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The Transforming Power of God

Last week we witnessed the inauguration of King Saul – the first King of Israel! And for Israel to get it’s first king had been quite a process. But to briefly summarize it in point form:

The elders of Israel had foolishly requested it. God had graciously allowed it. Samuel had faithfully arranged it. Saul had reluctantly accepted it. And all the people gladly affirmed it. Well, most of the people gladly affirmed it.

You’ll recall at the very end of 1 Samuel chapter 10, as Saul’s Inauguration Day came to a close, it says…

…there were some scoundrels who complained, “How can this man save us?” And they scorned him and refused to bring him gifts…1 Samuel 10:27

So it would seem that not everyone was convinced that Saul was the man to lead their nation – or more specifically, they were not convinced that Saul was the man to save them from their enemies – which was really what they wanted a king for in the first place. You’ll recall back in chapter 8 that the elders of Israel, after being warned of how costly a king would be, they said to Samuel:

“…we still want a king,” they said. “We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.” 1 Samuel 8:19

Having someone to lead them into battle was one of the underlying reasons for having a king. They wanted someone who could command the armies and give them victory over their enemies!

And at first glance, it would certainly seem that Saul was an ideal candidate for that! You’ll recall that he was a big boy – he stood head and shoulder taller than everyone else. He was just the kind of guy that you’d want to follow into battle. He’s no scrawny pencil-pusher – he’s a bit of a hulk! He’s a well built farm-kid that towered over everyone else!

So why would these scoundrel’s complain “How can this man save us?” Why would they doubt his abilities to be their king and lead them into battle?

Well, if I were to venture a guess, I’d guess they didn’t doubt his physical abilities as much as they doubted his leadership abilities. You’ll recall that when Saul was publicly chosen as King, the people couldn’t find him anywhere because he was hiding in the baggage!  Either he was too timid or to embarrassed or too humble or whatever it was, the fact that he was hiding certainly didn’t instil confidence in his abilities as a leader.

Leaders are usually seen to be bold and decisive and confident – but that was the not first impression that Saul left on the people of Israel. So it’s not too surprising that some of the people had their reservations about Saul being able to lead them into battle!

But the one thing that those people had forgotten was that God had hand-picked Saul to be King. And if God had chosen Him, would not God also give him the necessary abilities to lead? Of course, He would!

The Scriptures are filled with examples of men and women who were totally unqualified to do the jobs that God asked them to do – but God equipped and empowered and enabled them to carry out their tasks with tremendous results.

And I think God likes it that way. God loves to show His power through our weakness. Remember what God said to the Apostle Paul when Paul had that ‘thorn in the flesh’? God said:

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9a

God loves to chose the weak, the unqualified, the broken, the outcasts – why? Because God’s power is magnified through our weakness!

So perhaps Saul was too timid. Perhaps he was unqualified. Perhaps he lacked the confidence and boldness needed to lead the nation. But God had hand-picked him for this job – and God would abundantly supply anything that Saul lacked.

Our passage begins this morning with a paragraph that isn’t even included in most Bible translations. I think the New Living Translation is one of the very few that include it – and even then, it’s usually in brackets with a note of explanation. It’s found at the very end of 1 Samuel chapter 10, and the reason that it isn’t typically included in most translations, is that this paragraph doesn’t exist in most of the ancient Hebrew manuscripts that we have of the Bible. But it is included in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls – those are some really old manuscripts that were found in about 1950 (they’re actually some of the oldest Hebrew manuscripts we have of the Old Testament) and so some translators have decided to include it their translations.

And whether or not we include this paragraph as Scripture or not doesn’t really matter much – there’s nothing in there that changes our theology or doctrine anything like that. It’s really just a bit of historic background to the story that begins in chapter 11. So let me read this missing paragraph for you, I’ll make a few comments, and then we’ll pick things up in chapter 11. This is what is says at the end of 1 Samuel chapter 10.

Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been grievously oppressing the people of Gad and Reuben who lived east of the Jordan River. He gouged out the right eye of each of the Israelites living there, and he didn’t allow anyone to come and rescue them. In fact, of all the Israelites east of the Jordan, there wasn’t a single one whose right eye Nahash had not gouged out. But there were 7,000 men who had escaped from the Ammonites, and they had settled in Jabesh-gilead.

1 Samuel 10:27+

Now if you remember your Old Testament History, you’ll remember when the Israelites conquered the Promised Land, 2½ of the 12 tribes of Israel choose to live on the east side of the Jordan River. There was Rueben, Gad, and ½ the tribe of Manassah. Well, according to this extra paragraph here, it seems King Nahash of the Ammonites had pretty much conquered all of them. He was grievously oppressing them and had even gouged out the right eye of every Israelite in that area. 

And this gouging out of the right eye seems a bit barbaric – but this would accomplish two things for King Nahash. Not only would it humiliate the Israelites in defeat, but it would also ensure they would remain subject to the Ammonites for the rest of their life. A man with only one eye would be at a severe disadvantage fighting against someone who had both eyes. When you’re engaged in life-or-death, hand-to-hand combat – depth perception is pretty important!

