The church is STILL not a building!

For the first time ever, I actually preached the same sermon twice in a row. This is because I believe in this so strongly. If you want to hear the second sermon rather than the first, here it is

(the written version is the same, and can be found at


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saul's death

The Lord is constantly there, always waiting for an opportunity to forgive us, be gracious to us and receive us into His Life and Joy. The tragedy of  Saul’s life is that to the bitter end he chose to go his own way instead. The Lord did not rejoice at the death of the self-absorbed, manipulative man. Instead, He grieved.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download 1 Samuel Part 30

1 Samuel #30. The Death of Saul

1 Samuel ends with the death of king Saul, recorded in chapter 31. While David was returning home, and then pursuing the Amalekites who had destroyed his town and taken his family, the Philistines and the Israelites began a great battle.

As I mentioned before, the Philistines were in the valley of Jezreel, which was the only relatively easy way to get from the Mediterranean coast into the Jordan Valley of Israel. Saul’s forces were on a mountain ridge to the south of the valley, a place called Mount Gilboa. When the Philistines began to move east toward the Jordan, Saul moved to attack them and block them.

The picture below is of the actual area (with present day roads, reservoirs and buildings that would not have been there at the time, of course). The Philistines were invading through the valley in the left of the picture, starting in the foreground and pushing toward the Jordan valley in the distance. The Israelites were positioned on the ridges to the right. The little hill labeled “Tell Jezreel” was probably not there.


The massive Philistine army turned to destroy the Israelites. This was a good strategic move, because if they left them alone on the mountain, the Philistines couldn’t be secure in the valley. It was a rout. Israel’s army fell apart. Jonathan and his brothers were killed. I want us to consider some things in the following verses:

3 When the battle intensified against Saul, the archers caught up with him and severely wounded him. 4 Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through with it, or these uncircumcised men will come and run me through and torture me.” But his armor-bearer would not do it because he was terrified. Then Saul took his sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his own sword and died with him. 6 So on that day, Saul died together with his three sons, his armor-bearer, and all his men. (1Sam 31:3-6, HCSB)

Verse 3 contains some ambiguous Hebrew expressions. Most English translations make it seem like Saul was severely wounded before he committed suicide. That is certainly one possible way of translating it, and probably a good one. But even so, it is quite possible that Saul was not wounded at all, but only in despair. An almost literal translation would be this:

“The battle became a great burden upon Saul. When the archers came within range of him, he was deeply traumatized.”

The “burden” of battle could be intense physical combat. However, that doesn’t make sense when we learn that the enemy archers have only just come into range. If he was fighting hand to hand, archers would be irrelevant. They would not shoot, for fear of hitting their own men. So Saul was not even involved in actual combat. Therefore the “intensity” of the battle, was purely psychological for Saul.

It says that Saul was deeply traumatized. We already know that the intensity of the battle is psychological for Saul, not physical. “Traumatized” can mean physically wounded of course, and it isn’t wrong to translate it that way. Even so, knowing that what is happening with Saul is already psychological, it is not wrong either to interpret the trauma as emotional distress, rather than a physical wound.

I believe that this is reinforced by his armor-bearer’s response, when Saul asked him to kill him. The armor-bearer would not kill Saul, “because he was terrified,” (verse 4). What was he afraid of? If Saul was mortally wounded, why would the armor bearer be afraid to finish what was inevitable anyway? No, I think Saul’s mood and his words are what scared the armor-bearer.

The night before the battle is when Saul went to the witch of Endor, and consulted with a demonic spirit who masqueraded as Samuel. If you remember, that spirit had spoken only words of condemnation and despair to Saul. Saul accepted this message and believed it as if it was truly Samuel speaking. So, here’s how I think it went down: You have a man who has his entire life been insecure, erratic and manipulative. He is a control freak in a situation where he does not have control. He has recently accepted and believed the words of a demon. He is deeply emotionally troubled by the battle long before it even comes near him. When he sees that the archers are finally in range, he suffers deep psychological trauma – and then takes his own life. In other words, he gave up even before all was truly lost. The words of the demon were a self-fulfilling prophecy, in large part because Saul believed them and acted accordingly.

