Saul was punished swiftly with termination of his kingdom over Israel when he violated a principle of separation of state and worship. The punishment conveys a promise of God’s intervention to provide relief against a government that violates his principles. He provided principles to guide performance of individual responsibilities in government versus people relationships. Any person (leader or recipient of leadership) that violates the principles will be punished for the violation at a time and in a way of God’s choosing. Therefore, it is important to remain faithful and committed to Godliness even in the event of ‘bad’ government. The people must believe God and rely on him to guide interactions with the government.
The separation of state and worship (see previous study under Separation of State and Worship) introduces two principles in people versus government relationships. First, government does not have authority to regulate worship, therefore, has no role in a person’s relationship with God. Second, God establishes a hierarchy of worship leadership (referred to as the clergy in modern-day societies) independent of state authority. The clergy is self-regulating and determines the training and qualification requirements for its membership. A king (or any other person in rulership position) is not a member of the clergy unless duly qualified by the appropriate regulatory authority.
King Saul violated both principles. He violated the second principle first when he assumed the authority of the clergy to lead burnt offering. He was supposed to wait for Prophet Samuel but “…felt compelled to offer the burnt offering” [1 Samuel 13:12] because he was overcome by fear of the apparently superior Philistine army. He believed that the kingship conferred on him the authority to lead offering, which was a violation of the second principle of separation of state and worship. Samuel rebuked Saul and informed him God will terminate his kingdom because he disobeyed the principle [1 Samuel 13:13–14]: “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue.”
Saul was not penitent after the violation and punishment because he went on to violate the first principle in a subsequent incident. The violation was that he failed to respect clergy independence. He was suspicious of an interaction between David and the priest of Nob, Ahimelek; assumed authority to interrogate the interaction; passed judgment against the clergy; and executed the judgment. On that day, he massacred 85 priests and destroyed their city, having accused one of them of conspiring against him with David [1 Samuel 22:13]: “Why have you conspired against me, you and the son of Jesse, in that you have given him bread and a sword, and have inquired of God for him, that he should rise against me, to lie in wait, as it is this day?”
We discuss Saul’s violation of the principles of separation of state and worship and his punishment for the violation. The punishment was swift and conveys a promise that God will provide relief against a ruler that disobeys his principles. The events provide two lessons regarding people versus government relationships. First, the principles of separation of state and worship are commandments of God. He frowns at any person that disobeys his commandments. Second, God has provided principles to guide performance of individual responsibilities in government versus people relationships. Any person (leader or recipient of leadership) that violates the principles will be punished for the violation at a time and in a way of God’s choosing.
Samuel Addresses Israel at Inauguration of King Saul
Prophet Samuel explained the principle of separation of state and worship in his formal address at the inauguration of Saul as first king of Israel. He explained God delegated state functions and authority to government but expects every individual to relate to him directly based on the covenant. He will be God to every person that lives up to the covenant but will turn his back against those that don’t. Government is not an intermediary and does not have authority to regulate worship.
Samuel spoke to Israel at the inauguration of King Saul to explain their relationship with God in the new era that includes “a king as your leader” [1 Samuel 12:1]. He explained that hitherto God had been both God and king to them but from now on has delegated to the king the state functions and authority to perform the functions (see previous bible study under Authority of Government—Israel Asks for King). However, he remains their God and holds everyone by covenant to worship and serve him. He will be God to those that “fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart” [1 Samuel 12:24] but will turn his back to those that “persist in doing evil.” Every person including the king is individually responsible to live up to the covenant. Thus, every person has opportunity to relate to God directly. The government (king, in this case) is responsible for state functions but is not an intermediary and does not have authority in the people’s relationship with God.
Thus, Samuel defined the principle of separation of state and worship. The government has responsibility for state functions and authority to perform the functions but does not have authority to regulate worship. Instead, every person is individually responsible and free to choose a relationship with God based on his covenant (conditional promise) to be God to those that worship and serve him. Also, Samuel used the occasion to illustrate accountability of state leadership to the people by inviting public examination of his record of service before God, the new king, and all people [1 Samuel 12:3]: “Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.”
We discuss Samuel’s formal handover of state functions to Saul and declaration of the principle of separation of state and worship. He performed both functions as part of his formal address during the inauguration of Saul as first king of Israel.
Samson-Delilah interactions provide important principles for a man or woman seeking marital love and wondering whether to press on or withdraw from a proposed relationship. Samson was determined to win Delilah’s love despite confronting strong negative indications against a marital relationship with her. All she wanted was to spy on him for enemies that sought to neutralize his leadership of Israel. He ignored the danger signs against seeking her love, because he thought he could win her over by giving in without compromising his core belief. He eventually succumbed, broke his covenant with God, but did not win Delilah’s love.
