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Christian Natural Health

Christian Natural Health is the podcast that teaches you about natural health from a biblical perspective. I'm Dr. Lauren Deville, a practicing naturopathic physician in Tucson, AZ. In this podcast, my guests and I will cover topics ranging from nutrition, sleep, hormone balancing and exercise, to specific health concerns like hair loss, anxiety, and hypothyroidism. Once a week, I'll include a bonus episode, meditating on a Bible verse or passage. I'll also interweave biblical principles as they apply throughout the podcast--because true health is body, mind, and spirit. Learn more about me at http://www.drlaurendeville.com/
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Now displaying: Category: meditation
Jul 31, 2020

Today's meditation and retelling comes from Luke 5:4-10, John 21:3-8.

I guess I just didn’t know what to do with myself. Too much had happened—both the worst and the best. My Master’s horrific death, my own failure to stand by Him in His hour of need, and then—He rose again! He returned to us. He was the Messiah. We had been witness to the event that all of the Law and the Prophets, all of human history had been pointing to. 
 
Now what? 
 
The only clue Jesus gave to us of what to do next was to go into Galilee, and He would meet us there. He wasn’t with us all the time now, not since He rose again. Things were different, though He never told us what He was doing when He was not with us. 
 
I felt like my brain was always spinning since then, never arriving at its destination. I wanted something familiar, something I could do with my hands that would anchor me in the present. I was a fisherman by trade, though I hadn’t actually fished commercially in the last three and a half years since Jesus came into my life. We were here in Galilee now, but Jesus gave us no other specifics. We didn’t know when or where He would meet us, beyond somewhere in Galilee.  
 
“I’m going fishing,” I announced to James, John, Nathaniel, Thomas, Matthew, and Bartholomew who were with me. It was nighttime, but we always used to fish at night. That was when it was coolest. 
 
I was surprised at the suddenness of their reply: “We are going with you,” they all agreed. Evidently I wasn’t the only one who longed for some occupation to pass the time.  
 
As we prepared our nets and set out to the Sea of Galilee, I couldn’t help remembering the last time I had done this very thing. James and John were my partners then, and the three of us had fished all night in the Lake of Gennesaret, and caught nothing. We were exhausted, and washing our nets until the next time when a great multitude suddenly converged upon the shore. They all seemed to be centered upon one man, a young rabbi. I had never seen him before, but as soon as I saw him—his purposeful stride, the authority with which he carried himself—I couldn’t look away. I forgot all about my nets. I thought at the time that the crowds must all have seen what I saw, and that was why they followed him. 
 
But then I noticed that the man was looking at me, too. He strode right up to me, and gestured at one of our two boats on shore.
 
“Will you put out a bit from the land with me? You see how the crowd presses all around me.” 
 
“Yes!” I stammered, forgetting my fatigue. I rushed to obey, dragging my half-cleaned nets behind me and stuffing them into the boat. James and John remained on shore with the crowd, but did not leave. They too seemed to have forgotten their exhaustion in their eagerness to see whatever it was that the crowd expected to see. 
 
 It was just Jesus and me in the boat on the lake that day. He sat down and began to teach the crowds from the boat. I sat behind him, and with his every word, my soul burned within me. It was a sensation I had never experienced before, but I have many times since: that sense that I was hearing truth spoken in mysteries, falling from the lips of a man of exceeding greatness. I was a Jew, and I had always worshipped Jehovah in theory. But never before had I been stirred in such a way that worship was wrung from me as the only possible response, like water from a cloth. 
 
When the rabbi dismissed the crowds, and they reluctantly began to disperse, it was already in the heat of the day. He looked at me and said, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 
 
It was such an unexpected thing to say that I balked for a minute. Why? I wondered. What did that have to do with anything? 
 
“Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing,” I began, but then caught myself. I did not wish to argue with this man, of all people. If he wanted me to let down my net, I’d do it out of respect, even though it would mean extra work for me. “Nevertheless, at Your word I will let down the net,” I told him. I paddled a little way back out to the lake, though not to the deepest part. I had several nets, but I let down only the one—this was only a gesture, after all. I knew there were no fish to be had in the lake today—
 
“What is this?” I cried out in shock, as the net grew taut in my hands. I thought at first I had snagged it on something, but that could not be; the lake was much too deep. I managed to tug just enough for the shiny slippery silver bodies to break the surface of the water, wriggling and writhing all over each other. I gasped, and felt rather than heard the ripping of the rope down below the surface.
 
“James! John!” I shouted back to shore, and just glanced up to see that they were still there, awaiting my return. They had apparently seen enough of what was going on, and both of them jumped into the other boat and paddled out to where we were, along with two of our other partners. 
 
“Steady, steady!” called John, as he held the side of his boat against ours. He threw a rope across to climb into my boat, so that he could help me pull in the catch. It was all I could do to hold on to the edges of my net, but I certainly could not haul it onto the boat by myself. Finally I glanced at Jesus. He stood watching us, and I could swear he was silently laughing, his eyes crinkled with amusement. I glanced back down at the water. Before my very eyes, more fish jostled each other to swim into my net! I looked back at Jesus. Now he was laughing outright. 
 
“Ready, heave!” John cried to me, recalling my attention to the ever growing problem at hand. “The net is breaking!” 
 
“I know, that’s why I signaled you!” I returned. It was all we could do to lift the top of the catch out of the water and just let the fish spill onto the bottom of our boat in a great pile; I knew yet more had managed to escape underneath where the nets had ripped. Meanwhile, James and our other partners had taken the hint and let down their nets—plural this time—and were even now drawing their enormous catch on board.   
 
“We’re sinking!” John gasped to me as the fish continued to spill into the boat. 
 
“So are we!” James cried back from the other boat beside us. 
 
John and I watched as fish we hadn’t even caught in our nets jumped out of the water and into our boat. Our jaws dropped. I turned to Jesus, who had tears in his eyes now, he was laughing so hard. 
 
I released my end of the net entirely, and sank to my knees before Jesus’ feet as best I could, amid all the fish. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” I gasped. 
 
Jesus still grinned, but his expression softened as he looked down at me. I had the impression that he was pleased I had understood that this was his doing, even though it could not have been more obvious. “
 
“Do not be afraid,” he said to me. “From now on you will catch men.” 
 
When we got back to shore that day, salvaging our boats and some of our nets with the most enormous catch of fish we’d ever had before or since, James, John and I left everything and followed Jesus. We’d never looked back.
 
Three and a half years later, so much had changed that I scarcely remembered the man I was then. Tonight, as that first night before Jesus showed up, we had caught not a single fish. I watched as the sunrise streaked pink and red across the sky, and gritted my teeth against the ache in my chest. 
 
I missed him. 
 
He had risen, but He wasn’t here with us now. Everything had changed. He had risen, but now what? Where did we go from here? What did the rest of our lives look like? He had risen, but I had still denied Him when He needed me most. 
 
“Children!” called a voice from the shore. We all turned to see a stranger, hands cupped around his mouth to amplify the sound. “Have you any food?” 
 
“Children?” Bartholomew muttered. “That fellow can’t be any older than we are.” 
 
James answered for all of us. “No! We’ve fished all night but caught nothing.” 
 
The stranger shouted back, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” 
 
We all blinked at this strange instruction. Nathaniel grumbled, “As if that would make any difference.” Yet my heart burned within me. I didn’t consciously think of it at the time, but it was the same sensation I had had when on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and the stranger. The same I had as I listened to Jesus preach that first time. 
 
“Do it,” James, John and I all said at once. We exchanged a look with one another and took over the net. That was when I realized that they, too, were remembering the same thing I was.
 
It was as if we were right back there, three and a half years ago: the moment we slipped the net on the right side of the boat, the rope grew taut, and fish fought each other to swim in. 
 
“Heave!” John cried, and we tried—but there were too many. We could not even lift the nets back into the boat between the three of us. John’s face split into a wide grin as he turned to look on the shore. The stranger had set a fire on the beach and was tending to it.
 
“It is the Lord!” he cried. 
 
Of course it was—I had known this already. But at John’s declaration, I couldn’t wait even to get the boat back to shore. I had removed my outer garment as we worked, so now I put it on again and jumped into the sea, swimming to Him as fast as my arms and legs could carry me. 
 
Behind me, the other disciples steered the ship to shore, dragging the net in the water behind them. I reached the land only moments before they did, for we had not been far out to sea. 
 
The stranger looked up, first at me, and then at the others, then at me again. I fell to my knees before Him, amazed once again that He looked so different now, though His features had not changed. 
 
“Lord,” I managed, dripping from head to toe. 
 
He smiled back at me, and I saw that He already had fish and bread cooking over the coals. He glanced over my shoulder, and I followed His eyes to the other disciples, who were now attempting to drag the catch of fish from the water to the shore. 
 
“Bring some of the fish which you have just caught,” Jesus said. 
 
I took the Lord’s hint and ran to help. Remarkably, this time the net was not broken. When we laid the fish out on the sand, Bartholomew, the quickest of us with numbers, informed us that we had caught one hundred and fifty three. 
 
“Come and eat breakfast,” Jesus called to us.
 
We took six of the fish, one for each of us plus the fish Jesus had already prepared. We cleaned and roasted them over the fire Jesus had set, largely in silence. I saw all of the other disciples sneaking surreptitious glances at Jesus as if to assure themselves that He was the Lord. He endured this patiently and without comment. When the fish had cooked, He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and did the same with the fish. We ate in silence as well: a silence that was not so much awkward as it was thick, at least for me. I so desperately wanted to make things right. 
 
When we finished breakfast, Jesus turned to me. “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?” 
 
A lump sprang to my throat. The word He used for love wasagape. Do I agape—perfectly, selflessly love—Him more than anything else, as I had once so boldly declared? More than anything I wanted to proclaim that I did, but my actions belied this. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” But I used the word phileoin place ofagape. The word meant familial affection. Far less lofty than agape. 
 
Jesus’ eyes bore into mine. “Feed my lambs,” He replied. Silence fell again. I tried to swallow down the lump in my throat. Jesus said again, “Simon, son of Jonah, do youagapeme?” 
 
I felt the other disciples shift around us uncomfortably, but I did not care that they were witnesses. This was between me and the Lord. I had to compose myself before I managed to answer again, “Yes, Lord, you know that Iphileoyou.” 
 
“Tend my sheep,” Jesus replied. Another stretch of silence. Then He ventured once more, “Simon, son of Jonah, do youphileome?” 
 
I bit my lip to keep the tears at bay. I flashed back to the night of His trial, to my three denials that I even knew the man who was dearest to me in the world. He asked me three times to affirm Him now, to erase those denials. But He’d downgraded the word love now fromagapetophileo, the word I insisted upon using. The Lord knew how badly I wanted to use the wordagape—the word that meant I would do anything for Him, even die for Him, as He had for me. But I had made that declaration once before, and broken it hours later. I knew better now. I knew my own weakness.
 
“Lord, you know all things,” I whispered. “You know that Iphileoyou.” 
 
