Feed my Sheep

In scripture there is a metaphor for learning the word of God and for growing in faith. It’s a food metaphor, that the Bible is like food that sustains and grows a Christian. The Bible speaks in terms like this:

Deuteronomy 8:3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

And this is quoted by Jesus in:

Matthew 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

There’s also:

1 Peter 2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—

Finally, it’s not a coincidence that there is symbolism about eating Christ like there is the metaphor about eating the scriptures (after all, Jesus is “the Word” in John 1:1ff). Jesus says of Himself:

John 6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

Christians have run with the concept and developed the idea in good ways that fit with scripture. I believe in the Salvation Army we make use of a devotional called “Our Daily Bread.” Plenty of worship songs contain similar concepts of Jesus as the bread of life, or the sustaining power of the scriptures as well (“This is the Air I Breathe” by Michael W. Smith, for example).

When someone is having difficulty with their home church though, they might say “I’m just not being *fed* there.” What they mean is that they aren’t receiving instruction from scripture. My perception is that this is somewhat more common among young adults, though I wouldn’t doubt plenty of adults would have issue with their church if they “weren’t being fed.” Unfortunately, the answer that comes back to these people is often: “feed yourself.”

I think those who would use the phrase “feed yourself” in response are resting on a foundation that says the individual is responsible for their own spiritual growth and development. The suggestion, through this metaphor, is that if your pastor or the leaders in your church are not feeding you the Word of God, don’t find a new church – just go read it for yourself for your own growth. But this ignores two significant teachings from scripture.

1. The Church is made to grow in Christ
The individual is not solely responsible for their own growth. They have a part to play for sure, but it is the natural function of a healthy church to teach the (full canon of) scripture to its people. Look here:

Eph 4:11-16 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

1 Tim 3:1-3 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

Titus 1:7-9 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

2. The Gospel is clear – the Christian life is not so clear
The second failure of the “feed yourself” answer is that it doesn’t even follow the metaphor it is built on. If new converts (or even old converts!) are seeking more information and depth in their faith, telling them to feed themselves is like telling a child to cook himself a meal. You could leave a teenager alone for weeks and even they would struggle to make food. But for some reason some people don’t carry the metaphor that far. They think spiritual children can cook up their own life-sustaining meals from scripture, and I think I might know why.

It’s called Scottish Common-Sense Realism, and the more I study this concept the more concerned I am about its influence on the Salvation Army. I’ve only recently dug into the idea, but it’s essentially a common-sense philosophy to life, and to scripture as well. Some proponents of this philosophy in history thought that the Bible itself was so obvious and clear that one could simply apply common sense to it, read it, and understand everything by careful attention. They didn’t think they needed anything else to understand the Bible! They went so far as to say (quite ridiculous) things such as:

Campbell: “I had endeavoured to read the scripture as though no one had read them before me.” (Campbell doesn’t see a need for anything else, like the works of other Christian writers, for example, to help him understand the Bible.)

Tolbert Fanning: “the scriptures fairly translated need no explanation.” (Fanning is essentially saying that if it’s a good translation, the words themselves need no other explanation!)

You see I think this Common-Sense Realism is still very much alive. A concept like “Feed yourself” is evidence of this. Some believe the Bible is so clear that a child in the faith could simply read it, and understand everything necessary for spiritual growth. See the distinction I made there – I’m talking about spiritual growth and theological development. It’s important to distinguish that from the Gospel itself. I believe (and I know stories) of people that have simply read the Bible and come to place faith in Jesus. The Gospel is certainly that simple and clear in scripture, but the rest of our spiritual development is not quite this clear.

There are many reasons for this, but the obvious one is that the Bible was written very long ago. There are cultural aspects to scripture that affect the meaning of passages in ways we might not expect. There are also concepts, metaphors, and symbolism that we may misinterpret as modern readers. This is again similar to a child trying to cook with spices and herbs without an understanding of the basics of food preparation. It’s a culinary disaster waiting to happen.

Ultimately there is a greater problem than people using a phrase like “feed yourself” when others say they aren’t learning or growing in their church. The phrase is a symptom of an unhealthy church. The first point above highlights that the church is made to grow together in Christ. Furthermore it is the responsibility of the pastor to teach (and the ability to teach is a qualification for pastoral ministry).

If we’re stooping to tell our people to feed themselves, we’ve already failed as a community and as a church. To return to our metaphor one more time, the only scenario in which I can imagine an adult telling a child to feed themselves for any extended period of time is when the child is being abandoned. I think this is what many young adults feel when they don’t receive the Word of God accurately taught. They feel spiritually abandoned. When they voice their concern and the reply is “feed yourself,” can you really blame them for finding adoption somewhere else?