Samson was born in covenant that endowed him with special capabilities and specific mission to begin delivery of Israel from Philistines. He was dedicated to God and to the mission from conception. As a symbol of his commitment, his hair would not be shaved or cut [Judges 13:5]: “For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” He grew up with extraordinary strength that struck fear on the Philistines. He could stand up to them, was always successful against them, and was promising as leader to free Israel from Philistine rule. The Philistine rulers had no answer to him.
Then they saw an opportunity. Samson loved a Philistine woman named Delilah that did not love him. The Philistine rulers persuaded Delilah to pretend to be interested in him so she could gain access to spy on him. They would pay her handsomely for information that enabled them subdue Samson and end his leadership of Israel [Judges 16:5]: “The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, ‘See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.’”
Although Samson had sufficient information to understand the woman was spying on him, he continued to seek her love, trying to deceive her by giving in somewhat without revealing the secret that she wanted. However, she eventually wore him down: “With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it” [Judges 16:16]. He succumbed and revealed the secret of his extraordinary strength. Delilah took advantage as soon as she could [Judges 16:19]: “After putting him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him.”
Example from Mordecai-Esther Interaction—
Understanding Adversity through Bigger Picture
Queen Esther initially was reluctant to honor Mordecai’s request that she appeal to the king against an edict to annihilate Jews. She feared violating a law against visiting the king uninvited, which could attract punishment by death. However, Mordecai redirected her to see the request as an opportunity to use her royal access to appeal the annihilation order and win deliverance for her people. Having thus seen the bigger picture, she called for prayer and fasting and vowed to appeal to the king even if it meant the ultimate punishment: “And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!”
We continue the study series on Responding to Adversity with focus on Mordecai’s life in captivity. We examine his life during the period in terms of three interactions. As we discuss in a previous study under Living in the Image of God through Adversity—Example from Mordecai, the interactions underscore Mordecai’s commitment to worship and serve God and living to uphold the commitment even in adversity. Also, the interactions triggered event sequences that coalesced to propel Mordecai over his adversity.
The interactions are: (1) he raised his uncle’s orphan daughter as his, (2) reported an assassination plot against the king, and (3) refused to worship an agent of the king even while facing a threat of execution for his refusal. As we discuss in the previous study, he not only raised the daughter but guided her to winning a contest to become the new queen of the land. Also, her position as queen cleared the way for Mordecai to report an assassination plot that he uncovered and earn recorded credit for the report.
This study focuses on events that arose from the third interaction: Mordecai had declined to honor king’s agent Haman because the type of honor demanded of him conveyed connotation of worship. He would not perform the act of honor because it would violate his commitment to worship God, and only God. His refusal to worship Haman ignited an event sequence that initially caused his adversity to grow in scope and intensity before ultimately leading him to triumph over the adversity.
Example from Mordecai—
Worshiping and Serving God Even in Adversity
Mordecai’s interactions with others show he was committed to worship and serve God, determined what the commitment meant in every situation, and interacted in a way to uphold his commitment. He did this while facing severe adversity due to being the descendant of a captive exile in Babylon. In a subsequent study we show that living in the image of God in spite of his adversity propelled him to triumph over the adversity.
We continue our study series on Responding to Adversity with a sub series on Mordecai, descendant of one of the Jews that fell captive to Nebuchadnezzar and lived in Babylon as exiles for several decades. We examine Mordecai’s life in captivity, focusing on adverse circumstances that befell him and three interactions with others as he lived through the adversity. We discuss the interactions to show how they relate to the meaning of a commitment to worship and serve God. Further, in subsequent studies under the sub series on Mordecai, we highlight how the interactions triggered event sequences that coalesced to lead him to triumph over his adversity.
The sub series helps us understand the life of Mordecai as an example of living in the image of God through adversity and lifting over the adversity as a result.
The experience of Job indicates that recognizing adversity as an attack from the devil is an important step in seeking God’s guidance and direction and ultimately defeating the adversity and the temptation that it represents. If a person lives in the image of God, representing God among other people and fulfilling his/her responsibilities as God’s provider assistant, then an adversity in the person’s life is more likely a temptation instead of punishment for wrongdoing. We learn from Job’s experience that the appropriate response is to declare war against the devil by renewing your commitment to worship and serve God.
We begin a bible study series on Responding to Adversity, with intention to study events and personalities described in the bible to gain insight into what a Christian should do when facing adversity. The current study examines the temptation of Job to expand understanding of the nature of adversity. Job was an upright, blameless, and successful man: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil” [Job 1:1]. Yet, he suddenly came under a storm of adversity that included losing his children and every earthly possession.
