Peter Misselbrook's Blog
23/04/2019 - 1 Samuel 8 – The people ask for a king

The family of Eli had been rejected because of the ungodly behaviour of Eli's sons; now Samuel's sons seem to be going the same way – "they turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice" (1 Samuel 8:9). They were not fit to succeed Samuel as judges in Israel. How can this cycle of corruption be brought to an end? The elders of Israel put their heads together and thought that they had a solution. They came to Samuel and asked for a king to be appointed to rule over them.

The response of both Samuel and of the Lord may, at first sight, seem puzzling. The Book of Judges had pointed forward to the necessity of a king to end Israel's anarchy and to bring peace and order. Why then should this request grieve Samuel and provoke the Lord to say that the people had rejected him, the Lord, as their king?

The answer to this lies in the nature of the people's request; they ask for a king to lead them just like the other nations have (8:5). Their model for leadership is taken from the nations around them. They want a military leader, one who will rule by his own might and power and who devote his efforts to maintaining that power. Samuel is told to warn the people of what such a leader will be like. He will raise an army from the best young men in Israel. It will become a military machine which will devour the resources of the land. He will prop up his own power through an elaborate hierarchical structure of officials. He will raise taxes to support this machine and maintain his own lifestyle. This is the model of kingship and of government in the nations round about. This is what the Israelites are asking for – they want to "be like all the other nations" (8:20). And if this is the character of their king, they will indeed be like all the other nations; they will lose their distinctiveness as the people of God – a people over whom the Lord is their king.

This is the model of government that prevails among the nations to this day (see Matthew 20:25) – even those nations which do not have a leader whom they call a "king".

But this is not the model of kingship which God had purposed for his people. He is their king, and any human king appointed to rule over them must reflect the character of God himself and mediate God's rule. This alternative model, very different from the kings of the nations, is glimpsed in an admittedly imperfect fashion in David, the shepherd king, a man after God's own heart. It appears in all its fullness and perfection only in the Lord Jesus Christ, the servant King.

What kind of model of leadership do we want in our churches? What kind of leadership do we want in our homes and in our workplaces? What kind of leadership do we look for in our nation? In times of crisis we often hear the call for strong leadership. But think for a moment of the strong leaders of history who have established empires in their own name and crushed all opposition. Is this really what the world needs more of?

Sovereign God, thank you for the Lord Jesus, the Servant King. Keep us from hankering after the patterns of power that predominate in this world. Help us rather to follow King Jesus in devoting ourselves to a life of grateful service whether in the church, in our society or in the world. Keep us from seeking glory and praise for ourselves, for the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen.

22/04/2019 - 1 Samuel 3 – The call of Samuel

We are told that the word of the Lord was rare in the days of Eli. It seemed as if God had given up speaking to a people who would not listen to him. So when the Lord called to Samuel he did not realise who was speaking and ran to Eli, thinking it was the old priest who was calling to him. The narrative then takes on the character of a pantomime with Samuel dashing to and fro until Eli realised that it was the Lord calling to Samuel and told him to respond by saying, "Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening" (1 Samuel 3:9).

The word of the Lord to Samuel echoes the word previously spoken to Eli by an unnamed prophet (2:27-36). God's judgment is about to fall on Eli's family in such a dramatic fashion that all Israel will hear of it and be startled. Samuel passed on the message to Eli only with great reluctance and when forced to do so. This word from God seemed dark and negative, but the Lord will have much more to say to Samuel in the days ahead and much more to do through him, for we read, "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" (vv. 19-21).

Samuel is the last of the judges, but, unlike most who had gone before him, he is no localised leader. The whole of Israel (from Dan in the North to Beersheba in the south) is united under his rule. So the nation is being prepared for the arrival of a king.

The Lord Jesus is not only our king and priest (as we saw in our last passage from Samuel), he is also our prophet. He is the one through whom God has most fully revealed his heart and mind. He is the Word made flesh. He is the one in whom all that God has previously said now finds its focus and its great 'Yes!' The writer of the letter to the Hebrews makes this point when he writes:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Jesus is continually addressing us through his word and by his Spirit. He calls us to hear his voice and to follow him. If we do not listen to his call to follow him, we may find that he ceases to speak to us; "How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation" (Hebrews 2:3). The word of the Lord will become rare in our hearing so that we soon cease to recognise his voice at all. "Deafness" towards God is surely inviting him to respond in judgment.