– – –

I wanted to end my article there above on that bit of a cliffhanger, but I can’t. I gotta give some sunshine here.

There are some of you reading this who care about the word of God. You know it. You study it. You dig into it to really know what it means. You’ve internalized it, and you share it naturally. Maybe you’ve even gone to school to study the Bible. You, friend, are like a chef, and I want you to know that you are not alone and that people, real people in the Salvation Army need you. I hold on to the promise in Ephesians that God has given some to be pastor-teachers in our church(es). Hold on to this promise as well.

Finally, hone your gift. Be creative. Cook a culinary masterpiece from the scriptures themselves – enough to feed an army. I’m gonna try, and there’s room in the kitchen for more.

A Hermeneutical Method applied to First Samuel 1:1-2:11 (Sermon Method Series 4/7)

At this point I think it’s important to run through the hermeneutical method to arrive at grounded applications from this passage. We don’t want to spiritualize or allegorize what’s going on in the passage, so by moving through a method we can hopefully avoid those issues and arrive at a truth and application that the author was trying to get across.

What did this story mean to them?

  • This story would be meaningful for Israelites because it explains the origin of one of their great prophets, Samuel. It sets the stage for God’s work in Samuel’s life and in the early history of the people of Israel.
  • I would imagine Hannah’s obedience and conformity to the Law would appeal to Israelites hearing this as well.
  • The Israelites may have seen some kind of resolution or justification in Hannah’s eventual conception and birth. If they viewed barrenness as a curse or trouble from God, they may have wondered at her apparently obedient nature. Why would God leave her cursed and barren? But he doesn’t! He makes her the mother of a great prophet!

What’s different about their context from ours as it relates to this story?

  • As Christians we’re under a new covenant in Christ. We don’t have to offer sacrifices like Hannah did.
  • The whole premise of barrenness as a curse is particularly interesting as a spiritual concept. I don’t believe barrenness is a curse as we understand “curse” modernly. I would attribute it to a general consequence of the Fall of humanity (In speaking or preaching about barrenness in this passage, be extra sensitive: you could have couples or women in your congregation who are unable to conceive. This may be especially painful as they may be praying just as fervently as Hannah, but without her wonderful resolution). Realize too that in the story, the narrator never says that barrenness is a curse. Even in other passages it’s the characters themselves that consider it that way. Finally in Hannah and in the other cases from the stories of the Patriarchs, barrenness was often overcome by the Lord’s work to bring about a progression in the Salvation Story (God’s work among people that led to Jesus). So, our cultural understandings on this issue are fairly different.
  • We don’t make vows like Hannah did. This relates to the earlier discussion about vows and oaths and the new testament teaching on this issue.
  • We don’t let churches or institutions adopt children for service! It might seem strange to us, but in the story it worked out just fine and wasn’t viewed negatively.

What are some general truths from the passage?

  • While we haven’t seen the rest of the story yet, a truth is that God acted to bring about a leader/prophet that the people needed.
  • God answered Hannah’s prayer and gave her a son.
  • The story has a good conclusion in part because Hannah is faithful to fulfill her vow.
  • God acted in a situation that seemed impossible to bring about an amazing and needed result.
  • Hannah had faith enough to ask God for a human impossibility. She knew she was barren and yet she still asked for help.
  • Hannah turned to God in her distress, not anything else.

What are application points we can derive from these general truths?

  • First I think it’s important when teaching this passage (and others like it) that you emphasize God is not there to simply fulfill all our wishes. In scripture we have a lot of examples of people praying for things that are fulfilled because these stories are God’s record of His actions with people. We’re going to see a lot of things that are out-of-the-normal because God was working out his plan of salvation. I believe God still does miracles today, but just because these things happened in the Bible frequently doesn’t mean we should expect the exact same thing today. Explaining some of that (but maybe not in so much detail) will help people think critically about the story and not expect that their prayers for anything and everything will automatically be fulfilled by God.
  • God is faithful to act in our lives in the right ways at the right time. We can trust God with our lives and we can make decisions in life that reflect this trust. In our story and as we’ll see in later passages, Samuel became an important figure for the people of Israel. He was the one God worked in at the right time to bring about God’s purposes. The application for us is to be in prayer and in tune with the Holy Spirit so that we don’t make faithless decisions, but choices that reflect our trust in God to act at the right time.
  • God answers our prayers, and as scripture teaches us, prayer makes a difference. At this point is may not be incredibly helpful to get into issues of God’s foreknowledge and prayer and so forth. I think scripture is clear that prayer is important and does change things. I tend to think that if Hannah had not been obedient and faithful to God and had not prayed for a son, she wouldn’t have had a son, let alone a prophet of God who was important to the history of God’s people! Prayer is certainly no guarantee of God’s action; His action is not automatic, and what we ask for is not always in His will to fulfill. But the main lesson I think we can take away from this is not the power of prayer but the importance of faithfully bringing our requests to God. This story is not just an introduction of a book or greater narrative. I think an original hearer of this story or a modern reader can learn from Hannah’s wonderful example of obedience and faith. Through these characteristics she experiences the wonderful work of God in her life and even sees the perfect fulfillment of her prayer in life. Our application today is to exercise the same faith in God as we live our lives in step with him.

