All posts by ashleymcarmichael

Authentic :: Sarai

In January I picked a word I want to apply to my life throughout the course of the next year. Sort of like a nerdy version of a resolution, but with a whole lot of prayer and supplication that the Holy Spirit will reveal a focus area for my role in God’s plan. This year the word is transform. 

What a great word, right? Transformation sounds really hardcore and meaningful and like you are going to turn the world upside down and rock it. And yes, there is a lot of that…but transformation also requires a lot of change and, let’s be honest, it doesn’t happen overnight, so patience…yeah. A whole lot of patience. 

You know what else? Transform isn’t something you do on your own. It is something that is done to you. If you know me (or have read my blog at all) you’ll know that I am a control addict. I keep giving it up only to take it back again, so the word transform was super exciting…until I realized that I have ZERO control over it. Seriously, zero. 

Photo by Julie North on Unsplash

Just another lesson in being super sure you are ready for what it is you are praying for, because when you ask God to transform your heart, mind, and spirit. Well, fasten your seat belt because it can be quite an awesome ride. 

I’ve never identified with Sarai more than I have this year, though she’s always been kind of my kindred spirit. Not only did God change her name, he transformed her into His princess. The Princess Diaries showed us that this is no easy task, but the cool thing about God is that he can transform anyone into His princess, even if the task seems impossible. 

Taking Control

Sarai was a daddy’s girl. 

She was a girl who had everything. A loving husband. A great place to live. Wealth (13:1). Beauty (12:11). What she didn’t have? Children. And because she didn’t have children she BELIEVED she didn’t have honor. And then, little by little she felt God taking everything she ever knew…away.

In Genesis 12:1-3 and Genesis 15:1-5 God makes a promise to Abram. He speaks with him, comforts him, and shows him the future. As Abram’s wife (and sister…well, half sister Genesis 20:12), Sarai has a share in this blessing as well. After all, it’s unlikely that Abram will become the father of many nations without a woman. Just saying. 

There’s a catch though, chapter 12 verse tells us that  Abram was 75 when he first received this prophecy, making Sari 65, and even for Biblical era, that is still pretty old to be a father/mother many times over. Frustrated, Abram continually asks God about this promise and God continues to reassure him that there is no mistake. My promises endure forever. Regardless in chapter 15 verse 6 Abram continues to believe despite the years that continue to pass him by. 

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

And that’s where Sarai steps in. She believes in the promise, but there is an awful lot of stress and pressure that accompany this given that Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children (chapter 16: 1). 

In Genesis 16: 1-4 we see that Sarai is practical. At this point, most scholars agree that she is well over seventy years old, past child-bearing age, and most likely people would have viewed her as cursed by God. I wouldn’t be surprised if people have told her that continually. Have you ever seen those memes about the way people ask mothers inappropriate questions? Well, it’s not just mothers! Women who are married without kids always get asked why or what’s wrong, or even worse, don’t you want kids? People are curious, sure, but these careless words bite deep into a woman’s sensitive soul. I’m sure society hasn’t changed that much over a few melinia. People will always think they have a right to know the intimated details of your relationships and family. 

But, in most ancient cultures Sarai’s inability to conceive would have even been grounds for divorce. So, what does she do? What many women would in her situation—she tries to fix it herself. 

Girl, I feel you. This is exactly why we are kindred spirits. I’m a fixer–if there is a problem I have an overwhelming desire to fix it myself. Unfortunately, that subtracts God from the equation and, well, things never end well.

Yet, I note Abram’s response to Sarai’s plans. In many ways this is a throwback to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:6). It may have been Eve/Sarai’s idea—but that’s not how God intends for relationships to work in his paradise.

Sarai gets shamed a lot for her actions in Genesis 16:5-6, but I think we need to look at Hagar too. There’s a lot of female rivalry going on here.

If Hagar begins to despise her mistress after she finds out she is pregnant, then there is a clearly a power struggle in this house. Hagar’s pregnancy “proves” that the barrenness is Sarai’s “fault”, right? Well, sure that would be right if we believe we are at “fault” for God’s perfect timing…yikes. 

So, Hagar’s ego is fed, and she might even be walking around with her nose up in the air because she believes she is the one who must be intended for the promises God made to Abram…yikes. 

On the flip side, Sarai does not handle the situation well; she created an unhealthy home by complicating her relationships, but she could have made so many different decisions and the outcome would have shifted in a completely different direction. Let’s not even consider the first mistake, but after Hagar “despises” her, she could accept the responsibility and welcome Hagar into the family…but that’s complicated too. So all around it’s just a hot mess. 

And let’s not forget that Abram is not blameless in this either. As the patriarch, he should be the one making the decisions, especially since he is in such close communion with God. I don’t recall him pausing to ask for God’s guidance as Sarai shoves Hagar into his arms. And I certainly don’t see him stepping up and taking responsibility for the chaos in his home. In fact, he washes his hands of the matter, figuratively turning back to the football game and letting the women figure out who the primary cook in the kitchen is. 

And so, Sarai does what makes sense. She strikes back at Hagar with such harshness that her maidservant runs away…we could follow Hagar’s story, but that’s for another post. Hagar eventually returns and bears a son to Abram when he is 86 years old–over a decade after the promise is first made. 

