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God is Holy. Psalm 99.

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  1. 1. 1 | P a g e Session 1—June 1, 2014. God Is Holy. Psalm 99:1-9. Commentary Overview – Background. God’s holiness and sovereignty comprise a two-part theme of Psalm 99. The psalm contains three divisions, and each division concludes with an exclamation of God’s holiness. Verses 1-3 de- scribe God’s majestic distinction from all His creation and call everyone to praise Him. Verses 4-5 proclaim the amazing truth that this awesome and holy God nonetheless involves Himself in His people’s lives. Verses 6-9 look to Israel’s past and present. They remind God’s people of His past demonstrations of His holiness and call them to present to Him lifestyles of reverent worship. Psalm 99 not only declares the holiness of God, but it also describes His holiness in light of His righteous and just character. The psalm shows us how God demonstrates His holiness and invites us, His children, to share in that holiness. Introduction. Virtually every culture includes some religious element and something that is “god” to them. Some seem to make god in their own image, so that the god they worship is not too different from them- selves. Not so, the God of Scripture. He is holy—completely separate from His creation—yet He calls us to know Him and walk with Him We desperately need a God like that, one who is beyond us—and beyond our ability to explain or understand Him fully. That is the God proclaimed in Psalm 99. He is different, distinct, and unique. He is holy! The Point. God’s holiness calls me to be holy. The Bible Meets Life. All cultures have some religious element, but each culture makes God in its own im- age. That god tends to be like the people who worship it; nothing is unique about their god.[ Pascal said, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” We desperately need a God who is beyond us and beyond our ability to fully explain or understand Him. That God has revealed Himself. He is holy—completely separate from His creation—yet He calls us to know Him and walk with Him. To me, he is “Jehovah Nike,” the God who runs beside me but who can “just do it!” The Psalms. Pastor Ray Steadman states:1 . . . [T]he five books of psalms . . . parallel the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible. Those first five books were designed by God to give us the pattern of God's working in a human life, or in the whole of creation, or in the whole of world history, and God always follows the same pattern, whether with an individual or with a nation. He takes them through the same steps. . . 1 Steadman, Ray, “Psalms: Worship of an Honest Heart.” The Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/stedman_ray/Adv_Psa/Adv_Psa.cfm?a=577004 accessed 5/29/2014.
  2. 2. 2 | P a g e The psalms follow the same steps, reflecting the reactions of the human heart to this pattern of God's working in man's life. . . Psalms 90 through 106 make up the fourth book, paralleling the book of Numbers---the wilderness book---which sets forth the experience of human failure. Throughout this book, you will find victory alternating with devastating defeat. Just as in our experience, God steps in and delivers the Israelites in the desert---working mighty miracles and ministering to their needs, feeding them with bread from heaven, opening the rock for them so that water would flow---and then, in the next chapter, Israel murmurs and complains and falls into defeat. This pattern is pictured in the fourth book of psalms.2] The Setting. The holiness and sovereignty of God is the theme of Psalm 99, which can be divided into three divisions. Each division concludes with the exclamation of God’s holiness. Psalm 99 not only declares God’s holiness, but it describes His holiness in light of His righteous and just character. The psalm shows us how God demonstrates His holiness. This psalm is one of the enthronement psalms that celebrate God as our King. See Pss. 93–100. It affirms God’s rule over the earth as a sovereign rules over his domain. Psalm 99:1-3 1 The LORD reigns! Let the peoples tremble. He is enthroned above the cherubim. Let the earth quake. 2 Yahweh is great in Zion; He is exalted above all the peoples. 3 Let them praise Your great and awe-inspiring name. He is holy. KEY WORDS: Cherubim (v. 1)—Cherubim are angelic creatures who serve God. Two golden images of cher- ubim sat atop the ark in the most holy place of the temple. Holy (vv. 3,5,9)—The term refers to someone or something set apart from life’s common aspects. God is set above creation and is perfect in every way. [It goes without saying how vastly superior God is to all other things, including us – including ME. He is sovereign over all things and all people. Note, He is sovereign OVER all things, not a PART of all things, neither are things nor people a PART of Him – that’s the definition of Pantheism.] Psalm 99 is one of several psalms known as enthronement psalms because of the opening words, the LORD reigns. The word order is emphatic in Hebrew, placing the covenant name for God, Yahweh or the LORD, ahead of the verb rather than behind as usual. 2 Editor’s comments.
  3. 3. 3 | P a g e As a result of God’s reign, the psalmist said, Let the peoples tremble. A proper understanding of di- vine sovereignty results in people acknowledging His superiority. Reverential fear, the meaning of tremble in this verse, is the legitimate response of created beings to the overwhelming majesty of their Creator. God is separate from and above all creation. Both personal arrogance and national haughtiness are deemed in- appropriate since the LORD reigns. God decreed that craftsmen make two cherubim to oversee the ark in the most holy place (Ex. 25:18- 22). These golden images represented angelic servants of God in heaven. God’s people understood the Lord was in the most holy place enthroned above the cherubim. The command to let the earth quake refers to a metaphorical yet nonetheless real attitude of awe and respect for the one true God. The psalmist next spoke of God’s greatness. He is great in Zion, the land of God’s people, particularly Je- rusalem. Once again the covenant name, Yahweh, comes first in Hebrew for emphasis. Lest anyone get the notion Zion is the only purview of God’s greatness, the psalmist added, He is exalted above all the peoples. The form of the verb exalted emphasizes the on-going act of “being exalted.” Thus at no time in history is any people above the Lord. The psalmist called for earth’s peoples to praise God’s great and awe-inspiring name. Notice the transi- tion from the third person references about the Lord in 99:1-2, to the second person direct address in 99:3a, Your great and awe-inspiring name. This shift from speaking about God to talking with Him seems to indicate the psalmist himself was caught up in the awe inspired by God’s name. The phrase awe-inspiring renders a single Hebrew verb meaning “to be feared.” Once again, this “fear” or awe refers to reverential respect appropriate toward the Creator of all life. In just two and a half verses the psalmist established the Lord reigns, He is enthroned above the cheru- bim, He is great in Zion, He is exalted above all peoples, and His name is great and awe-inspiring. Attendant to God’s qualities, all peoples of earth are to tremble, quake, and praise. These words are the vocabulary of worship. Precisely because the Lord reigns, people should revere and praise Him. Yet, the psalmist had not fully made his most important point. In a terse three words, He is holy (two words in Hebrew), he proclaimed the heart of his message. This Lord who reigns and who has the awe- inspiring name is holy. The Hebrew term means to be set apart or to be sanctified. What about us? Do our lives exhibit a healthy reverence for God? Do we praise His awe-inspiring name? Do we acknowledge that He is holy, perfect in every way? As beings whom He created, we owe God our very lives. In gratitude, we should acknowledge His rule, accept His greatness, and declare our own reverence for His holiness.
