2 - Among the Prophets
Just as those two great prophets, Abraham and Moses had set the pattern of true worship, so the great men that followed them proclaimed that 'knowing God' and obedience to His will was the real goal in life. To walk with God and reflect his character were what really mattered to God's people.
So it was with Samuel who faithfully led Israel as a 'judge'. He was 'straight as a die' and transparently sincere. Two incidents perhaps illustrate this most effectively in his life. He told King Saul that he was to completely wipe out the Amalekites. Saul failed to do so; saving some of the best animals for sacrificing to God and possibly keeping many more for the people themselves. He spared King Agag's life, for Saul was now a member of the 'Kings' Club. Selfishness lay behind both of these wrong actions. However difficult it is to explain the violent behaviour in the Old Testament, this incident teaches a lesson in obedience. It is better to obey God than to enact formal worship. A sequel to this incident was God's intention of choosing a king for his people who was 'after his own heart'. So Samuel was sent to Bethlehem to anoint a son of Jesse. When Samuel observed the older sons in the family he felt these must be the type of men who would make good monarchs. He discovered however, that God does not judge a person by their outward appearance but by their heart. God judges by a person's very makeup ‑ what are they really like. This is not about emotions or physical appearance or intellectual abilities. That can be cosmetic. This is what Jesus called the 'heart' out of which the mouth speaks.
The 'man after God's own heart' repeatedly refers to this relationship with God in his Psalms and clearly knew the shepherd in Psalm 23. Many of the early psalms reveal how much David walked with God and lived his life conscious that God was with him. Out of the dark moments of his life, as when he stole Uriah's wife and then had him murdered, came the wonderful psalm of contrition, Psalm 51. This is not the repentance of a new convert from a totally sinful life but the need for obedient repentance when the man or woman of God has sinned and is in need of God's forgiveness. The relationship with God cannot be maintained without that contrition of heart and it is an attitude of mind which all who love the Lord must retain. Nearer the end of his life David played the numbers game, and demanded his 'high command' to take a census of the people, God spoke directly to him and
David cast himself upon the Lord ‑ because he knew God. His knowledge, and skill, his power and the people of Israel's loyalty were of secondary importance compared to his complete dependence on God who could save him and his people. When David passed on his throne and his Temple building plans to Solomon, he said "You my son, Solomon know the God of your father and serve him with single mind and willing heart, for the Lord searches every mind and understands every plan and thought." (1 Chron.28.9).
Elijah the prophet had an exciting life, doing wonderful things in recognition of God's law, He had all Israel returning to Yahweh on Mount Carmel and saw the demonstration of God's power in the forces of nature; but he learned that God is to be found in the quiet moments of personal fellowship. There is a curious parallel between Elisha and Elijah. A godly woman showed hospitality to Elisha and in return the prophet compassionately raised her son from death. Elijah raised a Phoenician widow's son who had shared her all during the drought. Elisha showed kindness in healing the leprosy of a foreign general. Jesus referred to these incidents in his comments in the Nazareth synagogue recorded in Luke 4. Yet Jews of the first century had not learned what many today have also failed to understand ‑ God is not confined to one nation, one church or one group. There is such a danger that what the Lord said to Israel in the first century, he will say again in the twenty-first century - "the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruit of the kingdom." (Matt.21.40)
Jeremiah had a wonderful career and an extraordinary understanding of God's ways. He suffered much from his own family for supporting the Josiah reform and rejoiced in the cleansing from idolatry. God was able to reveal through him those astonishing words in Jer.7.21‑23 about formal sacrifice and his desire for obedience as their God and they as his people. They are the formulated words of the Covenant. Later in the prophecy Jeremiah warns Israel of what God really wants ‑ not to boast in wisdom, power or wealth but to know Him, to know what he is really like and what he desires us to be(Jer.9.23,24). So important was this statement it was quoted by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor.1.31). But how many have learned the lesson. Are not power and knowledge and wealth still the goal of so many in the world ‑ and in the Church? Further on still, in Jer.22.15,16 the prophet reminds the reigning monarch of his father Josiah whom he had served, ‑ Josiah had known God by his concern for the needy, and our thoughts are taken back to the last two verses in the first chapter of James' letter, 'to care for widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world'.
Daniel, greatly beloved, obediently served God from his youth, refusing to accept the idolatry and base practices of the heathen land in which he not only lived, but spent much of his life in the royal courts. He was not only a man entrusted with God's secrets, but he was a man of prayer. He is known for his persistence in keeping his times with God in spite of royal proclamations to the contrary, but amid his dreams and visions is the wonderful prayer of contrition for his people in chapter 9. There he identifies himself with the sins of Israel and repents of the disobedience and false worship which they have practised.
Hosea has so much to teach us concerning learning to love, but that is another story. The reality of pleasing God is all about love, as described in the letters of John. Our God does not want theoreticians, but men and women who reflect his character to those around them. To do this they will be truly following the Master and coming to know God. There is no other way to be ready for his kingdom and be fitted to reign with Christ.