Letting God be GOD

And then another decade goes by, and when Abram is 99-100 years old, God gives him a new name–but more importantly God outbreathes his spirit into Abram and creates Abraham…in other words, God transforms him. It took 20 years, but God fulfilled the promise in his own timing. True transformations don’t happen overnight, and I think we see that Abram was not ready for God’s promise, but Abraham is.

And so is Sarai. In Genesis 17:15-17Sarai is reborn as Sarah.

This is not done lightly! Reborn, Sarah is now ready for the promises God made. Even more importantly, Abraham is ready to see Sarah as the vessel for God’s promise and not the problem. Though she is still skeptical and cynical, God has prepared her in His timing for the next step. The motif of laughter here is evident. Abraham laughs, exhausted. Sarah laughs, mocking. They both laugh in joy and disbelief. God really does fulfill his promises. Just when you are ready to give up, He shows up.

Just when you are ready to give up, He shows up.

Photo by Ye Fung Tchen on Unsplash

Waiting on God’s Timing

Sarai had a hard time waiting on God’s timing. I can relate to that on a deeply spiritual level. When it seems like I should be able to fix it, I don’t always understand why God wants me to wait on Him, but let’s be honest. I’m not God, so there is definitely always a reason for waiting on his timing. One of my favorite verses in seasons of waiting is:

For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.

Habakkuk 2:3 

Waiting is hard. But the end result is always worth it, and looking back, like Sarah, we often laugh to see just how much God transformed us before we were ready to walk straight into his promise. 

Authentic :: Abigail

One of my favorite books is An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott. If you haven’t read it, you should probably do so. Other than being fabulous, it offers snippets of wisdom from beginning to end. The first time I read it, in high school, I held on to many of these truths because at heart I am and always will be an old-fashioned girl. So, let me share one of those little truth nuggets here for a moment…

Young men often laugh at the sensible girls whom they secretly respect, and affect to admire the silly ones whom they secretly despise, because earnestness, intelligence, and womanly dignity are not the fashion. 

Louisa May Alcott

Intelligence, dignity, and earnestness in women are underrated and have been since ancient times. An Old-Fashioned Girl was first written in 1869, but this resonated with teenage me–a nerdy young girl who tried not to care that her desire to learn anything and everything ostracized her from the crowd she had been accepted into as a child. You know, before fashion became central to acceptance. If we’re being honest, intelligence, dignity, and earnestness have never been in fashion for women. At least not all at the same time. There was even a time when intelligence in women was even considered undignified.

But here’s the thing: despite being “out of fashion”, God has always gifted women with intelligence, clothed them in dignity, and encouraged an earnestness of spirit that would seek after His heart alone. It’s this broken world that has corrupted that perception of women being little more than ditzy arm-candy for a more intelligent man. That’s simply a lie; women were designed to be helpers to be a support, to be a part of the greater plan, not to be coddled and patted on the head and desired for physical attributes alone. 

So the fact that the first description we have of Abigail is “intelligent” should be significant! 

Intelligence

1 Samuel 25: 3 states Abigail “…was an intelligent and beautiful woman…” However, this doesn’t necessarily mean she had a high IQ (she may have, I don’t know). There are many types of intelligence, and in her story we see her display many of them. The fact that the author of this story points out that she is intelligent is a detail we don’t want to forget. 

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Unfortunately, this intelligent woman ended up with a donkey of a man. In 1 Samuel 25: 3b, Nabal is described as surly, which can mean threatening, irritable, menacing, and arrogant among other things. So likely, at the very least, he was not nice to Abigail and possibly even abusive. We know that he didn’t respect others and that typically is seen in the home first. So how does an intelligent woman end up with such a man? Sadly, we don’t know but given the cultural context, it’s possible she had little choice. Marriages in Ancient times had little if anything to do with the westernized concept of love, but they were designed for unity between powerful families, political gain, or procreation. 

Still, there are plenty of intelligent women who end up in toxic relationships. Why? Often it’s because we step outside of God’s wisdom and start operating in the world’s wisdom. 

Fortunately, even in bad circumstances that we may or may not have created for ourselves, we can still be reassured that God is in control. When we seek His presence and His will, He will never let us down–not that our circumstances will always make human sense, but there is always a purpose to everything God has a hand in.

Earnestness

At the start of this narrative, Samuel has died and Saul is still on the throne of Israel. David’s army isn’t sanctioned by the throne, and having been named the future King, Saul is unhappy with David’s very existence. Conflict arises, and David becomes a great leader—of a guerilla army.  Any time an army rises up against the throne, word will spread. Quickly. This God-anointed man is fighting for his life, but fighting against an established monarchy. And people are talking about it. Before becoming a beloved king, David was an infamous rebel.  Which brings us to our story.

In 1 Samuel 25:4-9, David is aware that as a perceived rebel people may not be quick to help him and his army. He sends a group of 10 men ahead of his army, instructing them to show honor and respect to Nabal as they make a request: a favor for a favor. We may be a bunch of rebels, David wishes to communicate, but we treated your shepherds and sheep with respect and dignity. We’d like for you to return the courtesy. Anything you could spare would be appreciated.

Now, it wouldn’t have been easy for just anyone to fulfill this request–David has brought an army of men with him, after all. We’re talking like 600 men. But he’s polite and requests provisions rather than just taking them from this wealthy man (which, if we’re being honest, David could have done). 

