Suffering vs. Judgement – 1 Samuel 31

Then the Philistines followed hard after Saul and his sons. And the Philistines killed Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua, Saul’s sons. The battle became fierce against Saul. The archers hit him, and he was severely wounded by the archers.

… Therefore Saul took a sword and fell on it.  1 Samuel 31:2-4 NKJV

Israel’s first king, Saul, was dead.  He did not make the genealogy of Jesus Christ.  The Bible makes clear that, despite starting out quite well, Saul greatly displeased the Lord.  His kingdom was removed from him and the line of Benjamin, and given to David in the line of Judah.

Saul’s son Jonathan was also dead.  He had been a great friend of David and a godly hero for the people of Israel.  But Saul had tormented David for over a decade, forcing him to flee for his life and live on the run.  Saul had also killed 85 priests who were innocent victims of a misunderstanding over one of David’s escapes. God finally had had enough and removed Saul and his line from the throne, once and for all.  Jonathan was a victim of God’s judgement against Saul and his wicked actions and unfaithfulness.  

The judgement of God came down hard on Saul and his family.  Sin can have serious consequences that impact the ones we love the most. But divine judgement of this type is rare. Saul had been given innumerable chances to repent and turn back towards God, but he always refused, and continued to try to kill David, the Lord’s anointed.

When horrible things happen to us or our loved ones, we immediately assume that it is a judgement from God caused by our own sin or some displeasure we have brought to God.  This is probably not the case.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), yet many do not experience the same level of suffering that others do.

Suffering may be used by God to draw us closer to Him, but most likely He did not choose it for us.  Rather, for heavenly reasons, He permitted it occur in our lives.  Suffering is a consequence of living in a fallen world, one that has been corrupted by the sins of all of us who live in it.

There are reasons that things happen that we will never know about or understand in this life. The book of Job sheds some light on the types of spiritual battles that may lie behind our suffering.

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”

So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”

12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.  Job 1:8-12 NKJV

Job had a pristine faith which brought great pleasure to the Lord.  What more can the believer want than to bring joy to God Himself through our faith and generous actions?

But there is spiritual warfare going on behind the scenes in this world around us.  And for divine purposes, God permitted Satan to bring terrible pain and suffering into Job’s life.  This was not God’s idea or judgement, but He did permit it to happen.  As a result of Satan’s attacks, Job experienced miserable loss and personal suffering. It certainly appeared to him that he had been forsaken by God, who lifted the hedge of protection over him. 

Job must have thought what Christ would later speak on the cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

Job was confused by his suffering, and had no idea what he had ever done to deserve to be abandoned by God like this.  To make matters worse, his wife prodded him to give up on God and to curse Him. Job’s friends all incorrectly assumed that he had done something wrong to deserve the suffering, and this only added insult to Job’s injury.

Later, Jesus would be the innocent Lamb who would voluntarily go to the cross to bear our sin and shame.  It was His pleasure to suffer for us, though we are all living in sin and selfishness when He offers His life in exchange for ours. He does this so that we may be qualified to live with Him forever in glory – He did not come to condemn us, but to save us (John 3:16-17).

God also did not forget about Job in his suffering. 

10 And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends… 12 Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning.  Job 42:10, 12 NKJV

Like many of us, Job went through his season of suffering, but it was clearly not a judgement from God.  Similarly, most of the suffering we experience is not a punishment for some sin we have committed.  Rather, it is a consequence of living in a world that is temporarily under the curse of sin.  This curse will be removed once Christ returns and sets up His eternal kingdom in the New Jerusalem, free from the enemies, tragedies and sicknesses that come against us.

Reflection:

What is the most severe suffering you have experienced in life?  Do you believe that God sent you this suffering as a punishment or judgement?

Take a few moments to meditate upon these verses:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NJV

God cares for each one of us and wants us to comfort one another in our suffering.  This means that our suffering, though permitted, was not sent by Him against us as some sort of judgement for our sinfulness.  Christ already paid the penalty on the cross for all of our sins, and by His resurrection brings life to each one of us who is willing to reach out to Him in faith.

May the Lord richly bless you and heal you of any hurts you are carrying in your heart today.

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