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God’s Presence On His Terms (#10 1 & 2 Samuel)

Currently I am recording my notes on the Biblical theme of God’s presence through Scripture while reading the book by Duvall & Hays, God’s Relational Presence with our theology cohort at church. If you want to follow along, look for the tag, “Tracing the Biblical Theme” or start with the post on January 7.

If you are following along you know that God is working out his redemptive plan through the nation of Israel. He established them as a nation, rescued them from slavery in Egypt, led them through the wilderness, initiated His laws and priestly system, settled them in the promised land. But the nation falls away from God, doing what was right in their own eyes. There’s a hint at the end of Ruth that something or someone is coming … that Ruth’s son is the grandfather to David! Which brings us to 1 & 2 Samuel. Now those books are rich with God’s redemptive plan but in this post I want to highlight four specific instances of God’s relational presence – with Samuel, Saul, David, and the ark!

Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord,
where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.
… (once, twice, three times–then– ) …
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

1 Samuel 3:2-10

I heard the Sunday School version of the story of Samuel many times. It was today when I realized that God Himself came and stood near Samuel when He called Him the fourth time! And of course, we know that God uses Samuel mightily in Israel, and in the lives of Saul and David. In fact, 1 Samuel 3 is bookended with this idea …

At the beginning of the call of Samuel: In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. …
After Samuel was called by God: The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

1 Samuel 3:1, 19-21

God uses Samuel to lead Israel until they begin insisting that they have a king like all the other nations, a king to lead them and to go out before them, to fight their battles. How quickly they have forgotten all the battles God had won for them. With God’s instruction, Samuel anoints Saul, changing his heart, and the Spirit of God comes powerfully on him.

God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day.

1 Samuel 10:9

You probably know the stories, Saul repeatedly disobeys God, disobeys Samuel, and God removes His Spirit from Saul. Instead the young man, David is anointed.

So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah. Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.

1 Samuel 16:13-14

Notice that little phrase, “from that day on” — God’s Spirit never left David as it did with Saul.

  • David was from the tribe of Judah, from Bethlehem
  • David was Ruth and Boaz’s great grandson
  • David was a musician, a poet, and a shepherd
  • David was a man after God’s own heart
  • David wrote about half of the Psalms

As one theologian states, “David is neither morally perfect nor God’s special favorite. He is simply one who will obey and accomplish where Saul had disobeyed and failed.” Wright, C. (2006). Knowing the Holy Spirit Through the Old Testament

When we stand back from the excitement of the individual incidents and consider the overall sweep of the story, David is the prophetic leader who hosts God’s presence, draws Israel toward true worship, receives a covenant, and prepares a house for the Lord to dwell in.

Roberts, A., & Wilson, A. (2018). Echoes of Exodus: Tracing themes of redemption through scripture. 

God was present with Samuel, Saul, and David but the focus of God’s presence was the ark of the covenant. Where the ark was, there was God. In 1 & 2 Samuel there are 3 stories about the ark, and I won’t explore them all here. Read 1 Samuel 4:1-7:17; 2 Samuel 6:1-23; and 2 Samuel 15:24 – 29 to explore them in depth. But let’s look at just the first story to see what God was doing.

The Israelites take the ark to the battlefield with them thinking it might help them defeat the Philistines and no, they had not asked God about this. They are defeated and the ark taken captive. God’s presence has left the people. The Philistines put the ark in the temple of their god, Dagon. And God disrupted the temple, knocked the idol Dagon to the ground two nights in a row. The Philistines moved the ark from one city to another, Ashdod to Gath to Ekron, and in each place God afflicted the people with tumors.

God, however, has not been defeated, and in colorful style he “executes” the Philistine god Dagon and then by himself invades and “conquers” the Philistines, moving city by city, accepting the surrender of each city like a conquering king. Finally the Philistines pay a tribute to him in gold, and he returns to Israel triumphantly.

J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. (2019). God’s Relational Presence:
The Cohesive Center of Biblical Theology

After seven months the Philistines devise a way to return the ark to Israel. Eventually the ark arrives at Kiriath Jearim, remaining there for 20 years. The people turn back to God, putting away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and serve the Lord only.

The point of the narrative is that the powerful presence of God cannot be manipulated or controlled by people in any way. God’s presence brings wonderful blessings of peace and prosperity on Israel, but only on his terms. The power of his presence cannot be used inappropriately, nor can it be controlled by anyone in Israel.

J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. (2019). God’s Relational Presence:
The Cohesive Center of Biblical Theology

There is a lesson for us here. If we persist in disobedience we will not experience the power and presence of God. And we cannot use His presence for our own purposes. Not all demonstrations of spiritual activity are healthy or beneficial. Human ambition can get in the way. We are told in 1 John 4:1 to test the spirits to see whether they are from God. And Jesus himself warns that not everyone who claims to have done miraculous signs are in the Kingdom of God (Mt. 7:21 – 23).

It seems a good time to pray once again …

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23 – 24
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