This would conclude a lesson or sermon on the passage then. Having a call for prayer or even extending such a message about faith and trust into an explanation of the Gospel would be entirely possible.

In the next few posts I’ll work through 1 Sam 2:12-36 so you can see the same method used on a different passage. I’ll also continue to focus on the Cultural Concepts to show how this background information really helps to put these passages in their appropriate contexts.

Walking Through First Samuel 1:1-2:11 (Sermon Method Series 3/7)

For teaching or preaching I typically just walk through a passage paragraph by paragraph and explain aspects and interesting parts along the way. Then I look for truths and applications. Along the way the cultural information can fit in to bolster our understanding.

This is a first look then at what is in the paragraphs. Working through these paragraphs is how I might preach it, but there’s still one more step I’ll cover in the next post about applying a hermeneutical method. It’s sort of the big check and balance to what you might discover after reading and observing everything like I do here:

1 Sam 1:1-8

In the opening section the stage is set with Elkanah, Peninnah, and Hannah. The story opens with the information that Peninnah has children, but Hannah does not. At this point I think it’s worth explaining the information I learned about childbirth and barrenness from the Cultural Concepts. I’d explain that in that time period being barren may have been viewed as a curse from God. I could even cite or read the verses that the HIBD article had cited for this. I don’t think it’s a stretch to really explain how what Hannah saw as a curse and a pain in life (and it certainly did cause her pain) became a means of experiencing God’s work in her life. Now again, you want to be careful of sort of spiritualizing the story at this point. I don’t think it was written to teach us that God will always act through our pain to do something amazing. I can’t promise that. Lots of people live with a pain or difficulty for a long time. So, in teaching this, it’s good to mention the principle and the general truth, but be careful of jumping to applications until you’ve really covered the whole story and thought about the overall message and reason it was written.

1 Sam 1:9-11

In this section Hannah is especially distressed and goes to pray. In this section it would be good to explain the nature of vows in the OT and their seriousness. It might also be good to reference the NT teaching on vows and oaths, but only if you’re particularly concerned members of your congregation might try and emulate the OT concept of a vow. Obviously, just because something happens in the Bible doesn’t mean we should do the same.

In the last post I quoted and contrasted from some Ugaritic material that the Cultural Concepts linked me to. I think it may be interesting for people to hear the vow of Keret in the Ugaritic material. Of course I would almost certainly refrain from explaining at length anything about Ugaritic material. The important thing is simply to show an example of a vow from the ancient world. I would even mention that it’s just one example I found and doesn’t determine what all other ancient vows were like. But reading this other vow helped me to see how passionate and heartfelt Hannah’s prayer really was. It also highlights to me that she doesn’t try to offer God gold or silver for her request. She vows to give up the thing she is praying for. Now here as well I would probably caution over-interpreting that aspect though. While giving up her child is certainly very difficult, it was the having of children that she was desperate for, to be seen not as one cursed by God, but as Peninnah and other women in her community were seen.

1 Sam 1:12-18

In this section there’s an almost comical event where Eli the priest speaks to Hannah because he thinks she’s drunk. But of course that’s not the case. Now I didn’t look up Drunkenness in the Cultural Concepts but it is in the list for the Passage Guide. I’m somewhat familiar with the culture to know that drunkenness was not looked upon well, and I would suppose especially so at the temple. Eli understands what’s going on once Hannah explains herself. He wishes her the best and she goes on her way. I like how it says of her departure: “and her face was no longer sad.” I would imagine some combination of prayer, “pouring out [her] soul”, and then Eli’s kind farewell lifted her spirits here. I would also guess that Hannah has a degree of faith in God. Why else would she pray to Him so fervently?