  4. 4. 4 | P a g e An important way we can express our reverence for Him is to live holy lives, reflecting His character. Thus, holiness is never a matter of conforming to a list of do’s and don’ts, but rather exuding a desire to be like our Creator in every way possible. To live holy lives is to grow more like God. [It goes without saying how vastly superior God is to all other things, including us – including ME. He is sovereign over all things and all people. Note, He is sovereign OVER all things, not a PART of all things; neither are things nor people a PART of Him – that’s the definition of Pantheism. David Hocking in The Blue Letter Bible’s article entitled “God’s Holiness,”3 quotes an old writer then adds: ‘Every man on the face of the earth who ever entered politics has tried to be over someone or something.’ Now, there is no way anyone on the face of this planet could possibly be higher than God Almighty. He is holy. He is separate from anyone who has ever tried to be over anyone. He is, in His exalted position, absolutely separate from everyone. [Psalm 99:1, 2,] refers to His [God’s] exalted position. In Isaiah 57:15 it says, ‘For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, Whose name is Holy.’ He is absolutely separate because of His exalted position. He is high and lofty. He is above all the peoples, above everyone and everything. That is how separate He is. It also refers to the places where He dwells. . . When you talk of God's holiness, His separateness, it is interesting that wherever He dwells, God al- ways adds the adjective ‘holy’ to it. . . .Psalm 99:9, "His holy hill". . . 2 Chronicles 30:27 . . . heaven… Psalm 5:7 . . . His holy temple. . . Ephesians 2:21 . . . the church . . . become a holy temple . . . Isaiah 56:7 . . . a holy mountain . . . Isaiah 66:20 . . . among His people. . . Revelation 22:19 . . . holy city. . . . [W]herever God dwells, it becomes a unique and separated place. And God puts with it an ad- jective and says, "That is holy ground." Since God is wholly holy and cannot tolerate the unholy, He expects followers of Christ, His people, to live holy lives with a healthy reverence for Him in all we do. ]4 Psalm 99:4-5 4 The mighty King loves justice. You have established fairness; You have administered justice and righteousness in Jacob. 3 http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/hocking_david/attributes/attributes06.cfm?a=577001 accessed 5/2/2014. 4 Editor’s comments.
  5. 5. 5 | P a g e 5 Exalt the LORD our God; bow in worship at His footstool. He is holy. The psalmist held a high view of God as the eternal Ruler of the universe. As such, he addressed Him as the mighty King. He emphasized the Lord as the great King over all the earth. Many ancient peo- ples viewed their gods as being sovereign over a particular land or people group. Pagan nations would have thought of Yahweh as the Hebrews’ god, but nothing more. The psalmist, however, recognized Yah- weh as the supreme King over all other kings, lands, and peoples. So he proclaimed Yahweh as the mighty King. One key attribute of this mighty King is that He loves justice. The term justice basically refers to the equitable treatment of all people. The idea of God being a mighty King who loves justice portrays His concern for how people treat one another on a daily basis, even in their pursuit of the mundane things of life. God is holy, but He is also involved in our everyday affairs. Along with the view of God as the mighty King who loves justice is the belief that He Himself estab- lished fairness. You have established fairness is emphatic in Hebrew. The term fairness renders a Hebrew word meaning uprightness or straightness. The psalmist was acknowledging and praising God for estab- lishing fairness in human society. God expects people to treat one another in an equitable manner, just as they would have others treat them. The psalmist continued his praise of Yahweh: You have administered justice and righteousness. Again the word order in Hebrew is emphatic, emphasizing both justice and righteousness as results of divine activity and emphasizing His action of administering these in human society. The particular society in view was the covenant community represented by the name Jacob. The He- brew people, known also as Israelites or just Israel, descended from Abraham’s grandson Jacob. Thus, Ja- cob became an alternative way of referring to the covenant community. The psalmist was a member of the covenant community and was grateful for God’s establishing justice and righteousness whereby all covenant community members could live in peace with one another. Righteousness is an important term. The Hebrew refers to conformity to God’s standards or norms. The mighty King who loves justice set down covenant stipulations, known as the Ten Commandments, for right living. Any person who deliberately adapted his or her life to those stipulations was considered righteous. Conformity to God’s covenant stipulations would result in the establishment of justice. As people adapted their lives to the Law of God, they would honor their parents; value human life, marriage, personal property, and integrity; and abstain from coveting what others owned. These qualities of human justice are the result of keeping Commandments five through ten.
  6. 6. 6 | P a g e However, the impetus for adapting ones’ life to those commands is found in keeping the first four Commandments, which focus on a right relationship with God. Only through a right relationship with God could any man or woman maintain a right relationship with other people. The psalmist redirected his attention from God to the members of the covenant community, com- manding them to exalt the LORD our God. The verb rendered exalt means to raise up or to extol someone as being superior to oneself. Exalting God involved praising, worshiping, adoring, and appreciating Him. By combining the covenant name Yahweh or the LORD, with the phrase our God, the psalmist called at- tention to both the Establisher and Provider of the covenant community. Yahweh makes daily life man- ageable by providing moral, social, and spiritual direction. The psalmist instructed the covenant community to bow in worship at His footstool. The Hebrew verb literally means to bow oneself down to the ground. To get on one’s knees and to put one’s face to the ground was considered the posture of greatest humility. Such a humble posture was appropriate in the presence of the mighty King. The idea of bowing at His footstool reinforced the idea of humility, but also emphasized He is on the throne. Just as he had done earlier when speaking of the Lord’s awe-inspiring name (99:3), so once again the psalmist reminded worshipers that He is holy. That Yahweh is holy is the psalmist’s most important point, forming the very heart of his message. Only because Yahweh is holy does He choose to reign and to es- tablish justice and righteousness. Because He is holy, the covenant community can survive in a hostile world, all the while bearing witness to the Lord’s holiness. [Note the Hebrew parallel poetry here, “exalt the LORD our God; bow in worship at His footstool.” Now, look at the second sentence of verse 4: “You have established fairness; You have administered justice and righteousness in Jacob.” Look at the bulleted paragraphs in the Book: • Fairness (p. 14), • Justice (p. 15), • Righteousness (p. 16). Q: What does “fairness” mean? Our author states: “Along with the view of God as the mighty King who loves justice, is the belief that He Himself established fairness. The phrase, ‘You have established fairness’ is emphatic in the Hebrew.” That means it is clear and unmistakable. In the Hebrew language, emphatic consonants as used here are even vocalized in a special way that show to the listener the emphasis, sort of like shouting it.
  7. 7. 7 | P a g e He continues, “The term fairness renders a Hebrew word meaning uprightness or straightness. The psalmist was acknowledging and praising God for establishing fairness in human society. God expects people to treat one another in an equitable manner, just as they would have others treat them.” Q: Since God expects people to treat one another in an equitable manner, just as they would have others treat them, what does “equal” mean? If you go to the ER with a bad cold, are being treated equally if someone comes in behind you with a heart attack? Is it “fair” to pass over you to get to the more ill per- son? BTW, this is what we call “triage.” Q: What, then does “justice” mean? Of justice, the author says: One key attribute of this mighty King is that He loves justice. The term, justice basically refers to the equitable treatment of all people. The idea of God being a mighty King who loves justice portrays His concern for how people treat one another on a daily basis, even in their pursuit of the mundane things of life. God is holy, but He is also involved in our everyday affairs. [Thus my characterization as “Jehovah Nike!”]5 Q: Notice the reference to “Jacob” in verse 4. What does the Psalmist mean here? This as a reference to the covenant community of God’s people. The author urges teachers to “stress that today’s covenant com- munity is the church.” The author doesn’t tell us this, but this statement borders on broaching a thorny theological issue. Supersessionism, fulfillment theology, and replacement theology which are terms used in biblical inter- pretation for the belief that the Christian Church supersedes or replaces the children of Israel in God's plan, and that the New Covenant nullifies the biblical promises made to the children of Israel, including the Abrahamic Covenant, the Land Covenant, and the Davidic Covenant. The gist of the theory is that, for various reasons put forth by some very renowned theologians such as Origen, Luther, Justin Martyr, and Karl Barth, the Christian Church is now the successor to the Covenants in the place and stead of Israel. Supercessionism is sometimes a term used disparagingly of Christian denominations holding to Covenant theology as opposed to dispensational theology. However, however – these are matters for such theologians and not us in Sunday School. 5 Editor’s comment.
