Looking on the Heart is a commentary on 1 Samuel (a book in the Old Testament) by Dale Ralph Davis. I don’t think I’ve ever written a review on a commentary, but I’ve never read a commentary that so impressed and blessed me. Several reviews on goodreads mentioned how accessible and “easy to read” they found this commentary which is true but it is so much more.
1 Samuel is a book of history and prophecy, telling the stories of Samuel, a prophet and the last judge; of Israel’s first king, Saul; and the beginnings of their second king, David. Quite an important part of history for both Christians and Jews, but what does it have to do with us as Christians living in the 21st century?
From the beginning, Davis teaches that though we learn from all three main characters, we must be careful not to try and fit our own lives into what God was doing with them. What is important in reading any scripture is to learn what we can about God. “Once we see what scripture reveals about God we usually will see how it applies to us.” (p. 45) We are not prophets or kings, but in every story or happening, we can learn something about God in the way He interacted with His specially chosen people.
For example, in 1 Samuel 4 we read the story of the Israelites preparing to go to battle with the Philistines. Since the Philistines had just soundly beaten them (killing four thousand men), the Israelites decide to bring the Ark (a sacred artifact that represented God’s presence) into battle with them. The Israelites were not only beaten again, but they lost the Ark to the Philistines as well. So, what does this teach us about God? Mainly, that we can’t perform certain rituals or say the right words and expect God to perform for us. The Israelites didn’t seek God, and they demeaned the Ark by using it as a good-luck charm when going into battle.
“This is not faith but superstition. It is what I call rabbit-foot theology. When we, whether Israelites or Christians, operate this way, our concern is not to seek God but to control him, not to submit to God but to use him. So we prefer religious magic to spiritual holiness; we are interested in success not repentance.” (p.54)
We might read this story and think it doesn’t really apply to us because we don’t have an Ark to bring into battle, but if that’s all we see we will be missing the point. Do we not think if we ask God in a certain way or use just the right words or if we perform certain religious tasks (going to Sunday School, giving a tithe, etc), then surely He will respond to us and rescue us out of any situation?
Throughout this commentary, Davis points us to what God is doing–whether in the lives of Samuel, Saul, and David or in the nation of Israel. Learning more about God and His character is all we need from a commentary. Highly recommended.
My first full season of feeding and watching hummingbirds is coming to an end. I thought I would get tired of cleaning out feeders on a regular basis, but, no, all I did was add a couple of more feeders. I’m not enough of an expert to be able to give an accurate count, but I did have at least two adult males on a regular basis and probably a couple of females. In the middle of the season, several more hummingbirds began to come regularly. At least three of them are juvenile males making me assume the females had a successful season with hatching and bringing out their young. It will be interesting next year to see how many of these males show up to stake out their territory.
Any time I interact with nature–whether through observation or studying the life cycles of plants, birds, or animals–I am reminded anew of God’s majestic, artistic creation and His unmatched imagination in creating both the hummingbird and the woodpecker; the whale and the seal; the butterfly and the daylily.
“Some people, in order to find God, will read a book. But there is a great book, the book of created nature. Look carefully at it top and bottom, observe it, read it. God did not make letters of ink for you to recognize him in; he set before your eyes all these things he has made. Why look for a louder voice?” Augustine of Hippo
Have you ever thought about the conversations between Jesus and Satan when Jesus was living in a physical body on this earth? We get some hints of what this may have been like from the book of Job where a conversation between God and Satan is recorded, but other than knowing that Jesus was indeed tempted, we don’t have much to go on. Some years ago, I wrote an epic tale of the Christ and his struggle with his Adversary, Satan. And, yes, I used The Odyssey as a model for my format (not the content). Divided into “Books” (the first being an introduction) the second Book is entitled The Wilderness Temptations. Here is an excerpt which I hope you will both enjoy and will provoke some thought concerning the Christ and his earthly life.
The First Temptation
On that forty-first day, the God-Man woke
to hunger pangs and discovered his body
had become weak from that month-plus trial.
As his eyes focused to face the day,
he saw his Adversary standing at
his feet, smiling a crooked smile and shining
bright as the desert sun. “Good morning,
old friend,” he said. “Surprised to see me? But
didn’t I promise to come back? You will
find that I, unlike some others, keep all
my promises and will never forget
you or leave you for too long, for I am
concerned about you and how you’re spending
your life and squandering your potential.