Jesus did not speak for such a long moment that I finally looked up and met His eyes. He gazed at me so tenderly, like a father to his newborn child. No wonder He had called us children. “Feed my sheep,” He said. “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” 
 
I swallowed, understanding what He meant. I would indeed die for Him one day. Had He given me such a prophecy at any other time, it would have seemed almost like a curse. But right now, it was the purest blessing He could have pronounced. He was telling me I would get another chance, and the next time, I would pass the test: the very thing I wanted most in the world. Briefly, I let the Lord's pure love, His agape, His acceptance wash over me, to cleanse and restore me. 
 
No sooner did I bask in this, though, it was marred by a stab of jealousy as I glanced at John, sitting very close to Jesus. I’d always been just a bit jealous of John’s closeness to the Lord. I think we all had. Before I could stop myself, I pointed at John and said, “But Lord, what about this man?” 
 
Jesus raised his eyebrows at me, and John looked taken aback. I immediately regretted that I’d said it out loud. 
 
“If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” was Jesus’ gentle rebuke. “Youfollow me.” 
 
I bowed my head, and turned to look at the enormous catch of fish strewn on shore. He had performed the same miracle when I first met Him, and now again at the end—for I knew this was the end. His remaining time on earth was very short. The first time He had said, “From now on, you will catch men,” and I had left everything to follow Him. Now, after His resurrection, when all of us wondered what our purpose could possibly be, this side of the cross—His answer was the same. 
 
Tend my sheep. Feed my lambs. Go and catch men. 
 
I had fished all night with all my worldly equipment and skill and partners, and caught nothing. Yet everything changed when I went whereHedirected, and fished whereHe commanded, with the powerHeprovided. I could not fail. 
 
 
Jul 17, 2020

This week's meditation and retelling is from 1 Sam 14:1-23. 

This is such a crazy story, and to me, it so perfectly illustrates why Jonathan and David became such good friends. In boldness, they were pretty much the same person.   
 
Jonathan had taken down a garrison of Philistines once before (1 Sam 13:3) before this episode ever occurred, which may well have been what gave him the confidence to propose the idea of two of them attacking an entire garrison, with one sword between them. God never told him to do this—it was his own idea, but it was based upon Jonathan’s understanding that Israel had a covenant with God, and the Philistines didn’t (we know this by the fact that he referred to them as “uncircumcised,” the same way that David referred to Goliath). He did include a caveat, at least: if the Philistines said this, it meant God had given them into the hands of Israel. If they said that, it meant he hadn’t, and they should come back another day. But even that, he made up. He just assumed that God would honor the “fleece” he chose. And sure enough, God did!
 
Why was there only one sword between them, anyway? According to 1 Samuel 13:22, there were only two swords in all of Israel, belonging to the king (Saul) and the crown prince (Jonathan). The Philistines had so oppressed Israel that they had disarmed them, expecting that this would keep this in subjection. No wonder the rest of the Israelites were hiding in caves, even though there were hundreds of them. Not only were the Philistines in a better tactical position, but they had weapons and the Israelites did not. Only Jonathan did not see this as a problem. Like Caleb and Joshua when they saw the giants in the Promised Land, Jonathan was undeterred by what he saw in the natural. When Jonathan and his armor bearer (who didn’t even get a name) moved forward in faith, all they had to do was kill about twenty men. Then, just as in the case of Gideon and the Midianites, God sent fear among the Philistines and they destroyed themselves! Then the Israelites, seeing that their enemy was on the run, decided to join the fight. But it took the faith of Jonathan and his armor bearer to set the whole thing in motion.
 
"Why exactly are we hiding in this cave?” I wanted to know. I asked the question of my armor bearer, who had been with me since my earliest days as a soldier. He was my servant, but I considered him a dear friend too. Certainly, I respected him far more than I did the majority of my father’s soldiers, six hundred of whom just cowered here in the pomegranate cave at Migron, at my father King Saul's apparent direction. “The Philistines are right there. Why don’t we just go slaughter them?” 
    
My armor bearer shrugged, as mystified as I was. Yes, the Philistines were large—giants, some of them. It was also true that our men had no swords; the Philistines had gotten rid of all blacksmiths, and had required us to come to them to sharpen our tools for farming, so that they might keep us in submission. The only two swords in our company belonged to my father and myself. So what? The Philistines were uncircumcised! They had no covenant to protect them. We, on the other hand, had the Lord on our side. We literally could not lose. I’d proven this by defeating the garrison of Philistines at Geba, and all the Hebrews had heard of it. Had they already forgotten? 
 
I sighed, frustrated. I refused to sit here and do nothing for another moment. “I have one of the two swords, have I not?” I muttered aloud, and then gestured at my armor bearer. “Well. You do.” 
 
My armor bearer nodded as a slow smile of anticipation crept across his face. “I do indeed!” 
 
I snuck a surreptitious glance at my father, who was in council with several of his cowardly advisors, and did not notice us. Then I looked at my armor bearer and whispered, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, by many or by few.” 
 
The armor bearer grinned back at me, eyes bright. “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish, Behold, I am with you heart and soul!” 
 
I loved this guy. I nodded and whispered, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we all show ourselves to them. If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the Lord has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.” 
 
I added the caveat, just in case the Lord wanted to stop us for some reason. He hadn’t chosen the sign, it was true, but I knew He directed the steps of His faithful ones, and I knew the covenant promised victory to the Israelites. I only wanted to test whether or not this was the way in which He meant for it to occur. 
 
Together, we crept out of the cave, between two rocky crags named Bozez and Seneh. The Philistines spied us approaching from a distance, and we saw their attention turn to us. Once we were in shouting range, they taunted, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves!” They beckoned us, and cried out, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing!” 
 
I turned to my armor bearer and we shared a fierce grin. That was exactly what I’d been hoping they’d say. “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel!” I declared.
 
I had to climb up using my hands and feet to where the Philistine garrison waited. My armor bearer came after me, sword in its hilt at his side. When I finally reached the top of the rocky crag, something (Someone?) knocked the men down before me as if they had been hit by a great gust of wind. My armor bearer did not waste it: as soon as he crested the hill, he slashed them down right and left, twenty men in all. As this happened, panic spread throughout the camp and the garrison. The men began to flee, and the stampede seemed to make the mountain itself quake. 
 
I turned around, and behind us I finally saw my father and his six hundred men emerge from their cave. But before they ever reached the scene of the battle, it was already half over: there was such confusion in the Philistine garrison that they struck and killed one another. Some of my fellow Israelites were among the Philistines, and they turned upon their fellows. Israelites who had been hiding in the hill country of Ephraim saw and came to join the fight. 
 
In the end, the Philistines fled beyond Beth-aven, and the Lord gave us victory. As I knew very well He would. He had promised He would, and He is not a man, that He should lie!
Jul 3, 2020

Today's meditation comes from the story of Hannah's miraculous conception of Samuel, from 1 Samuel 1-2.

This is the text of my retelling: 

 

I had come to hate the yearly trek to Shiloh. Which was terrible! We were going to sacrifice and worship the Lord, and I knew it was wrong to do anything but rejoice—that was what the Lord called us to do, after all. And yet it was the worst time of the year for me. 
 
The rest of the year, I could avoid my husband Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah and her children. At home her family and I lived in different tents, and I managed to fix my daily routine such that I almost never interacted with her at all. I did this because Peninnah was horrible to me at every opportunity. Even if she hadn’t been horrible, seeing her was like an arrow in my heart, as it seemed she was perpetually pregnant or nursing. She now had six children--and I none. As if that weren’t enough, she took every opportunity to taunt me for my barrenness. Elkanah tried to tell me this was because she was jealous of his love for me, and seemed to expect this would comfort me. It didn’t. I valued my husband’s love greatly, but it in no way compensated me for the children I lacked, and I was not compassionate enough to empathize with my rival’s motives. My own pain was too acute. 
 
During the yearly trek to Shiloh, though, we all traveled together as a family—Elkanah, his two wives, and Peninnah’s children. I couldn’t get away from her. After Elkanah’s sacrifice, when it came time to eat the sacrificial meat, he distributed portions to his wives and children. As if to compensate me for my barrenness, he gave me a double portion. He meant well, but even this wrung tears from my eyes. Peninnah taunted me even about this: what a sorry exchange this was, how glad she was that she had children rather than extra meat. I shoved my plate away and ran out of the tent so that I might cry alone, my appetite spoiled. 
 
Elkanah, a gentle man, followed me into the night and put his arms around me. “Hannah, why do you weep?” he asked me softly, though of course he knew the answer. And I could not reply to him anyway. “And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” 
 
I let him hold me, but there was no satisfactory reply to this. The answer was a decided no, but he would not understand this, and would be hurt by it. After all, he had no need of more sons—he had them already, by Peninnah. Also, he was not only mine. I would always, always have to share him, not only with her but also with her children. I felt like an interloper on a family tableau, the one person who did not belong. 
 
After a reasonable amount of time had elapsed such that Elkanah would not feel slighted, I tightened and then released my embrace. 
 
“Give me leave to visit the Temple,” I murmured, wiping the tears from my eyes. 
 
Elkanah looked slightly puzzled, but nodded. “Of course, if you wish to seek the Lord alone.” 
 
I nodded and hurried off, scarcely noticing Eli the priest sitting beside the doorpost of the Temple as I entered. The Temple was otherwise empty, as the sacrifices had taken place earlier that day, and all the priests, like my husband, had taken their portions back to their families to feast and celebrate. This was precisely what I wanted—to be alone. When I reached the Court of Women, the Outer Court, I fell to my knees and released all the tears I had held back throughout the day and the journey. Between sobs, I poured out my heart in my spirit--and though my lips moved, my voice remained silent. 
 
“O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” I meant by this last addition that he would be a Nazirite, holy and set apart to the Lord. It was desperation that made me say all this. Once it was out of my mouth, it occurred to me that I was attempting to bargain with God. Was that okay? I knew the scriptures reasonably well, as my husband was a priest, but the only example I could think of where anyone said to God, ‘if you do this for me, I’ll do that for you’ was the Judge Jephthah, who said that if God helped him win the battle against the Ammonites, he would sacrifice the first thing that greeted him when he returned home from battle. It turned out to be his daughter. Not exactly an example I wished to follow, and yet—that’s what desperation does. A few years ago, I would never have made such a vow as to part with my firstborn son, not for anything in the world. Now I would do it with all my heart, if the Lord would only listen and remember me…
 
I did not see Eli the priest approach as I prayed on my knees until he spoke. His tone and his words were harsh. 
 
“How long will you go on being drunk?” he demanded, and when I looked up at him I saw the scowl on his face. “Put your wine away from you.” 
 
“No, my lord,” I gasped, understanding that he thought I had overindulged at the feast. “I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” 
 
The priest’s face softened, and he rested a hand on my shoulder as he answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 
 
I bowed my head, closing my eyes against the answering flood of tears that threatened yet again—only this time they were tears of gratitude. The High Priest himself had just blessed me! Scriptural precedent or not, that meant I had my petition of the Lord!      
 