  8. 8. 8 | P a g e Another reason for exalting God, as we are told to do in v. 5 is that He “inhabits” the praises of Israel {or His people.} As we have noted in vv.1-3 concerning the place where God lives, whenever His name is exalted, IE, praise is rendered to God, therein he lives. ]6 Psalm 99:6-9 6 Moses and Aaron were among His priests; Samuel also was among those calling on His name. They called to Yahweh and He answered them. 7 He spoke to them in a pillar of cloud; they kept His decrees and the statutes He gave them. 8 LORD our God, You answered them. You were a forgiving God to them, an avenger of their sinful actions. 9 Exalt the LORD our God; bow in worship at His holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy. KEY WORDS: Pillar of cloud (v. 7)—God sometimes made His presence known to His people as they jour- neyed with a pillar of cloud. Here He spoke from such a cloud. History provided an excellent source for the psalmist to illustrate Yahweh’s greatness and how His holiness formed the foundation of the covenant community. He identified Moses and Aaron as being among God’s priests. The Lord had instructed Moses to tell the people to be holy because He was holy (Lev. 19:1-2). Aaron and his sons were to lead the covenant community to obtain holiness through the sacrificial system established by God. They also were to help the community maintain holiness through right living as prescribed by the Lord in matters of dietary laws, sexual relationships, and religious rituals. In short, priests represented the holy God to sinful people and sinful people to the holy God. The psalmist then noted Samuel also was among those calling on His name. Calling on God’s name re- fers specifically to worship or to prayer, and generally to awareness of God’s leadership in one’s life. Sam- uel lived in daily communication with the Lord. All three of these faithful stalwarts of the past, Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, called to Yahweh. All three men shared the experience that He answered them. The psalmist intended to show the vertical relationship involved in the lives of Israel’s leadership that had resulted in the life and health of the covenant community. In Hebrew, calling and called translate a participle stressing on-going action. Thus Moses’, Aaron’s, and Samuel’s lives were characterized by fre- quent calling to Yahweh, rather than rare moments of prayer done in haste or just in times of duress. The reminder that He answered them served to encourage covenant community members to call on His name expecting an answer. The prophets reminded God’s people that He listened to their prayers and had an answer ready (Isa. 65:24). 6 Editor’s comments.
  9. 9. 9 | P a g e Thus, prayer heightened the worshiper’s sense of God’s holiness and created a motive to make oneself holy as well. True worshipers of God want to become more like Him. Since He is holy, they want to be ho- ly also. God answered His people’s prayers in a variety of ways. As God’s people journeyed from Egypt toward the promised land, God made His presence known to them with a pillar of cloud. He also gave them a pil- lar of fire by night (Ex. 13:22). The pillar was God’s method of guiding His people as they traveled (Ex. 13:21; Num. 14:14; Neh. 9:12,19). The pillar was also a means of protecting God’s people from Pharaoh’s approaching army (Ex. 14:19). Additionally, the pillar was evident when God met with Moses in the tent of meeting, causing the people to respond in worship (33:9-10). The history of God’s people is a patchwork of obedience and disobedience. Many times they rebelled against Him. However, at other times they expressed deep love for the Lord by obeying His commands. When the psalmist stated, they kept His decrees and the statutes He gave them, he was reflecting on one of the times of national obedience. Interestingly, kept also can be translated as guard, indicating a spir- itual vigilance on the part of God’s people. Decrees renders a Hebrew word referring to God’s reminders, urgings, or warnings. The nearly synonymous term statutes refers to that which God has prescribed. The simple statement, He gave them, merely identifies the Lord as the Source of the instructions. The psalmist shifted focus from the people back to God, addressing Him as LORD our God. He then listed three aspects of God’s interactions with His people. First, He answered them, a restatement of 99:6. God took the initiative to reveal Himself Second, the psalmist acknowledged, You were a forgiving God to them, reflecting on a period of past sinfulness when God had forgiven His people. Forgiving renders a Hebrew verb meaning to lift up. When God forgives us, He lifts up the burden of sin off our conscience allowing us once again to breathe spirit- ually. The psalmist thirdly noted God was an avenger of their sinful actions. This statement served to dis- suade people from thinking God automatically forgave sins. Rather, sin has to be confessed. The sinner is to acknowledge his or her wrongdoing and repent from that course of thought or action. Only then does God forgive. The psalmist concluded his psalm by instructing the people once again to exalt the LORD our God. As he had done before (99:5), he called on them to bow in worship. One major difference in the two calls to bow in worship is that formerly he said at His footstool, whereas in this verse he said at His holy moun- tain. The covenant community thought of Mount Zion as God’s holy mountain, the temple mount in Jeru- salem (Ps. 2:6; Isa. 27:13; 56:7; Zech. 8:3).
  10. 10. 10 | P a g e The Hebrews also thought of the earth as God’s footstool (Isa. 66:1). David specifically referred to the temple he proposed to build as a “footstool for our God” (1 Chron. 28:2). Thus the calls to bow in worship at His footstool (Ps. 99:5) and to bow in worship at His holy mountain (99:9) are two ways of saying the same thing. The psalmist’s final words were the LORD our God is holy. He expanded his earlier expression He is ho- ly (99:3,5) to include the personal covenant name Yahweh or the LORD and the title our God, two ways of stressing the covenant relationship between Yahweh and His people, while at the same time emphasizing His holiness. [May I submit that most people don’t think much about God. Even among those who do, many are what I would term, “practical deists.” The Deists of the 17th and 18th Century believed in what they called the “Watchmaker God.” To them, sometime in the distant past, for whatever reason, God created the uni- verse, like a finely tuned watch, set it in motion and then stood aloof to watch it wind down. Or as I once said, they believed that “God created the universe then went out for a smoke.” To the Deist, while he may have great reverence and awe for this “Watchmaker God” his God is not a personal God. To hold this misses one of the greatest privileges of being a child of God – intimate contact with Him on a regular basis. In contradistinction to Deism, the examples of Moses, Aaron and Samuel – and the Psalmist, himself for that matter, show us that God desires to interact with His people. He is holy and awesome, but He also reaches out to us, desiring an intimate relationship. The greatest picture of God’s taking the initiative to reach out to humanity is when God the Son came to earth as Jesus of Nazareth to save from sin all that place their faith in Him.]7 LIVE IT OUT. God’s holiness is not an abstract concept that has no practical impact on how we live. We are called to be holy because God is holy (1 Pet. 1:16), so consider some practical ways to live out a life of holiness. . . As we live for the Lord, we become holy like Him. And then, like a precious work of art, we become one of God’s beautiful masterpieces (Eph. 2:10). 7 Editor’s Comments.
