Thursday, 31 December 2009

3. resetting all the dials

Now here's an appropriate theme for a New Year's Day!

Just two verses before the first reference to ancient Israel being a 'church' we have a fascinating declaration; "This month [shall be] unto you the beginning of months: it [shall be] the first month of the year to you." Exodus 12:2. God was resetting all the dials. This event would mark a brand new start which would culminate in new community.

Up until this time God's dealings had been with individuals but he was now going to create a 'covenant community' and it was to be marked by a change in the calendar. It would take a series of events to bring a 'new' covenant into existence. God's judgments would be visited on the enemy and a lamb would die and the individuals of Israel would have to pass under its blood to reach the safety of their homes. The families within their blood-stained homes were to eat the roast flesh of the lamb and later come to a mount that burned with fire. Heb 12:18-21. This was ancient Israel's Passover lamb, later a lamb would be provided for all nations who would be not ancient Israel's passover but 'Christ, our passover...' 1Cor 5:7.

The sacred archive is laying down a pattern for us that we are expected to recognise in its greater fulfilment; Israel's passover was not only an event and a commemoration, it was a prophecy... Luke 22:15,16. In time the 'new' covenant that Moses brought into being became an 'old covenant' and passed away. In its place would come a genuine 'new covenant' by a greater mediator; a better covenant based on better promises. Heb 8:6.

Passover and Sinai established the basis for a 'church of Israel'; a covenant community set apart from all other communities. Calvary and Pentecost established the basis for another 'church, the 'church of Christ'; a covenant community also set apart from all other communities.

To understand the true nature of 'church' we must not separate Passover and Sinai... nor Calvary and Pentecost.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

2. words have histories

Frequently when I am preaching I say, "Bible words seldom have definitions, they have histories". This touches on the very purpose of the Biblical revelation and the way we are expected to use it. Over centuries God was laying down not just a historical archive but a trail by which he would educate his people. These stories became embedded in the psyche of the nation and were thus available for God to use to build truth; line upon line, precept upon precept.

So where will we find the first elements of 'ekklesia', the covenant community? We find them in the story of the Exodus and that old King James Version does us an unexpected service here which is lost in all modern translations. I refer to two occasions in particular when the word 'ekklesia' is not not used in reference to the New Covenant community but rather the Old Covenant community. This is the KJV version of Stephen's defence in Acts 7:38 "This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and [with] our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:" So far as I know no English translation since the KJV has ever used the word 'church' here. Every version, realising that this is a reference to the Old Covenant community of Israel, has chosen to avoid the word 'church' lest the reader should confuse the 'Old Covenant Community' with the 'New Covenant Community'. The other instance is Heb 2:12 where again only the KJV uses the word 'church'. I am not saying that modern versions are wrong to use the word 'congregation' in these two place, only that by not using the word 'church' we have lost the clue that 'church' is not a New Testament concept; it is Old Testament!

If we want to understand the nature of the concept of 'church' we shall need to go back almost to the beginnings. That Hebrews reference is very valuable as it provides a vital connection to an old Hebrew word. It works like this... Heb 2:12, in the Greek, has the word 'ekklesia' but the verse is a quotation from that wonderful Psalm 22:22 where the Hebrew word is 'qahal'. 'Qahal' is the word used in Exodus 12:6 where most modern versions will translate it as 'assembly'. It is used often of the nation of Israel and was often translated by the word 'ekklesia' in the Greek version of the Bible called the Septuagint. When the New Testament writers used the word 'ekklesia' it already had a history!

Where is all this taking us? We are discovering that the nation of Israel, and the disciples, already had a concept of what we have now come to speak of as 'church'. As far as they were concerned, being part of the Covenant Community of Israel, they were already 'in the church'. Imagine their shock then at hearing that Christ had an intention to build his own church and speaks of it in the future tense; "I will build my church..." Matt 16:18. One 'church' was already in existence but Christ had plans for another! We shall learn much of the purpose of the 'church' as the New Covenant Community if we spend a little time considering what 'church' meant for the Old Testament Community.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

1. what is a church?