“Let your servant find favor in your eyes,” I managed, as I stood and dried my eyes, beaming at the priest. Then I hurried back to our tent, suddenly ravenous. I had a double portion of sacrificial meat still waiting for me, and I could stand anything now, even the taunts from Peninnah. I was as good as pregnant! 
 
Peninnah’s children and she had finished their portions when I returned to eat alone. But Peninnah watched my radiant face closely, frowning. 
 
“What got into you?” she sneered, but I could see that she was troubled by my uplifted mood. 
 
I simply smiled at her, and said, “The Lord is good and gracious!” 
 
She blinked, put off by this response. She rose and left the table without saying a word. 
 
The next morning, we rose, worshiped at the Temple one last time, and returned to our home at Ramah. Elkanah hardly left my side on the return journey, which nettled Peninnah. When we arrived home, he shared my bed. I was not surprised, both because of his concern for me and also because of Eli’s prophecy. 
 
I suspected right then, but I knew for certain within a month that I was with child. I knew before his birth that he would be a son, because that had been my petition of the Lord. Elkanah suggested family names, but I said no—he should be called Samuel, "because I had asked for him from the Lord."
 
The following year, when the time came for the family sacrifice, I begged Elkanah’s leave to remain behind with Samuel. He was only three months old and still nursing; much too young to leave at the Temple with Eli. At first Elkanah did not understand why I could not travel with Samuel and return home with him again, until I explained, “I made a vow to the Lord, and I intend to keep it when the time comes. As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.” What I did not tell him was that I didn’t want to make a habit of going to the Temple with Samuel and then returning home with him again. That would make it so much easier for me to tell myself, ‘I’ll leave him with Eli next year,’ and when next year came, to say the same again. I did not want to tempt myself not to keep my vow to the Lord. 
 
Five years later, Samuel was fully weaned, and the time had come. I made the yearly journey once again to the Temple to worship, and reminded myself that this was a time for joy and not for mourning. The Lord had granted my request! Yet my heart ached at the idea of leaving behind my only son forever. Samuel was a serious, reserved child, well suited for service to the Lord—and yet still, he was so young. Would he be frightened? Of course he would be frightened to be left among strangers. Was I doing the right thing? Perhaps I should take him home again and return again next year, when he was a bit older—
 
“Why are you sad, Mama?” Samuel had crept into our traveling tent beside me. I had explained to him already that he would remain in the house of the Lord, while his father and I would return home to Ramah without him. He had not seemed disturbed by this, but I had assumed that was because he didn’t really understand what I’d said.
 
I looked at my little boy, so peaceful and trusting, and my anguish began to ebb away. “Do you understand that you will remain at Shiloh, while I and your father and all that you know will return home to Ramah?” I asked him. 
 
He nodded. “Yes. You told me so already.”
 
“And you are not afraid?” 
 
He blinked at me, frowned, and shook his head. “I will be with the Lord, will I not?” 
 
“Yes, my darling. You will dwell with the Lord forever.” 
 
“Then why would I be afraid?” 
 
A little sob of gratitude rose up in my throat, but I swallowed it down, and hugged my son close. It was as if the Lord himself had whispered, peace to my soul.  
 
When we arrived at Shiloh, Elkanah and I brought Samuel to the Temple, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine as a sacrifice. Elkanah slaughtered the bull, and when he had finished offering the sacrifice, together we brought Samuel to Eli. Samuel, fearless little man he was, stepped forward to meet Eli boldly. Eli looked down at the boy quizzically, and then up at me. 
 
“Oh, my lord!” I said, “As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” 
 
Samuel looked at me. “Is the Lord in this place, Mama?” 
 
“Yes, my darling.” I stifled the sob that rose in my throat, and tucked his hair behind his ear. 
 
And then, as if he knew exactly what to do, Samuel fell to his knees, and raised his little hands in worship. Eli’s face lit with delight, and something moved me to kneel beside him. The words that came to my lips were not my words—they flowed far too well, as if I were reading something written long ago. I spoke aloud, in the presence of the high priest. 
 
“My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.” I thought of Peninnah’s face as I said these words, and felt a fierce swell of satisfaction. She did not taunt me anymore. “There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.” I had a sense that I was now prophesying, speaking of something broader than just of Peninnah and myself. Was the Lord reminding me of His goodness, to give me strength to leave Samuel behind? “Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.” Oh, let that be a prophesy for me! I thought. “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” Now I knew I was prophesying, for Israel had no king—our King was the Lord. We had only judges. Who was to be the king? I looked at Samuel, and wondered—would he be one of the judges? Or would he have anything to do with future kings of Israel? 
 
When my psalm had finished, Elkanah put an arm around my shoulders and led me from the Temple, leaving Samuel behind. We had discussed that it would be best to go quickly, and not look back. 
 
I was surprised, pleasantly so, that a balm of peace spread over my soul as I went. Though now ostensibly all was as it was before, and I was effectively childless, Peninnah never taunted me again. In my secret moments of sorrow, I clung to the prophesy that had sprung from my own lips: “the barren has borne seven.” I knew seven was a number of perfection and completion and perhaps not literal, but surely one was not a number of perfection and completion, was it? 
 
Yet for the next few years, when we returned for the sacrifice and I brought Samuel a new and slightly larger little robe I had made for him, he remained my only son. He was happy and at peace each time I saw him, and this was consolation to me. 
 
And yet. 
 
When Samuel was seven, before we left, Eli the priest approached us, placing a hand on each of our shoulders. With a fond look at Samuel, he said to Elkanah, “May the Lord give you children by this woman for the petition she asked of the Lord.” 
 
Oh, what a joy those words were! Spoken by the high priest, just as the first blessing had been, I knew they carried with them the same seeds of promise. 
 
In the succeeding years, as Elkanah and I returned for the yearly sacrifice, I introduced Samuel to his brothers and sisters: five of them in all, six including him. As many as Peninnah had. 
 
And yet, each year as Samuel grew strong in the presence of the Lord, I became more certain that he would be the greatest of them all. The hand of the Lord was upon his life, and he had been born for a purpose. My vow had been no coincidence.  I watched eagerly for glimmers of what he was to become. 

 

Jun 19, 2020

Today's podcast meditation and retelling comes from Judges 6-7. 

In Judges 6, Israel was overrun with the neighboring Midianites. These were the descendants of Abraham’s second wife, Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2), after Sarah passed away.

Gideon must have been a young man, since he was still living in his father’s household—though many of the Israelites were dwelling in caves at the time to hide from the Midianites, so it’s unclear to me whether he too was living in a cave. In the retelling, I assumed so.
The story opens with Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress to hide from the Midianites. Winepresses were dug out of the ground, and threshing is the removal of the kernel of grain from its stalk. This can be done by beating it by hand, or using animals to tread over the grain. Once the kernel has been separated, it is separated from the chaff (the part you don’t eat) by throwing it up in the air and letting the wind blow it away. If Gideon had done this above ground, the Midianites would come and steal what little he had. So this opening scene is rather pitiful. A winepress is also used elsewhere in scripture to symbolize God’s wrath and judgment (Isaiah 63:3-6, Lamentations 1:15, Joel 3:12-13), which makes sense: the Israelites are in this predicament of servitude in the first place because they have disobeyed the Lord, and they’re on the wrong side of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28). God told them exactly what would happen if they disobeyed Him and ran after other gods.

But God is merciful, and every time Israel disobeys Him and suffers the consequences, they cry out to Him for deliverance. Gideon is God’s answer to their prayers, only he doesn’t know it yet. He doesn’t much want to be God’s answer, either: he’s very much a reluctant hero, which makes me wonder if he was just the best God had to choose from among the Israelites of that time. He’s certainly no David.

It’s interesting to me that before God delivers the Israelites, the first thing He has Gideon do is destroy the idol to Baal. It’s like He’s reminding the people, You want me to help you? Remember the First Commandment? Remember why you’re in this situation in the first place? A covenant is a covenant, and they’ve disobeyed their side of it. God is just, and He’s not going to simply ignore the fact that the Israelites are in violation. He needs to get them back on the right side of the covenant before He can fulfill His end of the bargain. Praise God, Jesus did this for us, and now we are always on the right side of the covenant—Jesus became a curse for us and so redeemed us forever from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13).

Gideon wasn’t thrilled about pulling down Baal’s altar; he knew that the worthless men of Israel would come against him and might even threaten to kill him for it. So he does it at night, when no one is awake to see it. It doesn’t matter—by the next morning, somehow everyone knows it was him anyway, and they come knocking at his family home/cave and demanding of his father Joash that he give up Gideon so they can kill him for it. Even though Joash had worshipped Baal too, he surprisingly defends Gideon with words that echo the wisdom of Gamaliel in the New Testament: when Peter and John are standing trial before the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel advises the Pharisees to let them go on the grounds that if what they are teaching is not from God, it will dissipate anyway. But if it is from God, they will only find themselves fighting against God (Acts 5:38-39). Similarly, Joash tells the people who want to kill his son, if Baal is a god, he can contend with Gideon himself! They accept this logic, give Gideon a new name (Jerubbaal, meaning ‘let Baal contend,’) and go away.
Now that God has His people back on the right side of the covenant, He sends Gideon into battle against the Midianites. Gideon then asks for his infamous fleece sign, to verify to him that he indeed heard God speak: that in the morning, the fleece will be wet and all the ground dry. Gideon knows he heard God; the request implies that he’s struggling to believe what He said. This becomes especially true when Gideon gets his request, and then thinks, What if that was coincidence? So he asks again, and this time reverses the request. This time, he wants the fleece dry and the ground wet! Meanwhile, all the armies of Israel are assembling to fight. I wonder what he planned to do if his fleece sign didn’t work as he expected! Tell them all to go home, I guess? I’m kind of amazed at how patient the Lord was with Gideon through all this. Perhaps that is because Gideon has never seen a miracle before (as he says at the beginning of Judges 6)—he’s only heard the stories of his ancestors. It’s not like the Israelites coming out of Egypt who saw God’s power literally every day. One of God’s principles is, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). Paul even says in 1 Timothy 1:13, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”

So God grants Gideon his two fleece signs. Then Gideon presumably is feeling pretty confident with his 32,000 fighting men, even though the Midianites are described as “numberless.” Then God told him, no. He knew that if Gideon took that many men into battle, being a faithless people for the most part (that’s how they got in this predicament in the first place), they would forget God and glorify themselves for the victory (
Deuteronomy 8:17). God didn’t want them to be able to boast (1 Corinthians 1:26-29); He wanted to make sure they knew this was all Him. So He whittled the army down to three hundred.

Now, Gideon freaks out again. Can’t say I really blame him. God realizes He needs to give Gideon yet another sign, but this time God makes it up: He tells Gideon to take his servant and go down to the Midianite camp (which is kind of funny in itself: you’re afraid to go with your army of 300, so how about you go to the enemy camp alone! That sounds less nerve-wracking.)  We’re told over and over again that the Midianites are numberless, like locusts, so how does Gideon know where to go? God takes care of that part. He takes Gideon right where he needs to go, and then gives one of the Midianites a dream, and his buddy the interpretation of the dream: that Gideon is going to defeat them all! God presumably could have given that dream to one of the Israelites, but then it could have been written off as wishful thinking. Not so when the same dream and interpretation comes out of the mouths of Gideon’s enemies, and God supernaturally leads Gideon right where he needs to go to hear it.

