"For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth." ~ Deuteronomy14:2

Friday, December 16, 2011

Raising the Standard: Punctuality Is Honoring God's Ways By the Timing of a Gift

"...Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry..." ~ 1 Samuel 15:22-23
From the Pages of Scripture: Living Lessons on Punctuality
When God exalts a man with honor and ability, it is very easy for that man to depend upon himself rather than upon the Lord in a time of desperate need. The results are tragic. God gives us a sobering illustration of a humble man who was singularly honored by the Lord. However, in a time of national distress, he violated the principles of punctuality by giving an inappropriate gift to the Lord. Those who fail to understand the ways of God would conclude that God's judgment for his presumption was too harsh. However, his life emphasizes the truth that when God raises up a man, He does it to demonstrate His ways before others, especially in difficult circumstances.
How Are the Consequences of a Gift That Dishonors the Ways of God Illustrated in Scripture?
One of the ways that God maintains humility in the life of a leader is by establishing a division of power. God gave the authority to govern His people to the kings of Israel. The kings were to be limited by the counsel and influence of the priests. Who in Scripture tried to disrupt this delicate balance of power by accusing a priest of tardiness and offering a presumptuous gift? Saul. The leader of the nation's newly formed army was worried. The night before more of his soldiers had slipped into the darkness, hiding in nearby caves and escaping to neighboring countries. In the distance the clamor of thirty thousand charioteers, six thousand horsemen, and a multitude of soldiers could be heard. The troubled leader looked nervously down the road awaiting the arrival of God's anointed priest. The priest had promised that he would arrive in seven days. The seventh day had come. "Where was the priest?" the impatient leader began to reason within himself. "He may be anointed by the Lord, but so am I. God has called me to fight this battle. If I delay much longer, my entire army will desert me. If I go out to battle before the priest comes, I will not have to share the leadership with him." The leader proudly remembered his last battle. Many had mocked him when he had been appointed. They claimed that he was weak and ineffective, but they had to take their words back when he was victorious. Surely God would give him the victory once again. Before the battle could begin, a vital procedure had to be carried out. A sacrifice had to be offered. This was the priest's duty and responsibility, but he appeared to be tardy. Finally, the orders were given. Several soldiers gathered large rocks and constructed an altar. Others collected wood and a sacrificial lamb. The leader ceremoniously slew the lamb and placed it on the altar. Six hundred men quietly watched as he solemnly ignited the wood. The flames slowly consumed the sacrifice. The commander quickly ordered his troops to prepare for battle. Suddenly the priest entered the camp. He looked at the altar in disbelief and then focused his penetrating eyes on the leader. "What have you done?" demanded the priest. "When I saw that my men were leaving and you had not yet come in the time that you specified that the enemy was gathering for war, I feared that they would attack me before I made supplication to the Lord. So I forced myself to offer a burnt offering." Sadness fell over the countenance of the Godly priest. Years earlier he had anointed this leader to be the first king of Israel. "You have acted foolishly and violated God's command. If you had followed my instructions, your kingdom would have been established forever. Now, because of your disobedience, God will search out a man after His own heart." On that day the kingdom was taken from Saul and given to David, because the ways of God had been dishonored by an improper gift. [From 1 Samuel 13:5-14]
Why Did God Choose Saul to be the Nation's First King?
God gave the people what they desired. They wanted a king. When Samuel protested, they replied, "... Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles" (1 Samuel 8:19-20). Saul possessed physical qualities which the people were looking for. He was young, handsome, strong, and he stood head and shoulders over the rest. In addition to these characteristics, he had qualities which could have made him a good king. He was humble, willing to admit his unimportance as a Benjamite. He did not seek power or leadership; he even tried to evade it. (See 1 Samuel 9:21; 10:22) He was attentive to Samuel in the beginning (see 1 Samuel 10:2-14) and demonstrated alertness to the prompting of God's Spirit during the crisis concerning the men of Jabesh-gilead. (See 1 Samuel 11:6) Even after the resounding victory, he evidenced no pride. On the contrary, he refused to allow his critics to be punished. (See 1 Samuel 10:27; 11:12-13) Saul could have become a good king had he not rejected the Lord's counsel through Samuel.
How Did God Prepare Saul for His First Test?