  11. 11. 11 | P a g e DIGGING DEEPER: Cherubim—The term cherubim in Psalm 99:1 denotes winged angelic beings that appear in the Old Tes- tament as part of God’s heavenly host. Perhaps their most famous use appears in Exodus 25:18-22, where golden representations of cherubim rested atop the ark of the covenant. The allusion to God in Psalm 99:1 as “enthroned above the cherubim” probably evokes this imagery. Larger ornamental cheru- bim later hung over the ark in the holy of holies in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:23-28). The prophet Eze- kiel saw them in his vision as they accompanied the appearance of the Lord in all His glory (Ezek. 10:1- 22). The psalmist described God as enthroned above the cherubim, another reference to His utter holiness. The NASB follows the HCSB translation; other translations render the expression “enthroned upon the cherubim” (ESV) or “sitteth between the cherubim” (KJV; similarly, NIV). The word translated “en- throned” literally means “sitting” or “dwelling.” The expression “enthroned above the cherubim” occurs seven times in the Old Testament (1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chron. 13:6; Isa. 37:16; Pss. 80:2; 99:1) and always denotes God in His position of power and authority over the ark of the covenant, where He had promised to dwell (Ex. 25:22). Cherubim: Cherubim (v. 1) are heavenly beings charged with serving the Lord, such as guarding sacred places (Gen. 3:24). Cherubim are a significant part of the activity described in Ezekiel 10. They also were a major artistic mo- tif in the tabernacle and carvings of cherubim were featured in the temple edifice. Images of cherubim were sewn into the temple tapestries. The King James Version renders cherubim in the form of an Eng- lish plural with an “s” at the end. Actually, the Hebrew word cherubim is already a plural of cherub. The final “im” indicates the plural. The Lord is the king who sitteth between the cherubim. The ark of the covenant, housed in the holy of holies in the tabernacle and also in the temple, was a central symbol of the presence of the Lord. The top of the container was adorned with cherubim at both ends. The area between the cherubim, sometimes called the mercy seat, was considered to be the place of God’s earthly manifestation, His throne as it were; hence the ESV rendering “He sits enthroned upon the cherubim.” However, the phrase also can allude to the scene of heaven where the Lord “is enthroned above the cherubim” (NASB, HCSB), meaning that He is seated high above the heavenly beings who serve Him. Holy—The term holy (Ps. 99:3,5,9) has as its root concept the idea of separateness or distinctness. God is totally distinct, totally separate, from all He has created. Other nations worship their idols of silver and gold (Ps. 115:4-8), but God created everything that is. The seraph’s threefold cry “holy, holy, holy” in Isaiah’s temple vision (Isa. 6:3) stressed God’s utter uniqueness. Indeed, the expression “Holy One of Is- rael” is Isaiah’s favorite designation for the Lord (Isa. 1:4; 12:6; 60:9). The Bible calls God’s children to be holy as well, just as God their Father is holy (Lev. 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).
  12. 12. 12 | P a g e Holy: The biblical concept of being holy (vv. 3,5,9) is exclusively an attribute of the Lord God. Holy (qadash) at its root means “to be sanctified,” “to be set apart,” or “separated.” Places, things, or people become or are declared to be holy because they have been set aside by Him and to Him. We associate holiness with purity. However, holy things—anything set apart to the Lord—take on the quality of purity because that is the character of God. Pillar of cloud—The psalmist’s reference to a pillar of cloud recalls the time of Israel’s wilderness journey after the people left Egypt. God guided them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. If the cloud did not move from over the tabernacle, the people remained in camp; only when it moved did they set out again (Ex. 40:34-38). The pillars of fire and cloud also sometimes denoted God’s presence for salvation (Ex. 14:19-20) or judgment (Num. 12:5-15). The pillar of cloud also appeared to Moses on various occasions (Ex. 33:7-11; Deut. 31:15). Cloudy pillar: The cloudy pillar (v. 7) most likely is a reference to the “pillar of a cloud” and the “pillar of fire” that symbolized the presence of the Lord in the midst of Israel following the Exodus (Ex. 13:21-22). Even after the construction of the tabernacle, the Lord led the people on the way toward the Promised Land through a cloud by day and a fire by night (40:38). CLOUD, PILLAR OF: The means by which God led Israel through the wilderness with His presence and still hid Himself so they could not see His face. By day Israel saw a pillar of cloud, while by night they saw a pillar of fire (Ex. 13:21-22). The night before the Exodus, the cloud gave light to Israel but darkness to the Egyptians so they could not come near one another (Ex. 14:19-20). God came down to speak to Israel in the cloud during crisis times (Num. 11:25; 12:5). Coming to the tabernacle in the cloud, God spoke to Moses face to face (Ex. 33:11; Num. 14:14). Paul used the protection of the cloud theme to warn Christians that living under God’s presence calls for holy living (1 Cor. 10:1-14). CHERUB, CHERUBIM (khehr' uh bihm): Class of winged angels. The Hebrew cherub (plural, cherubim), is of uncertain derivation. In the Old Testament it is the name of a class of winged angels who functioned primarily as guards (Gen. 3:24) or attendants (Ezek. 10:3-22). The only New Testament reference to cherubim is in a description of the furnishings of the holy of holies (Heb. 9:5). Texts descriptive of the appearance and activities of cherubim reflect two contexts. One is in the visions of the presence of God attended by living creatures (cherubim and seraphim, Isa. 6:2-6; Ezek. 1:4- 28; 10:3-22). The other is Temple worship and the representations of cherubim which were a part of its furnishings (Ex. 25:18-22; 1 Kings 6:23-35; 2 Chron. 3:7-14). The most impressive of the Temple cherubim were the large sculptures (probably winged quadrupeds) in the holy of holies. If these were arranged as was common in the ancient Near East, the two cherubim would together form a throne. Their legs would be the legs of the throne, their backs the arm rests, and their wings the back of the throne. Consistent with the idea of a cherub throne are the texts which envi- sion God dwelling between, enthroned upon, or riding upon the cherubim (1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; 22:11; 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chron. 13:6; 28:18; Ps. 18:10; 80:1; 99:1; Isa. 37:16).