I suppose with all this time to think and
consider, you’ve come to realize that you
could not possibly be the Son of God?
Since I am the one who has come to check
on you and see if your needs are being
met, it is obvious,” and his eyes swept
the horizon and the God-Man’s surroundings
and came back with a look of distaste, “that
your Heavenly Father,” and he spat the
two words out, “has not been by or if He has,”
and he smiled a sinister smile, “He has
done nothing to secure your belief that
you are His Son, has He?” Unperturbed, the
God-Man rose to his feet and answered, “Quite the
contrary. He has been here in many
wonderful ways–ways you could never see
or understand–and He has only confirmed
my belief and my profession that I Am
His Son and His Chosen.” Satan attempted
to mask the furious anger that welled up
within him with a strained smile which truly
appeared as a grimace. Then with eyes ablaze,
he said in a voice dipped in honey,
“Of course, you are. Whoever said you weren’t?
But, tell me, have you had breakfast yet?” As
if in answer, the God-Man’s fleshly insides
began to grumble, bringing delight to
his Antagonist though he tried to cover
this with a false look of concern and
pity as he waited for an answer. “No,
there’s been no breakfast here. Only rocks and
dust, as you can see.” And Satan nodded as
if in sympathy but then he appeared
to have an idea and said with great
enthusiasm, “But you are the Son
of God, remember? If you are the Son
of God, you should have no problem coming
up with a substantial meal and then we
can talk over some business.” Eyebrow arched,
the God-Man gazed at his rival and said,
“I was not aware we had any business
to discuss.” And Satan again smiled that
patient smile. “Of course, but how can you think
on an empty stomach? An empty
stomach causes the head to be light and
the heart to be weak. Come, you say you are
the Son of God, let us see you come up
with some breakfast. The Son of God shouldn’t
be out here in this wilderness where the
wild beasts are quite well-fed, yet here he is,
his guts crying out in torment, as he
stands by, as if helpless. You say you
are the Son of God but for thirty years
you have lived in practical poverty
submitting yourself to the surroundings
into which you have been thrust and now you bow
to the elements. To the things which you,
yourself, claim to have created. How can
you possibly allow yourself to be
subdued by the works of your own hands? Come,
if you are the Son of God, tell these stones
here to become bread for your breakfast. They
will be glad to be of service to their
Master, for isn’t that why they were formed?
To serve their Master and obey his commands?
In fact, I daresay that your creation
has been watching you in wonder and has
been speculating as to why you have
not called on them earlier. Can you not
see their eagerness to serve you? Come, Son
of God, call on them; exercise your power
and authority. You say God has now
anointed you to be King, so be King.
Prepare your breakfast so we can discuss
deeper matters.” Folding his arms, Satan
stood back and waited, his impatience
obvious, but the God-Man refused to
make a hasty decision knowing well
this was not as simple a matter as
his Adversary portrayed it. He
also knew the power he possessed had
been given to him by his Father, so
consideration of his Father’s will
must be made. But he was hungry and his
insides churned once more as if to remind
him of his responsibility to
them, too. He gazed on the stones and easily
imagined them as loaves and could almost
smell them baking in the sun and taste
their flaky crusts and their soft middle–
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. His
Adversary watched him intently, though
he tried to appear both nonchalant
and impatient. Impatient as in:
‘This is no big deal, you know, get on
with it.’ And nonchalant as in: ‘But then
again, it is no matter to me, one
way or the other.’ A faint smile played on
the God-Man’s lips as he read all this in
his Opponent’s face which caused that angel
to simmer. He managed to keep his
temper in check and gazed calmly back at
his prey as he waited for an answer,
a decision to be made. Then Satan recalled
another king he had tempted, that first
king of Israel whom he convinced that
waiting for God’s provisions and living
strictly by His rules was not only
unnecessary but also senseless
when you could take care of the matter
yourself. So, Israel’s first king bent the rules
of a God of no compromise–not once
but twice–and he who was to be a
great king and leader was instead a
failure and died a scorned and rejected
king and man. Satan knew he did not need
to lead this present and final king
to compromise more than once for once
would be enough. Now he almost became
excited before the deed was done, smelling
the sweet smell of such a victory, and he
trembled but caught himself when he saw the
curious look from his prey. “Come on,”
he snapped. “What’s taking you so long? You act as
if you faced a monumental decision.
I only want you to eat, so we can talk.