Now, I want to write about something that most Christians don’t talk much about: Suicide. It’s right there in the text, so I think the Holy Spirit wants to deal with the subject. But before we get into it, let’s get one thing clear. You may have known someone who committed suicide. Sadly, I’ve known several. It doesn’t do anyone any good to wonder whether that person died in faith, or if he went to hell. That’s not the point of what we are about to consider. What’s done is done. I cling to the biblical truth that God is far more gracious and merciful than I can comprehend.

But right now, I want to talk to and about the living. If you are reading this, you are alive, and these words are for you, not for someone who has already died. Don’t waste your wondering how to apply these words to someone else – these are for you, for me, for the living.

Saul’s suicide was clearly an evil, demonically influenced act. It was his lack of faith that prompted him to take his own life. It was his lack of trust in the Lord, combined with the fact that he believed and agreed with demonic words. He acted as he believed. If you are ever tempted to suicide, please understand – you are being tempted by a demonic power. Do not listen to demons. Do not agree with them.

In the 1990’s Dr. Jack Kevorkian became famous for helping 120 people patients commit suicide. It opened up a national debate about a person’s “right” to deliberately take her own life. But G.K. Chesterton has some insightful thoughts about killing oneself. He says:

The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned, he wipes out the whole world.

His point is clear, but we don’t often think about it. The person who commits suicide does not merely kill herself. From her point of view, she is killing the whole world. Her intentions are as demonic as Hitler’s (who also committed suicide, by the way). Suicide looks at the world and says, “As far as I am concerned, there is nothing worthwhile in the entire universe. I would be just as well off if the whole world is destroyed.” If that doesn’t sound like Satan, I don’t know what does.

It is not a private decision that affects only yourself. It is a cruel and arrogant judgment against the entire world. Sometimes the suicidal person knows this. They are angry at loved ones, and they want to hurt those people as well as themselves. Suicide is not just self-destruction – it destroys everyone who knows you. If that doesn’t sound demonic, I don’t know what does.

Some Christians may say: “Well, I want to get to heaven. I’m tired of the struggles of this world – I want to be in the peace and rest of eternity with Jesus.” But that is so much like Saul’s attitude. Saul always insisted upon his own way. He manipulated, fumed and got depressed and sought help from demons – all to get his own way. Like the ultimate spoiled brat, when he realized that this time there is simply no way it is going to happen, he would rather die. We Christians are supposed to live in trust – not in control. We don’t get to determine how and when we die. To do that is to put yourself the place of God.

Now, Jonathan and his brothers died too. Their result was the same as Saul’s. And yet it was entirely different. They died fighting for their country and for each other. Chesterton writes about such people:

A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside of him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything.

He even mentions the battlefield. This is how Jonathan acted, and how Saul should have acted.

A solider surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange careless about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.

Jonathan showed courage. Saul showed demonic self-centeredness. I don’t think Saul’s death was the result of God’s judgment. It was the result of a lifetime of Saul’s self-absorbed choices, culminating in the final ultimate act of selfishness. About Saul, you can say for certain, “he chose his own fate.”

Even so, Saul’s story ends with people who loved God mourning for him. I think this is because they were led by the Holy Spirit. God always wanted Saul to turn to Him and trust him. And so after he dies, the Spirit of God moved two groups of people to honor Saul in a special way.

After the battle, the Israelites in the nearby parts of Jordan valley fled. The Philistines took over their towns, among them a town named Beth-Shan, which has been the site of an archeological dig for many years in modern times. They found Saul’s body, cut off his head, and hung the corpse on the wall of Beth-Shan. There is a reason that we call brutal, ignorant cruel people “Philistines,” even today. They did the same with Saul’s sons.

