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Occasionally someone comes along who shows exceptional promise from his or her youth, and then lives up to that promise. But that does not seem to be the common way of things. Who would have thought that a minor painter from Vienna could become the monstrous colossus the world knows as Adolf Hitler? Who would have thought that a failed haberdasher from Missouri, a chap with a high-school education, would succeed Roosevelt, drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, sack General Douglas MacArthur, and order the racial integration of the armed forces?
Consider Saul (1 Sam. 9). He was a Benjamite, and thus from the little tribe reduced in numbers and prestige by the horrible events recorded in Judges 19–21 (see meditations for August 5–7). He was not even from a major clan within that tribe (1 Sam. 9:21). Physically he was a strapping young man, getting on with the farming chores his father assigned him, with no pretensions—so far as we know—of glory or power. Indeed, in the next chapter he has to be cajoled from his hiding place in the luggage to come out and accept the acclaim the people wanted to give him.
It is not yet the time to trace all the things that went wrong—some of them will be mentioned in later meditations. But people with even a cursory knowledge of Scripture know what a mixed character Saul turned out to be, and how tragic his end. What should we learn?
(1) If we ourselves are on an upward curve of great promise, we must resolve to persevere in the small marks of fidelity and humility. A good beginning does not guarantee a good end.
(2) If we are responsible for hiring people, whether pastors and other Christian leaders or executives for a corporation, although some of us prove more insightful and farsighted than others, all of us make mistakes—for the simple reason that, quite apart from the bad choices we make, a good choice can turn into a bad choice (and vice-versa) because people change.
(3) It follows that every organization, not least the local church, needs some sort of mechanism for godly removal of leaders who turn out to be evil or woefully inadequate. That wasn’t possible in ancient Israel, so far as the king went. It is not only possible but mandated so far as New Testament leadership is concerned.
(4) Only God knows the end from the beginning. After we have exercised our best judgment, nothing is more important than that we should cast ourselves on God, seeking to please him, trying to conform our judgments to what he has disclosed of himself in his Word, trusting absolutely in the only One who knows the end from the beginning.
A common theme among the biblical prophets is that God is sovereign over all nations. To most who read these pages that seems obvious. But in the ancient world, most nations had their own gods. So when a nation went to war, the people prayed to their own gods; if a nation was defeated, so were their gods. Clearly they were not as strong as the gods of the ascendant nation.
But the God of Israel keeps telling her that he is the God over all the universe, over all the nations. He is not a tribal deity in the sense that they own him or that he is exclusively theirs. That is why in many chapters of Isaiah and Jeremiah God insists that he himself is the One who is raising up Assyria or Babylon to punish the people. In other words, the defeat of Israel does not signal the defeat of God. Far from it: this God keeps insisting that if Israel is defeated and punished, it can only be because he has ordained it—and he does this by utilizing the very nations Israel fears.
But there is another side to the story. If God uses these various pagan nations, so also does he hold them to account. Of course, they cannot be expected to submit to the entire Law of Moses—after all, they are not part of the covenant community. Nevertheless God holds pagan nations to standards of decency and basic righteousness. So after using Assyria to chasten the northern kingdom of Israel, God turns around and chastens Assyria for her arrogance (Isa. 10:5ff.; see meditation for May 12). In the same vein, some of Israel’s prophets pronounce words of judgment and warning, and sometimes of hope, against the surrounding nations over which their own God is utterly sovereign. That is what is found in Jeremiah 46–51 and elsewhere (e.g., Isa. 13–23; Ezek. 25–32; Amos 1:3–2:3).
The chapter before us (Jer. 46) opens the larger section with a word from the Lord concerning Egypt. The first part (Jer. 46:2–12) details Egypt’s decisive defeat at the battle of Carchemish in 605 B.C., when the Babylonians rose to supremacy in the region. The second part (Jer. 46:13–26) anticipates a further defeat of Egypt at the hands of Babylon, this time under Nebuchadnezzar. This almost certainly refers to the same assault predicted in Jeremiah 43:10—part of the reason why the Jews remaining in Judah were not to go down to Egypt (as they did, about 586). That assault is not reported in Scripture, but inscriptional evidence records that Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt in a punitive expedition in 568–567.
Why is this chapter included in the book at this point?
9:1 There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish, the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. 2 And he had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.
3 Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul's father, were lost. So Kish said to Saul his son, “Take one of the young men with you, and arise, go and look for the donkeys.” 4 And he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then they passed through the land of Benjamin, but did not find them.
5 When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant1 who was with him, “Come, let us go back, lest my father cease to care about the donkeys and become anxious about us.” 6 But he said to him, “Behold, there is a man of God in this city, and he is a man who is held in honor; all that he says comes true. So now let us go there. Perhaps he can tell us the way we should go.” 7 Then Saul said to his servant, “But if we go, what can we bring the man? For the bread in our sacks is gone, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What do we have?” 8 The servant answered Saul again, “Here, I have with me a quarter of a shekel2 of silver, and I will give it to the man of God to tell us our way.” 9 (Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he said, “Come, let us go to the seer,” for today's “prophet” was formerly called a seer.) 10 And Saul said to his servant, “Well said; come, let us go.” So they went to the city where the man of God was.
11 As they went up the hill to the city, they met young women coming out to draw water and said to them, “Is the seer here?” 12 They answered, “He is; behold, he is just ahead of you. Hurry. He has come just now to the city, because the people have a sacrifice today on the high place. 13 As soon as you enter the city you will find him, before he goes up to the high place to eat. For the people will not eat till he comes, since he must bless the sacrifice; afterward those who are invited will eat. Now go up, for you will meet him immediately.” 14 So they went up to the city. As they were entering the city, they saw Samuel coming out toward them on his way up to the high place.