Sustain yourself, my friend,” he added
more gently, his words becoming
like honey at his command, causing
the God-Man to once more remember his
hunger. Again, he looked at the stones, but
this time they brought to mind days of old,
and he saw the children of Israel
led into a similar desert and
led into a similar temptation
to be taught . . . what? Obedience. Yes, that
was it–obedience. Now he recalled
they had failed their test and he reflected
on why. He remembered their grumbling
and identified their discontent as
an expression of their lack of trust
and confidence in God as their provider.
Knowing himself to be the new Israel,
he realized if he treated himself to
breakfast (as his Adversary had so
artfully suggested), he would be
expressing the same lack of confidence.
So, summoning up the Scriptures in his mind,
he recalled God’s word on it all: ‘Remember
how the Lord your God led you all the way
in the desert these forty years, to humble
you and to test you in order to know
what was in your heart, whether or not you
would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing
you to hunger and then feeding you with
manna, which neither you nor your fathers
had known, to teach you that–‘ and he stopped and
smiled as the answer was there and the
clarity in his mind shone on his face,
and Satan inwardly recoiled as he
caught a whiff of the air of defeat.
But stiffly he waited and then it came
as in a clear and steady voice the God-Man
said in his new-found strength, “It is written:
‘Man does not live on bread alone but on
every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.'”
I posted this story last year in three parts. I wanted to repost but decided to put it all together & hope you will all read to the end. I pray it will be a blessing and a time to reflect on what it must have been like on that first Christmas night–to be the first to hear the Good News.
One Starry Night
A long day finally over, the sheep
now settled to sleep. The weary shepherds
found places to rest–some to lay their heads;
others to keep watch over their flocks (many
of them destined to be a sacrifice
for man’s sins) alert for any dangers
that might be lurking or for any sheep
that might decide to take a midnight stroll.
Under a clear sky with stars so bright,
the night air took on a chill, causing the
sheep to huddle together and the shepherds
to wrap their cloaks around themselves and most
stayed near one of the fires kept burning throughout
the night. The men on the first watch neither
saw nor heard anything to make them believe
this night would be any different than hundreds
of others. When their time was ended, they
went to wake their companions for the second
watch. Before they could rouse the slumbering
shepherds, a light so bright filled the sky and
caused the poor shepherds to gasp and cover
their faces. Some fell to their knees and one
even stumbled into the companion
he had come to waken causing a stir
amongst the others whose dreams had just been
shattered. But when they tried to open their
eyes and grumble at their rude awakening,
they too were blinded by the light and covered
their faces in fear. Barely able to
think or breathe, they heard a Voice speak from–
where? The Light? The sky? It seemed to fill the
the very air. “Do not be afraid!” the voice
cried out. Though still they trembled, they slowly
lowered their arms and their hands from
their faces; and their eyes began to make
out a form. A form so majestic they
knew it was no ordinary being
and had to have come from Heaven. “Behold!”
the Being proclaimed and as he continued
to speak, the shepherds ceased their trembling and
stared and listened in awe. Even the sheep
had shaken off their drowsiness and seemed
to be listening as well. “I bring you
good news that will bring great joy to all
people. Today in Bethlehem, the city
of David, a Savior has been born to
you. He is the Christ, the Messiah, the
Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you
will find a baby wrapped in cloths and
lying in a manger.” Before the shepherds
could marvel at these words, the Messenger
Being was, in an instant, joined by a
whole host of more of these Heavenly Beings.
They began to sing in voices so sweet,
the shepherds stood entranced and the sheep
bleated softly as if in accord with
their song. “Glory to God in the highest
of heavens, and peace on earth among all
those who delight Him.” And as suddenly
as they had appeared, the messenger choir
was gone, leaving the shepherds to stare up
into the star-filled sky as if waiting
for more miracles to appear. The sheep,
however, knew the heavenly show
was over, and so settled themselves to
return to their peaceful slumber.
The shepherds all gathered together to
discuss this news that had been given to
them. “Could this be true?” one old grizzled
veteran shepherd asked. “A baby who
is the Christ?” “Did you ever hear such
singing?” asked another, his eyes still on
the sky and his ears still ringing with the
fading heavenly melody. “What should
we do?” worried a third. “Go and see!”
exclaimed an eager shepherd. This shepherd
put on his sandals, grabbed his cloak and staff,
and made ready to leave for Bethlehem,
not caring if anyone joined him
or not. He wanted to see this baby
whose birth had launched a choir of heavenly
messengers. “Now, wait,” the old shepherd
cautioned. “We can’t just run off and leave our
sheep, especially when we’re not sure who
those creatures were or even where they came
from.” The rest of the shepherds looked at him
aghast. “Why, they surely came from heaven.