1 Sam 1:19-20

In these verses we have Hannah’s request fulfilled! It says the Lord remembered her, and she conceived and bore a son. If I were preaching this I might be inclined to touch on the aspect of God “remembering” something. I certainly don’t think this is like a remembering/forgetting issue. God doesn’t forget anything. I think what is happening is simply an anthropomorphic way to talk about God intervening at this point. We could say that now God’s attention is turned towards Hannah and he decides to act in her life.

1 Sam 1:21-27

This section wraps up the narrative part of our passage. In it Elkanah and his family once again go up to make their annual sacrifice to the Lord. Hannah stays behind though to wean her son. It’s unclear if this time period is short or another year cycle, but eventually Hannah brings her son along with a sacrifice. She then takes the boy, explains her story to Eli, and offers her son for the service there.

The sacrifice here is related to having a firstborn son. I’ve checked out a few Bible dictionaries and even the Factbook page for “Firstborn Redemption.” While it’s interesting that Hannah is following the law well and offering the sacrifice for her son, it doesn’t seem to me that it’s a significant part of the story. In preaching I’m not sure it would be necessary to explain Firstborn Redemption and read off passages explaining it just to say “Hannah did it all right”. A sermon could probably just mention that she’s following the law in offering this kind of sacrifice and also that she’s fulfilling her vow about her son as well.

1 Sam 2:1-11

Hannah’s prayer is a poetic expression of her joy and thankfulness to God. There are only a few things of note here in this section.

In verse one she exclaims that her “horn” is exalted in the Lord (ESV). In Logos I can right-click on this, and it shows me the sense of the word here:

Samuel 2 horn bsl context menu


This will bring up the Bible Sense Lexicon and a definition for “strength ⇔ horn”: “Strength understood as a horn, which is related to the strength of an animal”

Strength horn bsl browser


This makes a bit more sense than the typical understanding of “horn” in English.

The prayer is quite beautiful, and I notice in particular that is seems to highlight changes of social/spiritual states.

1 Sam 2:4 – mighty are broken – feeble bind strength

1 Sam 2:5 – Full are hungry – hungry cease hungering; Barren bears seven children – one with children is forlorn

1 Sam 2:6 – The Lord kills and brings life – brings to Sheol and raises (from)

1 Sam 2:7 – The Lord makes poor – rich; brings low – exalts

1 Sam 2:8 – Raises poor – lifts needy

1 Sam 2:9 – Guards faithful – cuts off wicked

1 Sam 2:10 – Adversaries broken – strength to his king

I think this aspect plays into Hannah’s perception of her change of state. She viewed herself as one cursed, and by childbirth now as one with a new state, a state of honor.

Verse 11 ends this section of the narrative by stating that the boy stayed and was ministering before the Lord and Eli the priest. Again, some aspects of the timeframe seem to be glossed over by the narrator. Only just before, the boy was being weaned, and now he’s ministering. It might be worth explaining to your listeners that the timeframe isn’t incredibly important here. The fulfillment of the vow and Hannah’s change of mind-state is probably the most in-focus thing in these opening chapters.

In the next post I’ll run through a hermeneutical method step by step to try and arrive at some truths and application points.


Context and Cultural Concepts in First Samuel 1:1-2:11 (Sermon Method Series 2/7)

Welcome back! Let’s get right back into the text today.

I like the ESV so I’ve opened that up to 1 Samuel chapter 1. The ESV has a break after verse 20, but I think the story here is longer, and probably includes chapter 2:1-11 as well. Chapter 2:1-11 is Hannah’s prayer, so it’s a longer additional piece, but that’s because the narrative is extending to show some more content from the story. It is a bit long to group into one sermon, but I think trying to break chapter 2:1-11 out into it’s own sermon might get repetitive. You probably wouldn’t have to read the whole of chapters 1:1-2:1-11 to your congregation, but studying both sections as a unit is probably for the best.

There’s a lot in chapters 1:1-2:11 then, so I’m going to run a passage guide over all of it. It’ll return a lot of results, but I think it’s fine trying to trim the information overload down to some key points. I’m going to run a little hermeneutical process over the chapters also, and then discuss the application points.

Samuel 1 2 11 passage guide


In the Cultural Concepts there’s a lot of things listed out here. I want to focus a bit on these to introduce this new dataset since it’s just come out.