Job’s experience indicates adversity may befall anyone, even a person that has done nothing wrong. His adversity was a temptation whereby the devil attempted to pull him away from God by destroying his earthly comfort and happiness: “But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face” [Job 1:11]. God permitted the devil to tempt Job within a wide but limited scope: “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person” [Job 1:12]. Therefore, we learn from this account that God protects us from temptation but may permit the devil to tempt a person. The devil may in that case choose how to tempt the person. He chose to rain adversity on Job in the study example.
Recognizing adversity as temptation will affect how a person responds. Because Job was upright and blameless, he most likely recognized the adversity as temptation and, thus responded by focusing on his relationship with God and leaving it all with him in prayer [Job 1:21]: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Also, we have encountered previous studies that showed adversity as a springboard to launch a person onto another phase of life with opportunities of great significance. Notable examples include the experience of Joseph in Joseph Called to Mission and Ruth in Ruth Joins Naomi, among several others. There also are cases of adversity befalling a person as punishment for wrongdoing: a possible example being the revolt in David’s family during his reign as king of Israel in Absalom Rises Against His Father David.
This study focuses on the experience of Job to learn that adversity may befall a person as temptation at pulling the person away from God. Recognizing the adversity as such will help fortify the person to respond by relying more on his/her relationship with God. A person that lives in the image of God (e.g., Job’s reputation as upright and blameless) will more likely recognize an adversity as temptation, instead of punishment for some wrongdoing. Thus, he/she will be better prepared to respond positively.
While living in Babylon as captive, Daniel won respect and admiration of many and served three generations of kings in high positions. He was reputed to have the Spirit of God and superior human excellence and as upright and thorough in his conduct of public affairs. He accomplished all these through unwavering commitment to worship and serve God and living in accordance with the commitment even while facing adversity.
Five testimonies in the book of Daniel provide for understanding Daniel’s life in captivity in terms of his unwavering commitment to worship and serve God, how the commitment affected his day to day human interactions, and the reputation that grew about him as a result. He was brought to Babylon as a captive under King Nebuchadnezzar, was appointed a king’s adviser after three years, and served three generations of kings at high positions. During the period, people believed he had the Spirit of God in him, had more knowledge and wisdom than any other person, and was upright and thorough in his conduct of public affairs.
The first testimony arises from events that occurred early in his life in captivity, when he recognized a conflict with his commitment to worship God while being respectful and obedient to the king and functionaries. He negotiated a resolution of the conflict so he could respect and obey the king and his staff without violating his commitment to worship and serve God. The second testimony arises from the king’s demand for someone to interpret his dream but first retell the dream to demonstrate competence in dream interpretation. Daniel recognized the task was beyond normal human competence and invoked the power of God to satisfy the king’s demand.
The other three testimonies were given publicly by highly placed people as part of their interactions with or about Daniel. One testimony was given by King Nebuchadnezzar as he explained his relying on Daniel to interpret a second dream. God revealed to Nebuchadnezzar through the dream that he would be banished to the animal kingdom until he recognized that “… the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses” [Daniel 4:25]. The other testimony was given by the queen of Belshazzar (Nebuchadnezzar’s successor) to calm the king of his fright from a strange writing that appeared on a wall in his palace. She informed him there was a man Daniel in his kingdom with a reputation of understanding and interpreting such mystery. The third testimony in this category was given by a group of administrators and provincial governors under King Darius (2nd successor after Nebuchadnezzar). The group had conspired to raise charges against Daniel to dissuade Darius from setting him up as a chief administrator over the whole kingdom, second only to the king. They searched his several decades of public service but could not find any basis for a conspiracy: “…They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” [Daniel 5:4]. Finally, they said of Daniel: “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God” [Daniel 6:5].
We discuss these testimonies as basis for an understanding that Daniel thrived in a foreign land despite the adversity of being a captive, because he was committed to worshiping and serving God and lived a life based on the commitment. He lived the commitment through his interactions with people—both ordinary people and those in authority—in his day to day life and his conduct of public affairs. The testimonies provide evidence of his reputation as one with the Spirit of God, more knowledgeable and wise than any other, and upright and thorough in his conduct of public affairs.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego Defy Nebuchadnezzar
Interactions between King Nebuchadnezzar and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego illustrate two forms of motivation for worship. One is coercion; characterized by the use of force, intimidation, or any kind of threat of punishment to compel worship; and typified by King Nebuchadnezzar using threat of death in a fiery furnace to compel worship of an image of gold he set up. The other is choice, a personal decision to worship God based on understanding our relationship with him and illustrated by the action of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in defying Nebuchadnezzar’s threat. Worship by choice is based on God’s covenant—his conditional promise to be God to all that worship and serve him.