Where else could they be from?” “They were angels,
I be certain,” declared another. “And
I am with Reuben. To Bethlehem, I
am bound.” And he, too, put on his sandals
and took up his sack and staff. Soon, they were
all picking up their things, murmuring with
excitement. “A message from heaven, did
you ever hear of such a thing?” “No,” said
the old shepherd. “I never have and neither
have any of you. Why would someone from
heaven want to speak to the likes of us?”
Reuben placed a hand on the old man’s shoulder.
“Good news for all people. Come with us, Asa,
and see if this baby is where the
Messenger said he would be. Our sheep will
be fine until we return.” The old shepherd
considered his companions, shrugged, and fell
in line. A trip to Bethlehem in the
middle of the night seemed like madness to
the old shepherd, but this whole night had been
unlike any he had ever encountered
in his eighty some years. A messenger
from heaven? Or a demon to mislead
and taunt them? His friends seemed certain the word
came from Heaven, but he had experienced
more of the latter than the former. Still,
a surge of hope went through him as he
tottered after his fellow shepherds,
listening to their excited chatter
as they made their way along the moon-lit
road to Bethlehem, the city of David.
They entered through the gates of Bethlehem,
(How did those shepherds know which way to go?)
and walked unerringly through the darkened
streets. Shops were closed and houses still, but from
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
A Christmas carol? But aren’t those songs about the baby Jesus? With angels and shepherds, the virgin Mary, a donkey ride and a manger? Yes, of course, all those things are important but none of them would matter without God becoming man. A doctrine we can never take for granted as even some who call themselves “Christians” have doubted the divinity of Christ. And this hymn is very much about the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty! God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!
In his teachings, “Christian” priest, Arius (250-336 A.D.) of Constantinople stated a belief in a created finite nature of Christ rather than having equal divine status with God the Father.
Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee, casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.
Church leaders met in Nicea, Bithynia (present day Iznik, Turkey) in May 325 to formulate a consensus of belief. Arius was declared a heretic for refusing to sign the formula of faith that stated Christ was of the same divine nature as God the Father.
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee, which wert and art and evermore shall be.
Nicene Creed: We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all the world. Light of light, very God of very God, begotten, not made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.
Reginald Heber (1783-1826), a rector of a small church in Shrewsbury, England wrote the hymn Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! to be sung after reciting the Nicene Creed.
Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee, though the eye made blind by sin thy glory may not see,
Heber based his hymn on the words from Revelation 4. The Apostle John saw one seated on a throne and around the throne were creatures who “never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!'”
Only thou art holy; there is none beside thee, perfect in power, in love and purity.
Some might try to argue that the one on the throne to whom these “holies” are being sung could only be God the Father and this all has nothing to do with Christmas at all, never mind the divinity of Christ. But the Apostle John made clear in the beginning of his Revelation that he saw the Lamb, the risen Christ. “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not. I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.'” (Revelation 1:17-18a)
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
To further the argument that the life of Jesus did not begin in Bethlehem, some 700 years before his birth, the prophet Isaiah also had a vision and heard those words, “Holy, holy, holy”. In the Hebrew language, repetition is used as a superlative, something of the highest quality or degree. But only here in Isaiah is a quality raised to the power of three “as if to say that the divine holiness is so far beyond anything the human mind can grasp that a ‘super-superlative’ has to be invented to express it and, furthermore, that this transcendent holiness is the total truth about God.” (J. Alec Motyer in Isaiah, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries).
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty! God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
But who did Isaiah see? According to the same John the Apostle who had the vision in Revelation, Isaiah saw Jesus. “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” (John 12:41)
“The prophet, standing outside the temple, sees the Divine Presence seated on the mercy-seat, raised over the ark of the covenant, between the cherubim and the seraphim, and the Divine glory filled the whole temple. This vision is explained, John 12:41, that Isaiah now saw Christ’s glory, and spake of Him, which is a full proof that our Saviour is God.” (Matthew Henry in Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible).