Passage Guide Sam 1 1 2 11 Cultural Concepts

Childbirth – The first concept listed is Childbirth. Clicking on this link in the Passage Guide will open a Factbook page for the concept. Some of the Cultural Concepts are merged with other information in Factbook, so the title might change as in this one to “Birth”. By scrolling down you’ll see the “Cultural Concepts” section of the Factbook:

Factbook Birth

In this Factbook page I can see all the other important verses for the concept of Birth. I notice in a lot of the Genesis passages the stories of the patriarchs and their own birth stories. In Gen 29:32-35 Leah and Rachel are discussed in relation to bearing children. Leah has many children, but Rachel is barren. It also leads into Chapter 30 where Rachel is distraught at not having any children.

Now the power of the Cultural Concepts is in data linking, but we need to think for ourselves about the significance and theology of these passages. In the Samuel passage something very similar to Gen 29 is happening with the wives of Elkanah. Peninnah was provoking Hannah because Hannah had not had any children.

Looking back at the Factbook “Birth” entry, there is listed in the Domain section “Barrenness”. Clicking on this will get us more information why being barren was such a troubling thing for them back then. In this case I’m going to use one of the Cultural Concept links to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. This gets me to more academic information about Barrenness, rather than other instances in the Bible or Ancient Texts. In the HIBD article it mentions Sarai, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, Hannah, and Elizabeth as all being barren at one point. It also explains that barrenness was attributed to God’s work in some instances, and that generally it may have been perceived by people as a punishment or curse. Oddly enough, in most of these cases these women were barren because God was going to work powerfully in their lives through these difficulties. They may have felt cursed or punished, but God was planning something else for their lives, but only at the right time.

But it feels like I’ve jumped down a rabbit trail a bit, though it’s certainly worth it. Because of the connections in the Cultural Concepts with Barrenness and Childbirth I was able to find a number of other verses that dealt with similar things to my passage. I was also able to get right into a bible dictionary that explained Barrenness and some of the social and spiritual thoughts that the people had about it in that time.

Going back to the Passage Guide, I want to take a look at Oath now. In 1 Sam 1:11 it says in the ESV that Hannah vowed a vow in her prayer to God. This seems like a pretty important part of the story and could use some background information.  Here in “Oath” I’ve clicked a link to Corpus des Tablettes en cuneiformes alphabetiques decouvertes a Ras Shamra-Ugarit (Please don’t totally check out now!). There’s some interesting value here I think. In the Ras Shamra Ugaritic there’s this mention of the character Keret. It says of him here “There Keret the votary vowed a gift. ‘O Athirat of Tye, and goddess of Sidon, if I take Hurriy to my house, and bring the sacred bride into my dwelling, twice her weight in silver shall I give, and three times her weight in gold!’”

Ras Shamra link

Comparing that to Hannah’s vow, she asks God not to forget her, and to see her affliction, and that she will give back to the Lord the child she prays for. There are a lot of circumstantial differences here between asking for a wife or a son. But I find it interesting that riches are offered to the goddess of Keret, but the son Hannah desires is offered back to God. There’s also a very personal aspect to Hannah’s prayer, that God would see her pain and relieve her of her suffering. This is only one comparison to a vow outside the Bible; surely there are passionate pleas across ancient literature, but I like how the contrast here highlights Hannah’s prayer from the heart.

Looking up in the Factbook entry for Oath, there is a separate section for Dictionaries here. It has a link to the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible article for Oath.

Dictionaries BEB

The article isn’t incredibly in-depth, but it does explain the importance and gravity of an oath. Breaking an oath, especially one related to a covenant was especially bad.

I like how the Bible verses listed for Oath in the Cultural Concepts section shows the whole Bible. Because of this I can see Matt 5:33-37. In this passage Jesus discourages the taking of oaths, that people should simply make their “yes”, “yes”, and “no”, “no”. To have this intertextual information this readily available helps to explain oaths in a lesson. I can work into the lesson the nature of Hannah’s heartfelt vow as it relates to her barrenness, but then I can also explain the later New Testament teaching by Jesus about taking vows and oaths.

As far as the Cultural Concepts those are the ones I feel are probably most important to this passage. In the next post I’ll walk through First Samuel 1:1-2:11 and take general observations.


Logos 6 and Sermon Method (Sermon Method Series 1/7)

With the launch of Logos 6 the Lexham Cultural Ontology has finally shipped! This has been my project at Faithlife Corp (formerly Logos Bible Software) for the last year. This dataset is a powerful way to access relevant cultural material for passages of the Bible that you may be studying. In the interest of showing how the feature works, I’m going to present a bit of my sermon development method and also show how the Cultural Concepts are useful for preaching and teaching. These won’t be full sermons or lessons, but I will attempt to show how you can use the cultural concepts in sermon or lesson development. If you want to read about this feature on Logos’ website, see this link for Logos 6 features (including the Cultural Concepts). For more on the software as a whole see this link for Logos 6 in general.