Now, at last, Gideon is ready. There’s nothing in the story to indicate that God gave him a battle strategy—it seems that Gideon came up with the trumpets, pitchers, and lanterns idea on his own. But it makes sense: obviously 300 swords against a numberless army isn’t going to work! Gideon separates his army into three groups of one hundred, and sends each group to a different quadrant of the Midianite army. It was at night, which was key to the deception: the Midianites could not actually see how few of them there were. All they heard was smashing of pitchers, blowing of trumpets, and shouts all around them, and they saw lanterns that looked like they were surrounded. We can also gather, by the dream and its interpretation, that God had already struck fear into the hearts of the Midianites—so this was no more than what they expected. Panicked people don’t behave rationally, so they assumed that Gideon’s army was already upon them, and they started fighting each other! They defeated themselves by the power of deception. Then, as in many other disproportionate battles in scripture, the other Israelites who had been sent home saw the Midianites as they fled and joined in the battle.

After the battle, Gideon was honored as the next Judge of Israel for 40 years. Unfortunately, he did not end well. Despite God’s amazing deliverance, once they had peace, Gideon led the people into worshipping other gods. It must have broken the Lord’s heart: no matter how spectacular His deliverance, no matter how He provided for his people, once they were no longer in crisis they continually forgot Him. All He wanted was their love and worship! But Israel knew only God’s deeds; they did not know His ways (Psalm 103:7). They missed His Father heart for them. God’s kindness was always meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

This retelling is, of course, through Gideon’s eyes.


 
My father Joash used to tell me that I was born old. I’d never truly been a carefree child. I was serious, responsible, and prone to worry. This had only intensified in the last seven years, spanning my late childhood and early adulthood. Israel had been oppressed for those long years by the Midianites—ironically also descendants of Abraham, though by his second wife Keturah, rather than by our Princess of a Multitude, Sarah. The blood we shared created no kinship between us, however: the innumerable Midianites had decimated our land. Any food we planted and harvested, they took for themselves. Any animals they confiscated. They had reduced us to hiding in mountain caves and strongholds, pitiful and starving. Many of us died of starvation, though the rains were plentiful and the land bountiful: it did not matter. Ours was a manmade famine. 
 
I, for one, was furious—but not just with the Midianites. I was also furious with my fellow Israelites, who persisted in their worship of Baal. I knew enough of the scriptures to strongly suspect that our oppression had been permitted by the Lord, because we were on the wrong side of the Mosaic covenant. We had forsaken Him, so He forsook us. Yet even in our oppression, the Israelites continued to worship false gods! I could not comprehend how they failed to make the connection, particularly after a prophet came to us and told us that our oppression was due to our disobedience. Were the old stories so distant to them that they regarded them as nothing more than fairy tales? Did they not remember Moses and the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, Joshua and the battle of Jericho?  
 
If I were completely honest, I was also angry with the Lord. We were His chosen people, yet we were reduced to this! I knew it was unfair of me to feel this way. The Lord had told us clearly in the Torah what would happen if we did not follow after Him wholeheartedly. We had not upheld our end of the covenant. Our misery was no more than we deserved. He had not broken His word. Yet here I was, skulking in caves and threshing wheat in a winepress so that the Midianites would not see and confiscate what little I had to live on. It was pathetic. 
 
I wiped the sweat from my brow when I’d come to a stopping place, and climbed out of the winepress. Nearby was a terebinth tree, one of the few living things that still survived in Israel. Presumably that was because the tree produced nothing edible. I startled to see a man sitting beneath the tree, watching me. My heart went to my throat: at first I assumed he was one of the Midianites. But they did not travel alone: they swooped down en masse like a swarm of locusts. The man sat patiently, his robes new and clean, the lines of his face smooth and unconcerned. 
 
“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor!” was his surprising greeting.
 
My mind did quick math. The man’s robes were too clean, almost glowing. He face seemed radiant with an inner glory. These things combined with his strange greeting, as if he knew me and had been waiting for me, told me this was no ordinary man. I might have thought his epithet for me was sarcastic, but there was no sarcasm in his tone. Rather, the words had almost the effect of a spell. I felt emboldened by them. 
 
Something about the man’s countenance invited confidence, too. So, in response to his greeting, I spilled out all my pent up emotions. “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 
 
The man listened to my outburst, unperturbed. Then he said with ringing authority, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” 
 
I blinked, inspecting the man once again. Was it possible? I had thought perhaps this might be an angel. But could it be the Lord Homself? Hope, fear, and doubt mingled in my breast as I said, “Please, Lord,” I tested him with this title, “how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” This was true: I was the youngest of my father’s sons, and the weakest in physical might. Of all the men of Israel that the Lord might have picked as his champion, I seemed the unlikeliest choice. 
 
The man answered, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” 
 
I took this in for a moment, uncertain. Finally I said, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me.” He knew what I meant. In the old stories, when people spoke to the Lord or to angels, they always knew it. This man was not so remarkable as all that. At least, I still felt like there was room for doubt. “Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.”
 
He inclined his head. “I will stay till you return.” 
 
I went into the cave that served as my family home, where we hid our stores of food and our flocks. I prepared a young goat, and placed the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot. As these were cooking, I took an ephah of flour to prepare unleavened cakes. Then I took all of it back to the terebinth tree and presented them to the man. 
 
“Take the meat and the unleavened cakes and put them on this rock,” he said, indicating a large flat stone, “and pour the broth over them.” 
 
I obeyed and stepped back. Then the man took the staff he carried, and reached out its tip to touch the offering. Fire sprang up from the rock, and consumed the meal, The the man vanished, right before my eyes. 
 
I gasped, suddenly trembling all over. “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” 
 
A word came to my spirit then. I knew it was not of myself, because it felt Other and carried with it a balm to my soul. “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” 
 
I needed to do something. I needed to respond to this great thing that had happened. My ancestors all seemed to respond in the same way, by building an altar and naming it according to their experience of the Lord in that place, so I did the same. I assembled stones to build an altar, placing the flat one that had just served as the platter for my offering at its pinnacle, now scorched by the angel’s fire. I named the altar The Lord is Peace, for the word He had spoken to my soul. 
 
I spent the rest of that day ruminating on what the angel had said to me, though. Save Israel from the hand of Midian? How was I supposed to do that? Where should I even begin?
 
In the night, the Lord answered me… sort of. “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.” 
 
This made sense, I thought. The reason why Israel had been oppressed was because of our disobedience. So the very first step would be to turn their hearts back to the Lord; then they would be on the right side of the covenant, and then the Lord would be just in routing our enemies. But even this lesser command caused me to tremble in fear of the men of Israel who worshipped Baal and Asherah, not to mention of my own family. They would take it as a great offense if I were to do this thing. They would no doubt even seek my life for it. Of course, I had to obey a direct command from the Lord, though. He’d spoken to me in the night for a reason, though, surely? Perhaps he meant for me to do the deed in the cover of darkness, so that no one would know it was me?
 
I approached ten of my servants that night, and shook them awake. “The Lord has commanded me to tear down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah pole, and rebuild the altar of the Lord,” I explained when I had assembled them together. “Then we are to offer a bull as a sacrifice for the many sins of Israel, and use the Asherah pole for wood.” I saw my own trepidation reflected in their faces, though to a lesser degree—after all, I would be held responsible for the act if anyone found out who had done it, not they. But they did as I commanded. We worked until the darkest part of the early hours, and retired to our beds before dawn. I couldn't sleep, though. I lay awake, heart pounding, waiting for someone to discover the deed and demand my blood in payment. 
 
Sure enough, by morning, the men of Israel had seen, had inquired, and had determined that I was responsible.
 
“Bring out your son, that he may die!” I heard angry voices demand of my father Joash. “For he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it!” Many clamors of agreement echoed the sentiment. I was seized with fear, and hid in the interior of the cave, imagining what it might be like to die by stoning. Somewhere in the back of my mind, as I cowered, the angel’s words came back to me. 
 
Mighty man of valor, indeed
 
“Will you contend for Baal?” my father’s surprising answer echoed back to me. “Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” 
 
I was stunned. Then, I felt a rush of gratitude toward my father. I had half expected him to hand me over to the mob, rather than defend me. After all, he too had worshipped Baal! Yet here he was, threatening those who came against me with death! Grumbles of the men reached my ears, and I heard the term “Jerubbaal” used to refer to myself, as in “let Baal contend against him.” But they said this as they left our household, obeying the demand of my father. When they had gone, I emerged from the depths of the cave, afraid to meet my father’s eyes and see his disapproval. But he surprised me yet again. He nodded when he saw me, a look of respect on his face. 
 
“You did what I should have done long ago, son,” he said. “It took great courage, and reminded us all of Whom we truly serve. I am proud of you.” 
 
I blinked, unable to reply due to the lump in my throat. Instead I nodded back, and my father clapped me on the shoulder. 
 
I pondered his words, replaying them over and over again in my mind, along with the angel’s greeting. The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor
 
What was true? Who was I: Gideon who hid in a cave and in a winepress, Gideon who obeyed the word of the Lord only by night and in cover of darkness, and then quailed in fear of discovery? Or Gideon, mighty man of valor, pride of his father? 
 
Who did I want to be? 
 
In the following days, the Midianites and the Amalekites joined forces and crossed the Jordan, camping on our land in the Valley of Jezreel. Already a change had begun in me after the incident with the altar and the words from my father. Until then, fear had prevailed. Now, a righteous anger from the Lord took its place, consuming all fear, and all at once, I grew bold. What would a mighty man of valor do? I thought. The Lord had told me to go up against the Midianites, had he not? I needed an army for this, did I not? So I sounded my trumpet, and sent out messengers to the nearby tribes to join me in fighting against our enemies. Nevermind that these were the very men who sought to kill me for dismantling their altar not long ago. They would come, because the Lord willed it. 
 
Alas. Once the messengers had been sent, the boldness of the Lord left me, and my old friend Fear returned. I replayed my encounter with the angel who had burned up my offering with fire and vanished before my eyes. I rehearsed his words to me, trying to beat back the fear and recapture the boldness that I had felt just hours before. 
 
It was no use. The fear was winning. I felt a little sick to my stomach that night, as I thought of the sea of the Midianite and Amalekite armies. No matter how many of the Israelites responded to my call—thousands, perhaps—we would still be hideously outnumbered. And I had never even seen battle before. What did I know of commanding an army, or the strategy of war? Images of my own slow death played on repeat in my mind, gored by a Midianite sword… I just wanted to be sure the Lord hadn’t changed His mind about me, or that I hadn’t somehow misunderstood
 
“O Lord,” I murmured, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 
 
When I arose the next morning, the fleece was not just damp; it was so wet, I wrung out enough dew to fill a bowl with water. The surrounding ground was dry. 
 