Father God, we thank you that you are not a God who remains silent. You have revealed yourself through your word and especially in the Lord Jesus Christ. You have shown us the glory of your grace rather than the severity of your judgment. And you continue to speak to us by your Spirit as he writes your word upon our hearts and prompts us to respond. Help us always to be ready to hear your voice. May we have the same spirit as young Samuel who said, "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening." Keep us from closing our ears to you. May we let nothing of what you have to say to us fall to the ground. Help us rather to proclaim the good news that we have heard to others that they also may hear and believe.

21/04/2019 - Psalm 46 – God our refuge

We are beginning to realise that we cannot take the stability of our planet for granted. Our actions over the past century have contributed to climate change which is leading to more erratic weather conditions: summers are getting hotter, winters becoming colder; hurricanes are becoming stronger and more devastating; rains are failing in some parts of our world and droughts bring death to plants and cattle; floods devastate other parts of our world bringing landslides and mudslides. Climate scientists warn that we may be reaching a tipping point beyond which there is nothing we can do to prevent increasing chaos. On top of all of this is the frequent news of earthquakes, volcanos and tsunamis. It seems as if the very fabric of our world, of our home, is falling apart.

The psalmist did not have these things in mind when he wrote this psalm – though certainly he would have been familiar with earthquakes and their devastation. His concern was the threat from hostile nations that surrounded the people of God. There had been times in Israel's history when the very existence of the nation seemed to be endangered by threats of war from stronger nations around them or, indeed, by warfare between the different tribes that made up the nation.

In an uncertain world, the psalmist delights in the fact that there is a place of safety and stability for those who trust in the living God. God is a refuge – a fortress or place of safety – for his people. As David writes in Psalm 18:1-2:

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge… my stronghold.

Even if the worst imaginable disaster might actually happen, God remains our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Ps 46:1). This means that those who trust in him need not fear, no matter what the news, no matter what the threat. "The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress" (v.7).

I have sometimes seen the text, "Be still, and know that I am God" (v.10) on church walls or on greetings cards sent from one Christian to another. There is nothing wrong with that, but I think we need to look at its context in this psalm. In face of the hostile threats God's people face from the surrounding nations, God addresses them with the command, "Be still, and know that I am God." He commands the nations to stop their warfare, to put down their arms and to recognise the God of Israel for who he is. "He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth" (v.9).

It's not easy to get the balance right between the demand to take action and the need to trust God. We need to do all that we can to mend the hurts of our world. We in the West need to repent of our thoughtless and unsustainable lifestyles that have led to the present crisis for our planet. We need to respect God's world and to heal its hurts before they are beyond human healing. We need also to be peacemakers who seek to reconcile the warring factions of this world.

Nevertheless, we who know the living God can trust in him in every circumstance as our place of safety and of joy; the Spirit of God and of our risen Saviour "is a river whose streams make glad the city of God" – the people of God. Trust in our heavenly Father frees us from fear in the personal crises of our lives as well as the national and global which seem to threaten our world.

Think of the things which make you fearful right now and then read through this psalm again slowly seeking God's help and presence to still your fears.

Father God, we thank you that in the Lord Jesus you have made us heirs of a kingdom that cannot be shaken. Help us to care for your world and be a blessing to its peoples rather than being those who threaten your world. Help us also to point others to our Saviour that they also might find their secure refuge and unfailing hope in him.

20/04/2019 - 1 Samuel 2:12-36 – Eli's family rejected

Eli the priest was responsible for the worship at the Tabernacle but seems to have delegated much of the day-to-day work to his sons whom he expected to succeed him in the work. But his sons, Hophni and Phineas, were intent on serving themselves rather than the Lord – and serving themselves rather than those who came to worship. They took by force the best parts of the animals brought for sacrifice and slept with the women who helped with the work of the Tabernacle. Their conduct seems to have been modelled more on that of the priests of Baal that the Law of God.

