In the summer of 2007, I traveled to Israel for the first time, visiting a variety of Biblical sites and spending a week excavating at Hazor with people from all around the world. It was one of the most edifying and amazing experiences of my life. I would highly recommend a study tour of Israel for pastors and teachers who want to deepen their understanding of the Scriptures.
Several places brought out strong emotions: Gethsemane brought tears of thanksgiving, appreciation, and empathy for my Lord and his horrible suffering for my wretchedness and sin. Masada brought tears as well: tears for the great courage of a small group of Jews who defied the tyranny of the Romans for 3 long years. Stones and rubble from the Temple and a large hole in the street at the base of the western wall were a sobering reminder of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70. When I saw those stones piled in memoriam, I was overcome with a reverent fear of the temporal consequences that result when humans sin against a just and holy God.
For some unknown reason, I felt the greatest sadness when we visited Beth Shean, the place where the Philistines hung the body of King Saul and his sons. When I began to ponder all that could have been for Saul and his posterity, my heart sank. Instead of dying with honor and in right standing with God, Saul's life ended in disgrace:
…when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. They cut off his head and stripped off his armor, and they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among their people. They put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths and fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shean. I Samuel 31:8
Despite the dishonor Saul brought upon the throne of Israel, and although Saul tried to murder David on many occasions, David responded with a tender and broken heart when hearing of Saul's death:
Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. II Samuel 1:11
Being in the very place where Saul's body had been hung was a powerful experience. I pondered the mystery of God's sovereign control over all things, including Saul's life, and the personal responsibility and free will that God has granted to all humanity. Each person, great or small, has choices to make in life. These choices have both temporal and eternal consequences, both for the individual and their posterity. It was Saul who chose disobedience over obedience. And it was Saul and his sons who suffered terrible consequences for those choices.
Christians should be especially cognizant of the consequences of their choices. We each have a solemn and serious responsibility to adhere to the teachings of Scripture in all matters, and pursue righteousness through the power of the Holy Spirit. As I stood and viewed the magnificent ruins at Beth Shean, I thought of Saul. And my heart grew heavy. Turning away from disobedience, we can instead follow the admonition of Joshua:
Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. Joshua 24:14-15
Today, the gods of Egypt have been replaced by the gods of secular philosophy, the gods of scientific materialism, the gods of Biblical minimalism, the gods of political correctness and moral ambiguity. The church must purify its thinking and mission by testing all things through the lens of the infallible Scriptures. We hope that this issue of Bible and Spade will assist you in that task.
Paul tells us: "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." (Col 2:5). If we are not vigilant, we could suffer the fate of Saul, a sobering reality indeed. My experience at Beth Shean has pressed me into privately praying for those who profess their faith in Christ, but whose deeds flirt with danger at the precipice of destruction. Let us all learn from this sad account, and strive to remain true to the Word of God, in word, and in deed.