“By faith [that is, with an inherent trust and enduring confidence in the power, wisdom and goodness of God] we understand that the worlds (universe, ages) were framed and created [formed, put in order, and equipped for their intended purpose] by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.” Hebrews 11:3 (Amplified Version)
“For ever since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through his workmanship [all His creation, the wonderful things that He has made], so that they [who fail to believe and trust in Him] are without excuse and without defense.” Romans 1:20 (Amp)
“If we stop believing that the Lord made the universe out of nothing, then we have failed to believe the God of the Bible.” Tabletalk (July 2020; p. 50)
How many times have you heard, thought, or said the words, “When things get back to normal–“? Are you hoping things will change before you start a new project? Are you just sitting back and waiting for things to get back to normal before you make any new commitments? Though we may be living with limitations we’re not accustomed to, we could be waiting for some far-off (and possibly non-existent) future, and besides, what is normal anyway?
In 1939, when Britain was on the edge of war (a war that would soon change their lives dramatically), C. S. Lewis preached a sermon, “Learning in War-Time.” A professor at Oxford, Lewis wanted to assure his students that learning was always important, no matter the world situation, and we can never have any guarantees of “normalcy.”
“The war (or virus or riots or civil unrest) creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with ‘normal llife’. Life has never been normal.”
If life has never been normal, then why does it seem so extraordinary now? And how are we live our lives?
Lewis told his students it is important to remember to do whatever God has given them to do, no matter what the circumstances. “The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly ‘as to the Lord’ . . . A man’s upbringing, his talents, his circumstances, are usually a tolerable index of his vocation. If our parents have sent us to Oxford, if our country allows us to remain there, this is prima facie evidence that the life which we, at any rate, can best lead to the glory of God at present is the learned life.”
The Apostle Paul addressed a similar situation at the church at Thessalonica. When times are normal or not so normal, we should always: “Stay calm; mind your own business; do your own job. You’ve heard all this from us before, but a reminder never hurts. We want you living in a way that will command the respect of outsiders, not lying around sponging off your friends.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (MSG)
We all need to be constant students of the Word. No need to wait for life to be “normal” to do what God has called us to do. I had decided this year to enter several writing contests with the various short stories and poems I have been working on. Sometimes this seems like a waste of time, but the words of Lewis and Paul remind me that I need to continue to do the works God has given me whether that means writing a blog post, sending out a story, studying His Word, praying for my children, or encouraging one of my sisters or brothers to carry on. Don’t wait for life to return to normal to do what God has called you to do. This is the time He has put you in to live for Him. Now, excuse me as I see a contest deadline looming ahead.
Today is the last day of National Poetry Month, and I hope you’ve spent some time reading poetry during this unusually stressful month. I have been dipping into several authors including: Malcolm Guite, Jeanne Murray Walker, Edward Clarke, George Herbert, and Luci Shaw. I have also been reading the book of Isaiah, taking more notice of the poetry in that book and comparing several translations.
From Isaiah 26–The path of the righteous is level; you make level the way of the righteous. In the path of your judgments, O LORD, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul. My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.
In my reading, I came across a tradition of English poetry known as “the metrical psalms.” Starting during the Renaissance, many English poets began to put certain psalms of the Old Testament in the form of English poetry. These poems usually rhyme and have a way of making the reader see something familiar with a fresh eye. The first one I read was George Herbert’s The Twenty-Third Psalm. Herbert never published in his lifetime, keeping his work “private” because he wrote for God. Fortunately, The Temple (a book which contains most of his more well-known poetry) was published in 1633, the year of his death.
Though our language has changed since 1633, I hope you will enjoy Herbert’s “spin” (as one commentator put it) on psalm 23 and recognize how he, just as David did in the original some thousands of years ago, wrote this as worship and adoration to God.
The Twenty-Third Psalm
The God of Love my shepherd is, And he that doth me feed; While he is mine, and I am his, What can I want or need?
He leads me to the tender grass, Where I both feed and rest; Then to the streams that gently pass; In both I have the best.
Of if I stray, he doth convert And bring my mind in frame; And all this not for my desert, But for his holy name.
Yea, in death’s shady black abode Well may I walk, not fear; For thou art with me, and thy rod To guide, thy staff to bear.
Nay, thou dost make me sit and dine, Even in my enemies’ sight; My head with oil, my cup with wine Runs over day and night.
Surely thy sweet and wondrous love Shall measure all my days; And as it never shall remove, So neither shall my praise.