This week’s story is about what is true and what is false, and how the ongoing spiritual conflict we live in causes the two to become confused.
Perhaps it would be true to say that most of the Bible is the story of that confusion and how people do — or don’t — recognise God’s true voice.
It’s a story of light and darkness. Darkness goes with confusion and lack of direction and also the sense of having motives hidden from God and from others. Light, on the other hand, is about openness and transparency, living with awareness of God and welcoming His guidance and right decisions in life.
But not everyone welcomes righteous transparency, and those walking in the light can easily be branded as ‘darkness’ by those who are blind themselves — the human trait of projection that has long been recognised by counsellors.
A well-loved and well-known Psalm of David sets the scene for us, reminding us that, while God leads us on good and peaceful paths, life’s twists and turns may put us in a dark and threatening place. But we can rely on God’s continuing presence with us. This is Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely Your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.Psalm 23 (NIV)
Our story proper starts in the Old Testament account of God calling the young teenage David for a role which will not come to Him for many years. Israel is ruled by King Saul, a temperamental, unpredictable man, insecure in his leadership and a threat to his subjects. In this part of the story, God is removing t he kingly anointing from Saul owing to His disobedience and lack of faith. God is about to confer it on someone else, who, He has said, He will reveal to the nation’s prophet and spiritual leader, Samuel — in the moment, rather than beforehand.
Jesse parades his older sons, all of whom look like prime candidates — if appearance is anything to go by. But it turns out that the youngest son is still out, looking after the sheep.
No one has thought it worth the prophet’s time to include him, but Samuel knows by now that God has not chosen any of the others. We take up the story from 1 Samuel 16:
The Lord said to Samuel, “…I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”
The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for Me the one I indicate.”
Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then made Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.”
So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
So he sent for him, and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on, the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David…1 Samuel 16:1-13
A false king continuing in a bad rule, a true king in the making who has to await his time… a succession of good candidates that turn out to be wrong, while one initially rejected becomes the one chosen who will prove it in a long and renowned rule of prosperity and peace. This is God’s way of choosing those who appear to be disqualified by the world’s rules.
No one proved this more than Jesus, God’s Son incarnate, whose background as an ordinary provincial artisan didn’t recommend Him as a rabbi, although His following clearly did.
And in this next scene, a man forced by his physical disability to beg, is viewed quite differently by Jesus as the subject of a word of knowledge — and a doctrinal controversy.
In first century Palestine, those who were poor, incapacitated or otherwise disadvantaged were assumed to be under God’s curse, with His blessing having been withdrawn as a result of sin. If not their own sin, then their parents’ or something in their ancestry.
Why, reasoned the judgmental Pharisee sect, should we love those who God clearly does not?
This harsh attitude was continually challenged by Jesus, who singled out those considered lost, or least, or last in line for favour. He taught and practised God’s mercy, emphasising all the more the working of God’s grace, through blessings that were clearly undeserved.
Now we join the scene with Jesus and His disciples outside the City of Jerusalem and near the recently-discovered pool by Hezekiah’s tunnel where a remarkable miracle of regenerative healing took place, and brought a storm of abuse on the man who received sight for the first time in his life. This is from John chapter 9:
As He went along, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of Him who sent Me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
After saying this, He spat on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
His neighbours, and those who had formerly seen him begging, asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
“How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
“Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said.
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided…
... Then they hurled insults at [the healed man] and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where He comes from.”
The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where He comes from, yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does His will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”
To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when He found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
“Who is He, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in Him.”
Jesus said, “You have now seen Him; in fact, He is the one speaking with you.”
Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshipped Him.
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see, and those who see, will become blind.”
Some Pharisees who were with Him heard Him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”John 9:1-16, 28-41
So we are seeing a man, who the Jews considered disqualified from God’s favour, receive the most amazing miraculous blessing, while those who thought they had the light and ‘first dibs’ for God’s favour reacted spitefully and moved to excommunicate him on a minor and contestable technicality.
The lesson for Jesus’ followers then, and for us now, is how to work out what is of God, and what is the ungodly control of unspiritual man. The two spiritual dimensions are constantly present, an ongoing spiritual battle that will not be resolved until Jesus comes again. But that is not to say that we should not engage with it.
God is always at work and looking to those who have come to know Him through Jesus to join Him in his work and mission, and prevail against the inevitable opposition.
Writing to Christians, a lot of them recent converts, in the major city of Ephesus, Paul teaches them that light and darkness do not mix. That was a problem in such a pagan culture, with temples to pagan gods and sellers of idols in every street. Knowing what is true, and what is false, and keeping them separate, is a challenge in our culture which is spiritually not as far different from that first century environment as many think. This, from Ephesians 5, is a lesson on being spiritually alert and vigilant.
…You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth — and find out what pleases the Lord.
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible — and everything that is illuminated, becomes a light.
This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”Ephesians 5:8-14
Knowing the difference between what is true to God, and of His choosing, against what may seem right to us, is a process of faith discernment enabled by the Holy Spirit. Samuel may not have used that term, but he certainly relied on the leading. Jesus did teach on the Holy Spirit, who would be known His spiritual presence after He had ascended. And the early church learned to live in the reality of who Jesus is, unseen but perceived as always present, and the leading and enabling of His Spirit.
We feel more comfortable with what is measurable, predictable, repeatable, doable and practicable — and also probable. We like to do things in our strength, not beyond it, to follow the evidence, and to score things objectively.
However, our new life in Jesus is about being able to sit loose to the reason of reasonableness, and be sensitive to the sense of the Spirit, or the momentary insight of revelation. It takes practice. And worldly ways, and systems, and even religions, can seem to offer more security.
Be different, Paul says, and avoid what is fruitless and godless, exposing it by the light of Christ that is in you.
It’s not a route to popularity, as the man with new eyes would tell us — but he did have new eyes! No doubt David knew some bullying from his older brothers, jealous of the attention shown to him in front of them — but he went on to preside over a long era of peace for his people. And, with some4 mistakes, to be remembered for his devotion to God and good choices.
God’s peace flows with God’s grace and God’s truth — and to experience it, we need the courage to pass on the world’s special offers, and to choose for Him — day in and day out.
Lord, in turning to You we become truth-seekers. Help us to look at the heart of a person, or situation, or tradition and to resist being led astray by appearances.
We ask for Your spiritual empowerment to live transparent lives, speaking for Jesus, walking in the revelation light You give us, and shedding Your light on the lives of others — for Jesus.
May God bless your discernment of true choices and your life as you walk with Him in His light.
• See also The Living Word Bible Study for March 19 with verse-by-verse commentary and short reflections on each of the main readings
Watch this week’s video What is False, What is True and How Do I Tell?