For my morning devotions, I am reading through 1st and 2nd Samuel. I read a little every day, usually one chapter. Then I may read commentaries, make notes, copy verses, or sit quietly and listen. I always pray.
I have been studying these two books for over a year, and this is my third time through them. I don't know how many times I'll go through them or how long I will remain in them, but I remain in this one stretch of narrative that starts before the birth of Samuel and goes through the life of David, because I sense I am suppose to continue gleaning in these fields, here and no where else, for now.
I also have a deep desire to be able to know and tell these stories to my children's children someday from memory, if God wills it. But first, I must know and tell these stories to myself. So I am the child for now and the repetition serves to imprint the scenes of the narrative on my soul.
I am learning a great deal about the ways of God to man by simply tracing this narrative start to finish with my eyes and with my finger, going over and over the words again. This narrative is woven from the separate strands of several lives that run parallel to each other, intersecting at times in different ways, showing very prominent in God's design when you look back at history, His story.
An Introductory Logic textbook we own and use in our homeschool, written by James Nance and Douglas Wilson says, "When something is truly authoritative, you are required to respond to it submissively. The ultimate authority for Christians is the Bible... The submissive response to a command...is to obey it."
I believe all Scripture is authoritative, so I read it daily to know what I am supposed to do. But not all of Scripture is made up of commands or imperative sentences. Much of Scripture is statements or even narratives like 1st and 2nd Samuel. So what is a submissive response to a story? How does one obey a narrative? I have to ask myself this daily now.
How should I respond to the narrative of God's ways with Hannah?
She wasn't given her heart's desires, though her heart's desires were good. She was despised and provoked by a hateful, jealous woman with a very different nature than her own. Hannah had a loving and good natured husband, but he was little comfort or help to her. He couldn't understand what seems to be the obvious reasons for Hannah's intense discontent.
How do I respond to the narrative of God's ways with Samuel?
Before Samuel was even born, his future was shaped. When we look back at our past and see the influence of our parents' choices, it is often the case, is it not? Samuel didn't seem to have a choice about much of anything in his life, except perhaps where he eventually made his home. He didn't stay in Shiloh. He settled elsewhere and apparently, He took his authority with him to that place. But, this lack of choice in Samuel's life, in fact, all the lack of choice in these character's stories, is offensive to me as an American and a modern. But alas, much of Scripture is offensive to me and God doesn't seem to mind offending. Lewis says that we should read two old books for every modern one, because it helps our minds get out of the age they are in. The Bible is probably the best "old book" to read. Reading Samuel's story, I have to confront reality and as it is, reality is not often what I would like it to be. I find myself repeating often, "You are God and I am not." Samuel knew the Lord from a young age, even though he grew up away from the care and nurture of his mother. This is also offensive and disturbing to me, because I'm a mother always at home with my kids, always wanting to influence and protect them. But this is probably helpful for me in that it serves to remind me that my kids could, in fact, survive without me, so long as they have the Lord as Samuel had the Lord. Samuel also had to literally serve throughout his childhood, another offense to my modern sensibilities. He slept on the floor and was even "on call" throughout the night in case the lamp of God went out. But what a floor! "Better a blanket on the floor in the house of God than a bed in a palace."
How do I respond to God's ways with Saul?
He was a valiant man raised by a valiant man. He was apparently a dutiful son, and apparently content serving his father within their household. But then he was told, just told, that he'd be king. He was basically conscripted into God's service. Saul wasn't asked for consent to God's desires. The oil was simply poured out on his head and the words were spoken over him and the weight of God's will took over his life from there. The story is gentle reminder that though our rights are founded on the truths in Scripture, standing before Almighty God, our rights get a bit fuzzy.
I have so much sympathy for these characters, because I have been them in some ways before, and I am them in some ways now. How do I submit to these authoritative narratives?
First, I contemplate the ways of God to man. Next, I see I am the man. Last, I bow my head and my heart and let the oil of God's will, whatever it is, pour down on me. I see my place in the narrative of my life is to walk the path I am given with what I have been given and live out this life as best as I can. As best I can, though I do fail, and I will fail.
My daughter writes stories and she says that sometimes it's hard for her to watch her characters suffer. She says she knows her characters before they even take action. They each have specific personalities, qualities, and experiences, and then she puts them in unique circumstances with other distinct characters in a particular place, and so she can guess beforehand what is likely to happen given all the variables. In a way, she sees it coming and she says sometimes her characters must fail. Their failure is to some extent fated. But she loves her characters. She delights in them, and she joyfully writes her story, their story anyway.
I wonder if God feels like my daughter, like an author as He sits in His sovereignty over our freedom.
I sense my relationship to God is like that sometimes. He is up there writing and I am down here becoming.
And that's what I seem to see in 1st and 2nd Samuel with Hannah, and Saul, and Samuel, and eventually, David.
These were people, also in certain circumstances. They failed or did well, depending on all the variables that only God really knows. And in spite of all the things they did not control, they were still no more or less justified or guilty before God because of what they did. They were no more or less obligated to obey and serve and submit and worship. Confessing, believing, accepting that reality is how I submit to God through the narratives of Scripture.
So I'll try to be like Hannah, trusting God in less-than-perfect circumstances, holding my tongue and at times, enduring hostility, insensitivity, misunderstanding, and even undeserved rebuke. I'll take my complaints to God and I'll throw myself down before His feet. I'll pour out my heart to Him, and ask for what I want, and He will lift me up. I will put my faith and hope in the blessings He has given me for my future. I'll sing. Maybe some of my songs will be recorded and read again when I am gone.
I'll be like Samuel, getting as close to God as I can on this earth, laying myself down at his feet, keeping my ears open even while I am at rest, responding to His voice at any hour of the day. I'll be diligent to raise my children up in humble hard work and constant obedience, seeing that's probably how to nurture the potential priest and prophet inside them, and by God's grace, prevent them from becoming like Eli's sons, who grew up wicked, somehow, even though they grew up in the same place as Samuel, the most holy place on earth.
And from Saul, I'll learn to let God's favor pour down on me, though with His favor comes dread, fear, responsibility, accountability, fate. I'll try not to hide behind the baggage whenever I'm called for. I'll try to wait as a dutiful son of God should wait on God. Then I'll go valiantly, but hopefully, in God's timing and with His help and favor. Most of all, I'll thank God that the Holy Spirit never leaves me this side of Pentecost. Like David, who saw the Holy Spirit taken from King Saul, I have also seen what happens when God's Spirit departs a man. I say with the Psalmist David, "Take not your Holy Spirit from me." Saul's story teaches me that "Ichabod" is the worst fate of all, the greatest of all fates to dread.
God's narrative is indeed authoritative in our lives. Let us become as children and listen carefully so we can hear what He has to teach us.
God is writing our stories and we only have what we have been given. We are ourselves and that is a precious gift. So let us walk humbly through whatever the circumstances are around us and ahead of us.
Thankfully, we have been told the whole story and we know how it ends, how it will begin again, and how it will go on forever. Our stories are being woven in with the threads of His grace and we will able to trace our lives in that final tapestry of His glory.