But, what if I hadn’t made my test hard enough? Perhaps the dew fell in the night, collected in the fleece and was trapped in its fibers, but there was enough time for it to evaporate from the rest of the ground! I should have done it the other way around, I thought; this sign could have just been coincidence. 
 
I thought about this all day, as the men of Israel began to arrive in companies and camped all around, awaiting my orders. I now had two signs, I reminded myself: the angel, and the fleece filled with dew. But what if the angel had been… something else? I had no idea what else, since I’d never seen any creature conjure fire or vanish like that before, but he’d sure looked like an ordinary man. Perhaps my eyes had played tricks on me, or perhaps he was a magician, like those in the household of Pharaoh in the days of Moses. As for the fleece: I’d really almost explained that away. I felt convinced now that the same would happen every night, if I laid out the same fleece, because that was just the way of things. 
 
So I prayed that night, as the armies assembled around me, “O Lord, let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 
 
When I awoke the next morning, I was almost afraid to set my feet upon the fleece. If it were damp, what would I tell all the assembled men, after my bold proclamations? And I was sure it would be damp…
 
But no. It was bone dry, while the surrounding ground was slick with moisture. I closed my eyes in a prayer of thanks. I had not assembled my armies in vain. The Lord was with me. The Lord would deliver us by my hand. I was a mighty man of valor. I chanted these words in my mind, that I might come to believe them. Mighty man of valor. Mighty man of valor. 
 
That morning, I assembled all those with me, 33,000 men in all, and we marched to camp beside the spring called Harod. The camp of the Midianites was north of us, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley. When we arrived, I sought the Lord for battle strategy. 
 
I wished I hadn’t.
 
“The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” 
 
Can I be one of those? I thought but did not say, though of course the Lord knew I was thinking it. But, I was on the hook now. The Lord had given me all my requested signs; how could I not obey? So I made the announcement to the men of Israel, and 22,000 of my troops responded and went home, much to my dismay. I had only 10,000 men left. 
 
The Lord spoke to me again. “The people are still too many.” 
 
Are you kidding me? I thought. I was already in a panic over ten thousand, versus an army without number. 
 
The Lord went on, “Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” 
 
I did as the Lord commanded, taking my remaining meager ten thousand men down to the spring. Each of them naturally approached the water for a drink. The Lord spoke to me and said, “Everyone who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, everyone who kneels down to drink.”
 
I thought I knew where this was going, and I didn’t like it one bit. But I did as the Lord commanded. Of course, the vast majority knelt down to drink and cupped the water in their hands, or else placed their faces directly in the water. Lapping was highly inefficient, so of the ten thousand, only three hundred men chose it. I was surprised it was even that many. 
 
I knew what the Lord would tell me even before the word came. 
 
“With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” 
 
My voice was hoarse, and it might have squeaked once or twice when I made this announcement to the men. I wondered what the result might be if I asked those remaining 300 now which of them was afraid. 
 
The Lord spoke to me again as night fell, with the numberless camp of Midian below us in the valley.
 
“Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, and you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” 
 
I almost laughed at the irony.If I’m afraid to go with my meager army, go by myself instead, into the enemy camps. Obviously. But, one thing I was good at, after seven years of occupation: I knew how to hide. I’d been doing it for most of my adult life. 
 
What I did not know, and didn’t realize I didn’t know until I was already in the valley, was that I had no idea where I was going. There were hundreds of thousands of Midianites and Amalekites. Upon whom, exactly, was I supposed to eavesdrop? 
 
I did not have to wonder long. On the periphery of the enemy camp, hidden in shadow, the first two men I came upon talked by a fire. One of them related a dream from the night before to his comrade. 
 
“Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat. It was a very odd dream, to be sure, and it felt different than most usual dreams, is if it were both prophetic and symbolic in some way. What do you suppose it could mean?” 
 
The comrade shook his head and replied with trepidation, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp!” 
 
I almost laughed aloud at the ridiculousness of this conversation. The Lord had given a dream to my enemy, and led me straight where I needed to go in order to hear both dream and interpretation from men who should not even know my name, let alone be inclined to predict their own defeat at my hands! How many signs did I need? I had the angel; I had the fleece, twice; and now, this. At long last, I felt what the angel had first pronounced me to be: a mighty man of valor. 
 
Purah and I snuck back up to the Israelite camps. When we arrived, I announced to the men, “Arise, for the Lord has given the host of Midian into your hand!” The battle strategy was suddenly obvious to me, as well. How else could three hundred men come against a vast and numberless army, but by trickery and deception? 
 
I divided the three hundred men in three groups of about one hundred each, distributing trumpets, jars, and torches among them. 
 
“Look at me, and do likewise,” I commanded. “When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon!” 
 
I and my company of a hundred men gave enough time for the other two companies to get in place around the opposite sides of the Midianite camp. About the middle watch of the night, my company approached the edge of camp. Then I raised the trumpet to my lips, closed my eyes in a silent prayer to the Lord, and blew. 
 
All around me there was a sudden cacophony of trumpets, followed by the shattering of jars, the blaze of torches, and the shouts of a hundred voices, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” Surrounding the Midianite army, the other two companies did the same. The effect in the blackness, I had to admit, was impressive: the noise and the torches made our meager three hundred men seem like a vast army. 
 
The effect was immediate. The Midianites cried out, roused from sleep and caught unawares. Some of them ran. Many of them grabbed their swords, supposing us to be inside their camp, and began to cut one another down. Those who escaped the swords of their fellows fled until morning and long into the day, to Beth-shittah and even as far as the border of Abel-meholah. 
 
As the Midianites fled, men who had abandoned my army at the direction of the Lord came out from their homes and pursued them with us, from the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh. I sent messengers to Ephraim as well, so that they too might help us force the Midianites and Amalekites even as far as the Jordan River. 
 
And so the word of the Lord came true, just as it did in the stories of old: three hundred men routed an army without number, fighting not with swords, but with trumpets, jars, and torches. My only accomplishment in the matter was that I finally believed the Lord, and did as He commanded. I promised myself that if ever I had the chance, I would believe Him much more readily the next time. Before, I had only the stories of my ancestors. Now, I had my own victories as well, which I determined to pass down to my children, and to my children’s children, that they might know and call upon the name of the Lord. He is Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, who fights or me. He is El Shaddai, who destroys my enemies. He is Jehovah Tsidkenu, the Lord my victory and deliverance. And He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. 
 
Jun 5, 2020

When David was anointed king, he was between 14 and 17 according to scholars. By this time, he’s thirty years old, and he’s been on the run in Israel with his 600 Mighty Men that whole time. At last, in Chapter 27, David says he will “one day die at Saul’s hand.” That’s definitely not what God said: God said he would be king. But after 13-16 years of running, I can certainly understand that his hope deferred made his heart sick (Proverbs 13:12). He takes his Mighty Men and leaves Israel altogether, to go and dwell in the land of the Philistines. It’s not clear, but I suspect this wasn’t God’s will for him, based on what happens next.

David doesn’t go to just in any Philistine territory, either: he’s in Gath, Goliath’s hometown! King Achish of Gath recognizes him as the hero of whom the Israelites sang, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens thousands.” Yet for some reason, Achish trusts David implicitly, giving him and his Mighty Men their own city of Ziklag. From there, David takes his men on raids against the Amalekites and other surrounding enemies of Israel, carrying out God’s instruction to take the territory, as King Saul should have been doing. Yet whenever Achish asks him where he’s been, David tells him he was raiding the Negeb, part of Israel. So he lies, basically. This further convinces Achish that David is his man: the Israelites will never take him back now!

Two things happen as a result of this: first, David makes a lot of enemies among the surrounding nations, who want retribution for his raids and plunder against them. They also know the location of his home base of Ziklag. The second is that, when the Philistines march into battle against Israel, Achish wants David by his side. According to the text, David wants to go, too. Scripture almost never records a person’s motives or thoughts, though; only their actions and words. Knowing what we know of David, it seems extremely unlikely that he meant what he said. The other Philistine leaders refused to let David go into battle with them, though, lest he turn on them from within their own ranks. I’m sure they were right, and David would have done just that. There’s no way the anointed king would have slaughtered his own people!

So David and his men are sent back to Ziklag, which they had left unprotected, expecting to go to war. When they arrive, they find it in flames. The Amalekites took their opportunity for revenge, and ravaged the city. 

Imagine how David and his men felt as they approached the city from a distance, and saw the smoke trailing up into the sky. When they carried out raids against their enemies, they left no survivors. Surely the men would have therefore assumed their families had all been slaughtered! No wonder the Mighty Men, who had been following David for over a decade and had little to show for it, turned on him at last. They spoke of stoning David, blaming him for their devastating loss—and maybe it was his fault! After all, were they supposed to be living among the Philistines? Were they supposed to have gone off to war with Achish, considering David earned their place there through deceit? I’m sure all these thoughts went through David’s head too. Had he irrevocably stepped outside the will of the Lord? Was there no going back?

David’s response to this crisis is truly incredible. He’s been on the run for 13-16 years, clinging to a promise that seems utterly impossible. He made some poor choices, with seemingly devastating consequences. Now, he’s lost everything, and the only men loyal to him have turned against him. But instead of despairing, he “encourages himself in the Lord.” There was no one else to encourage him; they all wanted to kill hiM! He had to do it himself. To dramatize this part, I put David’s own Psalm 61 in his mouth, since that apparently was written about Ziklag, and he may well have penned it during those moments.

Next, he calls for the ephod: a garment worn by the priest, also used to receive direction from the Lord. He then asked the Lord if he should take his men and pursue the Amalekites. The ephod could only give him a yes/no answer, and yet the scripture says that God told him, “pursue; you will recover all.” This must have been a word spoken directly to David’s spirit. I’d imagine it also occurred to David as he spoke to the Lord that there were no bodies at Ziklag, so they must have taken their families captive, rather than slaughtered them! Why? Presumably this was God’s favor and protection, since David and his men showed no such mercy to their enemies.

David manages to convince four hundred of his six hundred men, so lately intent upon stoning him, to accompany him in his raid. Two hundred were too exhausted to go on. David didn’t know where the Amalekites had gone, but God provided direction in the form of one of their abandoned Egyptian slaves. They found him wandering in the desert, where he likely would have died of starvation if not for David and his men’s kindness. In return, the man agrees to lead them to the Amalekites’ camp. The men catch them unawares, reveling and rejoicing in their spoils. David and his four hundred men beat them for twenty-four hours straight until four hundred of the Amalekites escape and flee—the same number of men that David started with!This alone tells us David’s men were vastly outnumbered, yet it doesn't matter. God is with them. And just as God promised, they recovered all: wives, children, livestock, wealth. They even gathered some of the spoils that the Amalekites had taken from other raids, and David sent some of it to Israelite leaders as a gift, to reestablish the contacts he had lost during his time living with the Philistines.