Saul's first test was simply to wait for Samuel at Gilgal. In light of the circumstances we might excuse Saul for his impatience. But the seventh day was not yet over, and Samuel had promised to arrive on that day. Saul had no reason to disbelieve him. On the contrary, this command was the last of four given to Saul. The first three happened just as foretold (see 1 Samuel 10:9). Furthermore Saul had been chosen king though an amazing set of circumstances. The Lord was stretching Saul's faith. He had prepared him by confirming in many ways Samuel's prophetic office. But Saul failed the test. His faith shrank rather than grew. He acted impulsively because of the external circumstances rather than with faith on the basis of past evidence. He was unable to trust God and was thus unfit to lead God's people.
Why was the Punishment for Saul's Disobedience so Severe?
When Saul offered sacrifices without waiting for Samuel, he publicly declared to those six hundred soldiers that he was able to make war against the Philistines without the counsel of God. Samuel was coming not just to consecrate the men for battle but also to advise Saul on military strategy. His command was clear, "...seven days shalt thou tarry, til I come to thee, and shew thee what thou shalt do"(1 Samuel 10:8). Saul's act, therefore, was one of rebellion against the true, heavenly commander, the "captain of the host of the Lord." (See Joshua 5:14) How could God bless His people if their king disregarded His counsel? In addition Saul set a precedent with his rash action which could cause his sons and followers to stumble. If he could neglect the important commands of God's prophet, why could they not do the same? If Saul's disregard for God's spokesman was imitated, it would not be long before Samuel or any other prophet would be silenced. Then Israel would indeed be like the nations surrounding it.
Illustrated in the World of Nature: Elk
The elk is a majestic wilderness animal standing five feet tall at the shoulders and weighing up to 1,100 pounds. The animal is beautifully proportioned and is the wildest of this continent's deer. The name "elk" originally belonged to the European moose. Early English colonists gave the name to the animal the American Indian called "wapiti". In the days of the Early West, elk inhabited the plains of Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. Today they are found almost entirely in the high mountains of the West.
How is the Timing of a Gift Illustrated in the World of Nature?
The young elk watched in awe as his majestic father reared up on powerful hind legs and aggressively charged a rival bull elk. The intruder was no match for his father's overpowering strength and menacing rack. With one mighty blow he sent the unwelcome challenger reeling into the underbrush. Wounded from the encounter, the rival hastily retreated into the forest. It was late autumn, snow was falling on the mountains, and the lush alfalfa pastures would soon be covered with a thick white blanket for the winter. Without warning, two hungry wolves burst through the brush near the edge of the field. They paused for an instant. With a twinge of fear, the young elk looked apprehensively at his father. Surely he would protect him from this impending danger. Then with the wolves out of the way, he could graze to his heart's content in the pasture. Surprisingly, the large bull stood still and silently beckoned to his son. With a whirl, he turned his massive frame and bolted toward a nearby mountainside. The young elk followed close behind his father as other wolves broke through the thickets and joined the two scouts in pursuit. The life-and-death sprint was an even race until the elk reached the rocky slopes of the mountain. Higher and higher they climbed. As the air grew colder, the hot breath of the elk formed clouds of steamy vapor. The higher they climbed, the stronger the elk appeared to their weary pursuers. Finally, the wolves abandoned the chase. The young elk affectionately nuzzled his father, who had given him a valuable lesson. There is a time to give protection and a time to flee. The experienced elk had given his son a better gift by teaching him to flee from dangers that would damage his life.
The Characteristics of the Elk in Scripture:
The royal elk presents a vivid picture of the life and ministry of King David and of every Christian who desires fellowship with God and victory over sin. In the spring the horns of the elk bud and grow rapidly into a majestic rack. God invited David to dwell with Him in Mount Zion and promised, "There will I make the horn of David to bud..." (Psalm 132:17). God then told David how his horn would grow.
"He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor, his righteousness endureth for ever, his horn shall be exhalted with honour" (Psalm 112:9)
God assured David that he would always have enemies, and that their purpose was to motivate him to honor the ways of God.
"The wicked shall see it, and be grieved; he shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away..." (Psalm 112:10)
When David was pursued by Saul, he could have depended upon past abilities, honors, and popularity; instead, he fled to the mountains. There he borrowed more imagery from the life of the elk.
"He maketh my feet like hinds' feet: and setteth me upon my high places" (2 Samuel 22:34, see also Psalm 18:33)
David looked up to his mountain fortress and saw in it a symbol of God and His protection.
"And he said, The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, The god of my rock; in Him I trust..." (2 Samuel 22:2-3)

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