We discuss interactions between King Nebuchadnezzar and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; regarding the image of gold that the king set up as god over Babylon. The interactions illustrate the contrast between two forms of motivation to worship. One is coercion, which is typified by Nebuchadnezzar using threat of death in a fiery furnace to compel worship of his image of gold. The other is choice based on understanding our relationship with God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego defied Nebuchadnezzar’s threat based on their choice to worship God.
Worship by choice is based on God’s covenant—his conditional promise to be God to all that worship and serve him. Abraham received the covenant from God on behalf of himself, his descendants, and all that receive Christ as the Messiah. God promised the Messiah for all people when he called Abraham to a mission to establish homeland and ancestry for the Messiah: “… And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” [Genesis 12:3]. Thus, his covenant with Abraham confers on every person the right to choose to worship him based on understanding that he will be God to all that will worship and serve him.
We discuss Nebuchadnezzar’s example to illustrate worship by coercion. Thereafter, we discuss God’s covenant with Abraham as the Christian basis for worship by choice, using information from the gospel according to John to understand the promise of the Messiah extends God’s covenant to all people. Then, we discuss meanings of “worship and serve God” based on information from previous bible studies.
The first step in coping with adversity is to commit personally and wholeheartedly to worship and serve God. Resign to his resolution of the adversity, and commit to living in his image, representing him in every human interaction, such that your actions and words radiate Godliness and elicit positive response from others. Furthermore, resigning to the will of God may include applying human effort to accomplish what you can while seeking his intervention. God will intervene to guide us out of adversity but expects us to apply human effort as part of finding the solution. Because the nature and timing of his intervention are generally not known a priori, we have to actively seek solutions at the human level in order to position ourselves to receive and utilize his intervention.
We continue our study series on Samuel with a study focused on understanding how his mother Hannah coped with the adversity of childlessness. Hannah’s experience leading to the birth of Samuel was dominated initially by her bitterness due to not having a child after several years of marriage. Her husband’s other wife sought to take advantage of her condition. In contrast, her husband was kind and sympathetic and sought to comfort her into accepting barrenness. Hannah, therefore, was alone in seeking a solution to her problem. She dealt with the problem initially by nursing self-directed bitterness that she showed by weeping and often refusing food. However, one day during her family’s annual trip to worship at the tabernacle in Shiloh, she decided she could not continue to bear the problem in her heart. She took the problem to God in prayer and appeared to have left it with him because her demeanor changed completely after the prayer.
We examine her experience in this bible study to understand how she transitioned from wilting under the weight of childlessness to a feeling of being completely relieved of the problem even when there had been no humanly observable change in her situation. Also, we use the opportunity to revisit a previous bible study on David coping with adversity brought on him by virtue of a rebellion led by his son, Absalom. We see that lessons from Hannah’s experience and the lessons from David complement each other and provide useful insight into what a Christian can do to cope with adversity.
From both, we learn about wholehearted commitment to worship and serve God and total resignation to God’s resolution of the adversity in his way and at his time. From Hannah, we learn about living in the image of God as a manifestation of the commitment. And from David, we learn about diligence in human effort while resigned to seeking God’s solution through his intervention.
Christ rejects hypocrisy and rebuked people against hypocrisy on several occasions. He rebuked people that presented themselves as worshiping God but were more concerned about promoting their authority or self-interest, people that asked questions to show off their knowledge instead of seeking to improve understanding, or people that focused on condemning others. We discuss his teaching on hypocrisy and examine circumstances in which he rebuked people against hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy refers to a person’s motivation for an act of worship or righteousness. Is the action motivated by an understanding of God’s purpose in a given situation and desire to fulfill the purpose? Is one motivated by a desire to be recognized and admired or respected by other people? Hypocrisy could manifest in terms of a person professing a belief but their actions are inconsistent with what they profess. Also, hypocrisy could manifest in terms of self-righteousness, resulting in looking down on and judging others but failing to apply same rules and standards to self. Hypocrisy in worship often manifests as play acting, working behind a “mask,” and in general pretending to be something that the person really isn’t.
Christ’s teaching on hypocrisy could be summarized into a simple message: An act of worship or righteousness pleases God if it is motivated by a desire to worship him or serve people to fulfill his purpose. In contrast, an act of worship or righteousness does not please God if it is motivated by self-promotion, seeking human recognition, or any purpose other than serving God.