  13. 13. 13 | P a g e Even Ezekiel’s vision depicts the glory of God resting upon or between the cherubim as something of a living throne. Fully understanding Ezekiel’s description of these creatures, however, is quite difficult. For one thing, his description of them is not complete enough to be unambiguous. Also, Ezekiel’s cherubim bear as great a similarity to Isaiah’s seraphim as they do to the Temple cherubim. However, a comparison of Ezekiel 1 and 10 with the Temple representations and with Isaiah’s vision does clearly indicate that the function of these heavenly, living creatures was that of attending the presence of the living God. ZION (Zi' uhn): The transliteration of the Hebrew and Greek words that originally referred to the forti- fied hill of pre-Israelite Jerusalem between the Kedron and Tyropean valleys. Scholars disagree as to the root meaning of the term. Some authorities have suggested that the word was related to the Hebrew word that meant “dry place” or “parched ground.” Others relate the word to an Arabic term that is in- terpreted as “hillcrest,” or “mountainous ridge.” The name “Zion” was mentioned first in the account of David’s conquest of Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:6-10; 1 Chron. 11:4-9). The phrase “stronghold of Zion” may have referred to only the fortified section of the city. Jerusalem was the name of the city state as a whole and included numerous villages and houses lo- cated outside of the fortified area of the city itself. After David captured Zion, he resided there and changed its name to the “city of David.” Zion was used by biblical writers in a variety of ways. Many of the psalmists used the term to refer to the Temple built by Solomon (2:6; 48:2; 84:7; 132:13). In Isaiah 1:27, the idea of “Zion” included the whole nation. Zion also stood for the capital of Judah (Amos 6:1). The most common usage of Zion was to refer to the city of God in the new age (Isa. 1:27; 28:16; 33:5). Zion was understood, also, to refer to the heavenly Jerusalem (Isa. 60:14; Heb. 12:22; Rev. 14:1), the place where the Messiah would appear at the end of time. The glorification of the messianic community will take place on the holy mountain of “Zion.” Jacob was Abraham’s grandson (Gen. 25:19-26). Later in Jacob’s life, God gave him a new name—Israel (32:28). Here, the name Jacob stands for God’s people in general. Under the Old Covenant, God desired His people to practice justice and righteousness. Under the New Covenant, He still desires these virtues of His people. God’s Word is our guide for life and provides us all we need for life and godliness (Ps. 119:105; 2 Pet. 1:3). ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING: Holy A Word Study By Francis X Kimmitt, vice president for academic services and dean of the School of Theology and Minis- try at Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
  14. 14. 14 | P a g e IN LEVITICUS 11:44-45, the Lord commands His people to “Be holy because I am holy” (HCSB). To the modern ear, those words are unsettling. How can we be like the Creator and Sustainer of the universe? What is God calling us to be when He tells us to “be holy”? “Holy” is one of the most common Old Testament words. The Hebrew verb form is qadash and occurs 171 times.1 The noun form, derived from the verb, is qodesh; it appears 470 times in the Hebrew Old Testament.2 The other common derivative of the verb form is the adjective qadosh, occurring 116 times.3 The basic meaning of the verb is to belong to the realm of the sacred, as opposed to belonging to what is common or profane.4 The noun and adjectival forms refer to and describe, respectively, people, places, and things which God deems sacred. The biblical concept of “holiness” has its foundation in God Himself. He is the source of the sacred; He imparts holiness to people, places, and objects.5 When God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3), He informed Moses that the ground on which he stood was holy because of God’s presence. The Lord set the ark of the covenant apart as holy because the Holy One Himself was present there (1 Sam. 6:19-20). The temple, in particular the holy of holies, was sacred because Yahweh placed His name there forever (2 Chron. 7:16) and because it housed the ark. Exodus 31:12-17 explains the Lord made the Sabbath sacred for His people: “It is a sign forever between Me and the Israelites, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed” (v. 17, HCSB). This establishment helps us understand the concept of holy. The first six days of the week are common or profane. They are days for working and for carrying out the normal activities. The seventh day, however, is set apart. No work of any kind is to be done. To empha- size the seriousness of this command, the Lord specified that any Israelite who performed any kind of work on the Sabbath was to be put to death (v. 15). That individual profaned or made common the Sab- bath by the very act of working. Because the Lord set apart the seventh day as sacred to Himself, a per- son who performed any act of work on the Sabbath not only disobeyed an explicit command from Him but denigrated God’s inherent nature. The Lord established the Sabbath as a day of rest from all labor and as a perpetual sign of the covenant relationship He made with His people (vv. 16-17). Since God Himself is holy in His essence, He therefore calls His people to be holy. Throughout the Books of Exodus through Deuteronomy, He provided the instructions for how to become holy and how to main- tain that holiness. The Lord was the basis of mankind’s call and ability to be holy. The presence of God will all believers enables them to live out their lives in a holy relationship with the One who created and saved them. This holy relationship calls for a response from those who confess Him as Lord: live pure and clean lives.6 Arguably the most cogent biblical reference to this call is Isaiah’s temple vision (Isa. 6). The prophet was in the Lord’s presence, in His holy temple. The seraphim were worshiping and serving the King on His throne. They continually called out to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth” (Isa. 6:3, HCSB). The heavenly beings’ praise caused Isaiah to understand that God alone is holy, probably leading to his most common title for God: “the Holy One of Jacob/Israel.” This
  15. 15. 15 | P a g e passage teaches the believer that “what is holy is distinct from whatever does not pertain to deity.”7 The character of Israel’s God determined the meaning and understanding for Israel. God is holy; He is not like any other being on earth or in heaven. He is pure and good and completely without evil. Thus, He demands the same moral and ethical behavior from His people. When the Lord brought the Hebrews to Mount Sinai, He called them to be a “holy nation” to Himself (Ex. 19:6). How did Israel manifest itself as God’s holy nation and not profane Him? God gave all of the laws of the Pentateuch in order to show His people how to live holy lives and be sacred to Him. Centuries lat- er, the prophets called God’s people not to oppress those who were helpless (Jer. 34:16: Amos 2:6-7) and in so doing, not to profane God’s holy name. In the same manner, today we are called, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance. But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16, HCSB). We, too are called to be holy—and we can be holy. We can be set apart and behave ethically because of the presence of God with us and within us. We do not act in a manner that profanes and makes common our God and His relationship with His creation. We behave ethically in all activities, and we obey His commandments. FOOTSTOOLS as Biblical Imagery By Joel F. Drinkard, Jr., professor of Old Testament, Hebrew, and archaeology and the curator of the Jo- seph A. Callaway Archaeological Museum at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ken- tucky. FOOTSTOOLS ARE MENTIONED infrequently in the Bible. In the context of Peter’s Pentecost sermon, the reference to footstools is a quote from Psalm 110:1, “The Lord says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool’” (Acts 2:35).1 Earlier, in the Gospels, Jesus quoted the same verse from Psalm 110 in teaching concerning the resurrec- tion (Matt. 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42-43). The writer of Hebrews also quotes this verse (Heb. 1:13) and later alludes to it (10:13). Indeed, of the nine references to footstools in the New Testament, six are directly related to Psalm 110:1 Two other New Testament references to footstools draw from Isaiah 66:1. Stephen in his defense ser- mon quotes Isaiah 66:1 that heaven is the throne of God and earth His footstool (Acts 7:49-50). “Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool; what is the house which you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?’” (Isa. 66:1). Jesus also alluded to that passage from Isai- ah in the Sermon on the Mount, exhorting ones not to swear by heaven because it is God’s throne, nor by earth for it is God’s footstool (Matt. 5:34-35). Since the New Testament references are so closely related to the Old Testament, we will focus on the Old Testament use of footstools. Looking at the ancient Near Eastern context of footstools will help us better understand these allusions and images.
