We are continuing through Samuel in our daily reading plan. As we said in the last post, Samuel records one of the central stories of the Old Testament and The Faith itself, a story which begins in Judges, continues in Kings, is retold in Chronicles, and finds its ultimate conclusion in The Gospels. It is the story of the Covenant King.
But while that story is the main truth of Samuel and these other books, it is not their only truth. As we read this week, I saw another truth in the tail end of 1 Samuel that is also fairly important. That is the truth of how to hear from God.
A Common But Confusing Idea
The idea of “hearing from God” is a very common one. I heard people talk about hearing from God many times as I was growing up in the church, as I made my way through Bible college, and as I fellowshipped with my pastors group in California. Not only so, but when I Googled that phase, I got 362,000,00 results. These results included books, sermons, videos, and more, most of which not only referenced the idea of hearing from God but provided instruction on how to do it.
But the idea is also a very confusing one. While we talk about hearing from God a lot, we don’t seem to know how to do it. This is why so many of those Google results were instructional. These books, sermons, and videos were all teaching us how to hear from God because we don’t know how to hear from God. More than that, we don’t even what hearing from God is. Is it receiving an audio-visual revelation? Having a divine dream? Getting a feeling?
If you are like I was twenty years ago, you are thinking hearing from God must be something like those sensational things. Not only so, you are wondering why those sensational things never happen to you, that is, why you never hear from God like this.
This is why what I saw in the final chapters of 1 Samuel this week is so valuable. In these chapters, David is living an outlaw life. Though he is the covenant king, he has been chased out of Jerusalem by the wicked Saul and is scraping together a living in the outlying wastelands.
Asking God for direction is one thing he does as he scrapes this living together. We see an example of this in 1 Samuel 23:1 & 2:
When David was told, “Look, the Philistines are fighting against Keilah and are looting the threshing floors,” 2 he inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go and attack these Philistines?”
The Lord answered him, “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah.”
As we are told here, David asked God a question and God “answered him”. He heard God. He received a communication that was clearly from the Lord and thus both authoritative and accurate. We are told he did this again in 2 Samuel 2:1.
What we are not told in either of those passages is how David heard God. Thus, we may imagine he heard God through a dream, a vision, or a voice in his head. This is, in fact, what I used to imagine.
What I noticed as I read this time, though, is that this imagination is incorrect.
We know it is incorrect because of 1 Samuel 23:9-11.
9 When David learned that Saul was plotting against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod.” 10 David said, “Lord, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me. 11 Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? Lord, God of Israel, tell your servant.”
And the Lord said, “He will.”
In these verses, David again asks God a question. But before he does that, he calls for the priest to bring “the ephod”.
The ephod was a garment worn by Israel’s high priest. In this garment was a pocket which held two stones called “the Urim and the Thummim”. I’m not sure exactly what these stones looked like or how they worked; there are different theories about that. What I do know is that they were used to receive “yes” and “no” responses from God. A person could ask God a question through the priest, the priest would pull out the stones, and those stones would reveal God’s answer.
That is exactly what David is doing in Samuel. We aren’t always told that this is what he is doing; the text sometimes summarizes this idea with the simpler (but still completely correct) statement “the Lord said”. But that is what David was doing. This is how he heard from God.
A Naturally Supernatural System
This in turn tells us two things that are very important. The first is that David had a system for hearing from God. Hearing from God was not a random thing that just happened if David was lucky. It was something David could pursue, something he had a process or procedure for doing.
The second is that this system was “naturally supernatural”. This is a phrase I learned from my mentors in California, and that is what David’s system was. It was “supernatural” in the sense that it resulted in a true communication from God. But it was also “natural” in the sense that it was not sensationalistic like a dream or a vision. It was instead a simple practice or discipline.
Hearing From God As David Did
We today can hear from God in this very same way. That’s why this little idea hidden among the larger story of the Covenant King is so important. This little idea is telling us that it is possible for us to hear from God just as David did.
As we look at this idea, we realize we can have a system for hearing from God, too. We can have disciples or practices like reading the Bible, listening to devotions, going to church, meeting with a small group, all of which are giving God access to us and thus are the modern equivalent of consulting the Urim and the Thummim.
Not only so, but we also realize this system is naturally supernatural. It is not sensationalistic, but it does result in a true communication from God.
This was the way David heard from God. I believe it was the way Jesus heard from God, too (see John 5:19). May it be the way we likewise hear from God.