Chapter 4 EMPIRE: Kingdoms Established Part 1: The Lives of Saul and David

April 8 From Blessing a Sacrifice to Anointing a King

Samuel, who was once a small baby and then a boy in Eli’s care, grew to be a man of faith and prayer, and at this point in God’s Story is now an old man.  Times are at a spiritual low for the Israelites and the people join together and clamor for an earthly king.  God chooses a tall young man named Saul.

It might not make for the most exciting of coronation ceremonies but it is interesting how Samuel first met Saul.  Saul’s dad’s donkeys had gone missing and Saul was sent out to find them. After three days he was about to give up but he heard that a man of God was in the next town.  Maybe he could help.  Some girls drawing water told Saul, “As soon as you enter the town, you will find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. The people will not begin eating until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward, those who are invited will eat. Go up now; you should find him about this time.”   Saul found Samuel and Samuel went from blessing the sacrifice to anointing Israel’s first king.

But the Israelites would soon realize that they should have never given up a theocracy by asking for a monarchy.  We need to learn to be very wise with our requests.

1 Samuel 9:13 NIV

April 11 Bless the Lord at All Times 

David’s praise and refuge were in the Lord even when Saul pursued him to take his life.  I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.”   It was easy to contemplate this psalm of praise in the spring of 2012 when I was at a weekend silent retreat and the nature surrounding me was majestic.  Brilliant peacocks were climbing deep scented pine trees and it seemed natural to boast in the Lord who created such variety.  But weeks later when I read the verse, copied into a friend’s prayer letter, my head was throbbing with a headache in time with the computer’s cursor.  Yet the same God is Lord of all and like the psalmist I’m called to bless Him at all times.

In Hebrew, David’s language, Psalm 34 is an acrostic poem and each verse begins with the letters of the alphabet in order like A, B, C, etc.  The poem is a wonderful lesson to always praise the Lord and it concludes in confidence that God’s servants will be redeemed.  On the good days and on the days that are harder, Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”  

David found this to be true so he shared it with us in song.  Have we tasted the goodness of God for ourselves?  Do those around us get a taste of His goodness from us?  May His praise be in our mouth as we boast in Him alone.   He is our place of retreat, of refuge, and we are blessed when we go to Him at all times.  

Psalm 34:1-2, 8 ESV

April 18 As Peacemakers We Are Blessed

Even though Saul was fixated on taking David’s life, David modeled great restraint and respect toward Saul, honoring him as God’s anointed king.  David had an opportunity to put an end to the one who wanted to destroy him and the soldier with David was perplexed as to why he did not take that chance.  Instead of killing Saul as he lay sleeping, David took Saul’s spear and water jug.  From the other side of the mountain, David called out to Saul.

Saul came to his senses and said to David, “You are blessed, my son David. You will certainly do great things and will also prevail.” Then David went on his way, and Saul returned home.  Saul and David had made peace, but life in general was far from peaceful.  Not too long after this meeting with David, Saul’s sons were killed during a great battle against Israel’s enemy, the Philistines.  Saul himself was critically injured by an archer and to avoid falling into the hands of the enemy, he took his own life.

David deeply lamented the deaths of these prominent men—Saul and his sons.  After Saul’s death, David became the king of Judah and he certainly did go on to do great things. I’m thankful for this passage in God’s Story for it shows us how reconciliation really can take place.  Let us be like David and actively seek peace while we can.

1 Samuel 26:25 HCSB

April 20 Blessed Is Everyone Who Fears the Lord

King David wrote meaningful praise songs, from the heart, and over seventy of them can be found in the book of Psalms.  These songs tell us the story of David’s life and they include timeless themes of praise, rescue, provision and blessing.  The songs were recorded so the whole nation of Israel could reflect upon the message sung during special times of the year. Psalm 128 describes those who walk in the ways of the Lord and it shows the various ways in which those who fear the Lord are blessed.

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!  You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you. Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.  The Lord bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!  May you see your children’s children! Peace be upon Israel!

We are blessed when we choose to live life following God’s blueprints.  King David was blessed with children, but it was several long years after this song was written before Israel experienced great peace.  Our choices can affect the peace that we experience.  At times David’s ungodly behavior robbed him of peace and blessings. We can also learn from David’s desire for true repentance that we do not need to remain separated from God.  Confession restores our relationship and we can return to walking in the ways of our Lord who is our greatest blessing.

Psalm 128:1-6 ESV

May 4 Blessed to Have My Sins Covered

What if our sins, the obvious ones and the ones we rationalize, were not just covered up, but covered? Not buried or hidden but brought to light, and paid for in full?  What if all that we’ve done wrong really could be forgiven?  That is what Jesus made possible for us.