  16. 16. 16 | P a g e First, we must recognize that footstools are regularly associated with thrones and that footstool refer- ences are almost entirely in one of two contexts—that of kings or royalty, and that of deity. Kings and gods are the ones that have thrones and footstools. Further, only kings and gods are depicted as sit- ting—and regularly sitting on thrones. Everyone else stands, or bows prostrate before the king or god. Also kings and deities quite often have their feet on footstools. A partial explanation for these footstools may be that the thrones were so tall that the king’s feet did not touch the ground and the footstool pro- vided a comfortable footrest. The tall thrones would elevate the king, even if he was seated in compari- son to those standing in his presence. Another explanation may be the kings were to be “above” the common human; their feet were not to touch the ground. The iconography of the ancient Near East (ANE) is filled with examples of thrones and footstools. Several examples demonstrate that this iconography is common across the ANE over an extended period of time. From Egypt to the Amarna age (18th Dynasty, 14th century BC), we see King Tutankhamun seated on his golden throne with his feet resting on a footstool, and his wife Ankhsenamen standing in front of him and facing him. A Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BC) ivory carving from Megiddo depicts a Canaanite king sitting on a winged sphinx throne with his feet on a footstool.2 From Byblos we have the sarcopha- gus (likely from the 10th century) of King Ahiram. The sarcophagus image depicts the king sitting on a sphinx throne with his feet on a footstool.3 And from the mid-8th century BC Neo-Hittite site of Zinjirli- Samal, we have a relief stele of the king seated on his throne, his feet on a footstool, and a scribe stand- ing facing him.4 The Lachish reliefs (about 700 BC) show Assyria’s King Sennacherib at his encampment during the siege of Lachish. He was seated on his throne with his feet on a footstool, while captives from Lachish bow or kneel before him perhaps begging for their lives.5 In the ruins of the Throne Hall, the “Hall of 100 Columns,” at Persepolis, several reliefs depict the Persian king (often thought to be Darius, but more likely Artaxerxes I [465-424 BC] grandson of Darius, and son of Xerxes) seated on his throne, with his feet on a footstool.6 These reliefs are at the hall’s entrances. All these depictions show the king seated on his throne and his feet on a footstool. Second Chronicles 9:18 describes Solomon’s throne and footstool in much the same manner as other ANE representations of thrones and footstools. Along with the royal imagery of thrones, we find numerous the images of a god seated on a throne. The Hammurabi Stele (18th century BC ) has such a depiction. Here King Hammurabi stood in front of his god Shamash,7 who was seated on his throne with his feet on a footstool. He presented Hammurabi with a staff and ring, symbols of his power. From Ras Shamra (or “Ugarit”) we have the stele (13th century BC ) depicting a god, probably El, seated on his throne, with his feet on a footstool, receiving a libation offer- ing from a worshiper who was standing in front of the god.8 In a similar depiction, we see the Phoenician king Yehawmilk (5th century BC ) presenting an offering to his goddess, the Lady of Byblos.9 She was seated on a throne with her feet on a footstool. These depictions show the common ANE understanding of the god or goddess seated as a king or queen on a throne, in whose presence even the earthly king stood. The god’s feet were regularly resting on a footstool.
  17. 17. 17 | P a g e In biblical imagery, we find exactly the same understanding. While we have no iconographic depictions of God seated on His throne, we have a number of passages describing God in those terms. Within the temple’s holy of holies, the ark of the covenant had beside and above it cherubim, which correspond to ANE depictions of a sphinx throne. The phrase “the ark of the covenant of Yahweh of hosts, who sits en- throned upon or above the cherubim” (writer’s translation, see 1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; 1 Chron. 13:6) clearly associates the ark and the cherubim with God’s throne. The Old Testament describes the ark ei- ther as the empty throne above which God was invisibly seated or the footstool. Jeremiah 3:16-17 seems to understand the ark as the throne: And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says the Lord, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the Lord.” It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the Lord, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the Lord in Jerusalem. In contrast, 1 Chronicles 28:2 relates the ark to a footstool: Then King David rose to his feet and said: “Hear me, my brethren and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and for the footstool of our God; and I made preparations for building.” Psalm 132:7 also speaks of the ark as God’s footstool. Additionally, Psalm 99:1,5 speaks of God sitting (invisibly) enthroned above the cherubim and calls on the hearers to worship at His footstool, a refer- ence to the visible ark. An Egyptian statue depicts Pharaoh Horemheb (4th century BC ) seated at the right hand of the god Ho- rus, both seated on a single throne, and both with their feet on a raised footstool or platform.10 The ico- nography shows the pharaoh sitting at the right hand of his deity Horus, exactly the description of Psalm 110 and several other passages. One particular Egyptian iconography depicts pharaoh’s enemies being under his feet. The young phar- aoh was sitting on his nurse’s lap on a throne; his enemies were a footstool or were under the footstool, and he held the ropes binding them in his hand.11 This depiction matches the same seating arrangement described in Psalm 110 and 1 Kings 5:3, except with pharaoh rather than God. Clearly the biblical depic- tion of thrones and footstools is closely related to that of other ANE cultures. Thrones and footstools belong to the realm of kings and the one true God. They depict the power and authority of the king, but even more, the power and authority of God. The Isaiah passage moves the image to the cosmic level; all heaven is God’s throne and the earth is God’s footstool (Isa. 66:1).
  18. 18. 18 | P a g e AARON’S ROLE in the EXODUS By Leon Hyatt, pastor of Pineville Grace Baptist Church, Pineville, Louisiana. WHEN GOD CALLED MOSES to go to Egypt and demand that Pharaoh let the Israelites go free, one of Moses’ fears was that he was not a good speaker. The Lord told Moses He was going to send his older brother Aaron to help him speak (Ex. 4:14-15). God kept His promise, and a long but sometimes trou- bled relationship began between the two brothers. A Willing Assistant. While Moses was on his way to Egypt, the Lord spoke to Aaron and told him to go into the wilderness to meet Moses. Aaron gladly accepted the assignment and left immediately. When they met, Moses told Aaron everything the Lord had told him; and Aaron accepted every word (vv. 27- 31). Back in Egypt, Moses and Aaron assembled Israel’s elders. Aaron explained what God had said and performed the signs as God had directed (vv. 27-30). Aaron and Moses next appeared before Pharaoh. Although the Lord told Moses to use the staff as a sign that He was going to work a miracle or send a plague, Aaron was the one who actually held up the staff (4:1-5; 7:9,10,19). Afterward, Aaron eagerly stood alongside Moses in almost everything Moses did until Israel arrived at Sinai. A Weak Leader. At Sinai, Israel agreed to enter into a covenant relationship with the Lord. Then, Moses went back up on the mountain to receive further instructions from God, leaving Aaron and Hur in charge (24:12-14). Moses remained on the mountain for 40 days and nights, and the people grew tired of wait- ing. They demanded that Aaron make an idol, a physical representation of the God who had brought them out of Egypt. This action was a blasphemous, syncretistic mixing of Yahwistic with Egyptian reli- gion. Aaron weakly complied. He then stood by while the people celebrated with pagan rites around the golden calf (32:1-6). When Moses returned, Aaron offered the feeble excuse that he had thrown the people’s gold in the fire and the calf had popped out (vv. 23-24). Moses’ urgent intercession with God brought him the revelation that rebels against God’s covenant can be restored to God through His grace (vv. 31-35; 34:5-10). In tragic contrast, Aaron’s weakness as a leader had encouraged Israel’s rebellion.1 A Committed Worship Leader. In spite of Aaron’s failure, God told Moses to proceed with plans to con- struct the tabernacle, where Aaron and his sons were to serve as Israel’s first priests (40:1-16). After the tabernacle was erected, God gave Moses a series of instructions concerning the offerings the Israelites were to offer on the tabernacle altar. Then He told Moses to anoint Aaron and his sons to be priests. Part of the ceremony required Aaron and his sons to remain at the entrance to the tent portion of the tabernacle for seven days, probably for prayer and study in preparation for their holy service (Lev. 8—9). On the eighth day, they officiated over their first offerings at the altar. Sadly, tragedy struck immediate- ly. Aaron’s two sons, Nadab and Abihu, evidently in mistaken enthusiasm over their new authority, put coals and incense on their censers and began to swing them in an unauthorized ceremony before the tabernacle.2 Fire burst forth from the tabernacle and killed them.