Can we define 'church', 'baptism', 'bishop', 'deacon', 'apostle', 'prophet', 'pastor'? All these words and many more like them are not really English words at all, 'they are transliterated Greek words; ie the Greek letters have been replaced with English letters rather than the words being translated into English words. The English translations would be 'House of the Lord', 'plunge', 'supervisor', 'servant', and 'messenger'. The problem that lies with tranliterating rather than translating is that it leaves us with no definition of the words other than the way in which I choose to use them. Let me try to illustrate what I mean, let's take the Greek word 'kuon'. (if you know what it means please humour me and pretend that you don't for a while). Now suppose I begin to use that word in a sentence or two. "The kuon's trunk is very versatile and its tusks are very dangerous". Ah, you say "I know what kuon means". But what you don't know is that I am using the word wrongly; 'kuon' is the Greek word for 'dog'. If enough people begin to talk about the kuon's tusks it will form an image of 'kuon' in the mind which is defective, to say the least.

This same thing happens with words like 'bishop'. "Ah," you say, "I know what a bishop is." It is very probable that you don't know what a 'bishop' is but rather what someone's personal definition of 'bishop' is. This means Bible students have to work hard and consistently to try to use Bible words accurately, otherwise they effectively re-define them. This is what has happened to the word 'bishop'; centuries of wrong use have re-defined it and now when we see the word in the Bible we have to make a conscious effort to correct our immediate image of a 'bishop'.

The word 'church' probably comes from a Greek phrase 'KURioKos oikos'. (I have capitalised the key letters to show the link with 'church' or if you are Scots 'kirk'. The word 'kuriokos' means 'belonging to the Lord'. The whole phrase 'kuriokos oikos' means 'the Lord's House' and is NEVER used in the Bible. The word 'church' ought not to be in your Bible. So why can I find it 115 times in my King James Bible? Well there is a history to this.

The first 'English from Greek' translation was done by William Tyndale in the 16th century. His version only uses the word 'church' twice... to describe heathen temples! Where most versions have 'church' Tyndale had 'congregation'. The word he was translating was not 'kuriokos oikos' but 'ekklesia'. This word has a long history but it means a group of people separated from the 'crowd' with a special purpose in mind. It can only mean 'people', it can never mean a building.

So where do we get the word 'church' from? In the early 17th century England got a new king, a Scot. He was king of two kingdoms and consequently the Scots know him as James VI of Scotland, while the English know him as James I of England. But James didn't want to be king of two kingdoms, he wanted to be king of a United Kingdom (that phrase is his!) He wanted a United Kingdom, with a United Parliament, and a United Religion and he wanted to be head over it all. Half a century later, during the reign of his son Charles I, this lead to the English Civil War.

Part of James' project to create one nation out of two was the book we know (and love) called the King James Bible. He specifically insisted that Tyndale's word 'congregation' be replaced with the word 'church'. But the word 'church' really meant a building and ought not to be in the King James Version at all. We cannot turn back four centuries so we are stuck with the word 'church' which we have to constantly re-define! The waters become very muddy. So what is an 'ekklesia' and how would be recognise one? In Bible terms the 'ekklesia' is a covenant community. It is not part of the local community, in fact, it has been 'called out of' the local community and become a separate entity with a distinct purpose. Over the next few days, I will try to define 'ekklesia' from a Biblical perspective and try to see how well it compares with those things we tends to call 'churches'.

If you would like to ask questions or discuss this please join us on the Biblebase Discussion Forum under the thread what is a church?

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

a Saviour who is Christ the Lord

The clearest statement of the implications of the birth of Christ was revealed to an unexpected group of men; not a priest like Zacahrias, or to the wise Magi, but to simply uneducated shepherds who were keeping watch over their flock. When we think of shepherds we must be sure to guard against the mental picture of our British hill shepherds. These sleep in their warm beds at night and now only 'guard' the sheep against their own folly. I recall watching some Romanian shepherds some years ago. They were huddled around a large fire and carried heavy stick to defend their flock against bears and wolves. They wore evil smelling sheepskins and were not the kind of people you would want to invite to the hospital to welcome the arrival of your baby!

