires a priest. Some spies from the tribe of Dan on other business happen to stop by Micah’s house and see his set-up. When they return, they rob Micah of the idol, the priest and the other items and set up an unauthorised shrine in their main city that lasted for centuries.
The actions of Micah’s mother led to an entire tribe falling away from true worship of Yahweh.
The suffering women of chapters 19-21
In chapter 19, we meet a concubine who was given up by her husband to a group of men who raped her all night. She was from Bethlehem. Her rapists were from the tribe of Benjamin. Her husband was a Levite.
In chapter 20, the other eleven tribes go to war against Benjamin and kill all the men, women and children of Benjamin—except for 600 men who fled into the wilderness. In chapter 21, the Israelites are sorry for having practically exterminated Benjamin and they devise a plan to get wives for the survivors. They attack Jabesh Gilead, an Israelite town, and kill everyone except 400 virgins. To get 200 more wives, they advise the Benjamites to kidnap girls taking part in an annual festival.
Israel’s moral decline is complete: Israelite women are raped, killed and kidnapped by their own countrymen.
In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit (Judges 21:25)
The reversal begins
In 1 Samuel 1 we meet barren Hannah, who is oppressed by a fellow woman. Hannah is like Samson’s mother in that they were both barren. However, unlike Samson, Samuel wouldn’t despise his role as the deliverer of God’s people. Whereas Micah’s mother set off a series of events that led to apostasy, Hannah’s devotion to Yahweh would lead Israel to turn back to true worship (under her son). Hannah’s son would also pave the way for the restoration of quality male leadership in Israel under David.
But David wasn’t perfect either. The people of God needed a leader who wasn’t a coward (like Barak and Gideon). They needed a leader who was pure and holy (unlike Samson). We now know the identity of that leader—Jesus of Nazareth, the King of Kings.