  19. 19. 19 | P a g e Moses commanded that their bodies be taken outside the camp for burial; however, he instructed Aaron and Aaron’s two youngest sons to remain at the tabernacle. The ceremonies for the offerings over which they were officiating were not yet finished, and they were not to desert those responsibilities even for the funeral of Nadab and Abihu. They stayed at the tabernacle as instructed and remained true to their duties.3 While the burial was taking place, the Lord spoke directly to Aaron and gave him instructions about his service as a priest (10:8-11). His speaking directly to Aaron was evidence that Aaron had passed the test of faithfulness and God still intended to use him in the important position of high priest.4 An Able Interpreter of the Law. After Nadab and Abihu were buried, Moses encouraged Aaron to com- plete the ceremonies of the grain offering and the presentation offering. Moses discovered though that the ceremonies of the sin offering had been completed already.5 He became upset because they had not been completed exactly according to the instructions God had given. The meat of a sin offering for the congregation was supposed to be eaten by the priests in the courtyard of the tabernacle, to show they had been restored to God’s service. Instead, Aaron’s two younger sons had incinerated the meat (vv. 12- 18). Aaron replied to Moses, “Since these things have happened to me, if I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been acceptable in the Lord’s sight?” (v. 10b, HCSB.) He meant his heart would not have been in the eating, and the Lord would not have been pleased if he ate the offering in the wrong spirit. So, he had had his sons substitute a ceremony that was authorized for a sin offering offered by a priest (4:3,11-12). Moses accepted Aaron’s explanation, and neither Aaron nor his sons were punished. Aaron’s interpretation revealed two great thrust about the altar offerings—first, the Lord would accept a small deviation from the normal ceremony if the priest has a legitimate reason. Second, in the Lord’s offerings, the condition of the heart was more important than the performance of the ceremony.6 Aa- ron’s interpretation was a brilliant warning against dead legalism. A Jealous Offender. After the Israelites left Sinai, the people fell into the habit of complaining and criticiz- ing Moses. Sadly, Moses’ sister Miriam and brother Aaron joined in the criticism (Num. 12),7 The specif- ic occasion for their criticism was Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman. However, Moses’ marriage was only the occasion. Their real criticism was because only Moses gave instructions about God to everyone. They were jealous, because God spoke to them as well. The Lord called the three before the tabernacle and declared that He spoke to Moses in a distinctly different was. He spoke to Miriam and Aaron as prophets through visions and dreams, but he spoke to Moses “mouth to mouth,” directly and openly. God was angry that they questioned the superiority of what He spoke to Moses. God did speak to them, but what He spoke to Moses was greater. They were messages that would ultimately become a part of the living truth of the Bible.8 The Lord was describing the difference between the way He revealed Him- self to Miriam and Aaron and the way He revealed Himself to Moses—one of those special few who re- ceived His perfect inerrant Word. What a difference that distinction means for us today! Aaron learned from that experience, because later a Levite named Korah raised a similar complaint against Moses. This time Aaron stood with Moses, while the earth opened up under the feet of Korah and his followers and they went alive into Sheol (16:1-33).9
  20. 20. 20 | P a g e An Honored Hero. Near the end of their wilderness journeys, the Israelites came to Mount Hor. The Lord told Moses and Aaron it was time of Aaron to die (20:22-29). Moses, Aaron, and Aaron’s oldest living son Eleazar went to the top of the mountain. Moses took the high priest’s clothes off of Aaron and placed them on Eleazar, signifying that he was assuming Aaron’s responsibilities. Aaron died on the mountain at the age of 123 (33:37-39). Afterwards, the Israelites mourned Aaron’s death for 30 days, honoring the life and ministry of a great servant of God.10 Aaron’s life was over. The exodus and Aaron’s priestly influence, however, would continue SAMUEL, A Biography By Harold R. Mosley, professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, New Orleans Baptist Theological Semi- nary, New Orleans, Louisiana. I REMEMBER THE SCENE from my childhood. I was a young boy in a Sunday School class at a rural Bap- tist church listening as my teacher told the story of God speaking to the child Samuel. I imagined the thrill Samuel must have felt as he realized God was calling his name. The young child Samuel answered God’s call, and he grew into adulthood to become one of Israel’s greatest leaders. The story challenged my heart, just as it has challenged the hearts of countless others throughout the centuries. Samuel’s Heritage. The story of Samuel starts with his parents’ example of faithfulness and prayer. The narrative of 1 Samuel 1—2 introduces his parents. Samuel’s father, Elkanah, was a faithful worshiper of God. He fulfilled his obligations to God, as is evidenced in his pattern of faithful sacrifices before the Lord. Because the specific statement in the Hebrew text is an idiom, 1 Sam. 1:3 is translated somewhat differently in various translations.1 However, the statement’s intent is clear. Elkanah regularly went from his home to worship the Lord at Shiloh. Every Hebrew man was to appear before God three times a year during specific festivals (Deut. 16:16-17). Probably Elkanah sacrificed before God as part of his faithful attendance at these religious feasts. Samuel’s mother, Hannah, was also godly. The text first mentions her in the midst of the heartache of her inability to have children. Another wife of Elkanah,2 Peninnah, had children, and Peninnah regularly provoked Hannah be reminding Hannah of her lack of children. Some aspects of the story, however, seem to be implied by the way the narrative is told. The text introduces the wives as: “the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the second was Peninnah” (1 Sam. 1:2).3 This order in the introduction of the wives implies Hannah was the first wife. She also was the favorite wife, as the story relates in verse 5 that Elkanah loved Hannah. Elkanah may have married Peninnah for the same reason Abram married Hagar;4 that is, because his first wife was unable to bear children. Peninnah’s persistent attempts to provoke Hannah served to frustrate even more Hannah’s intense de- sire for children. Hannah broke into bitter weeping as her heart ached. She prayed to God for children.
