The opposite of courage, part 2 - Saul

Eighth in the COURAGE series

Like Cain in our previous post, Saul was a firstling who did not set a good example. As Israel's first king, much would be required of him, but in two of three initiating missions, he failed.

To Saul, as he did to Cain, the Lord could have said: If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it. (Gen 4:7) But after 2500 years of human history perhaps God thought that Saul should know the basics.

Saul was a courageous leader, chosen to lead the Israelites in battle against their enemies. His stature fit him for his role (1 Sam 9:2), and he received a special anointing by Samuel to signify and seal his election by God. (1 Sam 10:1) What went wrong?

As we look at the three challenges, let's also apply the lessons to our own lives, for this is the Bible's gift to us. (Rom 15:4)

When Samuel was old and it was plain that his sons could not succeed him, the people cried out for a king to be their judge and to lead them in battle (1 Sam 8:5, 20).

After some events and discussions, Saul was anointed and Samuel prophesied to him to grant him assurance of his kingship. He prophesied certain things that came true quickly (1 Sam 10:9); however, one prophecy was of a more cryptic nature, that is, Samuel said that Saul would go to Gilgal, preceding Samuel's arrival there, and wait for Samuel seven days; then he would come to show him what to do. This word was to test Saul.

Saul was accepted by nearly all his subjects (1 Sam 10:27) before his first challenge arose: the Ammonite king threatened the Hebrews in Jabesh, cruelly promising to gouge out their right eyes if they would not submit to him. They asked for seven days' respite, using this time to call for help, and Saul courageously took the initiative to rally 300,000 troops who wiped out the Ammonites. In celebration, Saul refused to take revenge on any who had not approved of his appointment as king, and credited the victory to the Lord. (1 Sam 11:13) Success! He had fulfilled his first mission! The people then went to Gilgal and made Saul their king before the Lord (1 Sam 11:15).

After a year, Saul was still in Gilgal. His son caused a stir with the Philistines, and the people were afraid for their lives. And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. (1 Sam 13:8)

In his distress he sacrificed burnt offerings rather than waiting for Samuel to tell him what to do next. Some commentators state that Saul sinned by upbraiding the constitution of Israel that divided roles to kings, priests and prophets, but others say Saul's sin was to act precipitously instead of practicing patience and endurance. Thus, he failed his second test, and Samuel prophesied that his kingdom would not continue (1 Sam 13:14).

For the latter cause, I confess I have often failed in this test of faith. But is it cowardly not to wait on the Lord? Perhaps in some instances it is merely foolish, but if due to fear in a circumstance, then it is.

Saul's third test was of a final nature, and perhaps this was because he was the leader of God's people. Others may err and not suffer drastic consequences, but a leader is measured by a different standard.

Samuel charged Saul to annihilate the Amalekites, the ancient enemy of the Israelites who had been first to come against them after their exodus from Egypt. (1 Sam 15:1-2) The instruction was to utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (vs 3)

In partial obedience, Saul did not kill Agag, king of Amalek, nor the best of the sheep, oxen, fatlings or lambs. It was his idea to use the livestock for sacrifices, and perhaps his kindness to Agag was as a peer to peer favor. We do not know.

He would soon learn that to obey is better than sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22), and that he had been rejected as king over Israel (1 Sam 15:26). After this incident we read of Saul's cowardice as he would attempt to kill David. The coward is afraid to lose his own life. (John 12:25)

The third test of his faith required that he be fully obedient to God's Word without questioning its mandates, and that there would be no enjoyment of a spoil for this obedience.

For us, too, though we may not fully comprehend what the Lord requires of us, it is our duty to obey his Word, and not anticipate a payment for that. In a general sense, the spoils of war are for victors, but to apply the lesson of this Scripture, some wars are for the honor of God alone.

To consider that we ought to be rewarded for our courage in battling our worst enemies-- attitudes, predispositions, behaviors, sinful ways-- misses the point that it is God's will for our lives that we be delivered from evil. To live victoriously in Christ having defeated many major provocations of our flesh is a reward in itself and glorifies God. Full victory is not possible till after death.

The opposite of courage, part 1 - Cain

Seventh in the COURAGE series

For the next several posts we will look at some of the cowards in the Bible, and some who had a brief lapse into cowardice. By understanding what a thing isn't, we can see better what it is.

The first coward was Cain, the firstborn human. As the eldest son of Adam and Eve he should have set an example for Abel, but parenting had not yet become an art.

When it came time to bring an offering to God, Abel was the exemplary son. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. (Gen 4:4, 5)

At this, Cain's countenance fell, but he was not sad; he was mad! (vs 5).

The Lord explained to him that it was only a matter of bringing an appropriate sacrifice. He would then be in God's "good graces" so to speak, but if he did not, then he was opening a way for the evil one to take control: If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. (Gen 4:7)

"The Lord has no grandchildren" (only children), so he personally explained to Cain that a confrontation was imminent unless he brought an acceptable offering. Satan was taking him apart; Cain must regain "the upper hand." Resist the devil! (Jas 4:7)

Cain talked with Abel, but later in the field, killed him. Then, when asked by God, Where is Abel thy brother?, he denied that he knew. Am I my brother's keeper? (Gen 4:9)

For this murder the Lord's sentenced Cain to hard labor, that is, the earth would not yield a good return for his work, and he would be a fugitive and vagabond on the earth. (Gen 4:12)

Cain whined that the judgment was more than he could endure. I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me. (Gen 4:14) No one would like him! He was afraid of enduring in his person what he had done to Abel.