The shepherds represent the outsiders. They were disapproved of by the religious leaders as a result of their irregular pattern of life and their irregular attendance in the religious festivals. And yet it was to these unlikely social outcasts that the herald angels gave their proclamation; "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord". Luke 2:11

And the promise was not just for a spiritual or intellectual elite but was the promise of 'great joy which will be to all people.' Luke 2:10. On the assumption that you are not a visitor from another planet, there is a wonderful welcome for you here. Although religious particularism and social etiquette might exclude these shepherds, this message specifically declares that the message is for 'all people'. Human beings constantly draw little circles around their own groups to exclude the non-conformers but the angels draw a larger circle which encompasses all our petty divisions. They have the divine perspective.

'Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace and goodwill among men'

Luke 2:14

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Gospel according to Zacharias

Mary spent three months in the home of Zacharias and Elisabeth and Zacharias had not spoken a word. I wonder if he listened to the conversation of the women. (I knew a man who came to Christ as a result of listening in on a conversation between two women!) Mary returned home to Nazareth and Zacharias lived with his silence and his meditations on the overheard conversations. When John was born the Holy Spirit filled Zacharias and from his newly opened lips came a stunning prophecy. It culminated in a thrilling prediction of John's destiny.

But the first half is all about another child who will not be born for another six months. This child will not come from the house of Levi as John, but from the house of David. It is a wonderful prophecy of Christ but it is also a wonderful declaration of the purpose of the Christ's coming.

He would bring a 'horn of salvation', a symbol of power and authority. Luke 1:69. This would be a powerful salvation.

The salvation he would bring would be very comprehensive; 'from our enemies and out of the hand of all that hate us.' Luke 1:71

The purpose of 'having been delivered from the hand of our enemies' is that his servants 'might serve him...' Luke 1:74. It was designed to remind us of the original 'gospel' given to Moses.(Ex 8:1) "Let my people go so that they may serve me." This 'serving' is the word used for the service of a priest.

But it is the manner of that service which is so thrilling.
'..without fear' Luke 1:74

'in holiness and righteousness before Him...'

'all the days of our life.' Luke 1:75

Does this describe our service of God? fearless, holy, righteous...
and not 'in heaven when we die' but here and now. '...all the days of our life'!

This is the gospel according to Zacharias...

Do we believe this gospel? Do we preach it?

(if you let your cursor hover over the Bible references you should see the full text)

Monday, 21 December 2009

a tale of two births

Luke's gospel begins with the story of two miracle births, or to be more precise two miracle 'conceptions'; the birth itself in both cases was perfectly normal. There are similarities in the visit of Gabriel and the two children are the subject of a thrilling prophecy from an old priest, but Luke takes great care to distinguish the different nature of these two 'miracle conception'. We can express the essence of the difference in a single phrase or two; Elisabeth was barren; Mary was virgin.

The miracle that Elisabeth received was a miracle of healing in which her sexual reproductive faculties were healed enabling the conceiving of John Baptist. That birth was the product of two 'bloods', the union of Elisabeth and Zacharias. The child produced by this normal physical union had a wonderful destiny to be sure. He would be, as Christ once described him, the 'greatest born of woman'. Matt 11:11 He would be Israel's greatest prophet and the man God would use to 'restore all things'. Matt 17:11. He was to be 'filled with the Spirit from his mother's womb. Luke 1:15. But, and it is an big BUT, he would be a child of two human parents and would be no different in constitution to any other child, you and me included.

See how carefully Luke distinguishes the miracle of healing in Elisabeth from the miracle of creation in Mary. Mary's child would constitute a brand new beginning for the human race. Mary's child would be God's son. The old KJV expressed the consequence of this miracle by declaring "therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." Luke 1:35. The phrase jars a little on modern ears. The NKJV has 'that Holy One', both are accurate translations but perhaps the older version may make us think a little deeper.

John Baptist was not a 'holy thing' at his birth. He was a joy to his parents, chosen by God for a great destiny and filled with the Holy Spirit and yet he was 'once born' and was 'a sin-infested thing' like the rest of his race. He would exercise a powerful ministry and see thousands come to his baptism of repentance but a man may be mightily blessed by God and still be 'born of woman' and consequently still be outside the Kingdom.

Jesus the Son of God and of Mary was different. This was a fresh start. He would be 'holy' and 'human'; a unique being. As a result of the 'overshadowing' of the Holy Spirit he would be guarded, in the womb, from all the deadly inheritance of Adam. The baby born nine months later was mankind's new beginning and all who would pass out of Adam and into Christ must be able to trace a similar history. Their spiritual new birth, the result of the coming of the Holy Spirit, must make them a child of God, born not 'of bloods', nor of natural desires, nor of human powers of choice, but 'of God'. John 1:12

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Will you go with this man?