The residents of town further south in the hills on the other side of the Jordan heard about this. That town was Jabesh-Gilead – the place of Saul’s very first battle, the town that had been shamed for centuries, but which Saul had rescued. They remembered how Saul had saved them and finally removed their shame. So they sent a commando-type unit through the night to Beth-Shan. They stole Saul’s body, and those of his sons, from the Philistines, and brought them back to Jabesh-Gilead. They burned the bodies and then buried the bones with honor. It was a bittersweet end to the reign of Saul, coming full circle to the beginning when he was younger, and did trust God. I think their actions were a reflection of the Lord’s sorrow at Saul’s choices. Saul chose his own way, and he suffered the consequences. But I do not believe that was God wanted. He gave the Saul the freedom to choose, and I believe he was sorrowful for what the king chose. The Lord reveals this same attitude in Ezekiel 33:11

11 Tell them: As I live” — the declaration of the Lord GOD — “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked person should turn from his way and live. Repent, repent of your evil ways! Why will you die, house of Israel? (Ezek 33:11, HCSB)

A second person who reveals this attitude toward Saul is David. Remember, David had the Spirit of God in a way that was special in those days. Often, he is a type of Christ – he reveals the kinds of actions and attitudes that the true Messiah has. And so when he heard of Saul’s death, he wept in sorrow. Because he was human, I’m sure he was more upset about the loss of his friend Jonathan than the death of Saul. But he reveals the heart of God. The Lord was never against Saul. He always wanted him to turn back, repent and receive grace. Inspired by God, David wrote a beautiful lament, recorded in 2 Samuel 1:19-27

19 The splendor of Israel lies slain on your heights.

How the mighty have fallen!

20 Do not tell it in Gath,

don’t announce it in the marketplaces of Ashkelon,

or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice,

and the daughters of the uncircumcised will gloat.

21 Mountains of Gilboa,

let no dew or rain be on you,

or fields of offerings,

for there the shield of the mighty was defiled —

the shield of Saul, no longer anointed with oil.

22 Jonathan’s bow never retreated,

Saul’s sword never returned unstained,

from the blood of the slain,

from the bodies of the mighty.

23 Saul and Jonathan,

loved and delightful,

they were not parted in life or in death.

They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.

24 Daughters of Israel, weep for Saul,

who clothed you in scarlet, with luxurious things,

who decked your garments with gold ornaments.

25 How the mighty have fallen in the thick of battle!

Jonathan lies slain on your heights.

26 I grieve for you, Jonathan, my brother.

You were such a friend to me.

Your love for me was more wonderful

than the love of women.

27 How the mighty have fallen

and the weapons of war have perished!

The greatest tragedy of Saul’s life is that the Lord always loved him, continually reached out to him, never stopped offering his grace – and yet Saul refused it, preferring to try and control things himself. He did not surrender his own will to God. But God’s love and grace and forgiveness were never more than heartbeat away, if only he had turned to receive them. And so when Saul died, the heart of God was to lament his loss.





David’s undeserved generosity is a picture of the grace of God to us – who do not deserve the goodness God gives us.


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1 Samuel #29. Chapter 30

Remember last week, we read that David traveled 130 miles or so north with the Philistine army, and then returned. It took them three days on the return trip. That’s a pace of around 40 or more miles per day. Because of events which happened later on, I assume that they had some beasts of burden with them – either donkeys or camels or both (horses were never used widely in ancient Israel). That’s a very fast walk or slow jog for 10 hours (not counting rests) for humans. It is basically the same for either donkeys or camels. Even if they rode the entire way, they were being bounced and swayed for hour upon hour, probably traveling from just before dawn to a little after dark.

It was long distance at an exhausting pace. And when they got home, they found their town burned to the ground, and their wives and children taken for slaves.

Last time we examined David’s reactions in detail. After grieving, and after holding on to the Lord with all his strength, David and his men worshipped, and ask God what he wanted to do.

When he was convinced that God did indeed want him to pursue the Amalekites, David and his men set out again, possibly late on the same day that they arrived home. They came to a place called Wadi Besor. It’s hard to pin down the exact location today, but it was somewhere in what is now southern Israel, probably near Gaza, but further inland. My best guess is that it formed a kind of psychological border between the dry land and the extreme desert. Now remember, they have come from the northern part of Israel (where they were with the Philistines) to the extreme south. Two-hundred of the six-hundred men were too exhausted to continue. These men had traveled a round trip of almost 300 miles in a matter of days, either by foot, or by slow, uncomfortable animals. Exhaustion was nothing to be ashamed of. David left them with some of their provisions, and carried on, lighter and faster.