The cowardice of Cain is shown in three ways:

  1. He did not stand against the devil. Though warned that the enemy was at hand, he ignored the message and the Messenger. The heart of a rebel does not want to hear from the Lord, preferring its own ways and choosing the path of least resistance. It takes great bravery to come against the devil!
  2. He would not confess his sin. Considering oneself to be in the wrong requires strength of character. It takes deep humility to repent. We must be bold to break down our own walls of defense against the Lord's exhortations. We all need to pray for help to be humble and repentant.
  3. He would not accept his punishment. We should face the consequences of our sins without railing or complaint. (1 Pet 5:6-11) Have courage and take your lumps.

Josiah's courage, part 2

Sixth in the COURAGE series

To understand the courage of Josiah, we need only read about the evils that he reversed or destroyed, that were Manasseh's legacy. These are found in 2 Kings 23:

  1. All the vessels in the Temple made for Baal and his host of underlings were removed, along with the grove, that was a pagan platform for worshipping Baal. These were burned in Kidron and their ashes carried further away. The grove was stamped upon to reduce it to powder.
  2. The idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places and in Jerusalem, worshipping Baal, the sun, moon and planets, were "put down" (eliminated).
  3. He broke down the houses of the sodomites that were by the house of the Lord where the women wove hangings for the grove. (vs7)
  4. Gates to high places and other sites of pagan worship were broken down.
  5. And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech. (vs10) Yes, even Judah had sacrificed her children to false gods!
  6. He took away the horses that the kings of Judah had given to the sun and burned the chariots of the sun.
  7. The altars made by Ahaz and Manasseh were broken to pieces and their dust cast in the Kidron brook.
  8. The high places that were before Jerusalem on the right hand of the mount of corruption that Solomon had built for Ashtoreth, Chemosh and Milcom, the abominable gods of the Zidonians, Moabites and Ammonites, were defiled by Josiah; he broke in pieces the images and cut down the groves and filled these places with the bones of men.
  9. He broke down the altar at Bethel that Jeroboam who made Israel sin had built, stamping it to powder, burning the grove, and then taking the bones from the sepulchers there and burning them on the altar, unwittingly fulfilling a prophecy. (1 Ki 13:2)
  10. He did the same to the houses of the high places that were in Samaria and killed all the priests of the high places that were at the altars.

Next, he ordered that repairs be made to the Temple, and the book of the law was discovered in that process. Upon hearing it read by Shaphan the scribe, he tore his clothes! (2 Ki 22:11) (See 2 Ch 34, 35 for the order in which Josiah carried out his plans.) He asked the priest, scribe and others in his circle to inquire of the Lord concerning the words of the book. He knew God's wrath must be very great since our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of the book (2 Ki 22:13).

These men went to a woman, Huldah the prophetess. Was Jeremiah too negative for them? (See previous post) By her the Lord said,

Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read: Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched. But to the king of Judah which sent you to enquire of the LORD, thus shall ye say to him, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, As touching the words which thou hast heard; Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the LORD, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the LORD. Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place. And they brought the king word again. (2 Ki 22:15-20)

Next, Josiah gathered all the elders, the prophets and priests of Judah and Jerusalem and all the people, into the temple and read to them all the words of the book of the covenant. He stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the Lord on behalf of his subjects to walk in God's way and keep his commandments, testimonies and statutes with all their heart and all their soul, and all the people stood to the covenant (2 Ki 23:3). Was it not courageous to honor the Lord despite being assured that evil would surely fall on Judah, even after all his reforms?

And he continued with his reforms. He put away the workers with familiar spirits, the wizards and the images and idols that were seen in Judah and in Jerusalem.

He also commanded all the people, Keep the passover unto the LORD your God, as it is written in the book of this covenant. (2 Ki 23:21) This was the greatest passover ever celebrated; Josiah was now 26 years old. (vs 23) Nevertheless, despite his full obedience to the Word, the Lord turned not from his fierceness of his great wrath because of all of Manasseh's evil. (vs 26)

Under Manasseh, Judah had become a vassal of Assyria, so when Pharaoh Necho of Egypt attacked Carchemish, an Assyrian city, Josiah felt bound go to battle. Necho sent ambassadors to warn him not to (2 Ch 35:21), but Josiah made an error in judgment, and died from a battle wound. Jeremiah lamented for him, with all the singers. (2 Ch 35:25) Their mourning was so great that it became proverbial, as shown by Zechariah's prophecy about a later occasion for grief and lamenting (Zec 12:11) (See commentary note.)

What can protect or prevent a courageous man of action from missteps? When a man or woman is fully committed to obey and honor God, much self discipline, prayer and knowledge of God's Word are needed. At times, rapid-fire decisions must be made. Additionally, as we are in a posture of devotion, a reverie may prevent a unique prayer for guidance in EACH critical decision. Whatever our missteps, we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. This is the final reward of courage, even should we exercise it amiss.

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. -Mat 5:14

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