Luke's account of the nativity has some very instructive elements. Is regeneration the sovereign and uninvited act of God or does he require human cooperation in his work? This is controversial territory, but perhaps the story of Mary can help us.

The account contains a well loved phrase "For with God nothing will be impossible." Luke 1:37 but we need to go back to the American Standard Version to find a more literal translation of the words. "For no word from God shall be void of power." It is the answer to Mary's gentle enquiry; "Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" Luke 1:34. She has heard that she is to conceive while still a virgin and she is naturally perplexed at the prospect.

Gabriel explains, if we dare call it that, the process that will take place. "And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God." Luke 1:35. I hesitate to 'explain' these words further. The coming miracle would be the sole work of the God. As with the miracle of regeneration the conception would be...
not of bloods, the word is plural. This birth would not be the result of the mixture of bloods.

nor of the will/desire of the flesh. This birth would not be the result of human passion.

nor of the will of man. This birth would not be the result of any human decision. (see John 1:13)

Perhaps we should attempt to go no further. Surely that answers the question; it is 'all' of God, and God alone? Amen, but that is not the whole answer.

Back to Luke's account and Gabriel's answer to Mary's question... The Greek construction implies that 'no word from God' is 'without power'. Or to put it into the positive expression, 'every word from God has inherent power'. It was this statement from Gabriel which drew a specific answer from Mary; "let it be to me according to your word". Mary has received the revelation and believed it. The impossible can be, but only because God's every word has 'dunamis' inherent power. But this is more that a recognition of truth, this is the point at which Mary embraces the 'word of God' for herself. Without her consent this event would have been a hideous violation of her body. With her consent it becomes the point of meeting of God's sovereign work and human cooperation. Without Mary's assent there would have been no incarnation and without human assent there can be no regeneration.

Way back in Israel's history there is an account of Abraham's servant who is searching for a bride for Abraham's son. He was led by the sovereign will of God to God's perfect choice. Rebekah would be part of God's sovereign plan. She did not create it. It was not of her design, or passion or will; it was God and God alone. Surely that answers the question. It would seem so until we hear a question put to her by her brother; "will you go with this man?" Gen 24:58. That question was put to a human being and required a human answer. It always does. God forces his will on no one but waits patiently for human consent 'that he may be gracious'. Isaiah 30:18.

Friday, 11 December 2009

a virgin with a history

This blog will not be 'devotional' but will just take the opportunity to address a real 'old chestnut'. One of the latest to join the fray has been Richard Dawkins, the arch evangelist of atheistic neo-darwinianism. Unfortunately Dawkins knows even less about the Bible than I do about biology. It concerns the Hebrew word 'almah' which is translated in the King James Version of Isaiah 7:14 as 'virgin'. Dawkins reckons that this is Christian re-editing and claims it ought simply to say 'an unmarried woman' with no implied comment as to the chastity of the said woman. The Christians, he claims, have 'interpreted' it to suit the myth of the incarnation. So what are the facts?

The question has been answered many times, sometimes in a very comprehensive manner. I am just going to take a more gentle route. First it is true that 'almah' does mean an unmarried woman. However in the context of the Sinai covenant and Old Testament law all unmarried women were required to be virgin. Sexual activity prior to marriage was punishable by death or forced marriage. So by implication the natural expectation would be that an unmarried woman would be virgin.

However the story doesn't end there. Some 200 hundred years before Christ the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek in a famous work called the Septuagint, usually designated by the Roman number for 70 ie LXX. This was due to a legend that it was translated from the Hebrew in 70 days by 70 scholars. When those scholars wanted a Greek word for 'almah' they chose 'parthenos'. Now 'parthenos' can only mean 'virgin'. So if there has been any manipulation of the original Hebrew text it was done by Hebrew scholars who were translating into Greek. But why would those ancient scholars have wanted to introduce the idea of a virgin birth? The answer is simply that they understood the sense and context of the original and knew that the only logical Greek word was 'parthenos', a virgin.

