You have a part in the never-ending story of God’s redemption in this world. There is danger, intrigue and hardship, but also joy, romance and adventure.
1 SAMUEL #18. Chapters 19-20
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Last time we saw that Saul, having closed the door to God’s Holy Spirit, was overwhelmed by an evil spirit and he tried to kill David, God’s chosen instrument. Now you would think this would be the signal for David to quit, and find other employment. But apparently David assumed that this was just a temporary fit of insanity. The manifestation of the demon that afflicted Saul seems to have looked a lot like paranoid-schizophrenia. So David apparently took it somewhat in stride, and put it down to “one of those fits the king has.” But even when the evil spirit is somewhat abated, Saul, unknown to David, has made a decision that he wants him dead.
Saul tells his advisors, including his son Jonathan, to kill David. Jonathan succeeds in talking some sense into his father, and Saul relents. David is once more welcome at court. But even so, Saul’s heart has not fundamentally changed. There is another battle with the Philistines, and David, relying on God and the talents God gave him, wins another great victory. This arouses Saul’s jealousy again, and again, overwhelmed by an evil spirit, he tries to kill David himself.
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, as the saying goes. This time David gets the message. So does his wife, Saul’s daughter Michal. She urges him to run away that very night. You can imagine the tearful passionate goodbyes, and the cool night air as David climbs out the window, and she pulls in the rope that he used. She makes up an image of David, complete with a hairy head, to fool his pursuers, and puts it in their bed.
In the morning Saul’s men come for David, and Michal reports that he is sick, buying more precious time for David to get away. Then men go back to Saul, then return with orders to bring David on his sick bed for Saul to kill him. The deception is discovered, but Michal blames David, saying that he threatened her.
David flees to Samuel, where the Lord protects him from Saul’s men, and even Saul himself. Confused and grieved, David secretly returns and seeks out Jonathan, who agrees to help him. They set up a test to find out if Saul was serious about killing David, and a secret rendezvous point, and even a code.
Their test proves that Saul is serious about killing David. Jonathan sadly makes his way to the rendezvous. He shoots arrows, and then calls out to his helper to look further on for the arrows. This is the signal for David to flee for his life. After sending his young helper back to the town with his weapons, Jonathan and David meet for the last time. They re-affirm their friendship, and then David departs, never to see his best friend alive again.
As I considered this section of scripture for this message, I was looking for some hidden gem of a verse, or some principles to apply to our lives. But what really captured me was the story. It is a true story of adventure, romance, danger, intrigue, battle and conspiracy. There are many novels that do not have plots this exciting. And what I want to suggest to you today, is that the story IS the message.
The events of David’s life call to us. There is a mission for the hero to be part of something greater than himself – to be God’s chosen instrument. There is love and romance in the midst of the adventure. There are friends like brothers. There is a deadly enemy who seeks the life the hero. There are setbacks, plot twists, codes and conspiracies. And yet, through exciting twists and turns, with the help of his love and his friends, the hero escapes and lives to fight another day. I don’t know about you, but in my unguarded moments, I realize that I want some of this in my own life. I want adventure, romance, joy. I want a mission in something that matters, something that is greater than myself.
Now, David was a good-hearted man of faith. Even so, you have to imagine that not all this was easy for him. He had experienced God’s call on his life. He had felt the beauty of God’s creation, the heart-swelling form of music, the joy of friendship, the ecstasy of love, the fierce rush of battle. All these things spoke to his heart and told him that God was good, and that God had given him a part in a great adventure. But that wasn’t the only message that David got. His brothers told him he was arrogant, callow and irresponsible. Saul’s actions told him he was in grave danger, and his life was worthless. He was driven from his wife and friends; he lost his career and it was too dangerous to return to his family. I have no doubt that the devil used these things to tell David that it was a cold cruel world, that God wasn’t really there for him, that in fact, his life had no meaning. What he said to Jonathan at one shows how he was feeling:
But truly, as the LORD lives andas your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death.” 1 Samuel 20:3
David wrote many songs and poems (which we now call Psalms) when he was in trouble. Psalms 3-6 are a small sample of these. He was often worried and distressed. He was harried and hard-pressed. He expressed his fear and doubt at times.
When we look at the life of David from start to finish it is obvious that God was calling to him and working in his life. We can see that David was involved in a purpose greater than himself. We might even envy the adventures he had. But I am not sure that these things were always so obvious to David.
I want to suggest that we are in the middle of a story ourselves, and we are faced with the same dilemma as David, the same two messages. We hear something that tugs at our heart in beautiful music; we sense something eternal when we are very close to the one we love; we feel God when we look on the glory of his creation. Scattered throughout our lives are the echoes of God’s voice, calling to our hearts, telling us that there is something greater, good and wonderful. We are called to be part of a greater purpose. Our hearts were made for a great intimacy. Even the fact that we want these things to be true is a sign for us.
But there is a deadly enemy after us, no less than he was after David. And so things happen to us that make it seem like life is meaningless. We get hurt in ways that suggest we should shut up our hearts, and not listen to the echoes of God’s voice. We get the message that we can’t ever really get the real life we yearn for, so we should settle for drugs, or alcohol, or even work or money or human relationships, or mindless entertainment.
Sometimes this perspective hard to see, because we are inside the story of our lives. In Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien records a moment when Sam and Frodo muse about the bigger picture, the story of their lives.
“I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport as you might say. But that’s not the way of it, with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folks seem to have been just landed in them usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten.”
“Take any [story] that you’re fond of. You may know, or guess what kind of a tale it is, happy-ending or sad-ending, but the people in it don’t know. And you don’t want them to.”
“…Why to think of it, we’re in the same tale [as the ancient stories] still! Don’t the great tales never end?”
“No, they never end as tales,” said Frodo. “But the people in them come and go when their part’s ended. Our part will end later – or sooner.” (from The Two Towers by JRR Tolkien)
Looking at David’s life story, if we could, we might say to him, “Hang in there! Don’t give up hope. God will make your life into a beautiful, exciting, inspiring story.” But David didn’t know that. He was faced with a choice. He could believe the echoes of God in his life, or he could believe the message that the devil tried to give him through the bad things that happened to him. David made the choice of faith, and the world is better for it.
You may not see it, but you are inside a very old, ongoing story. You are in the same story as David was. If you trust in Jesus, you are one of the chosen instruments of the Holy Spirit in your lifetime. You will have plenty of opportunities to turn back. You have an enemy that can only win if you do turn back, and he is doing all in his power to make you believe that there is no story, and you are not part of anything greater. Don’t believe him. Trust instead in the goodness, greatness, love and joy of God. As the writer of Hebrews says:
35 So don’t throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised. 37 For yet in a very little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. 38 But My righteous one will live by faith; and if he draws back, I have no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and obtain life. (Heb 10:35-39, HCSB)