They encountered a lone Egyptian slave out in the desert, almost dead from hunger, thirst and exposure. David and his men treated him kindly, giving him food and water. As he revived, they asked for information. There is no doubt that they hoped to get good intelligence from him when they stopped to help him, but even so, they helped him before they knew he could help them. This is in stark contrast to how the Amalekites had treated this slave. Though they had plenty of loot, when he took sick, they left him in the desert with nothing.

As it turns out, the Egyptian helped them find the place where the Amalekites had stopped. No doubt they figured both Philistines and Israelites (whom they had raided) were still engaged in battle (as indeed they were). The Amalekites thought they were safe, so they stopped to celebrate their victory, to engage in eating and drinking what they had won, and probably to do worse things with the women they had captured.

David and his men fell upon them like an avenging fury. Four hundred Amalekites escaped, but the rest were killed. That statistic tells you something about the kind of warrior David was, and the men he had with him. The number of Amalekites that escaped was equal to the total number of men that David used in the attack. In other words, the Amalekites outnumbered David’s men considerably. David and his men had traveled several hundred miles in a matter of days, and yet David achieved total victory. It is true that David and some of his men were exceptional warriors. But I think it is impossible to look at this without seeing a miracle of God.

David recovered not only his own family and those of his men, but virtually everything that the Amalekites had taken from them. In addition, they recovered the loot that the Amalekites had taken from the Philistines and other Israelites in their expedition. So they ended up with far more than they had even before Ziklag was destroyed. The end of chapter thirty devotes some time to talking about what happened to all this stuff. There is a reason for that, so we will look at it too.

First, some of David’s men were not inclined to share with those who collapsed in exhaustion at the edge of the desert. David could have gone along with that, and no one would have blamed him. On the other hand, he would also have been within his rights as their leader to rebuke the miserly ones harshly, if he did not like their attitudes. Again, he chooses neither typical reaction. Instead, he speaks as a companion, urging them to do right:

23 But David said, “My brothers, you must not do this with what the LORD has given us. He protected us and handed over to us the raiders who came against us. 24 Who can agree to your proposal? The share of the one who goes into battle is to be the same as the share of the one who remains with the supplies. They will share equally.” (1Sam 30:23-24, HCSB)

His main point is very important. David feels clearly that it was the Lord who gave them the victory; therefore all that they gained from the Amalekites belongs not to them, but to God. It is the Lord’s loot, so to speak. Yes they worked for it. But even so, it was given by God. He says they shouldn’t be selfish “with what the Lord has given us.” David wants to distribute his gains with an understanding that it all came from the Lord.

It was not the fault of the 200 that they were not strong enough. And they did play an important strategic purpose, guarding a portion of their equipment. And it isn’t as if they those 200 had not already shared in many battles and hardships with the others. David would rather err on the side of kindness and generosity. This policy apparently become law when David was king – the ones who guarded the baggage received an equal share with those who fought.

There are two important points in connection with this. First, it shows that David continually placed his trust in God, not in his own strength or the strength of his warriors. In some ways, giving the baggage-guards equal shares would make some people more inclined to stay back and guard in the future. After all, guarding the baggage is safer than fighting the battle, and the pay will now be the same. But David is not worried about weakening his army. He trusts God – he doesn’t have to try and motivate people to help him – he trusts that God will be all the help he needs.

Second, this is where David again shows us a type of Christ. Jesus told a parable about workers in a field in Matthew 20:1-16. The basic point Jesus made is that the person who comes to him at the end of her life will receive the same eternal life as the one who followed Jesus for all her days. This can be seen as offensive. When I work harder than another person, but I get paid the same amount, something in me doesn’t like that – even if I agreed beforehand to work for that amount. But what David’s actions show us is a picture of the grace of God. God’s grace is not fair. If it was fair, no one would be allowed to have it all, and it wouldn’t be grace. No, God graciously gives us what we do not deserve at all – and so here David mirrors that. The bible clearly says that no one has the capacity to be good enough to get to heaven or earn God’s love or favor. But when something concrete like this happens, it forces us to see what that really means.

After everyone has received his own possessions back, plus a share of spoils, there is still more left over. David also uses this extra wealth as if it belongs to God, not to him.

