Sold into the Hand of Sisera

Last Sunday I preached on 1 Samuel 12, which is the speech that Samuel gives to the nation at the re-coronation of Saul.

There is a very intriguing statement in this section, which I didn’t address in the sermon, but I think is worthy of consideration.

And Samuel said to the people, “The Lord is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers. When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place. But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them. And they cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’ And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety. (1 Samuel 12:6-11, ESV)

Samuel says: Let me tell you of all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you.  Then he tells them that God “sold them into the hand of Sisera,” a Philistine general.

Notice – he didn’t ‘allow them to fall into the hand of Sisera’ – it wasn’t a passive allowance, but an active SELLING! He SOLD them into the hand of Sisera – and THIS, of all things, is given as an example of one of the righteous acts of the Lord, which he performed on behalf of the people of Israel because of his love and care for them!

This is a little bit different picture of God than what we usually get in the “moralistic therapeutic deism” which is passed for Christianity these days in many places – where God exists to be your friend, make your problems go away and make your wishes come true. When bad things happen, usually we are told that God passively allows these things to happen to you, so that you can grow through them.

But isn’t that a bit trite and simplistic?  Not to mention – that viewpoint has no capacity to deal with real evil – or even with scriptures such as the one mentioned above. The vision of God given here is of a God who is willing to sell you into the hand of Sisera if that’s what it takes to get you to turn back to Him! To God, in this story, it was obviously more important to Him that the people of Israel turn back to Him and pursue Him than that they be comfortable and problem-free.

What about you? Is it possible that the difficulties in your life have not just been passively “allowed” by God, but actively sent by God into your life for the purpose of moving you in a certain direction or getting you to a certain place, either physically or spiritually?

Could it be that God has sold you into the hand of Sisera in order to do a work in your heart, because He loves you?

The Fat Belongs to the Lord

This Sunday at White Fields I taught 1 Samuel 2 and the story of Hophni and Phineas, the priests who were doing shameful things in the Tabernacle. (Click here for audio of that sermon: “Messed-Up Ministry”). There was a detail of that story that at first seems a bit odd and obscure, but is worth serious consideration.

In 1 Samuel 2:15-17 we read about how the Law required that the fat be burned off the meat before it was eaten. The law about this is found in the Book of Leviticus – and as I mentioned on Sunday, the reason for this is because at that time, the fat of the meat was considered the best, most luxurious part. But God required that when a sacrifice was made as an act of worship, the fat be burned, which would create a lot of smoke and it would be a “fragrant offering” unto the Lord.  Any of you who like the smell of bacon cooking know what I’m talking about. Those of you who are vegans, well, you can eat your tofu bacon and pretend you know what I’m talking about!  

The fat belongs to the Lord

But the idea that the fat belonged to the Lord represented a fundamental belief that we should give the best to God. Many people are in the habit of doing just the opposite – keeping the best for themselves, and giving the rest (the left-overs) to God. Rather than making their offering check the first check they write every month, they wait until the end of the month to see if they have anything left over. God asks that we give him the best, not the rest.

But there’s something else worth taking note of here: when the people in those days gave the fat of the meat to the Lord, they thought they were really giving up a lot – they were really “sacrificing” something, in obedience to God. They were giving up luxury and “the good life”. However, what we now know is that fat kills. At our last men’s prayer breakfast, one man brought a creation called the “bacon explosion” made of various lard extracts which I am convinced reduced my life span by 2 months per bite!
But here’s the point: by telling them to sacrifice the fat on the altar, not only was God teaching them an important values lesson, but he was also sparing them from something which was bad for them, even though they couldn’t possibly know that yet! It would only be thousands of years later that people would realize that God wasn’t only asking them to give something up, he was actually protecting them – even though they didn’t understand it yet, much like all of us parents do with our children.

God is good and all his ordinances – the things he tells you to do and what he tells you to steer clear of – each and every one flows out of his love and care for you.