  21. 21. 21 | P a g e On one occasion, Hannah prayed at Shiloh, where the priest Eli observed her. Her lips moved, but no words came forth. Eli, assuming such action could only come from a drunk person, rebuked her. How- ever, after hearing Hannah’s story, Eli assured her that God had heard her prayer. Hannah returned home with a renewed hope and faith in God. Hannah’s prayer to God included two vows. First, she vowed that should God give her a son, she would give him to the Lord all his life. This was more than an empty promise. Indeed, after she had weaned Samuel, she presented him at Shiloh, where he remained with Eli. The second vow was that “no razor shall come upon his head” (v. 11). This vow was in reference to the Nazirite vow. The Nazirite Vow. Numbers 6:1-21 records the specific nature of the Nazirite vow. This vow could be taken by either a man or woman (v. 2) and could be for a determined length of time (vv. 6,13) or for a lifetime.5 The Hebrew word from which the name “Nazirite” derives denotes the idea of separation. The particular significance of the vow was that the Nazirite was separated or dedicated to God. A Nazirite made a commitment of separation from the ordinary life. Instead, the Nazirite led a life of consecrated service and obedience to God. The vow actually consisted of three separate elements. The best known of the elements dealt with the prohibition of cutting the hair during the time of the separation. However, two other aspects were part of being a Nazirite. The Nazirite could not partake of any part of the fruit of the vine. Specific prohibi- tions included not only wine, strong drink, and vinegar derived from grapes, but also grape juice, grapes, raisins, or even the skin and seeds of grapes (Num. 6:3-4). The third aspect of the Nazirite vow prohibit- ed contact with a dead body. Even if the contact with a dead body was unintentional, special steps were needed to restore the Nazirite to the state of separation (vv. 9-12). Hannah’s vow that her son would be a Nazirite from birth points to her intention to dedicate him to God for all his life. Hannah’s prayer was answered when God blessed her with a son she named Samuel. Samuel’s Early Years. Scripture does not record Samuel’s exact age when Hannah brought him to Shiloh. The story seems to indicate Hannah brought him immediately after he was weaned. Although an age is not mentioned, the indication is that he was indeed still quite young (1 Sam. 1:24). Eli served as Samuel’s mentor during the early years of the boy’s life. Apparently, Eli in many was honor- able on a personal level. However, one glaring weakness caused his ministry to be ineffective: Eli hon- ored his sons more than he honored God (2:29). Because of Eli’s refusal to discipline his sons for their evil behavior, God said He would bring judgment on Eli’s family and would raise up a “faithful priest” in Eli’s stead (2:30-35). Samuel grew to fill that role for the nation. Under Eli, the word from God to Israel had become infrequent.6 The problem was not that God had be- come distant. The problem was that Israel as a whole, and Eli and his family specifically as leaders within the nation, had become sinful. Thus, God ceased to speak through Eli. Samuel’s experience, however, was different. Although Samuel was still a young man, God began to speak to Israel through Samuel (3:19—4:1).
  22. 22. 22 | P a g e The statement, “the Lord was with him,” indicates God blessed Samuel’s life and his work and ministry as a prophet. Similar statements refer to God using Joseph (Gen. 39:2,21,23). God used Samuel because of his faithfulness and obedience. That none of Samuel’s words fell “toward the ground” gives evidence both of the Lord’s faithfully using Samuel and of Samuel’s faithfulness to God (1 Sam. 3:19). Because he faithfully delivered God’s words, Samuel’s reputation as a genuine prophet spread throughout “all Israel from Dan even to Beersheba” (v. 20, NASB). “For the first time since Moses, Israel had a national proph- et.”7 Samuel and the Monarchy. Samuel judged Israel for many years until he grew old. Unfortunately, Samu- el’s sons, like those of Eli, did not follow God (8:1-5). The people of Israel approached Samuel about es- tablishing a king over them. The three specific reasons for this request were: (1) that Israel might be “like all the nations”; (2) that the king might govern the nation; and (3) that the king would fight their battles—that is, he would be a military leader (v. 20). The request displeased Samuel. However, God assured Samuel that the request was not a rejection of Samuel. Rather, it was a rejection of God’s king- ship over the nation and an embracing of idolatrous practices (vv. 7-8). God granted Israel’s request by commanding Samuel to anoint Saul. From all outward appearances, Saul showed promise. He was tall, handsome, and had a striking physical presence. However, the most im- portant characteristics needed for Israel’s king—faithfulness and obedience to God—were lacking. Saul’s repeated refusals to obey God caused the Lord to cease using Saul.8 Because of this disobedience, the Lord sought a man after His own heart (13:14). God then sent Samuel to the house of Jesse, where he was to anoint Israel’s second king. Jesse’s elder sons came before Samuel, but God had not chosen any of them. To the surprise of all involved, the youngest son was God’s choice. The theme of God choosing David echoes the problem associated with Saul. Rather than looking on the outward appearance, God looks at the heart (16:7). Anointing David as king became the single most important act of Samuel’s ministry. David went on to become the standard by which later kings were measured. All the subsequent kings who obeyed God were said to be “like Da- vid.”9 Samuel’s Last Days. As Samuel came to the end of his ministry, he gave a farewell address to the nation (1 Sam. 12). He recounted God’s gracious deeds of deliverance and provision throughout the years. He also admonished the nation concerning the blessings of obeying God and the disasters of turning from God. As proof of God’s power and His displeasure over Israel’s sinfulness, specifically the sin of request- ing a king to rule over them in God’s stead, Samuel called upon God to send thunder and rain during the wheat harvest (v. 17). The impact of this event was indeed a “great thing” (v. 16). The wheat harvest lasted from late May into early June. This was a time when the rains in Israel had already ceased for the summer months. Rain in Israel occurs normally from mid-October through mid-April.10 During the inter- vening months, no rain falls at all. The rare event of thunder and rain during the time of wheat harvest reinforced Samuel’s warning concerning sin. This event also illustrated Samuel’s usefulness and power as God’s servant to Israel.
  23. 23. 23 | P a g e Scripture gives us no details about Samuel’s death. When he died, though, “all Israel had lamented him and buried him in Ramah, his own city” (28:3, NASB). The last event in Samuel’s ministry came after his death (1 Sam. 28). Saul was facing what was likely the most serious battle of his kingship—a battle against the Philistines. God had ceased to answer Saul be- cause of Saul’s disobedience. In a frantic effort to gain some word from God, Saul sought the advice of a medium he had earlier outlawed, the “witch of Endor.” Saul asked the witch to bring Samuel from the dead.11 When Samuel appeared, apparently to the great surprise of the witch, the message to Saul was not one of assurance. The message was the same one Samuel had earlier announced to the king: Saul’s disobedience had caused God to take the kingdom from him. Saul would die in the battle with the Philis- tines, and David would become king. Indeed, Samuel’s prophecy came true. A Model of Faithfulness. Samuel undoubtedly was a man of great energy and ability. Those traits, how- ever, were not what made him a great leader. Rather, Samuel’s faithfulness to God was the key to his usefulness. The model of faithfulness patterned by Samuel’s parents had been followed by their son. The choice Samuel made to follow God as a child changed not only the course of his own life, it changed the course of the history of the nation. God used Samuel as the key figure in the transition from the period of the judges to the era of monarchy in Israel. Although Samuel recognized Israel’s failure in requesting a king, he was obedient to God in anointing Israel’s first two kings. Samuel became the greatest leader for Israel since Moses. Samuel’s faithfulness to God continues to make him a model for all who aspire to be used by God for service.