Meanwhile, during the battle against the Philistines, both King Saul and his son Jonathan are killed. David doesn’t learn this until three days afterwards, when a messenger comes to tell him—carrying Saul’s crown. 

The moment has come at long, long last. David is crowned king first of Judah (Saul’s other son Ishbosheth initially succeeds Saul in Israel). Then a few years later, David reunites the entire kingdom. In a period of just a few days, he goes from losing everything, on the verge of losing his life to the men sworn to protect and follow him, to being crowned king.

God can take an utterly impossible situation and turn it around in a moment.

This is the text of my retelling: 

My soul weariness at times threatened to turn my heart bitter. But that, I could not allow. 
 
It had been sixteen years since the day Samuel the prophet had anointed me king. I was a fourteen-year old dreamer then. Now at thirty, I felt as disillusioned as a man twice my age. I could scarcely remember the boy I once was. For most of those years, I had been on the run from King Saul, who ironically was so dear to me that I could not raise my hand against him. For one thing, he still held the position of the Lord’s anointed until the Lord saw fit to remove him, and that alone would have been enough to stay my hand. For another, he had been my father-in-law. Well did I recall the days when I had dreamt of his daughter Michal as the beautiful princess I had never yet seen. As a reward for defeating Goliath, she had become my bride. What a triumph my wedding day had been! One of the pinnacles of my young life, a symbol to me of all that the Lord had promised. 
 
It had been years since I had even seen Michal. By now, I was sure she had been given away to another man. 
 
Saul was also dear to me for the sake of his son, Jonathan. I loved Jonathan far more than any of my brothers by blood. Whatever souls are made of, his and mine were the same. I also owed him my life. Though Jonathan was next in line for the throne, he knew his father sought to kill me, and aided in my escape. He knew of the Lord’s calling on my life, and told me that he planned to give me his throne. He would be content to be second in command, he said! What a friend. Yet it had been many years since I had seen Jonathan, either. I wondered if we would even still recognize one another. 
 
It wasn’t as if the Lord had completely abandoned me in all these years of running and hiding. He had given me my Mighty Men—my own personal army, six hundred in all. True, they were made up of the misfits and former criminals of Israel, the men who were poorly esteemed and therefore had no love for King Saul. They had followed me wherever I went all these years, and so far had nothing to show for their pains. 
 
Finally in exhaustion and discouragement, I’d just gotten tired of never having a place to lay my head. If I stayed in one place in Israel, I feared that Saul would at last find and kill me. That wasn’t what Samuel had prophesied, but what if there were different kinds of prophesies—those that would be, and those that may be? What if my choices made a difference in whether or not the word came to pass? 
 
I could not hope to ask Samuel about this, as word had reached me that he had died. And the truth was, I’d reached the end of my endurance, emotionally. I could not flee anymore within the borders of Israel. So, about a year and four months ago, I’d crossed Israel’s borders into Philistine country, and presented myself before Achish, king of Gath. The irony did not escape me: this was Goliath’s home country, the great warrior I had killed in my youth. King Achish was enormous, like all of the Philistines, but not as large as their champion had been. I shall never forget the confusion on Achish’s face when I presented myself to him, and he did the math, sizing me up. 
 
“Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his tens thousands,” Achish had murmured to himself. This was the song the young women of Israel had sung in praise of me all those years ago: one of the inciting causes of Saul’s jealousy of me. The song had been sung far and wide, and apparently had even reached Gath. I bowed my head in acknowledgement. 
 
“Yes my lord, that was me.”
 
“But you are so small!” he exclaimed, and I had the impression he had not meant to say it aloud. I laughed, and then he laughed. Suddenly we were friends. 
 
“You would be surprised what this ‘small' man can do with a sword, my lord. Not to mention a sling. You know that story, I trust.” 
 
“I see now why you needed the sling! You would not have been able to reach Goliath with a sword!” It was an exaggeration, but I let the king enjoy his mirth at my expense. I needed him in a good mood. 
 
When he had finished, I said, “Be that as it may, you have heard the stories. I offer my sword to my lord to fight against his enemies, both mine and those of my six hundred fighting men with me.” 
 
Achish shook his head, confused, but remarkably unsuspicious. “Why should Israel’s great hero offer his sword to me?” 
 
I was prepared for this question. I had expected it, and I had the best possible answer. I sighed. “Because King Saul has been trying to kill me for the last fifteen years, and I am tired of fleeing from him in Israel. I do not think he will continue to seek me here, in the land of his enemies.” 
 
“Kill you! One of his best warriors?” Achish exclaimed. “Why should he do such a foolish thing?” 
 
“Jealousy makes a man do strange things, my lord.”
 
“Ah,” Achish’s expression cleared with understanding. “The song.” 
 
I let him think that was all. I did not tell him I had been anointed king in his stead all those years ago. That was a secret that would not serve me well in the country of Israel’s enemies. 
 
Achish not only allowed me to remain within the Philistine borders, but gave to me and to my men the country town called Ziklag. It was the first home base I and my men had known in over a decade. From there, we went out on raids against Israel’s enemies in neighboring territories, doing what the Lord had told King Saul to do: taking the land back from the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites. We brought the spoils back with us to Ziklag. Whenever Achish asked what we had been doing, I would always tell him we had raided the Negeb. Why this convinced the king of my loyalty to him, why he never asked any questions, I never knew. Perhaps the Lord gave me favor in his eyes. 
 
Unfortunately, Achish’s trust in me ran so deep that he called upon me and my men to fight with him against Israel. I had suspected that day might come eventually, but it meant the end of our respite. Achish, who had accidentally become a friend of sorts, would know my true loyalties when I and my men began to fight against him for Israel, from among his own ranks. Where would we go then? Having carried out raids against enemies in surrounding nations, we could hardly seek refuge there. Achish would become my enemy. Saul was still trying to kill me, so returning to Israel was less than ideal. But what choice did I have?
 
My men assembled with the Philistine army at Aphek at dusk, to march upon the Israelite army in Jezreel come daybreak. My heart ached with homesickness as we approached. I wondered if any of the soldiers I had known in my youth would be among them. I wondered if Jonathan would be there. Of course he would; he was a man of valor, and would never be content to sit home while the armies of Israel went to war. He would be on the front lines. I would fight by his side, if I could. I only hoped I would not be called upon to kill my friend Achish. 
 
The Philistine commanders stared at my men and me with narrowed eyes. I saw them approach Achish, and I knew what they were saying. “What are these Hebrews doing here?” Achish would defend me, as I knew from his posture that he was doing even as I watched from a distance. “I have found no fault in him to this day!” he would be saying. The commanders’ response looked angry. “He shall not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become an adversary to us!” This I imagined, for this was the truth. Shortly, Achish withdrew from his commanders and approached me, his posture telling me what he had to say before I heard his words. 
 
“As the Lord lives, you have been honest, and to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign. For I have found nothing wrong in you from the day of your coming to me to this day. Nevertheless, the lords do not approve of you. So go back now; and go peaceably, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.” 
 
A great weight lifted from my heart, though it mingled with sadness that my vision of fighting for Israel again, side by side with Jonathan, would not come true. Channeling these mixed emotions, I replied, “But what have I done? What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?”
 
Achish replied to me, “I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God. Nevertheless, the commanders of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle.’ Now then rise early in the morning with the servants of your lord who came with you, and start early in the morning, and depart as soon as you have light.” 
 
I told my men the will of the king, to the general relief of all. They did not mind betraying Achish in battle, but they had not cared for the prospect of losing Ziklag. Nor did I. I roused the men and we set off back to Ziklag again at first light, before the battle between Israel and the Philistines began. My heart broke as we left, and I wrestled with sadness and despair and anger on the three days’ journey from Jezreel back to Ziklag. When would I be allowed to return to my homeland, the nation I loved more than my own life’s blood, the nation I had been anointed to rule? I was now thirty years old, and I had been anointed at fourteen! How much longer? Had I somehow already missed my opportunity? When I came to the land of the Philistines, even though I had remained loyal to Israel throughout, had I stepped irrevocably outside the will of the Lord? Would He not tell me? Would He say nothing?  
 
I was still in this dark mood when we came to Ziklag, longing to pour out my heart to Abigail, my wise and clever wife who always seemed to know what to say and do. But as soon as the city came into view, I stopped abruptly. So did all six hundred of my men. 
 
The smoke of the city’s remains trailed up to the sky. 
 
I fell to my knees and let out a wail of grief. All around me, my men did the same, shouting and weeping. Some ran on ahead to inspect the decimated city close up, but we found exactly what we knew we’d find: there was nothing, and no one left. 
 
You did this,” snarled one of my men at last, extending a shaking finger at me, cold fury in his eyes. Then he raised his voice to his fellows. “This is David’s doing! He led the raids against the Amalekites, and this is their retribution! He left our city and our wives and our children defenseless while we went off to fight a duplicitous war! This is what we get in return for years of loyalty to him! Let’s kill him! Stone him, it’s no more than he deserves!” 
 
I recoiled in shock, but could not muster the strength to reply. I hid my face, despair threatening to crush me from the inside. The mighty man’s declaration met with grumbles of agreement, but without any real animosity behind them. They did not hate me, I knew; not truly. They were bitter in soul at the loss of their wives and their children, and wanted someone to blame. No doubt, I was to blame: I was the one who made all the decisions that had led us to this place. Perhaps I did deserve to die. Perhaps it would be better if I died; then all my struggles in this miserable world would be over. 
 
No. The word rose up on the inside of me unbidden, like a beacon of hope. It did not come from me, but it stopped my destructive thoughts in their downward spiral. No. The Lord was good. His promises still stood, no matter how impossible things looked. I would encourage myself in the Lord; I would not allow myself to despair. 
 
“Hear my cry, O God,” I whispered, “listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name. Prolong the life of the king; may his years endure to all generations! May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him! So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day.”
 
I felt steadier when I had finished praying. Then, suddenly, it occurred to me how strange it was that there were no bodies. That meant the Amalekites had taken our wives and children alive. Why had they done so? In our raids against our enemies, we had left no survivors. All was not lost; those we loved yet lived, though among our enemies, and surely our livestock and wealth too had been plundered, but not destroyed!
 
I knew what I had to do next. I called to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, and said, “Bring me the ephod.” He brought me the garment worn by the priest, used in both worship and in seeking the will of the Lord. I sought direction now. Beneath the breastplate, I removed Urim and Thummim, flat stones with markings upon them. Then I prayed to the Lord, “Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?” The stones themselves were capable of only yes or no answers. They now said yes, but I heard in my spirit, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.” I closed my eyes. Relief flooded me, as if the raid were already complete. This mourning would not last. It would be turned to joy!
 
I stood and announced to my men, “The Lord has told me to pursue the Amalekites. We shall overtake them and rescue our families!” I announced. “Come, we have no time to lose!” 
 
The reception of this announcement was mixed. Some received it with immediate relief, as I had. Some cursed me for my optimism. Some merely watched me with hopelessness and exhaustion. But at last I persuaded all six hundred of them to arm themselves once again, and follow me. 
 