Such conduct shows contempt not only for the sacrifices that were being offered to the Lord but contempt for the Lord himself. Remember our readings in the book of Judges relating the history of Israel immediately before this point. Disobedience towards the Lord and compromise over worship brought trouble time and again upon Israel. Did Eli's sons really think that God was like the idol gods of the nations round about? Did they think that he could see nothing and would do nothing, ignoring their disobedience and immorality?

And what of Eli? He rebuked his sons for their wickedness but they took no notice of his words. He was the high priest of Israel, commissioned to serve God on behalf of the people, but he seems to have been a weak man who felt he could do nothing to curb the conduct of his sons except utter ineffective rebukes. Did he really think that Israel would prosper when they took over from him? The whole situation was inviting God, the Holy one of Israel, to take action.

Meanwhile, Samuel "continued to grow in stature and in favour with the LORD and with men" (1 Samuel 2:26. Compare what is written of Jesus in Luke 2:52).

The Lord sent a prophet to Eli to tell him that because of the behaviour of his sons, judgment will fall upon his whole family; "Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained" (2:30). It is telling that the judgment is pronounced against Eli; he is held responsible for the conduct of his sons. The sign that God will fulfil all that he has spoken will be that Hophni and Phineas will die on the same day.

But God's purpose will not be defeated; his enigmatic promise through his prophet is, "I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always" (2:35). This prophecy clearly speaks of Samuel and of Israel's coming king – the Lord's anointed. But it also points beyond them. Ultimately, God's faithful priest and his anointed – his Messiah – are one and the same; Jesus Christ is our faithful and righteous High Priest who offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins and lives for ever to build the house(hold) of God. He is God's anointed King not only over Israel but over all the earth.

Holy Father, even though you have given us a heart to serve you, we recognise that we are often led astray by our own desires and do what we want rather than what you have commanded. Forgive us those times when we have shown contempt for you. Thank you for the perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you that the punishment our sins deserved fell in all its force on him. Thank you that he is our Great High Priest who ever lives to intercede for us. Thank you that he is the Christ, your anointed one, whose kingdom shall increase and never end. Help us by your Spirit so to follow him that we may grow in grace and rejoice in favour before you and before a watching world.

19/04/2019 - 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11 – Samuel dedicated to the Lord

The books of Samuel narrate the transition from the tribes of Israel being governed by localised judges to the whole nation being ruled by a king.

There are some similarities between the story we have read today and that of the birth of Samson. In both incidents a child is born to a couple who expected to remain without children; in each instance the boy who was born was a very precious child, loved by his parents but dedicated to the Lord from his birth. But here the similarities end.

Samuel's mother, Hannah, was one of the two wives of a man called Elkanah. Elkanah's other wife, Peninnah, had several children but Hannah had been unable to conceive. Though her husband loved her dearly, Hannah was taunted by Peninnah year after year for her lack of children and her life was made miserable.

At this time, the Tabernacle, or 'house of the Lord', was pitched at Shiloh and this is where Israelites went to worship and offer sacrifices at festival times. On one such visit, Hannah went to the Tabernacle to plead with the Lord to grant her a son, promising that if God answered her request he would be dedicated to the Lord's service. Like Sampson before him, he would be a Nazirite, one whose dedication to the Lord would be symbolised by his uncut hair.

Hannah's prayer was answered and she gave birth to a son whom she named Samuel. When he was still quite a young child, perhaps between two and three years old, Hannah took Samuel to Shiloh to fulfil her vow. There he was handed over to Eli, the elderly priest who, assisted by his sons, ministered at the Tabernacle. Samuel was to become Eli's apprentice.

As she dedicated her son to the Lord's work Hannah poured out a remarkable prayer of praise to God. She declares that there is no one like the Lord. He is not only great in power but is also gracious and kind to those in need:

He raises the poor from the dust
   and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
   and has them inherit a throne of honour. (1 Samuel 2:8)

It is also a prophetic psalm, ending with the words,

 He will give strength to his king
   and exalt the horn of his anointed. (2:10)

This is a remarkable word of prophecy since Israel at that time had no king. Remember how the book of Judges ended, "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit" (21:25). Unlike Samson, Samuel will be a godly judge who seeks to be obedient to the Lord God of Israel. He will be the greatest and last of Israel's judges and will be the one who will anoint the first of Israel's kings. Before his period as a judge is over he will anoint David to be king, the descendant of Boaz and Ruth and ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Gracious God, thank you that you hear and answer prayer. You work out your purposes in remarkable ways through the lives of ordinary people. Help us to be serious in seeking your blessing, thankful for every answer to prayer and sacrificial in our devotion to you. May we often be found praising you, for you are the one who "brings down to the grave and raises up." You raised our Lord Jesus from the grave and have given us resurrection life in him. You have raised us "from the dust and" made us "inherit a throne of honour" with Christ our Saviour.