Nabal’s response in I Samuel 25: 10-11 clearly defines his character. Sarcasm drips from his voice as he insults David’s motivation and crusade. Nabal uses a series of questions in his response, but he knows who David his, and he likely knows that God has anointed him. The king, after all, is out for his head, and we’ve all seen Robin Hood enough to know that word spreads fast when you’re in the king’s cross-hairs. 

Taunting a man who is camping outside your door with 600 fighting me is pretty dumb. Oh, Nabal. However, in I Samuel 25:12-17, David is acting pretty rashly too. A classic case of men thinking a little too much with their emotions and not enough with their brains (and people give women a hard time for this flaw–but let’s be honest–men struggle with this just as much!). The phrase ‘put them on the table and measure’ appropriately explains this deadly testosterone explosion about to happen.



Photo by Daniel Fazio on Unsplash

Enter Abigail, the intelligent woman who sees the situation for what it is. Her reputation is known among her servants, who waste no time in giving her the down-low. They know who to trust, and it isn’t the donkey. 1 Samuel 25:18-31 chronicles Abigail stepping up and acting with intelligence, dignity, and earnestness. She acts swiftly and purposefully—and maybe a little recklessly. She acts quickly to save the lives of everyone in her home–including her donkey of a husband. 

But it was a little reckless, and while that word has some powerful negative connotations, in this case, she simply didn’t care about what might happen to her as long as she did her best to save the people under her authority. Because she did have authority in her home; if she didn’t the servants never would have come to her in the first place. When we consider this compared to her husband who also “lost no time” and to David who acts rashly and regrets it later, we can see the contrast between acting swiftly under God’s wisdom vs. the world’s wisdom. 

Abigail knows she’s the smart one in her relationship, but she still acts with honor and humility. She approaches David and 600 soldiers with dignity, immediately showing them respect by bowing before them…alone. My heart constricts with how this could have gone horribly, horribly wrong. But Abigail walked in God’s wisdom, and she acted swiftly without thinking about herself and God is quick to honor that. Sometimes we don’t see how he honors it in this life, but in Abigail’s case we get a glimpse.

Dignity

David did not have to listen to Abigail let alone offer her and her husband protection and peace. However,  Abigail’s speech–words empowered by God–reminding David under whose authority he is meant to operate. Humbled, he lowers his sword, takes a step back, and a deep breath, honoring both God and Abigail’s wisdom in 1 Samuel 25:32-35.

Contrast that to how Nabal responds–by getting drunk and gluttonously eating at a feast while an army starves on his doorstep. No wonder “his heart failed him and he became like stone” (1 Samuel 25: 27)–he had little heart to begin with!

Abigail is free from her terrible marriage in the end when Nabal pays for his heartlessness. And the story ends with a happily ever after…but…the text says Abigail is asked to become David’s wife…then it also says the servant has come to ‘take her.’ (1 Samuel 25:39-40). Semantics are always important, but here especially it makes me wonder: just how much choice did Abigail have in this arrangement? Sure, she bows and accepts the proposal, but why?

The world will scoff at Godly intelligence, dignity, and earnestness, but secretly they envy the confidence it gives us to live life with hope and a future

Let’s back up to Abigail’s speech in verses 26-31; Abigail certainly admires David and sees him as the Lord’s anointed. She is following what she believes to be God’s path for wisdom, but the truth of it is this: Abigail has some choice in her marriage to David, but probably not a lot given the situation and his position. Abigail is a wealthy and free woman now that Nabal has died. David is a man of war with no home, only a God-ordained promise of a future with no timeline for fulfillment. Therefore, Abigail is trading a life of comfort for a life of conflict–but she is also gaining spiritual leadership in her relationship, which to a woman like Abigail, might just be worth all the sacrifices she’ll have to make along the way.

Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

As men and women of the 21st century, we have a lot of choices in the type of people we marry and Abigail’s story can clearly help us see the consequences of these choices. We should learn to make all life’s choices wisely, following God’s wisdom–not the world’s. The world will scoff at Godly intelligence, dignity, and earnestness, but secretly they envy the confidence it gives us to live life with hope and a future–holding on to every promise of God. 

Authentic :: Bathsheba

I have always been what you might call a “good girl”. I followed the rules, I obeyed my parents, I called home even when my parents didn’t say I had to, I told the truth, I got good grades, I wanted to be perfect.

Then I kind of lost my mind for a few years. I mean like really lost my mind, to the point where I was making unbelievably poor decisions. And you know why? Because of a boy.

Some boys had shown interest in me in high school, but it was usually a rebound thing after they had broken up with a friend of mine, so I shut it down pretty quickly. But this guy was different. He was the first boy who really seemed to like just…me. He was not Christian, but he was mine…for a little while…and I loved him in my own nieve little way. But because I thought I loved him I made a lot of questionable choices. Lines got blurred because he made me feel special–he made me feel seen. Suddenly, this good girl didn’t feel like she was such a good girl anymore.

After going through a long process of redemption, forgiveness, and acceptance I surrendered to the reality that even good girls need grace.

When I got back to the reality of my life, I felt like I had gotten away with something. It was just a season, right? I could walk right back into my good girl ways and everything would be fine. No one would ever know.

Wrong.