The example text I’ve chosen is the first few chapters of 1 Samuel. I’ll highlight some other features with the Cultural Concepts along the way as well, with screenshots so you get a feel for the software itself.

The first thing I do is open up the Factbook from the Tools menu. This is probably my favorite one stop for gathering information in the beginning of a study. My first goal is to read up a bit on 1 Samuel and get a feel for the context. I also want to see how people have broken up the passage into pericopae before I take a stab at it myself.

The Factbook has entries for all sorts of things, but what I’m interested in right now is the page on the book of 1 Samuel. The search entry seems a little difficult to find the right thing (for example, entering “1 Samuel” doesn’t show me an option for the book itself). I finally figure out that “1 Samuel” won’t find the right match, but “first Samuel” does find what I’m looking for. The page looks like this:

Factbook book of samuel 1 1


It even has some pre-made media that looks like this:

Samuel Media


This also has exporting features for proclaim and powerpoint which is nice. I don’t think I’ll take the time at the moment to work up slides, but it’s cool that it’s there for me later:

Media send to powerpoint


I want to get some background on the book first, so I’ve clicked on “IV. Historical and Religious Background”. Hovering over the blue link does show me what book it’s drawing from (The grey text has the book name, but commentaries are sometimes named pretty generically):

Factbook NICOT hover

This commentary gives some great background information, letting me know that the time period of 1 Samuel occurred right around or after the migration of the “Sea Peoples” who include the Philistines, into southern Palestine. This sets the stage for some of the events of 1 Samuel. The commentary also explains that the transition from the Late Bronze age to the early Iron Age happened around this time. This commentary is actually surprising me in its detail. It goes on about the historical background, then moves to literary aspects of the book and structure. There’s so much here but I’d like to move along to the text and the Cultural Concepts a little faster. In full-form sermon prep it’d be most advantageous to read the entire introduction of this commentary for the book of 1 Samuel to really grasp the context of the book. I’d even check other commentary introductions to make sure the one I’m reading wasn’t overly biased or focused on one particular point. If an idea is reiterated in multiple commentaries, it’s probably something that’s part of the general consensus about the book (though of course, that doesn’t guarantee it’s accurate!).

After background information the next thing is to understand how the book is divided up into sections. Moving down the Factbook page to Structure gives a few different resources as options. I’ll see what the Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible says:

Factbook structure and EBD link

The EDB divides the book into sections for what I assume is the main character of that section: Samuel for 1 sam 1-8, Saul for chapters 9-15, and David for 1 Sam 16 – 2 Sam 24. For full study, reading through information like we have here in these divisions will give you a much better frame for how the parts of the stories fit together.

I think this is a good point to break for the day. In the next post I’ll dive into the context and Cultural Concepts of First Samuel 1:1-2:11.


Bronze Snakes Abound

In the Old Testament there’s this story where the people of Israel sin and God sends snakes among them to bite them, as a punishment. When they cry out for deliverance God instructs Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Anyone who looked at the snake would be healed of their snakebite. You can read the short story in Numbers 21:4.

We read much later in the history of Israel that the people had been worshiping the bronze snake (2 Kings 18:4). This was a bad move. Of the major things God was concerned about in the OT, idolatry is way up at the top. In the end, the bronze snake was destroyed.

Now to be really clear here, I don’t want to spiritualize this passage. I don’t think it was written to warn us about how we should do things in church. But I think there is a truth in here we can apply to our ministries. It’s the problem of the bronze snake.

There are things in our ministries like the bronze snake. Maybe it’s a method, a program, or a concept. It could be a new missional, radical, discipleship training school. It could be a band, a new kind of music, a drama, or a play. It could be the way something looks: the interior of your church’s chapel, the building as it looks to outsiders, or a fancy new gym. Maybe it’s the way the people look: robes, jeans, uniforms, collars, epaulets. The point is that there are so many things that help the church do its thing, and do it really well. But these things can and often do run their course.