I praise God that He opened my eyes and then my heart on a rainy Michigan night back in 1988 when I was twenty-three.  As I prayed to God, the Holy Spirit brought to my lips the sins that I had buried deep inside me, the ones that I had tried to cover up by stacking good works on top.  He forgave me and made me whole. For Jesus this great exchange took place as He hung with the sin of all humanity on a cross; mine included.  God showed that His good overcomes sin when He brought Jesus back to life again.  My awareness of this exchange took place in a car parked along a dark road with windshield wipers swishing away the rain. Not my effort, but His grace.  And then began what I like to think of as “the bonus”: living a blessed life.

“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”   When we experience forgiveness, we realize we have the freedom to live blessed, happy, clean lives, and we get to share this simple yet profound goodness with others.

Psalm 32:1-2 NIV

May 5 Blessed to Be an Upright Generation

Hallelujah! Happy is the man who fears the Lord, taking great delight in His commands. His descendants will be powerful in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.”  Russell and I desired that the descendants who came after us would know that God does bless.  So years ago our family developed a crest.  Instead of seeking the origin of our name and then finding the coat of arms that may have corresponded to that name, we contemplated the values we hold and we drew from those.

This painted and framed crest, given to me by Russell on my forty-first birthday, has hung in five homes on three continents since I unwrapped it, and it is my hope it will continue to go where we go. The background of our crest is a tree with roots, which represent being rooted in God’s teachings and trusting Him for all that we need.  Think about the Psalm 1 tree that is thriving, growing uniquely, and drinking in deeply from the river of God’s Story. That is how the wise person is blessed. The crest has been a good reminder to our family, as well as a visual teaching aid to others, when we share how those who fear the Lord can live happily and fulfilled.

God has created in His people through all generations, the ability to choose.  Let’s choose God.  Let’s choose to live upright even in a world that is upside-down.  Our generation depends on it!  Let’s be eager to learn from God’s good ways and then live out what we learn.  There is great delight in living right. This idea can be enhanced significantly when we’re part of a community that holds the same values.  Ultimately, by advancing the Kingdom of God, good overcomes evil and communities of righteousness can grow.  More and more people, out of gratitude of being rescued from worthless ways to meaningful life, can join in with the multitudes whose joy comes from the Lord.  This can happen –  one person at a time, one generation at a time.  Be a part of the link with one hand holding on to God’s blessings and the other hand reaching out to others who need to be blessed.

Psalm 112:1-2 HCSB

May 10 Parents Are Blessed to Bless

Among the responsibilities of running a kingdom, which required fighting many battles, the honor of writing psalms, and the desire to build a Temple for the Lord he loved, King David was surrounded by a challenging family life.  At this point in his life, David had several concubines and a few wives including Bathsheba, who had been the wife of one of his great warriors.  Bathsheba and David mourned the death of their first baby.  Then Solomon was born and this little one was added to the great number of King David’s children, many of whom were grown.

It is in this complex family tree that we find tragedy: Amnon, David’s son by one of his wives, raped Tamar, David’s daughter by another of his wives.  Absalom, the brother of the defiled girl, planned to take revenge.  Absalom invited King David and all of the king’s sons to his home for a feast, as it was sheep sheering time.  But David told Absalom, “No, my son. If we all came, we would be too much of a burden on you.” Absalom pressed him, but the king would not come, though he gave Absalom his blessing.  Although David did not go to Absalom’s party, the others did, and that day Absalom took justice into his own hands, and killed his brother Amnon.

Even as king, David was not exempt from the deep pain caused by those closest to him.  It is hard to really imagine the shock, anger, and grief that David and his various wives must have felt during this tragic time.  Dysfunctional families are not a modern day phenomenon.  And it is not a mystery that our actions come from our thoughts; and consequences, good and bad, will eventually follow what we choose to do.  Circumstances can certainly get complicated.

When I think of David, the thoughts that come to my mind are a shepherd boy, a brave giant slayer, a gifted musician, a mighty warrior, a great king and a man after God’s own heart.  David was all of these things but maybe the role many of us can relate to most naturally is that of his role as a parent.  David was the kind of father who wanted to bless his children, even the child intent on revenge.

Our Heavenly Father, no matter what role or position or title we may bear, I pray that as parents (or as aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, friends) we would seek You and Your wisdom and we would invest wisely in those You have blessed us with.  Help us, Lord God, to be part of the solution in a world that needs to see Your love in action.  Justice and mercy can best be pursued when we choose to walk humbly with You.  Lead us Father to love like You love.  Amen.