15 Now the day before Saul came, the LORD had revealed to Samuel: 16 “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince3 over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen4 my people, because their cry has come to me.” 17 When Samuel saw Saul, the LORD told him, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you! He it is who shall restrain my people.” 18 Then Saul approached Samuel in the gate and said, “Tell me where is the house of the seer?” 19 Samuel answered Saul, “I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is on your mind. 20 As for your donkeys that were lost three days ago, do not set your mind on them, for they have been found. And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father's house?” 21 Saul answered, “Am I not a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel? And is not my clan the humblest of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then have you spoken to me in this way?”
22 Then Samuel took Saul and his young man and brought them into the hall and gave them a place at the head of those who had been invited, who were about thirty persons. 23 And Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the portion I gave you, of which I said to you, ‘Put it aside.’” 24 So the cook took up the leg and what was on it and set them before Saul. And Samuel said, “See, what was kept is set before you. Eat, because it was kept for you until the hour appointed, that you might eat with the guests.”5
So Saul ate with Samuel that day. 25 And when they came down from the high place into the city, a bed was spread for Saul on the roof, and he lay down to sleep.6 26 Then at the break of dawn7 Samuel called to Saul on the roof, “Up, that I may send you on your way.” So Saul arose, and both he and Samuel went out into the street.
27 As they were going down to the outskirts of the city, Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the servant to pass on before us, and when he has passed on, stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the word of God.”
7:1 Or do you not know, brothers1—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.2 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.3
7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
46:1 The word of the LORD that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning the nations.
2 About Egypt. Concerning the army of Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, which was by the river Euphrates at Carchemish and which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon defeated in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah:
3 “Prepare buckler and shield,
and advance for battle!
4 Harness the horses;
mount, O horsemen!
Take your stations with your helmets,
polish your spears,
put on your armor!
5 Why have I seen it?
They are dismayed
and have turned backward.
Their warriors are beaten down
and have fled in haste;
they look not back—
terror on every side!
declares the LORD.
6 “The swift cannot flee away,
nor the warrior escape;
in the north by the river Euphrates
they have stumbled and fallen.
7 “Who is this, rising like the Nile,
like rivers whose waters surge?
8 Egypt rises like the Nile,
like rivers whose waters surge.
He said, ‘I will rise, I will cover the earth,
I will destroy cities and their inhabitants.’
9 Advance, O horses,
and rage, O chariots!
Let the warriors go out:
men of Cush and Put who handle the shield,
men of Lud, skilled in handling the bow.
10 That day is the day of the Lord GOD of hosts,
a day of vengeance,
to avenge himself on his foes.
The sword shall devour and be sated
and drink its fill of their blood.
For the Lord GOD of hosts holds a sacrifice
in the north country by the river Euphrates.
11 Go up to Gilead, and take balm,
O virgin daughter of Egypt!
In vain you have used many medicines;
there is no healing for you.
12 The nations have heard of your shame,
and the earth is full of your cry;
for warrior has stumbled against warrior;
they have both fallen together.”
13 The word that the LORD spoke to Jeremiah the prophet about the coming of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon to strike the land of Egypt:
14 “Declare in Egypt, and proclaim in Migdol;
proclaim in Memphis and Tahpanhes;
say, ‘Stand ready and be prepared,
for the sword shall devour around you.’
15 Why are your mighty ones face down?
They do not stand1
because the LORD thrust them down.
16 He made many stumble, and they fell,
and they said one to another,
‘Arise, and let us go back to our own people
and to the land of our birth,
because of the sword of the oppressor.’
17 Call the name of Pharaoh, king of Egypt,
‘Noisy one who lets the hour go by.’
18 “As I live, declares the King,
whose name is the LORD of hosts,
like Tabor among the mountains
and like Carmel by the sea, shall one come.
19 Prepare yourselves baggage for exile,
O inhabitants of Egypt!
For Memphis shall become a waste,
a ruin, without inhabitant.
20 “A beautiful heifer is Egypt,
but a biting fly from the north has come upon her.
21 Even her hired soldiers in her midst
are like fattened calves;
yes, they have turned and fled together;
they did not stand,
for the day of their calamity has come upon them,
the time of their punishment.
22 “She makes a sound like a serpent gliding away;
for her enemies march in force
and come against her with axes
like those who fell trees.
23 They shall cut down her forest,
declares the LORD,
though it is impenetrable,
because they are more numerous than locusts;
they are without number.
24 The daughter of Egypt shall be put to shame;
she shall be delivered into the hand of a people from the north.”
25 The LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, said: “Behold, I am bringing punishment upon Amon of Thebes, and Pharaoh and Egypt and her gods and her kings, upon Pharaoh and those who trust in him. 26 I will deliver them into the hand of those who seek their life, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and his officers. Afterward Egypt shall be inhabited as in the days of old, declares the LORD.
27 “But fear not, O Jacob my servant,
nor be dismayed, O Israel,
for behold, I will save you from far away,
and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
and none shall make him afraid.
28 Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
declares the LORD,
for I am with you.
I will make a full end of all the nations
to which I have driven you,
but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
and I will by no means leave you unpunished.”
22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises1 of Israel.
4 In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8 “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother's breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother's womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
12 Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet2—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, O LORD, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued3 me from the horns of the wild oxen!
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted4 shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
May your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.
29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.