The bronze snake had a point in time when it was useful, when everyone was suffering from snake bites. But once the snakebites were gone, why did the people keep it around? Did it look good? Did it remind them of God’s work in their lives? Did people write history and theology books on different views of the bronze snake and whether they should get rid of it, or continue incorporating it into their worship? Did the young people want to get rid of it and replace it with a golden lion because “that’s what the Assyrians were into and they wanted to be relevant to the Assyrians”, but the elders were all like “No way, there’s still good theology in this bronze snake idea!”. But I digress…

It seems so obvious to us that worshiping the bronze snake was idolatry. We’re incredulous—shocked that the people could do this.

But in our corps, in our divisions and territories, bronze serpents abound. Oftentimes it feels to me as if we’ve saved every button with a shield, every medal with a crest, every horn, every publication, every tunic, and every program that ever existed because God used it to work in someone’s life. And instead of worshiping God for his continuing work in our lives and organization, we turn and venerate things of the past that He used rather than Him. We’re afraid of giving up these things God used to save someone we love, because maybe we don’t trust God to save someone else another way (or maybe we’re so focused on these things of the past that we don’t see and invest where God is working now).

The solution to idolatry in the Old Testament was to destroy the idols. In our case these things aren’t always as clear cut. We’re not actually bowing down to some statue right? But this story can be a warning to beware of venerating things that may have run their course. When we evaluate ourselves and our ministries and eliminate these “bronze snakes” from our churches, it then gives us the opportunity to worship and honor God for the new and continuing work he is doing in our lives. It gives us new focus to see where the power of God is working now and to join Him there.

Grace Salvationist Church of CityVille

I had an idea today. You know how lots of other churches are called “Grace Baptist Church” or “1st Presbyterian Church of Bumblyburg.” What if a new corps was planted where we dropped the “Army” from the Salvation Army? What would that mean? What else could it imply?

Trinity Salvationist Church of Arlington

Good Shepherd Salvationist Community Church

The possibilities!

But then let’s take it further. What if at this “Trinity Salvationist Church” there were no uniforms, no “Captain”, no “Corps Council” (by name). What if we took the “Army” out of the Army?

I’m just wondering how much of our trappings are…….well……trappings.

Maybe I could say it better by asking “What really makes the Salvation Army what it is?” I mean, if the members of Trinity Salvationist Church are out feeding the poor, offering social serves in the week, meeting needs through disaster service, preaching the gospel, growing saints, and serving suffering humanity…well, wouldn’t that be the Salvation Army?

And look – I’m not saying it’s one thing or another. A corps could certainly have a good heart, do good things, thrive, and have all the old lingo and uniforms. This whole idea piqued my interest because as far as I know no one has tried a “Salvationist” church before. If you know of one let me know. I’d be interested to hear about it.

It just strikes me that there’s a chance people might be turned off to militarism in this day and age. And I honestly believe real Salvationism isn’t about being an Army. It’s about Holiness, Service and Love to Humanity, Discipleship, Evangelism, Justice, and a host of other things. But frankly, it doesn’t have to be an Army. Does it? And that’s a weird thought, right?

I actually spoke to someone just recently who had a better name I think for “traditional corps”. He called it a “preservationist corps”. Yikes, right? But he might not be that far off. What’s the real tradition of Salvationism? We could keep the doctrine, the mission, the spirit, but couldn’t we also try losing the militarism, maybe as an experiment in one or two places? Couldn’t we just see what happens?

Booth said once that he’d dance on his hands or something if it’d get someone saved. I bet we could get a few more saved by diversifying our communication of the gospel. So don’t go and throw out the old lingo just yet. But if you want to try and make something new, why shouldn’t you try? It might just help build God’s kingdom on earth where we weren’t building before. I’d be all for giving that a try.


P.S. “CityVille” is the name of just about every city I ever made in SimCity. Ever.

Come read ancient texts with me

Cultural Annotation Intern


Logos Bible Software is looking for people who know the culture and background of the biblical world and want to use it in an environment focused on creating data-oriented products for professors, teachers, students, and laypeople. As a Cultural Annotation Intern, you will work with the Logos Content Innovation team to help provide a foundation for the next generation of tools to help people understand the ancient world in relation to their study of the Bible.


Logos has developed an inventory of cultural concepts. With this list of concepts, the intern will:

  • Read ancient texts (Josephus, Philo, Contexts of Scripture, ANET, for example)
  • Identify and understand cultural concepts and practices in ancient texts
  • Label pericopes in ancient texts with concepts from the Logos Cultural Ontology


  • Summer relocation to Bellingham
  • Ability to annotate texts based on quick, informed decisions about analysis
  • B.A. or M.A. in biblical studies
  • Desire to stretch your biblical knowledge to the limit, and get paid for it

The ideal candidate

  • Is familiar with Logos Bible Software
  • Has strong familiarity with Ancient Near Eastern and Hellenistic culture.