You see, those decisions changed me, and because I’d ‘gotten away’ with it once, I made other poor decisions–this time all on my own–but because of the same feelings. People who never talked to me before suddenly wanted to hang out with me. I flirted with lines and with guys I shouldn’t have been flirting with. I drank (now that I was 21) too much–granted most people would have still called me a ‘good girl’ because comparatively I was still making great grades and talking about Jesus, but there, just beneath the surface was the knowledge that it just wasn’t quite right. 

It wasn’t until MANY years later that I realized just how buried it was, and just how far I’d wandered. After going through a long process of redemption, forgiveness, and acceptance I surrendered to the reality that even good girls need grace.

Photo by Oliver Pacas on Unsplash

I feel a lot of sympathy for Bathsheba. She got a bad rap because of one decision and the repercussions of it caused an enormous amount of grief, but her story proves that no sin is too great for God’s forgiveness and his plans will always prevail no matter how badly we lose our minds.

We are Responsible for our Own Wisdom

2 Samuel 11: 1-5 introduces us to the setting, characters, and situation. A classic exposition for a narrative, we find that it is springtime, but more importantly, a time for war campaigns when Kings should be out in command of their army, but for some reason, David, the king of Isreal, decides to stay at home. You know what they say about idle hands and all that, well David is not where he is supposed to be which is simply a set up for the enemy to swoop in. He goes for a walk one night on the roof of his palace (presumably higher than the other domiciles around him) and spies a pretty hot woman bathing. Let’s talk a little culturally before we move on.

1) According to Deuteronomy 22:8 most domestic dwellings were built with a small wall around the roof to protect people from falling and to provide some privacy for the family. So choosing to bathe on the roof during a warm spring night would not have been quite as scandalous as it sounds. It’s entirely possible that Bathsheeba had no idea anyone could see her, let alone the king who, by the way, shouldn’t have even been in the city. Now, do I think it was a wise decision? Eh, probably not, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be a feminine trap or trick. 

2) According to Leviticus 15:19, a woman was ceremonially unclean for 7 days during her menstrual cycle. At the end of this time, she must wash t and then 7 days later offer a sacrifice on the 8th day to become ceremonially clean. The parenthetical in verse 4 helps to set this context, and also explains the timeline–given that Bathsheba became pregnant after this encounter. 

These cultural notes simply add a little context to the story and help me to understand that not everything is quite as it seems. Bathing outside on one’s roof does not show the greatest wisdom, but knowing the possible purpose and the cultural architecture certainly helps me have a little more grace for Bathsheba’s decision making. Still, as women, we must make wise choices because, unfortunately, our femininity can make us vulnerable, and when we make unwise choices it paves the way to situations we simply can’t get out of easily. That doesn’t make these things our fault, exactly, but it does remind us that our choices do matter and it only takes one bad choice to change our lives forever. 

It only takes one bad choice to change our lives forever.

Both parties are clearly at fault here. Bathsheba came from a religious family. She followed the law, even to the point of monthly cleansing after her cycle. By all circumstances, and appearances she was a good girl. Unfortunately, she was not entirely innocent in the exchange. The Bible doesn’t hide rape: Dinah, Tamar, women taken as spoils of war. Granted, David may have used his position of power to manipulate and maybe even seduce this married woman especially when you read  2 Samuel 12: 1-10 and see that Nathan is depicting David as the man who took his neighbor’s lamb and cooked it for a meal. While Biblical scholars can’t quite agree on how they view Bathsheba, either as an adulterous temptress, luring David into sin or an innocent victim, I tend to land in the middle.

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

When I place myself in Bathsheba’s position and realize just how difficult it must have been to stand before the king and say ‘no’. Especially since we know David is hot and a little like a rockstar, she did have some choice in the matter. Consider Abigail who straight up told David he was acting the fool and should remember who set him in charge; David wasn’t above reproach by a woman. She did have a choice.

The Snowball Effect

Oh David, my heart breaks when I realize you are just as human as the rest of us–especially when I read the heartbreaking result of the snowball effect in 2 Samuel 11: 6-27. David doesn’t immediately admit his sin, he tries to cover it up. His plan first backfires because Uriah is a good and honorable man, who knows he should be with the army. Instead of returning to his own place in the army, David sends Uriah off to his death. Murder by position.  Problem solved. No one has to know

Wrong. 

David, the man after God’s own heart, was just as susceptible to the corrupting effects of power and the enemy’s lies. This story simply provides more evidence that no human could ever do what Jesus did for the world. It had to be Jesus, because even the man after God’s own heart royally screws
up from time to time (no pun intended).

According to Leviticus 20:10 both David and Bathsheba should have been put to death for their affair. But 2 Samuel 12: 11-23 gives the punishment, and unfortunately as with most of our poor choices, the people around us end up suffering the consequences. Aside from the wheel he set in motion to create division and rebellion in his own home, Bathsheba also loses the baby. A precious innocent child died. On one level, I feel a little angry at the baby having to suffer the consequence, but on another level, I know that baby is safe in the arms of Jesus, so his fate was gracious. 

Photo by Bobby Rodriguezz on Unsplash

Embracing forgiveness

In  2 Samuel 12: 24 & 1 Chronicles 22: 5-13 & 28:5 & Matthew 1: 6 we see the beauty of grace and redemption, as David and Bathsheba will produce a son who will rebuild the temple literally and metaphorically becoming the man whom God will continue David’s line all the way to Jesus. David’s sin was grave, and although Bathsheba was, in my opinion, more victim than not she still participated in the sin of adultery. In spite of this, God’s forgiveness is full and complete.