The Septugaint, LXX, was the Greek version of the Bible that was used in the early Christian era. Apparently it was the version that Christ read from in Luke 4:18. The early Christians recognised that Isaiah 7:14 was a Messianic prophecy which had been fulfilled in the incarnation through the body of a virgin. When Matthew writes "Behold a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel" Matt 1:23 he is not re-interpreting the Old Testament to support the Christian myth, he is simply quoting the Septuagint version of the Old Testament which had been used for over 200 years. Some 750 years before the event Isaiah, speaking in the power of the Spirit, made this extraordinary prediction, "a virgin shall conceive". The prophecy was fulfilled in Nazareth in Galilee and brought to its glorious conclusion in Bethlehem where "she brought forth her first-born son and laid him in a manger". Matt 1:24,25

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

What are YOU doing here?

It's a fairly familiar feeling for travelling preachers. You see a familiar face in among the listeners but you can't quite 'place' them; they are in the 'wrong' context, probably visiting from another church. I have the same feeling reading some parts of Isaiah. You suddenly find old friends and think 'what are YOU doing here'. This is especially true with those well known Christmas verses. This morning I was reading some of the earlier chapters of Isaiah and came across those familiar old friends such as 'Immanuel, God with us' Isaiah 7:14 and 'unto us a child is born' Isaiah 9:6. Have you ever tried to read them in their context? It is puzzle indeed.

Isaiah was writing for several decades and it may well be that we don't have his writings in what we would call chronological order. This itself is very instructive. The ancient peoples didn't tell 'straight line history', they constantly double back on themselves. Almost always the history has some 'point' and the narrative will continue until that point is reached and then double back on itself. The first two chapters of the Bible do the same. It is a salutary warning for those who try to reduce prophecy to timetables of future history.

In addition to the fact that it is often difficult to follow the 'straight line history' of the prophets, we have the strange phenomena of telescoping. Events over hundreds of years are telescoped into a few sentences giving the impression that the events are synchronised. It is like seeing a range of mountain peaks and not commenting on the valleys that lie between them. This is the explanation of old friends in unfamiliar places. We have seen some of these peaks much more clearly in the New Testament and it is sometimes a shock to discover them in their original environment.

Isaiah's days were tumultous. Super powers were 'slogging it out' and smaller puppet kingdoms were being swept along in the process. In the midst of the political chaos of his day he hears the promise that 'God is with us'. They may seem to control all the levers of power but God is with us. In one sense this was always true but in another more intense sense this fact would be incarnated in the birth of a child. He, himself, would be the embodiment of this assurance. This 'child' would shoulder the government of the nations and of the spread of his kingdom there would be no end.

It can only have been the vaguest of comforts to the people of his day but in the person of Jesus Christ the promise has become flesh and blood. In the continuing chaos of the human experience God has 'just the man for the job'. 'Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given'.

Monday, 7 December 2009

King Saul: a case study

I have been reading and meditating on the life of Israel's first legitimate king. Saul is such a tragedy. In his first beginnings he 'ran so well' but stumbled and fell.

His purpose, under God, was to break the power of the Philistines. 1Sam 9:16. His first battle was against Nahash the Ammonite; a man whose name means 'The Serpent'. 1Sam 11:1. The story has an echo of Eden about it. Gen 2:15. Adam was given the role of serving and guarding the garden, but he surrendered to the Serpent and the die was set for the human race.

Carl Marx apparently once said that 'all compromise carries within it the seeds of its own destruction'. That was certainly true for Saul. As his independence developed into outright rebellion we hear a Samuel's clear insight; rebellion is as witchcraft (divination) and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. 1Sam 15:23. These are strong comparisons. The essence of witchcraft and divination is the manipulation of God. Magic seeks to impose the will of man on powers greater than himself. Idolatry is the greatest sin; it maligns the nature and character of God. And yet we often smile at 'stubbornness' and will sometimes confess it with a sense of defiance.

There is an interesting side plot to this story. At some point Saul set his face against witchcraft and divination to the extent of banishing them from the land, 1Sam 28:3 and yet all the time the same seeds were sprouting in his own heart. It is often said that we are most intolerant of our own sins when we see them in others. Saul the zealot set himself against the outward expression of witchcraft and divination and at the same time was nursing the same attitudes of heart. 'the heart' said another prophet 'is deceitful and desperately wicked. Who can know it?' Jer 17:9.

Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. 1Cor 10:11,12.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Baptism, filling or anointing?

G Campbell Morgan distinguished these biblical concepts with the phrase "one baptism, many fillings, constant anointing." It is a very apt summary of scriptural teaching. This morning I was reading the first couple of chapters of 2 Samuel and noting David's attitude to and experience of 'anointing'. Even though Saul had long lost his communion with God David insists that Saul is the Lord's anointed. 2Sam 1:16. In the lament that follows he says that Saul died 'as though he had not been anointed'. (KJV) In the next chapter David himself is anointed King over the tribe of Judah.

David, in fact, was anointed three times; once by Samuel 1Sam 16:13, once by Judah 2Sam 2:4 and once by the whole of the nation 2Sam 5:3. So what does 'anointing' signify? Pentecostal/charismatic usage is to regard 'an anointing' as a temporary resting of 'power' on a speaker or a singer, but this is not the way the Bible uses the concept. The first Bible anointing is of a 'stone'! Gen 28:18. The stone did not have special powers after this event but had been recognised and set apart from all the other stones with a unique destiny.

This is the true Biblical concept, someone is identified and specifically recognised as having a unique role. In that sense David was 'anointed' by Samuel as God's representative and later that 'anointing' was endorsed by Judah and finally by Israel. However, David was God's 'anointed one' from the day that Samuel consecrated him as such. In the Old Testament the high priests were 'anointed', so were kings. Sometimes prophets were anointed but the central thought is of 'identification' and 'authorisation' rather than an endue of power. Anointings and baptisms are quite different; anointings come 'on' people, baptisms submerge people.

Jesus of Nazareth was 'anointed with the Spirit' at Jordon, not 'baptised with the Spirit', although many confuse the two. In John's first letter we discover a distinctive New Covenant truth; "But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will* abide in Him." 1John 2:27. The anointing, as with all the blessings of the New Covenant, has been internalised. It abides 'within'. God's Spirit bearing witness with our Spirit that we are children of God now instructs us in the manner of our living and believing. It is 'the anointing' now, Christ's own gift to the whole family of God's people, not a sudden flush of eloquence but an abiding Spirit who identifies us as God's 'anointed ones' and leads us out into our destiny.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

independence hardening to rebellion

I have just finished rereading 1 Samuel. Tracing Saul's spiral into disaster is a sobering read. This was the man who was uniquely chosen by God to be the leader of His people. He was chosen to take the battle to the Philistines and bring deliverance to Israel. The final chapter tells the tragic outcome of the story; Israel in flight and Saul and this three sons dead; at the hands of those same Philistines. How could such a thing happen to a man who is initially 'tailor made' for God's purpose?

There are at least three key markers to his descent into chaos. The first took place at Gilgal. That itself is significant. Gilgal had a history; it was the place where the people of Israel crossed into the promised land and their first action was to cripple all their soldiers! The temporary crippling was occasioned by the rite of circumcision, a ceremony which has many significances but may be summed up as Paul did in Phil 3:3 "(we) have no confidence in the flesh". I will not retell the story of 1 Samuel 13 but it showed Saul as a man of personal 'resource'. When God did not turn up, in the person of Samuel, he just carried on without Him. Oswald Chambers identified Saul's first sin, like Adam's, as 'independence'. It was an act of 'good, common sense' in the context but it marked Saul as a man who was prepared to innovate and choose his own way. He would do the 'will of God' but in his own way. The seeds of all that follow are found here.

Later in his story, 1 Samuel 15, Saul is given a commission to destroy the ancient enemies of God's purpose. Again Saul 'adapts' the commandment given to him and compromises God's plan. This time Samuel identifies it as 'rebellion' and 'stubbornness'. Independence has hardened into outright rebellion; it always does.

The final key marker finds Saul bereft of God's counsel but still determining to carry on. God has refused to speak to him by dream, or ephod or prophet but Saul is determined to get an answer. For Saul, the end will justify the means. He seeks out a medium, 1 Samuel 28, who summons Samuel from the grave but Samuel has no guiding word for him, only a death sentence.

The story of Saul covers about 40 years and has been preserved in the scriptures as a solemn warning and admonition. Single acts of independence can produce devastating harvests if they are not checked by genuine repentance and a willingness, in the disciple, to listen and obey his master's voice.