And so these Ammonites would gouge out the right eye of every man in the cities that they conquered – but would leave them with one eye so they could still work and pay their taxes and pay tribute to the conquering nation.

But as this paragraph tells us, 7,000 men escape from King Nahash and fled to the city of Jabesh-gilead.

And this is where 1 Samuel chapter 11 begins in verse 1.

About a month later, King Nahash of Ammon led his army against the Israelite town of Jabesh-gilead. But all the citizens of Jabesh asked for peace. “Make a treaty with us, and we will be your servants,” they pleaded.

2 “All right,” Nahash said, “but only on one condition. I will gouge out the right eye of every one of you as a disgrace to all Israel!”

3 “Give us seven days to send messengers throughout Israel!” replied the elders of Jabesh. “If no one comes to save us, we will agree to your terms.”

1 Samuel 11:1-3

So you can see that our extra paragraph in chapter 10 isn’t really needed, but it does help to give a little background to the story. It seems that Nahash the Ammonite either followed those 7,000 men who escaped, or Jabesh was the next city on his list to conquer. But either way, he surrounds the city and citizens of Jabesh attempt to make a deal with him. But of course, the only deal Nahash will accept involves him gouging out the right eye of every man in the town – as he had done in all the towns before this.

So the people of Jabesh are in a tight spot. Losing an eye and being subject to a cruel foreign king certainly isn’t a great option, but being killed in a siege isn’t very appealing either! And so they make a counter-offer to King Nahash – “Give us 7 days to try to find someone to rescue us, and if no one comes, then we will surrender.”

And you might wonder why on earth would King Nahash even consider that? Why would he allow messengers to leave the city and try to go find help? Why would he give them 7 days to try to round up reinforcements? 

Well, there’s probably two good reasons why he would do that. 

  1. I would guess King Nahash felt pretty confident that no one would come help them. After all, according to our extra paragraph in chapter 10, he had already conquered all of the Israelite towns east of the Jordan River – and no one came to rescue them! So why would this town be any different?
  2. To siege and conquer a city was a long and costly endeavour. If there was a chance that the city would just surrender, it would save months if not years of time – not to mention the resources and the soldiers lives that it would spare.

And so this was an offer that King Nahash couldn’t refuse. So he agreed to their proposal and the city sent out their messengers. The story continues in verse 4.

4 When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and told the people about their plight, everyone broke into tears. 5 Saul had been plowing a field with his oxen, and when he returned to town, he asked, “What’s the matter? Why is everyone crying?” So they told him about the message from Jabesh. 1 Samuel 11:4-5

It seems that everyone was still getting use to the idea of having a King – including Saul. He wasn’t doing any of the Kingly things that you might expect – He wasn’t preparing edicts or training an army or engaging in diplomacy or anything like that. Instead, he was back on the family farm plowing the field with his oxen. I’d guess he didn’t really know what to do as King – and so he just did what needed to be in the moment – and that was to plow the fields!

And even when a major crisis arose, notice that the messengers didn’t come straight to Saul. You’d expect the King to the be the first one to get the news, but the whole town knew what was going on before Saul had any idea. Nobody thought to go tell King Saul – Saul had to come in from the fields and ask, “What’s going on? Why is everyone crying?”

But finally, Saul is told what’s going on, and look what happens in verse 6.

6 Then the Spirit of God came powerfully upon Saul, and he became very angry. 

1 Samuel 11:6

And I find that such an interesting verse. When you think about someone being filled with the Spirit of God, you don’t usually think of them as becoming very angry.

Galatians 5 tells us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It doesn’t say anything about the fruit of the Spirit being anger!

But I think, in the right context, it can be. After all, Jesus was angry at times. Remember when Jesus chased out all the merchants and money-changers out of the temple? Let’s just look at that for a minute: John 2:13 says…

13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money. 15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables. 16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!” John 2:13-16

That sounds like anger to me! Or how about the time when he healed a crippled man’s hand on the Sabbath? Mark 3:1

Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. 2 Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.

3 Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” 4 Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.

5 He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! 

Mark 3:1-5

So here we have two occasions that are recorded for us where Jesus was clearly angry. But it’s important to notice what he was angry about. He was angry about the blatant disrespect for God. He was angry about the unjust treatment of others. He was angry at selfish, self-righteous attitudes. He was angry about sin.

It is good and godly to be angry at sin. (Let me say that one more time.) It is good and godly to be angry at sin.

We just need to be careful that we do not act on that anger in a sinful way. Ephesians 4:26 says..

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. ” Ephesians 4:26-27a ESV

We should be angry at the evil we see in the world. We should get upset when we hear about injustice, crime, hate, evil…. It’s godly to be angry at that. But we then need to act on that anger in a righteous way – a way that remedies and restores – a way that brings honor and glory to God. That’s certainly what Jesus did.

And that’s just what Saul did. When he heard about the evil that was about to unfold on the people of Jabesh, the Holy Spirit came upon him and he became very angry. Verse 7 says…

7 He took two oxen and cut them into pieces and sent the messengers to carry them throughout Israel with this message: “This is what will happen to the oxen of anyone who refuses to follow Saul and Samuel into battle!” And the Lord made the people afraid of Saul’s anger, and all of them came out together as one. 8 When Saul mobilized them at Bezek, he found that there were 300,000 men from Israel and 30,000 men from Judah.