2 Samuel 13:25 NLT

May 15 Blessed Is the One Who Trusts in the Lord

God’s Story involves ancient history, yet it lives on in every generation.  In 1999 Hank became the first Christian among a minority people.   Hank and his family live in a village in Southeast Asia.  As a skilled artisan, he was very familiar with idols for he had carved quite a few in his day.  Hank knew these idols could not save him; they were only made of stone or wood and their eyes could not see nor could their ears hear.   Even though his generation, like the many generations before him, bowed before these false gods, deep inside Hank knew there needed to be something more.

When Hank heard of the Most High God, he placed his trust in Him and God gave Hank a new skill: Hank wrote the first worship chorus among his people and it is still sung today.  Let us continue to pray for Hank, his family, his village and the people in surrounding areas.

Father, God, there are many who still need to hear that You are God.  Idols cannot rescue us from death, or give us life—only You can.  Open up eyes and draw people to You so many will see You and put their trust in You alone.  Not You and idols or rituals, or traditions.  But You alone.  Amen.  “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.  Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.”

Psalm 40:3-4 NIV

May 21 Full Families Are a Blessing

Families are fascinating.  The same parents in the same environments can bring about very different and unique offspring.  I am so grateful to God for the children He blessed Russell and me with.  Isaiah’s December birthday in 2012 completed our second decade of raising and enjoying three great kids.  They keep growing into interesting and fun-to-be-around adults.  I also love how families are not static.  I’m continually blessed by Russell’s family who took me in as one of their own on the day I became his wife.  And I’m so thankful that my Michigan family loves my Texan husband and extends warm welcomes to us whenever we return for visits.  Hannah’s marriage to Andrew blesses us with a whole new family of in-laws to love as well as our first grandson.

Psalm 127 is a psalm I believe that David wrote to his son Solomon. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!”   A man may hold an arrow but it requires dedicated training to make that arrow valuable in the hands of a warrior.  Parents too require training.  In order to effectively teach discipline that is needed to hit godly bull’s eyes in life, it is best if parents are actually living out healthy spiritual disciplines.

It is incredible that although a father wrote this psalm many generations ago, the same sentiment of blessedness is felt today concerning the gift of children.  God, thank You for the heritage of family.  I pray that the children of my youth will always delight You.  May those of us who are parents rejoice in Your good blessings.  God please give us patience and strength and the ability to make wise choices in every season of training children up in the way that each of them should go.  And as You grow our family tree, may it be our desire to actively choose to love each branch You add to it. Amen.

Psalm 127:3-5a ESV

May 23 Pronounce Blessings in His Name Forever

David was at the end of his life so he got his affairs in order and obtained many of the supplies needed so his now grown son Solomon could build the Temple.  The Temple was a symbol of the nation’s commitment to God.  At a large assembly, David enlisted the help of Israel’s leaders to work in unity on the upcoming Temple project; responsibilities were assigned and genealogies were chronicled.

It was a time to ponder their heritage.  David read the names of Levi’s sons, and then said this about Aaron, Levi’s grandson and the firstborn to Amram,  “Aaron, along with his descendants, was set apart forever to consecrate the most holy things, to burn incense in the presence of Yahweh, to minister to Him, and to pronounce blessings in His name forever.”   Although blessings in the name of the Lord would go on forever, it was the beginning of the end for King David.  Reflection is a good thing, especially when looking back upon a godly heritage.  I hope that as he thought about his life, David’s mind was full of meaningful memories, for he was a hero to many.

One of my heroes is Ted Hope.  By the time we got to know him in the initial stages of Bible translation for the people group we served in Asia, he had already been involved with over fifty Bible translation projects.  He and his dear wife Nell helped the Lisu tribe in Thailand become Christians. When Dr. Hope and Russell traveled together in China, they sought out the grave of yet another godly man, a British missionary named J.O. Fraser who brought the Good News of Jesus to the Chinese Lisu.  Inscribed on his gravestone are Jesus’ words from John 12:24, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Aaron and his descendants were set apart to pronounce God’s blessings.  King David strongly led in his generation and his songs still lead us to worship God today. God used James Fraser in incredible ways to bless the Lisu of China.  Ted Hope carried on that good work with the Lisu in Thailand.  We are all given one life to live.  Will those who come after us remember us for our love for God and His people?   Are we bearing fruit as people who die to self to live for God?

1 Chronicles 23:13b HCSB

Continued:

Chapter 4 EMPIRE: Kingdoms Established Part 2: Solomon and the Kingdom Divided