The last we see of Bathsheba, she is fighting for her son’s promised place as the heir to David’s throne in 1 Kings 1: 11-31. She is no longer a victim—she is in control and fighting for what she believes is right: her son on the throne, which is what God spoke to David as His will. Her transformation is almost palatable. Sure, she made a mistake, but the same is true for her as it is for us: after a long process of redemption, forgiveness, and acceptance Bathsheba too surrendered to the reality that even good girls need grace.

Forgiving others for their wrongdoings is hard, forgiving ourselves is even harder. David and Bathsheba stepped into full forgiveness from God and each other. In the end, they had a total of 5 children together, including Solomon who would become the wisest man in the world; all thanks to God’s grace.

Authentic :: Jonathan

When I was little I had a BFF. Or so I thought. As it turned out, she wasn’t so much of a BFF as she was a BF whenever it was convenient. And it was convenient when we were 7 and lived close to one another and had similar interests. But she became a cheerleader as soon as middle school hit—she was popular and beautiful and had no interest in me and my nerdy self, unless it was to toss me up in the air in a cheerleading stunt and hope I didn’t break on the way down. It wasn’t a wise choice, but sometimes when we really want to fit in and be like the “cool kids”, we’ll do anything short of throwing ourselves into lava pits. Sometimes though, I think the lava pit would be more forgiving.

Life may be hard, but building our legacy doesn’t have to be.

As I grew older, I learned what a real BFF looked like. Friendship is a lot like love, it’s patient, kind, giving (see I Corinthians 13, really not just for marriage!)—it’s not selfish and it certainly doesn’t value popularity over people. The most important lesson I have learned about friendship is that friends help you grow. And best friends help you work to improve your flaws rather than simply judging your imperfections. Life is short and hard, and God didn’t intend for us to live it on our own. He means for us to live in relationship with others, which is why Jesus had circles of friends. I mean, look at the trinity itself—we are made in God’s image and God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit work in tandem and in communion. We are meant to do the same. To build something that will far outlast the length of our days here on earth. Life may be hard, but building our legacy doesn’t have to be.

Losing a Legacy

We remember Jonathan not as a great ruler but as the best friend of David, future King of Israel. Jonathan is friendship, and if we pay attention we can learn to be (and have) great friends too.

In 1 Samuel 14: 49 & 13:1-3 we see Jonathan establishing his legacy as a military leader under his father’s command. The text tells us Saul is a young man (between 30-40 years old) at the time of this raid, so Jonathan must be in his teens, probably no more than 15-18, yet he is already in charge of a military unit.

While it was customary for young men to be a part of the military during their teenage years, in order to be established as a respected leader, they would have to have been born with significant charismatic qualities. Even a prince had to prove himself worthy of such a role among a militant culture. 

Right after this raid, Saul makes a big boo-boo. He gets impatient when waiting for Samuel, a prophet of the Lord, and offers up the burnt sacrifice to the Lord, which sounds great. He’s super religious, right? Well, not exactly. According to God’s law, Saul, a Benjaminite, should have waited for a Levite, Samuel, to offer these burnt sacrifices up. Take a look at Leviticus 1 for more of the law regarding this. Beyond this break of protocol, Saul’s heart was not really in the right place. He offered the sacrifices, not because he believed the Lord was on their side and would provide. Not as a way to thank the Lord for his graciousness and favor. And not even as a way to appease the Lord. No, Saul saw his army scatter and realized they would see him as a weak leader. So he offered these sacrifices as a way to make himself look better and convince the men to continue to follow him

Photo by Andrii Podilnyk on Unsplash

1 Samuel 13:22-14:23 returns to Jonathan, who must have heard the proclamation of Samuel who has just informed Saul his kingdom will not last. As such, his father’s mistakes have cost Jonathan the throne. One day he knew the exact direction his life was headed, and the next moment everything is completely up in the air. 

But that doesn’t stop him. Jonathan has a job to do. They are in the midst of a war and they are severely outnumbered. The army is weaponless. and yet, he confidently asserts that the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel (vs. 12b). With only his brave armor bearer as back up (and this armor bearer actually follows him. Definitely seeing some of the charisma) he goes into the Philistine camp and kills some twenty men in an area of about half an acre (v. 14)–totally William Wallacing the whole lot of them. 

Saul sees the apparent chaos caused by God and led by his son, and first tries to hide behind the ark, then rallies the troops and goes into battle. Confidence shaken, we can already see how leadership is transferring out of his hand and into those who have more faith–his son and then later, David. 

Questioning Leadership

1 Samuel 14:24-43  reveals a lot of family dynamics and motivation. Saul pronounces a curse on whoever should break his, rather stupid, oath. Curses have real power and are directly connected to the actions of people. Well, okay, but what is a curse? According to GraceLife Church’s Grow Spirit Life, “A curse is a binding agreement [contract] in the spiritual realm which results from some form of disobedience to God’s word. The EFFECT or FRUIT of that agreement in our lives is called a CURSE. The curse will function like a barrier or limitation” (49). The results of Saul’s impulsive declarations are clear throughout the text, all the way to Jonathan and Saul’s deaths in 1 Samuel 31. Curses are real, but thanks to Jesus and God’s grace, they can be broken. Consider this:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. 