9 So Saul sent the messengers back to Jabesh-gilead to say, “We will rescue you by noontime tomorrow!” There was great joy throughout the town when that message arrived!

1 Samuel 11:7-9

This is a great example of being very angry and not sinning. Saul acted on his anger to bring about restoration and rescue for the people of Jabesh-gilead. In fact, the Lord made the people afraid of Saul’s anger and they all came together as one to rescue their brothers and sisters. That’s a great example of the good results of godly anger! Not selfish anger, but godly anger.

And by the way, what a change in Saul, hey? Did you notice? He went from timid, quiet Saul hiding behind the baggage at his inauguration ceremony to bold, angry Saul cutting up oxen and putting the fear of God in the people of Israel! Samuel had said earlier that Saul would become a new person when the Holy Spirit came upon him – and boy, did he ever!

That just goes to show how God can totally transform anyone’s life! The Holy Spirit does amazing work! I mean, just think about the other Saul of the Bible – Saul who became Paul. He had dedicated his life to destroying the followers of Jesus – putting them in prison, putting them to death! No one was as zealous against Christians like Paul was. But after He met Jesus, he was a new man! He became the one of the greatest evangelists of all time – spreading the Gospel all over the known world, writing a huge portion of the New Testament, and Himself being willing to die for the sake of Jesus Christ. What an incredible transformation!

And God still transforms people like that today. He can transform you. He can transform anyone! Many people in our own little church can testify to that. Years ago you probably wouldn’t even recognize some them – but God has done some amazing things in their life and they are different people today – men and women who love the Lord and are serving Him today in some incredible ways!

So don’t ever think that you’re stuck the way you are. Stuck in sin. Stuck in habits. Stuck in certain lifestyles. Stuck because of your past. None of that matters to God. He will take you as you are and he will transform you into new person! Like it says in 2 Corinthians 5:17:

17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17

And that’s certainly what we see in Saul. His old life was gone – a new life had begun!

And as for the people of Jabesh-gilead, they too, got a second chance at life. It says in verse 10 – and I’ll read down to the end of the chapter…

10 The men of Jabesh then told their enemies, “Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you can do to us whatever you wish.” 11 But before dawn the next morning, Saul arrived, having divided his army into three detachments. He launched a surprise attack against the Ammonites and slaughtered them the whole morning. The remnant of their army was so badly scattered that no two of them were left together.

12 Then the people exclaimed to Samuel, “Now where are those men who said, ‘Why should Saul rule over us?’ Bring them here, and we will kill them!”

13 But Saul replied, “No one will be executed today, for today the Lord has rescued Israel!”

14 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us all go to Gilgal to renew the kingdom.” 15 So they all went to Gilgal, and in a solemn ceremony before the Lord they made Saul king. Then they offered peace offerings to the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites were filled with joy.

1 Samuel 11:10-15

It is a thing of beauty when God transforms a life! When God gets a hold of a man or woman and changes them from the inside out, there is nothing that God can’t do through them!

This story has all the traits of a total God-story.

Remember where this story started? The Israelites’ enemies had been grievously oppressing and humiliating them. The people of Jabesh were on the verge of disaster – about to be conquered and have their eyes gouged out. After his inauguration, King Saul had reverted back to farming and there were those who didn’t believe he had what it took to be king.

But then God got involved and totally changed things around.

By the end of this chapter, the Israelites’ enemies were defeated. All the people of Jabesh were rescued. Saul’s calling as King was absolutely affirmed and Saul’s detractors were graciously spared from execution. God was honoured and worshipped and glorified. And everyone was filled with joy!

These last verses of this chapter are just filled with the evidence of God at work! And I would just encourage you this morning to remember that the God who did all that is the same God who is at work in our world and our lives today.

Maybe in your life, you’re at the part of the story where you’re surrounded by enemies who are threatening to conquer your city and gouge your eyes out? Not literally, of course, I hope. But the future seems bleak and hopeless. You see no way that you’ll ever get out of this mess.

Or maybe you’re the part of the story where you know God’s asked you to be king, but a lot of people don’t believe in you. Maybe you don’t even believe in you. You’re not king material. All you know is farming. How can you do this great thing that God’s asked you to do?

I would just encourage you to look to the God of this story. He’s the God who transforms people. He’s the God who rescues people. He’s the God who does incredible things so that we can be filled with joy and He can receive all the glory!

I would encourage you to follow the advice of Proverbs 3:5-6.

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart

    and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways submit to him,

    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

If you’re surrounded by enemies who are threatening to gouge your eyes out, trust in the Lord to send you a rescuer.

If you’re timid or afraid or just unsure of which way to go, simply submit to Him and He will make your path’s straight.

Whatever your situation is, you can trust in this God – this God who rescues, this God who transforms, this God who loves you more than you can imagine.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him,

and he will make your paths straight.

 

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