18/04/2019 - Ruth 4 – A happy ending

Boaz is as good as his word. He does all that he can to make Ruth his wife, and he does it quickly.

As we saw yesterday, In Israel, land was not to be bought and sold. It was God's gift to his people and was to be handed down as a trust within the family from generation to generation. When Elimelek left for Moab, his land would have been taken over by others, but with Naomi's return it should revert to Elimelek's descendants. Since both his sons were dead who was going to inherit it? Who is going to marry Ruth and raise up a son to be the deceased man's heir – Naomi being beyond the age of childbearing?

Boaz intercepts the closer relative of Elimelek as he makes his way through the city gate – the place where men met to talk and where deals were struck. Asking others to witness his conversation he speaks of the land that belongs to Elimelek and which Naomi is ready to pass on to a close relative who will provide her with a price for its harvests. The closer relative jumps at the chance of increasing his landholding until Boaz says that he must also take Ruth and raise up a child to inherit Elimelek's property. At this the man refuses the deal. Suppose he and Ruth have only one son? This would be considered Elimelek's grandson, heir to Elimelek's land. What would happen to his own lands and inheritance?

Boaz has achieved his objective. He calls the men at the city gate to witness that he will acquire the land belonging to Naomi and Elimelek and that he will take Ruth to be his wife.

The crowd at the gate respond with delight and with words of extravagant blessing. "May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah" (Ruth 4:11-12). And their words find an answer in the child that is born to Boaz and Ruth; Obed will become the grandfather of King David.

The child born to Ruth and Boaz brought great joy to Naomi – he is even spoken of as Naomi's son since he is Elimelek's heir. I doubt that she ever again said, "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter" (1:20). But the child descended from Obed, David's greater son, the Lord Jesus, would bring joy to the world and put an end to the bitterness experienced by all who live in a world of loss and of death.

God has been at work through every twist and turn of this story – through times of sadness, moments of kindness, scenes of high drama and times of joy. God has been working out his own purpose through the lives of these ordinary people. These were the days when the judges ruled over Israel, days when there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. But some sought to live lives that recognised and honoured God and through them God would provide a king for Israel, and ultimately the King over all creation.

Lord God, we thank you for the Lord Jesus our kinsman-redeemer. We praise you that when he was faced with the cost of our redemption he did not turn back but gave himself up for us. We recognise your hand at work through all of the pages of Scripture and the twists and turns of its history. Help us to know that you are still at work today through the lives of ordinary people who are devoted to you; working to bring your salvation to the ends of the earth. Use us to bring the blessings of your salvation to those around us.

17/04/2019 - Ruth 3 – The threshing floor

Now it's Naomi's turn to look after Ruth by seeking to find her a husband. Naomi has her eyes set on Boaz since he is a relative of her late husband, Elimelek. Boaz is able to act as kinsman-redeemer (or guardian-redeemer), one able to rescue a relative from a situation of difficulty.

For the Israelites, the land did not belong to them to be sold and bought at will, it belonged to the Lord and had been given to them as a trust (see Leviticus 25:23-24). Land had been apportioned to the various tribes and families within Israel and each portion of land had to be passed on within the family. In this way all Israel shared in the inheritance which God gave his people.

But what if a man died without children? In that case an unmarried man who was a close relative would need to marry the widow and seek to raise up a child who would be considered as son and heir to the previous husband who died. This practice, which seems so strange to us, was referred to as the role of a kinsman-redeemer. This is the background to the question with which the Sadducees sought to trick Jesus (see Matthew 22:23-28). Naomi believes that Boaz could do this for Ruth, marrying her and raising up a son who would inherit their family properties.

Naomi knows that Boaz will be sleeping that night at the threshing floor for he will need to guard his harvested grain (see Judges 6:11). She tells Ruth to go there at dead of night and lie at his feet – a symbol of seeking his protection.