It became apparent, though, that two hundred of my company were too exhausted to participate in the raid, heartsick as well as weary. I know from too much experience that the former can be far worse than the latter. A crushed spirit who can bear? Quite frankly, I did not want their negativity in our company anyway, as the mood was infectious. I was more than happy to leave them behind at the brook Besor. The four hundred remaining men and I rode on in the general direction of where the raiding band of Amalekites was likely to be. Truth be told, I did not know exactly where I was going, and hoped the Lord would give me a sign.
 
It came, in a surprising form: a dark-skinned, weak, and half starved man, wandering alone in open country. He was some distance away from us, but I called my men to halt, and to bring him to me. I had compassion on him, and before we spoke, I ordered him to be given bread and water from our stores. When he ate this hungrily, I encouraged the men to find him something more: a cake of figs, and two clusters of raisins. 
 
When he had eaten and was satisfied, his eyes brightened and his whole countenance changed. At last, I asked him, “To whom do you belong? And where are you from?” 
 
The man answered, “I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite, and my master left me behind because I fell sick three days ago. We had made a raid against the Negeb of the Cherethites and against that which belongs to Judah and against the Negeb of Caleb, and we burned Ziklag with fire.” 
 
There was a murmuring ripple through my men at this information. My heart leapt within me with fierce joy: this mistreated man was the Lord’s provision for us!
 
“Will you take me down to this band?” I asked him.
 
A brief look of trepidation flitted across the man’s features, but then it cleared. Had we not already proven ourselves kinder than the master he left? “Swear to me by God that you will not kill me or deliver me into the hands of my master, and I will take you down to this band.” 
 
“Do this for us, and after that your life shall be your own,” I swore. “We shall even send you on your way with a portion of the spoils.” 
 
So the servant led us where we needed to go, right to the heart of the Amalekite camp. We found them unawares, eating and drinking and dancing in celebration of their great spoils from the Philistines and from Judah. No doubt they expected no one to pursue them, as the battle between the Philistines and Israel still raged on. Had we not been sent away by Achish, we too would still have been at war. 
 
Alas for them! My men, revived and incensed at the sight, attacked and struck down the Amalekites from twilight that day until the evening of the next. Of the entire company of them, only four hundred escaped on mounted camels—the same number of my entire avenging army. 
 
When the fighting was done, I sought among the women and children we had rescued for my two wives, Abigail and Ahinoam. All around us, my exhausted and filthy men reunited with their families with shouts and tears. Best of all, not a single thing was missing that the Amalekites had taken, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. We recovered all. We even took flocks and herds that had not belonged to us, driving them before us on our return journey to the brook Besor where we left the other two hundred men. Some of the four hundred who had come with me grumbled and begrudged their brothers their portion of the spoils, but I rebuked them for this. 
 
“The Lord has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us. Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.” I was in a generous mood, and besides, I did not wish to alienate one third of my men, nor to encourage favoritism. We were a family, and we would act like one. 
 
When we returned to our burned and ruined city, I sent portions of the spoil to the elders of Judah, saying, “Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the Lord.” It was a way for me to reestablish contact with the men of my country, from whom I had been estranged during the long years of my flight. Some of the spoil had originally been theirs, too, according to the Egyptian servant, whom we had also sent away a wealthy man. 
 
In the following two days, the men set about rebuilding Ziklag, though I did not join them. I knew in my heart that I would not be here long enough, though I did not know why.  
 
On the third day after our return, I had my answer. I saw a messenger running toward me, his clothes torn and dirty. I froze, as if my heart had turned to stone. He carried with him a crown and an armlet. 
 
He carried a crown
May 22, 2020

Today's podcast is a meditation on and retelling of 1 Kings 19. 

This is the test for the retelling: 

I wasn’t even winded, despite running all the way from Mount Carmel to the city of Jezreel. I was, however, soaked to the bone. This was just as well, as it washed away all the blood from my skin and clothes. I didn’t think anything would ever fully remove the stains, though. 
 
It still stormed when I took shelter from the driving rain against the wall of the fortress shielded from the direction of the wind. I shook from adrenaline, too. It had been quite a day. Three and a half years ago, I’d prophesied a draught over Israel for their disobedience to the Lord, which would last until I said it was over. I’d spent most of those three years in hiding, since I knew that King Ahab and Queen Jezebel would love to kill me as the source of their troubles—though at the same time, I knew they wouldn’t dare, since if they killed me then theoretically the draught might last forever. But today, I’d gathered together eight hundred and fifty false prophets on top of Mount Carmel, not to mention all the people of Israel as witnesses. I’d proven that the God of Israel was the one true God. Well, He proved it, with fire from heaven; I just cooperated, I guess. The Israelites were convinced. They cried out that He was the One True God—took them long enough to figure that out—and together they apprehended the false prophets. Then I slaughtered every last one of them with the sword in the Kishon Valley. 
 
Eight hundred and fifty men. I’d never killed anyone in my life before—but that was the penalty for being a false prophet in Israel, according to Deuteronomy. No one else was going to carry it out; Ahab was evil, and I was the only prophet of the Lord left. So it was all up to me. I wondered if I would ever purge those gory images from my imagination. 
 
That wasn’t even the end of the day. Ahab had stood as a witness to all of this, and then I’d prophesied the end of the draught. I wouldn’t have done this on my own, since I knew the draught was the only reason Ahab hadn’t attempted to kill me yet. But the Lord told me the draught needed to end, yet He was cooperating with my original word to Ahab that it would end only at my word. So, I did as I was told. Then I prayed seven times before I saw the manifestation of clouds in the heavens. Only then did I tell Ahab he’d better beat it to Jezreel lest the rain stop him—and I ran 17 miles ahead of his chariot, all the way here. I’d still been buzzing with the adrenaline of slaughtering a virtual army of false prophets, I supposed, and needed a way to burn it off. Neither of us arrived ahead of the rain, but I did get here before he did. 
 
But, there he is now. I looked up to see the drawbridge lower, admitting the king’s chariot to the interior of the fortress. The charioteer saw me and fixed me with a glare before they vanished from view. He would tell his master that he had seen me, surely. 
 
Why had I come to Jezreel exactly? This suddenly seemed like a terrible idea. 
 
The fortress was elevated over the valley so that the water ran down in rivulets, but I saw the water accumulating in every reservoir down below, soaking into the parched earth. A figure approached on the same road from which Ahab had just come, riding on the back of a donkey: my servant, whom I had left behind on Carmel. He had seen the direction in which I’d gone and rode after me. I raised my hand to wave at him, but was distracted by the approach of a third person. He was a servant of the king, dressed in the livery of the fortress. He approached me directly, knowing exactly where to find me from the charioteer, no doubt. He gave me a slight incline of his head, which was more acknowledgement than bow, and said, “From my Lady the Queen.” Then he handed me a very small scroll, and retreated back to the fortress again. 
 
I protected the scroll with one hand from the driving rain, and unrolled it with the other to read. It said, “Ahab has informed me of your violence against my prophets. So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 
 
The first thought I had upon reading this was not in words; it was the image of blood to my ankles from earlier that day, surrounded by slashed corpses. In my mind’s eye, the face of one of the corpses was mine. 
 
The draught is over, I thought, and my heart seized in fear. There’s nothing to stop her now! 
 
I don’t know why at the time, it didn’t occur to me that if she could have killed me, she would have sent a soldier with a sword, rather than a servant with a note. All of Israel had seen my triumph on Mount Carmel and were behind me now, at least for the time being—crowds, I knew, were fickle. Still, Jezebel couldn’t balk public opinion so soon afterwards and have me murdered without suffering for it herself. But I was not thinking clearly; all I could see was the vivid image of my bloody corpse. 
 
So I ran. I ran right past my servant, close enough to hear him say, “Aw, really? I just got here!” but too fast for him to catch up. 
 
I ran more than five times as far as I’d done earlier that day, because I just didn’t feel like I could get far enough away from Jezebel and her threat—or perhaps more accurately, from the picture in my mind. It was with me all the time.
 
It was the middle of the night when I arrived in Beersheba. The clop-clop of hooves behind me from my servant’s much-abused donkey presently approached when I stopped running. 
 
“Let’s find a place here for the night,” my servant said, sounding exhausted. And he’s just been riding the whole way, I thought. “Any of the men of Israel will be honored to offer hospitality to the great prophet Elijah!”
 
But I envisioned my host sending a message to Jezebel as I slept. “The one you seek is here.”
 
“No!” I said at once. “No, you stay here. I will go on.” 
    
“Master, you’ve run almost through the night! Will you run yet more?” 
    
I didn’t even bother to reply, so anxious was I to be gone from here. Gone from any prying eyes of the city, sheltered in the wilderness where no one would know to find me. 
 
I ran until I’d left the city of Beersheba. By then, my fatigue superseded my anxiety. I slowed to a walk, and went on like this until the sun rose, peaked, and set again. I hadn’t slept in two days, and I hadn’t seen another soul since Beersheba. At last, I sat down under a broom tree. 
 
“It is enough,” I whispered to the Lord. “Now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” I was just done. I didn’t want to do this anymore. I didn’t want to stand boldly alone before a murderous and adulterous generation, proclaiming and enforcing the word of the Lord. My fathers before me had done exactly that—and been killed for their pains. If they had been so treated, why would I be any different? Of course I was no better than they were. Why should the Lord protect me if he did not protect them? If I wielded the power, and could cow my enemies into submission, then sure—but the power was never mine to begin with. It was His, to use as He saw fit. Or not. 
 
I lay down beneath the tree, and closed my eyes, briefly aware that after two days of running in terror, I was famished. But I was equally exhausted. I slipped into unconsciousness.
 
A gentle hand shook my shoulder when the moon was high in the sky. I blinked up into a radiantly glowing face. 
 
“Arise and eat,” the angel said, gesturing just above my head. I followed his gesture, and saw a small arrangement of hot stones with a cake sizzling on top, and a jar of water beside them. My stomach rumbled at the sight of them. I sat up, ate and drank, and felt strangely satisfied for such a small meal. Then I lay down again, slipping back into sleep. 
 
When dawn broke, I was already almost conscious when I felt the hand on my shoulder again. I looked up again into the bright face of the angel, who gestured to the same spot and the same meal. “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you,” he said again. 
 
I did as he bid me, and then rose to my feet again. They throbbed in protest of their recent abuse, but I did feel new strength from the heavenly meal. Also, I had slept myself into some measure of purpose: I now knew where I was going, not just what I was running from. I traveled on for the next forty days, finding shelter each night where I could. I did not see the angel again, but I did not need to. Somehow those two cakes and jugs of water sustained me until I arrived at my destination: Mount Sinai, also called Mount Horeb. The Mount of God. The place where Moses had received the Ten Commandments. The place where He had beheld the face of the Lord. 
 
I can’t necessarily explain why I needed to be there, in that place. The Lord had spoken to me plenty of times before, and I did not need to be in any special location to hear Him. But I hadn’t heard from Him at all since Mount Carmel--if one counted fire from heaven at my request as a conversation. He’d surely sent the angel, but the angel had said nothing other than “arise and eat.” I needed Him to talk to me. I didn’t even care what He said, as long as it wasn’t yet another task to complete that would put my life on the line before my enemies. Though knowing Him, it might be. Still, I needed to be near Him. 
 