Galatians 3:13-14

There are 5 main sources of curse: Generational sin/curses, occult involvement, disobedience, unholy/symbolic things, spoken curses (if you are interested in learning more, I recommend participating in the Grow Spirit Life group led by Pastor Jimmy at GraceLife). So Saul’s pronunciation is no joke and shouldn’t be taken lightly, by anyone in his army. 

While Saul does not make a particularly wise decision in bounding his men to an oath not to eat all day before an important battle, Jonathan also makes a mistake. First, he does not communicate well with his father, who is also his commander. This lack of communication leads to his tasting the honey and bring the curse down upon himself and the men. Second, he questions his commander/father’s decisions in verse 29. Although I agree with Jonathan’s assertion and judgment of his father’s decisions, making the comment to his men–who are also under Saul’s authority–shows a lack of wisdom on Jonathan’s part. Where he should be helping to build unity among the men, his comments breed disunity and the discord can be poisonous should it start to spread.

Like most teenagers, Jonathan doesn’t always agree with the decisions his father makes. Interestingly, we don’t see him openly rebel against his father, but we do see him question his father’s choices. There is a time and a place for us to question people who have been placed in authority over our lives. It’s not always wrong to question a leader’s decisions, but we have to be careful in how we go about this process. Talking to others, gossiping and grumbling only brings discord whereas open and honest communication with our leaders can sometimes bring about change. God wants us to stand up for what is right and good, but he wants us to do it the right way, not our own way. 

Building a new Legacy

In 1 Samuel 15 Saul makes his biggest boo-boo of all. God gives him a command: Now go up, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them […] (vs.3). But Saul doesn’t listen; he kept the King alive, he kept some sheep and cattle, and he set up a monument to himself. And, he doesn’t even realize what a major jerkface he is being! 1 Samuel 15: 22-23 spells out the real problem: Saul thought he knew better (and was better) than God. His punishment: God rejects him as king, His spirit left him, and he would live a troubled life from here on out. Furthermore, his legacy would end and be given over to a new dynasty. Unfortunately, that is bad news for Jonathan too, because home slice just officially and irrevocably lost his claim to the throne.

As we continue to read, in 1 Samuel 18: 1-4 Saul’s been rejected by the Lord, which unfortunately means Jonathan has too.  There is some debate about exact ages of these men at this point, but after doing a lot of research, I pitch my tent in the theological camp that suggests David was about 18 when he met Jonathan, who was about 29.

Why? Because of the way Jonathan reacts to this young man who is taking the place he always thought would be his. He saw David slay Goliath, and perhaps it reminds him of a time when he believed he could do the same. Perhaps he remembers the time he pulled a Braveheart on the Philistines and trusted in the Lord. He sees himself in this young David, but even more, he does not see his father with whom he has been at odds since his own youth. He looks at this man anointed by God and became one in spirit with David and loved him as himself (vs. 1). It takes maturity and an awful lot of life experience and faith to allow someone to take your place and to do it with a gracious heart and a thankful spirit. 

Instead of being bitter and resentful, Jonathan chooses to embrace this shift and pour his heart into helping young David be the man God wants him to be. He chooses to listen to God and believe God knows what is best, even if it is a disappointment to himself. 

Unfortunately at this point, it becomes painfully obvious that Jonathan has to pick a side: his father or his friend. And we see that it wasn’t much of a choice. 1 Samuel 19-20 develops the relationship and shows that Jonathan chooses David–he chooses faith and God and life over the death and destruction that now seems to follow and plague his father. 

Jonathan is proof that even the strongest human needs good friends. In David’s case, Jonathan literally saved his life at least twice, but our friends can be lifesavers too if they are operating within the God-given purpose of community. Friends bring accountability and encouragement–both of which help us to function in the purpose God has set for us. In Genesis 2:18 God declared that it was not good for man to be alone, clearly, we are made for community. Yes, this pronunciation was made before God created his helper, Eve, but I think it is applicable to friendship too. Spouses offer one kind of encouragement and accountability, but friends offer another level. Even Jesus had friends. Same-gendered, multi-generational friends offer different kinds of support that help us seek and pursue God’s purpose for our lives. But it works both ways; to have good friends, you must be a good friend and once you find your people, you know. Friendship is active. So, get going. 

Authentic :: Michal

A few weeks ago I was flying back from Indiana with my sister. Our flight into Charlotte had engine trouble that delayed us more than 2 hours and probably should have been canceled given the rough landing and noises I noted during the flight—oh and the fact that as soon as we landed we were rushed by engineers with flashlights. Regardless, we made it safe, no worse for the wary waiting and stressful flight.

Photo by Randy Rooibaatjie on Unsplash

As we waited on the tarmac for our valet bags, an airport employee came out and started shouting directions. Sure, it was loud, so the first time she shouted I kind of understood that she simply wanted to be heard, then she kept yelling over and over directions that we couldn’t follow as we were still waiting on our bags. She got impatient and rude because we didn’t immediately do as she asked, because we were following previous instructions. In her haste to get us off the tarmac, she simply didn’t take note of the fact that our bags still had not been returned to us so we couldn’t go anywhere. As a result, I found myself annoyed at her tone. 

I don’t respond to yelling. 

Ever. 

Unfortunately, our next plane was to leave from that same gate, so I had to go up to this woman at the desk to inquire about our boarding passes for the next flight. I was tired but polite and asked quite civilly for instruction.
She rudely snapped at me and then…rolled. her. eyes.

