A Pepper Grinder Post

Whatever Your Hand Finds To Do

The story started out normally enough. Some donkeys were lost, and the owner sent his son and a servant to find them. The pair wandered around looking for them until their food ran out. As a last attempt to fulfill their mission, they went to a town where a famous prophet lived, to see if he could tell them where to find the animals.

This is where things got a little strange. The son (Saul) met the prophet (Samuel) and was given the seat of honor at a feast. The next day, as Saul and his servant were about to leave, Samuel got Saul alone and poured a flask of oil over Saul's head, anointing him as the first king of Israel. He told Saul that the donkeys had been found, and gave him a detailed description of some things that would happen to him that day. He ended by saying that when Saul met some prophets, the Spirit of God would come upon him, and he would be changed into a different person. Then Samuel said,

Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. (1 Samuel 10:7, NIV)

"Do whatever your hand finds to do" is an interesting expression. It sounds like it could fit in with the hippy philosophy of, "if it feels good, do it." But it is very different from that. It is also different from the two other times the expression is used in the Old Testament. In one instance (Judges 9:33), a commander of a seasoned band of fighters tells them to do what they have been trained to do when the enemy forces come against them. Then in Ecclesiastes 9:10 we read:

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. (NIV)

hand holding axeWhy is what Saul was told different? In the verse in Judges, men are being encouraged to do what they have been trained to do. In Ecclesiastes, the message is that you might as well work hard at whatever you're doing since, in a while, you won't be able to do anything at all. But the command to Saul is not an appeal to training. It is not a warning to "make hay while the sun shines." The word to Saul is based upon the previous verse where Samuel said,

The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. (1Samuel 10:6, NIV)

God will be at work in Saul. Even after he is done singing and prophesying with the wild-looking prophets, once God has gotten hold of Saul, God will guide him. God doesn't say that Saul will feel like he's being guided. In fact, to me, the phrase "whatever your hand finds to do" makes it sound like it would not feel like guidance. But Saul would be guided by God, and this is the basis for the command to do whatever he found to do.

And what did Saul's hand find to do after God's Spirit came on him and he prophesied with the prophets? Here are his next actions as recorded in 1 Samuel.

  • He went to a high place (these were places where, especially in those pre-temple days, people would go to worship the Lord).
  • He talked to his uncle, and told him that Samuel had reassured him that the missing donkeys were found. He didn't tell his uncle the rest of what Samuel said and did.
  • Next we hear of how Samuel assembled all the people together and drew lots to choose a new king. Saul was not found at first because he was hiding among the baggage.
  • Saul moved into the White House and selected his cabinet. Er, wait, I got confused there. Actually the Bible just says that, after choosing Saul as king, everyone, including Saul, simply went home. The only thing that sounds at all different is when we are told that Saul was accompanied by "valiant men whose hearts God had touched."

So far, even though Saul has been officially chosen as king, it doesn't seem as though Saul has done anything very special. If anything, he sounds more like an embarrassed kid from the country than a king.

Finally, at some point (which could well have been years after Samuel annointed Saul), we see something happen which clearly shows God's Spirit working in Saul. Nahash the Ammonite beseiged an Israelite town called Jabesh Gilead. The townspeople offered to surrender to Nahash, which would normally mean they would be ready to do things like fight for Nahash in battles, and pay tribute to him. However, Nahash agreed to accept their surrender only on the condition that he gouge out the right eye of everyone in the city and so bring disgrace on all Israel. The people of Jabesh Gilead asked for time to send out a messenger to get help. Nahash agrees and word gets to Saul's town of the predicament of the people of Jabesh Gilead. When Saul got out of his meeting with the State Department, er, that is when he came back from the fields with his oxen and heard the news, the Spirit of God came on him. He butchered his oxen and sent the pieces throughout Israel as a not-so-subtle way of saying that the people had better assemble to fight or he would go after their animals next. Saul and the Israelites defeated Nahash and the people celebrated the victory and Saul's kingship.

What strikes me is that for every day Saul was leading the nation into battle, there were months or even years that he was quietly doing things like plowing his fields. Being filled with God's Spirit is not always going to be dramatic.

Did this mean that Saul always made the right decisions for the rest of his life? No. If you have any doubts (or even if you don't), read 1 Samuel. I believe that if Saul had spent the rest of his life with an attitude of openness and submission to God, it would have been true. He probably would have had occasional screw-ups, but I think God would have guided him. Instead, at a crucial moment, he decided to listen to his own fears and the voices around him, instead of following the clear command of God through Samuel (details are in 1 Samuel 13). Then, after this, instead of being truly sorry and repentant for what he had done, Saul sought to burnish his image. Sadly, Saul ended his life in defeat and paranoia, after spending years trying to kill David, a righteous man who had been nothing but loyal to Saul.

foggy roadSo what does this mean to us? The Bible tells us that anyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit of God living in him (see Romans 8:9, for example). Does this mean that if we have ever surrendered our lives to Christ, we can go around with the happy confidence that whatever we choose to do is God's will? Sadly, my experience with myself and with other Christians knocks that idea down.

What these verses do tell me is where my focus should lie if I want to be guided by God. I have had times in my life when I tried to hear God's voice about every little decision I made. These attempts to be minutely guided always ended in frustration, usually when I discovered that something I had thought God was saying to do could not be done.

I want to make it clear that I do still believe God speaks to his children and guides them. In my own experience, although there are times I very much want to hear God and do not, there are other times when a thought will come into my mind with clarity and authority that is nothing like my own thoughts. At those times, I truly believe God has spoken. There was even one time in my early Christian life when God spoke to me in an audible voice and woke me up. I do not want, for an instant, to give the impression I'm espousing the idea that God stopped speaking to believers as soon as the Bible was written. I see no Biblical support for such an idea.

However, even if we do not hear God, I think we'll have a better chance of doing what God wants if our priority is to try to be close to and open to God. That, along with being saturated in the Bible, puts us in a position where we can do whatever our hand finds to do, even if we aren't being explicitly guided by God.