When I at last arrived at Mount Sinai, it was nighttime. I took refuge in a cave a little way up the mountain, and lay down for the night. But before I could drift off to sleep, at last I heard the word of the Lord again.
 
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” 
 
A lump sprang to my throat. I didn’t think or censor my words; I just spewed forth what I felt. “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away!” I was breathing hard when I finished this outburst. 
 
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” 
 
So I did. I arose and wrapped my cloak around my shoulders against the chill of the night, venturing out of the cave and on to the face of the mountain. Once I was no longer sheltered by the  cave, a violent wind whipped my cloak almost out of my hands. On instinct, I leaned toward the mountain to grasp on to the boulders as I could, but the wind was so strong that even chunks of the boulders dislodged and flew out into the whirling night. Terrified, I dropped to a crouch, raising my arms over my head to protect it from falling boulders. 
 
Abruptly the wind stopped. But then the ground beneath me began to tremble and crack. I thought the mountain would shake me right off its face, and send me hurtling to my death down below—or else the earth might split and swallow me whole. 
 
Then the earthquake stopped, as lightning fell from the sky. At once, it seemed as if the vegetation on the entire mountain was ablaze—all around me, right next to me. In a second I would be consumed. I got to my feet and ran back to the cave. There, at least, there was nothing to burn. 
 
The fire vanished as quickly as it had come. All was still. I trembled from head to foot, too terrified to think, let alone move. It was as if the Lord used demonstrations of His power to shake me out of my tantrum, to get my attention. 
 
Well. He had it.
 
But then I heard the sound of a low, gentle whisper. It was like the sound of a parent calming a fussy child. My galloping heartbeat slowed, and I felt compelled to venture out of the cave. I wanted to see the Lord face to face, so very much—but I feared that for a sinful man to behold such holiness would mean instant death. So I wrapped my cloak around my head, and groped my way back to the entrance to the cave. The voice that came next was right in front of me, and crystal clear despite the folds of fabric over my ears. 
 
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” 
 
It was the same question as before, so the same answer overflowed from my bitter, exhausted heart. It should have occurred to me that the Lord asked me the same question because I gave the wrong answer the first time, but alas, it did not. My words came muffled through the folds of my cloak. “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 
 
The Lord did not reply to my complaint, at least not at first. What He said was, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 
 
The first two commands, I must admit, washed over me and made very little impression. They involved yet more danger, one in the land of Israel’s enemies, and the other back in Israel, which was also currently a land of my personal enemies (or at least they were until Carmel, and likely would be again by the time I returned). But I perked up when the Lord commanded me to anoint my replacement. My replacement! He was letting me off the hook! Finally! A wave of relief and gratitude passed over me. 
 
And then—seven thousand? Vaguely I registered surprise at the number. I had known, intellectually, that my complaint that I was the only prophet of the Lord left was false, as Obadiah had told me he had hidden a hundred others in caves and fed them. I felt justified in my complaint nevertheless, because though those hundred might technically exist, they were in hiding. They were not out boldly proclaiming the word of the Lord as I was, and risking the sword, as I was. Still, I had thought at best, there were only those hundred others. But seven thousand? Wow. 
 
Not that it mattered. Only one thing mattered to me right now: I was free! 
 
I knew the moment the Lord departed from me, even though I could not see Him. I uncovered my face, walked back to the cave, and lay down, fast asleep within minutes. 
 
By the time I awoke, the sun was already high in the sky, indicating late morning. I set out on my way back, but I did not go to the wilderness of Damascus, as the Lord commanded. Nor did I anoint a new king in Ahab’s place in Israel. I went straight to where I knew I would find Elisha son of Shaphat. No need for me to anoint the two new kings; Elisha could do that, couldn’t he? Wasn’t that the whole point of a replacement?
 
I found Elisha in his fields, plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. He stood by the twelfth, so engaged in his work that he did not see me approach. As I did so, I unfastened my cloak from around my neck, a symbol of the mantle of my position. When I passed by him, I cast my cloak upon him and kept right on walking, not even slowing down. He would have questions, probably, but I didn’t care. The Lord wanted me to anoint him; the Lord could tell him whatever else he needed to know.
 
Elisha abandoned his oxen in the fields at once and ran after me, carrying my cloak with him. “Elijah!” he cried, knowing exactly who I was and what the cloak meant. “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you!” 
 
I glanced over my shoulder and shrugged. I’d slowed my pace, but even now I did not stop. “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” It didn’t matter to me whether Elisha accepted the job or not. I’d done what the Lord told me to do; now it was His problem. Still, it was a bit surprising that Elisha was so ready for this new calling. I’d expected a little more resistance than this, quite frankly. God had presumably been preparing him for his new role in advance. He probably has no idea what he's in for, either, I thought cynically.
 
Elisha slaughtered the oxen he’d been using to plow when I came upon him, and threw a great feast for his servants and family: a celebration of his new calling, and a symbol of the end of his old life. He begged me to remain for the feast, and I did so—after all, the last meal I’d eaten was the cake and water given me by the angel more than forty days before. Beef might not have been the best way to break a forty-day fast, but I didn’t care. I, too, felt like celebrating.
 
It was the best meal I ever had. It tasted like sweet, sweet freedom. 
Apr 24, 2020

Today's meditation and retelling comes from 1 Kings 17. 

Apr 12, 2020

An extra podcast to celebrate Easter: four retellings of the Resurrection from various perspectives, drawn from all four gospels. 

Happy Easter!

Apr 3, 2020

This week's meditation is on 1 Samuel 16-17, the story of David anointed as king, and then his defeat of Goliath. 

Feb 7, 2020
Today's podcast is a meditation and retelling of the ministry and death of John the Baptist. Here are the related passages: 
  • Birth: Luke 1:5-25, 57-80
  • Ministry: Matthew 3, Matthew 11:2-19, Luke 3:2-20, 7:18-35, John 1:15-39
  • Death: Matthew 14:3-12, Mark 6:17-29
Jan 10, 2020

Today's podcast is a meditation on and reimagining of Jesus' first time raising the dead, from Luke 7:11-25.

Dec 24, 2019

Today's special podcast is a meditation on the Christmas story as told in the books of Matthew and Luke, and a reimagining of the story from Mary's perspective. Merry Christmas! 

Dec 13, 2019

Today's podcast is a meditation on the healing of the blind men (including Bartimaeus) from Matt 20:30-34, Mark 10:46-52, and Luke 18:35-43. 

Nov 15, 2019

Today's meditation explores the symmetry between the Feast of Weeks of the Old Testament, and Pentecost. We jump around a lot: 

  • Moses goes to Sinai and God descends on it in fire (Ex 19:18.) This represents the birth of the nation of Israel as a theocracy: the giving of the Law. 
  • This was the first Feast of Weeks at Mt Sinai, 50 days after passover (Ex 19:1.) 
    • Later "official" Feasts of Weeks: Lev 23:15. 
  • That day, 3000 Israelites died in rebellion (because Aaron made them a golden calf to worship at the foot of the mountain: Ex 32:28). 
  • Joel prophesied that when the Holy Spirit fell there would be prophecy, visions, and dreams (Joel 2:28-29).
  • John the Baptist prophesied the Holy Spirit would come with fire (Matt 3:11)
  • The New Covenant fulfillment of the Feast of Weeks: Pentecost. The Holy Spirit falls as tongues of fire (Acts 2:1-12) and Peter quotes Joel (Acts 2:14-21).
  • That day, 3000 new believers were added (Acts 2:41). Symmetry!
    • Paul says the law kills but the spirit gives life later (Romans 7:10, 2 Cor 3:6)
Nov 1, 2019

Today's meditation is on the story of the Centurian's servant, from Matt 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10. 

Oct 18, 2019

Today's podcast meditation comes from the three accounts of the friends lowering the paralytic through the roof to Jesus to receive his healing: 

Matt 9:2-8/Mark 2:1-12/Luke 5:17-26

Oct 4, 2019

Today's meditation comes from Mark 6:41. 

  • Jesus “looked up” = anablepo, also translated “receive sight” or "recover lost sight" elsewhere. 
  • Isaiah 26:3: “yetser” = “mind”, also translated conception or imagination.
  • Numbers 13-14: 10 spies in the Promised Land, and 8 of them had an evil report

This is the Living Commentary software I referenced that is super awesome! https://www.awmi.net/lc/

Sep 20, 2019

Today's podcast is a meditation on Psalm 69:30. We jump around to a few more verses:

  1.  Psalms 69:30 says that thanksgiving magnifies God (gadal: same word as a child growing up physically). To make great, to lift up
  2. The leper who came back to thank Jesus glorified Him (Luke 17:16-18). 
  3. Romans 4:19-21: Abraham “was strong in faith, giving glory to God” (before the promise was fulfilled)
  4. Psalm 103:2: “Forget not all his benefits”.
  5. 2 Cor 10:5: Take your thoughts captive
  6. Ephesians 4:18: your spiritual sight can be darkened; versus Eph 4:23: be renewed in the spirit of your minds (like Romans 12:2)
  7. “to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). 
Sep 6, 2019

Today's podcast is a meditation on Habakkuk 2:3-4.

We also jump to Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38.

Aug 9, 2019

Today's meditation is on Galatians 6:9. 

We also jump around to:

Galatians 6:7-9

2 Cor 9:6

Mark 4:26-29

Heb 10:23, and 10:35-36

Background music courtesy of Ben Sound at www.bensound.com

Jul 12, 2019

Today's meditation comes from Proverbs 3:1-10

Jun 28, 2019

Today's meditation is on James 1:17. A few notes on the Greek: 

  • Every = pas = all, every, whosoever, whatsoever, daily
  • Good = Agathos: of good constitution or nature, useful, salutary, pleasant, agreeable, joyful, happy, excellent, distinguished, upright, honourable
  • Perfect = teleios = brought to its end, finished, wanting nothing necessary to completeness, absolute human integrity and virtue
  • Change = of turning = tropē = of the heavenly bodies (casting shadow)

Additional verses discussed: 

  • 2 Peter 1:3
  • Matthew 7:7-8
  • Luke 12:32
  • Matthew 6:31-33
  • Hebrews 13:8
  • John 10:10
Jun 14, 2019

Today's meditation is on Phil 4:19 but jumps around a bit. Here's a few others: 

  1. Lev 26:5: “Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely."
  2. Luke 12:31-32: “Instead, seek his kingdom, and all these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
  3. Prov 10:3: “The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked."
  4. Romans 8:31-32: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” 
  5. Psalm 55:22: “Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved."
Jun 4, 2019

Today's meditation jumps around a bit: 

Matt 8:28:32

Mark 5:2-13

Luke 4:33-35

Mark 1:23-26

Mark 1:34

Luke 4:41

Matt 8:4

May 31, 2019

Today's meditation is on Genesis 11:6.

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