Boaz wakes with a start, perhaps thinking someone has come to steal his grain but finding instead that Ruth is lying at his feet and wanting him to be her kinsman-redeemer. Boaz is moved; it would seem that he is quite taken with this young girl whose godly character is evident. He would be glad to become her husband and guardian, but there is one obstacle; there is a closer kinsman who has prior rights on the inheritance. Boaz will need to negotiate for Ruth. What will happen next in this drama being played out in ancient Bethlehem?

Boaz sends Ruth off in the morning with her shawl full of grain and the promise that he will do all he can to help her. Naomi is delighted with Ruth's news and the abundance of grain she brings home from Boaz. Naomi adds her assurance to that of Boaz that "the man will not rest until the matter is settled today."

Christ has become our kinsman-redeemer. He took upon himself our humanity that he might identify himself with us and take us to be his own. He has loved us, redeemed us at great cost, cast his protection over us and has heaped his riches upon us. He is the one through whom we have gained the inheritance which God has promised his people – not a field or two of land and a lap full of grain, but "an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade", an inheritance of glory.

There is a redeemer,
Jesus, God's own son,
Precious lamb of God, Messiah,
Holy one,

Thank you O my Father,
For giving us your Son,
And leaving your Spirit,
'til the work on earth is done.

Father God, we thank you for Jesus our kinsman-redeemer who has covered us with the garment of his righteousness. May we always sit at his feet, learn from him and follow him. May we, like Naomi, point others to the one who can be their redeemer also.

16/04/2019 - Ruth 2 – Boaz

In a society where it was the role of men to provide for their extended families, widows could be very vulnerable. Naomi and Ruth were dependent upon the charity of others.

The Law of Moses had made provision for the poor in the land. Those with fields and crops were not allowed to reap up to the very edge of their fields, nor were they allowed to go over the ground a second time to gather up what had been missed. These 'gleanings' were to be left for the poor to gather up for their own use.

Ruth had come to Bethlehem with Naomi with the intent of looking after her mother-in-law. So, at harvest time, she set out for the fields to see what she could gather. The narrator tells us that, "As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek" (2:3). By this comment, and in the unfolding story, he intends us to see that God is at work, directing Ruth's steps, and those of the other characters in the story.

The character of Boaz is immediately apparent from his greeting to his workers and their response. Here was a man who was conscious that he lived moment-by-moment in the presence of the Lord.

His attention is drawn to a young woman he does not recognise. By inquiry he learns that this is Ruth the daughter-in-law of Naomi. He had heard of her kindness in devoting herself to the care of Naomi and he is determined to ensure that she does well in her gleaning. He instructs her to gather up grain close behind the reapers and to stay in his fields where no-one will harm her – a foreign girl like Ruth could have been particularly vulnerable to being abused, particularly by men (remember the closing chapters of Judges).

Ruth is amazed by his kindness to her, a foreigner, and asks why he should treat her like this. Boaz' reply forms the heart of this chapter; "I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband – how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge" (2:11-12).

Boaz recognised not only that Ruth had come to Bethlehem to be with and care for Naomi but also that she had come to place her faith in the God of Israel. Boaz' words of blessing are not merely good wishes. He intends, as far as it is in his power, to be the means by which Ruth is blessed by God. He instructs his harvesters not to hinder Ruth's gleaning but rather to ensure that there is plenty for her to pick up.

Ruth returned to her mother-in-law with about 13 kg of grain. Naomi was delighted and enquired where Ruth had been gleaning. When she heard that it was in the fields of Boaz, a close relative of her dead husband, her immediate response was to proclaim "The LORD bless him!" Boaz has blessed them and Naomi desires that God would bless him in return.

We also are a people who have found refuge in the God of Israel and salvation in Jesus the Messiah. We also live moment-by-moment under his care. We also are to be a people who not only wish that same blessing upon others but who seek to be the answer to our own prayers; to be the means by which they are blessed. Who will the Lord enable you to bless today?

Father God, you are the sovereign God with whom nothing happens by chance. You have blessed us with incalculable riches in the Lord Jesus Christ and you continue to pour out your blessings on our lives. Help us today to be a blessing to others in word and in deed.

Peter Misselbrook