Now, I’m usually very reasonable, but rolling her eyes at me crossed a line and I went back to my sister pretty much seething. Her attitude and response were unprofessional at best, disrespectful at worst. After ranting for a good few minutes, my sister started singing “Let it Go,” as she often does when I’m on a tear.

I assure you I didn’t actually punch my darling sister in the face, but I won’t say I wasn’t tempted.

In that moment I felt bitter resentment toward the attendant because I felt entitled to respect, and I felt justified in my anger. 

As I’m sure you are aware, none of these emotions did me any good. Exchanging them tit for tat with the employee only furthered the toxicity of that airport environment, which had been building for several days (unbeknownst to me there had been a digital snafoo while I was deeply immersed in studying God’s word at a conference for three days; said snafoo had plunged Charlotte deep into a chaotic whirlwind they were still recovering from, and more to the point, probably explained the woman’s rude behavior…though I still didn’t deserve her wrath, I had a bit more empathy for her once I learned of the situation).

At any rate, that’s what bitterness, resentment, and entitlement do. They escalate an already bad situation into something worse, and often toxic. And, that’s exactly where Michael, the famed King David’s first wife, ended up when her life didn’t go exactly how she thought it should. Don’t get me wrong, her story is filled with injustice. Unfortunately, life isn’t always fair, but God is just and if we trust him enough to let go and let Him control our lives and hearts—we avoid a lot of heartache and wasted energy. It is, after all, the only way to walk into blessings we never would have dreamed of before. 

A quick history lesson

Jacob, aka Isreal, the second born son of Isaac and Rebekah had 12 sons. These 12 sons are each representative tribes of Isreal, the chosen nation of God. The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, and after many years are freed by God through Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. The Israelites go through the desert, and send 12 spies into the land of Canaan. 2 spies Caleb and Joshua say GOD’S GOT THIS. However, 10 spies return to say the land is awesome but undefeatable–their lack of faith ends in their own deaths via a plague from God.  The Israelites whine, complain, and rebel–and are subsequently punished with 40 years of wandering in the desert before they can walk into their inheritance in the promised land. 40 years later, 2 spies are helped by Rahab the prostitute, who is saved by the spies and eventually marries Salmon. She births Boaz, who marries Ruth (both women are in the lineage of Christ BTW). For many years, Israel is ruled by Judges (like Deborah), then the nation decides it wants to be like everyone else and asks for a king instead. Saul is anointed the first king, by Samuel, son of Hannah, but he royally messes up and is punished with the end to his family line (1 Samuel 15:26-29). God proclaims that he will anoint a new king, and sends Samuel to the house of Jesse. 

Like a Disney Princess

After rejecting all of Jesse’s sons, as almost an afterthought, David is brought before Samuel. David is described as “ruddy, had beautiful eyes, and handsome.” In other words, he is one fine example of God’s creation. And all the bells go off in approval and he is anointed and the Spirit of Lord rushes upon him (1 Samuel 16:11-13).

David is brought into Saul’s service as a young man, still a teenager, when Saul is tormented by a harmful spirit after having lost the anointed Spirit of the Lord (1 Samuel 16: 14-18). David plays the harp for Saul, and becomes an accepted member of the household, living and working in the palace.

While the text doesn’t explicitly say that this is the first time Michal meets David, it’s a pretty safe intuitive leap. She is a princess and would spend at least some of her time in her father’s presence. Those living at court would have some interaction, especially if Michal, being the youngest daughter, wasn’t actually sequestered as a young lady yet (as was often the case in ancient societies). I imagine this little girl, old enough to have a real hormonal crush on this young handsome man, but not old enough for those feelings to seem a threat to her father. At least not yet. 

And any of us who have ever watched teenage drama unfold know just how quickly a crush can take over our logic and our lives. Suddenly we are unable to see any flaws in the other person as our emotions rewire our brain. 

And then, to top it off, this young man who she admired in her household (a musician no less), suddenly is the only man brave enough to fight the giant threatening the kingdom? Fight him, and kill him, no less? If that doesn’t sound like every girl’s Disney fairy tale come true, I don’t know what is (1 Samuel 17: 45-50). I mean, seriously, I’m half in love with David as I write this and he’s been dead for several millenniums

In 1 Samuel 18:17-19 we see the politics of David becoming an official part of the royal household begin to play out. At this point, Saul knows now that David has been anointed as his successor. He’s under no illusions that
God will allow his line to thrive, yet he is still trying to make it happen with a little bit of manipulation. Or a lot.

Earlier in the narrative, we are told that Saul is jealous of David, so why would he offer his older daughter up in marriage? Ever heard the old saying, keep your friends close and your enemies closer? Yeah, so has Saul. Maybe he’s where the saying originates. Either way, this deal reeks of manipulation. The Bride Price it set pretty high: fight the Philistines and stay alive. 

Let’s remember that Saul has already tried to kill David in a jealous rage once, and David is no dummy. Sure, he trusts that God has put Saul in this position of power and authority and as the anointed one he respects the position, but David probably knows that Saul’s plan is to get him killed. His humility is the only thing that saves him, from a rotten marriage and from the wrath of Saul. Going into the battle, David feels he must prove himself worthy of this princess, but even when he does, Saul double-crosses him and marries his daughter to someone else. 