Interested candidates can send a CV/résumé to david.witthoff@logos.com .

The Doughnut Corps (Or, The Vicious Donut Cycle)

No, it’s not a joke about fatty foods or unhealthiness, but a metaphor. I consider some corps “donut corps” because they have a “hole” – they’re missing the middle age group, most often the 20-45 bracket, though I’ve seen some corps that are closer to missing the entire 18-55 bracket. This is troublesome, not only because it makes for an unhealthy church, but because when the older age group passes away, the church is not likely to stand on its own.

In my last post, “Why I Stay in the Salvation Army”, I wrote about a “staircase” concept wherein people are brought up spiritually by others, and also bring up others behind themselves. I really think it’s a great model.  While many corps have some semblance of this working well, the “donut corps” are in trouble. While age is not a necessary indicator of spiritual maturity, it often correlates. There is a disconnect in a church when those on higher steps of the spiritual staircase can’t relate to those below them. It’s more of a cliff in this case, than a step. When we’re missing such a large age bracket in a church, this can set up the “cliff” problem.

The result can be devastating for the youth. Without discipleship or guidance from someone above them in the church, they may flounder their way through their adolescence in the corps, simply attending programs, but not being fundamentally reared in the principles of God. Don’t buy into an industrial-age concept that our programs will produce mature Christians. Without real, personal involvement from someone on a higher step, these kids will often end up falling away from the Army or the church by the time high school ends.

And this perpetuates the cycle! Without those 18-25 year olds staying with the church, they are not in place to bring up those behind them. Those kids in turn flounder through programs and fall away around the same time again. All the while, the older crowd gets older, until the corps is unsustainable.

It’s really not all doom and gloom though. We can reverse this trend if we recognize our tendency in the Army to shy away from bible study, from spiritual formation, from internalizing God’s word. I would love to see a corps for a year just give up a majority of their programs to simply hold Bible studies and prayer meetings. No band, songsters, worship team, scouts, guards, divisional band, home league, men’s fellowship, jr band, etc.

By investing in God’s word and showing our youth its importance, we can lead them to spiritual maturity. Hopefully through this they can take their place on the “staircase” of the church and bring up those that come after them.

Why I Stay in the Salvation Army

I thought that the last question, “Why Young People Leave the Salvation Army”, was an important question, but I want to take the question from a more positive angle: why young people choose to stay, serve, and worship in the Salvation Army. In this case though, I find generalization more difficult, so I’d like to examine a big reason I personally stick with the dear old Army.

As it turns out, this idea is actually based in our Methodist roots, and I first came across it in a book by Brain McLaren called A Generous Orthodoxy. In this book McLaren talks about his experience in a number of different denominations, often pointing out a lot of their positive aspects.

In Methodism, McLaren mentions this important concept by painting a picture for us, of a staircase with people on each step. Each person on each step is holding out a hand and grasping the person above and the person below them. In this way it illustrates the idea that the church contains many people at different levels of spiritual maturity, and we each are lead by someone more mature as we bring up those that are younger in faith than we are.

I loved this concept, and in well functioning corps, you can really see this come to life. This is a huge draw to me because I see this as a reflection of what the church really needs to be in our culture. I think the Salvation Army is very well situated in our culture to continue this concept within our doors.

In McLaren’s book, he observes the later history of Methodism and laments that this “stair” concept eventually broke down in many Methodist churches. In these cases, you had a cliff, with the person on the top unable to relate to draw up those that were behind. Now, I wrote this article to be encouraging to the Salvation Army, but I must say that this is certainly a danger for us as well.

It is a danger to us because people in general have a tendency to homogenize, to make things around them familiar and the same. Put simply, we are comfortable with what is like us. But we need to break out of this! Let there be no such thing as a “respectable corps” that doesn’t make a drunk or a homeless person feel welcome. On the other hand, there must be people on the higher stairs to raise others up. In this way, let’s also do away with anti-intellectualism and any attitudes that spurn discipleship. If all we do is get people saved, it’s like filling the stairs and assuming it’ll work like an escalator.

There is no magical spiritual escalator! Maturity takes discipleship and spiritual formation – it requires taking people by the hand.

I love this concept, and it’s one of the reasons I love being a part of the Salvation Army, because I don’t think we’ve lost this. In most corps that you enter, you will find people of various ages, economic status, spiritual maturity, wisdom, etc. I stay with the Army because it’s a place where I can always find a spot on the staircase.