Photo by Gui Avelar on Unsplash

Michal first shows up in 1 Samuel 18:20-25 and honestly she is in a terrible position: she loves the man her father hates. Not only that, she loves the man her father already tried to kill, offered up to her sister, and sent off to fight a deadly battle. And then to top everything off, ‘they’ go and tell her daddy all about her crush. Talk about a nightmare. So why would Saul go through this marriage ruse again? It didn’t work the first time, so what is he hoping to accomplish with the daughter who is in love with David? Realistically there is only one reason: he hopes that the royal marriage will indebt David to him, allowing him to manipulate and perhaps even eliminate him. So he sets the bride price even higher: kill and bring back proof (foreskins) of 100 warriors. Yikes. 

Then 1 Samuel 18:26-30 picks up the story, and suddenly David is “pleased to be the King’s son-in-law”. What it does not say is that he is in love with Michal.  He seems a little more motivated to win her as his bride than he was with Merab, but still there is no mention of any kind of feelings for Michal herself. That’s tough. A one-sided relationship is hard enough, but one fraught with political intrigue in the midst of a power struggle is enough to drive any woman to the nut house. Still, David is successful and Saul relents, maybe on one level he wants his daughter to be happy, but really I think he sees the inevitability and concedes to lose the battle, but feels like he’s still in the war with a spy planted so firmly in David’s own home. 

Not so Happily Ever After

When we next visit Michal in 1 Samuel 19:8-17, there is a lot going on that makes my heart heavy with sadness for Michal and her future. Saul tries a direct attack on David again, and when that fails, he sends some spies to David’s home where Michael is well-aware of her father’s plan. She warns David, and helps him escape, but in doing so reveals a whole lot about their marriage that may go unnoticed if we don’t take a closer look. 

This episode occurs in David’s home (vs. 11), and Michal uses an idol to disguise the fact that David has fled (v.13). This is a super clever ploy…except where did that idol come from? And why was it in the bedroom–an intimate place for a man and his wife. Nothing good can come from breaking the first commandment, and we see pretty clearly as Michal starts tossing out excuses that she may love David, but she doesn’t love the Lord the way her husband does. She’s fast and loose with the truth and almost as manipulative as her father.

Photo by Bronwyn on Unsplash

Let’s recall that Michal had choices. She could have told the truth, she could have gone with David, she could have created the diversion and then been honest with her father about the reason why–David had escaped, so if her motivation had been simply to save her husband there is no reason to lie to her father. Not that I really blame her; it’s human nature to save oneself especially from a downright crazy father, but still. She had choices, and perhaps the most important one of all: she had the choice to trust God and instead she turned to idols. It’s no wonder that her heart turned bitter, without faith in God, her life would have seemed unbearable. With her husband on the run, she is left to the mercy of her father, who marries her off to another man and sends her away–not for her own happiness, but for revenge on the man he’s sworn to hate.

And, like most revenge plots, the tactic backfires. While on the run, David doesn’t pine for his lost wife. No, he marries two other women and launches quite a campaign of outlaws, becoming a leader in the charismatic way he was destined to. 

It’s not until Samuel 3: 13-15 that Michal returns to the narrative, and boy has she been through the ringer. David has her hauled back to his home, away from the man she’d been married to for a long time, and she is bitter a and resentful, which comes out when she angrily watches David from her place in the palace. 

Moving the Ark is a BIG DEAL (2 Samuel 6:16-23)! It was the literal presence of the Lord as designated during the 40 years of wandering when God set his people apart. The first time David attempted to move this (in celebration at having finally defeated the Philistines), a man died because he tried to catch the ark when the oxen stumbled. But to a man like David, the Lord’s blessing is everything, so he perseveres. But Michal despises David’s dancing–but I think it’s more than that. She despises him because she sees him as the root of her life’s problems. She blames him for her unhappiness. Torn apart by bitterness and resentment at her circumstances, she hates David and the God he has always loved more than her. 

It’s how you handle it

No doubt Michal had a tough life. Used by her father and husbands in a political war, she seemingly had little control over her life’s course. She loved a man who didn’t return that affection. Then she was married to
another man who loved her, but from whom she was ripped away, and locked away—because David, being a man of God (I would be willing to bet) would never sleep with her again due to the second marriage having defiled her as his wife. It wasn’t fair, but she DID have a choice in how she dealt with it. Michal let bitterness and resentment build in her heart until she had no room for God or anyone else.

Photo by Tom Butler on Unsplash

The last thing we are told about Michal is that she was barren. This was the worst fate for ancient women, as it was a sign of being cursed by God according to the culture. But that simply wasn’t true. Sarah, Rebekah, Hannah, all these women experienced barrenness in their marriage, not because they were cursed, but because we live in a fallen world. The difference between these women and Michal is not a curse of God, but rather their hearts. Michal wasn’t punished by God with barrenness, she kept herself in a prison of bitterness which does not allow for redemption or healthy reproduction, in this case, literally. 

Romans 8:26-28: reads:

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[a] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[b] for those who are called according to his purpose. 

ESV

We don’t always control the circumstances in our life–be it family drama or airport headaches, but we do control how we react and to whom we look for comfort and validation. Michal looked to David, who she learned was just a man. David, for all his wonderful qualities, could not validate her in the way her heart wanted and when he failed her, Michal’s heart turned cold and bitter. God knows our hearts, he searches them and intercedes and then works things to good for those who love Him, and in that, we find our true hope.