First, he sent a portion to the elders at Bethel (verse 27). This could be the town of Bethel. But in Hebrew “Beth-el” means “house of God.” So far, we don’t know of any special connection between David and the town of Bethel. Considering that, and knowing David’s heart for God, I think that probably the best translation is that David’s first gifts were given to the “house of God” – meaning the tabernacle where the Ark was kept and where all Israel went to worship God.

Next, he sent gifts to a variety of towns and people. I think verse 31 sums up what he was doing. He was giving back “to all the places where David and his men had roamed.” He had depended on the generosity of others for years. Now, as soon as he has the chance, he returns the generosity. I don’t think he is trying to pay them back – I think it is gift of thanks, in honor of God.

Now, what do we do with this?

I have met people before who are proud of what they have accomplished, and who are unwilling to admit that they ever had God’s help with anything. “I’ve worked hard for what I have” is their underlying attitude. But David and his men clearly worked hard for what they gained also. They traveled 300 miles and fought a battle at the end of it. But even so, David receives it not as something he got for himself, but as a gift from God.

I want to encourage all of us to understand that everything we have ultimately comes from God – even if we feel we worked hard for it. A lot of people in this world work harder every day than your toughest day at work, and barely get enough to stay warm and fed. What makes your hard work better than theirs? Nothing, of course.

Now, I am not trying to condemn anyone. The point I want to make however, is that even the opportunity to be rewarded for hard work comes from the Lord. What I want us to understand is that everything that we have has been loaned to us by God, even if we work for it. It is His, not ours. If you aren’t sure about this, just ask yourself – how long do you get to keep what you have worked for? When you die, it isn’t yours anymore. It’s all given to us in trust, for us to use for God’s purposes. So like David, this first thing to do with it, is give some back to His work, and then to bless those we are led to bless, and then yes, to keep some to enjoy for ourselves.

The most important thing for us to understand from 1 Samuel 30, however, is God’s grace. We don’t deserve it. No one does. The men who waited at the edge of the desert simply failed physically. They couldn’t keep up. They didn’t journey as far. They didn’t risk their lives fighting to recover even their own families and goods, let alone the extra goods. Notice that those men did not speak up or argue, because the others were correct. But David spoke up for them, on their behalf. God shows his gracious heart through his servant David.

We have all failed, like those men. We haven’t done what we needed to do to get salvation for ourselves or our loved ones. We don’t have any excuse, or any claim upon the goodness of God. And yet, God gives us what we do not deserve. He blesses us abundantly with his love, his forgiveness, his acceptance, his favor, the material things we need to live, and especially his presence in our lives. I exhort you, receive from Him in faith right now, everything you need physically, spiritually and emotionally.





When we are faced with trouble we have several options. Maybe we blame and abuse ourselves and slip into self-absorbed despair. Perhaps we blame others and feel better by thinking about that. Maybe we are more positive, and jump and try to control and fix the situation. David did not do any of these things. Instead, he simply held on to God.


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1 Samuel #28. 1 Samuel Chapter 29. David in Jeopardy (again).

A few weeks ago we observed that though David went to live among the Philistines without consulting God, things seemed to go well for him. But starting this chapter, and culminating in the next two, we will learn why it was a mistake. Remember, though, even though David made this mistake, God was gracious and continued to work for David and through him.

At the beginning of chapter 28, David gets put in a very difficult position. He has deceived king Achish of Gath into believing that he has been attacking Israelites. So when all the Philistines together begin a campaign against the Israelites, Achish invites David along. In fact, it sounds almost like a test of loyalty. He says to David, “you know of course, you and your men must come along with me.” I love David’s answer. “Good. You will find out what I can do.” Notice, he doesn’t say who he is going to do it to. I think David secretly meant, “Good, you’ll find out what kind of warrior I am when I have to fight you.” Achish, believing as he does that David has truly defected to the Philistines, does not catch the possible double meaning. Instead, he feels that David has passed the test of loyalty, and he even offers David to be his lifetime bodyguard. So David is on his way to the war between the Philistines and Israelites – but he is on the wrong side.

Now, I want you to picture how it was for David and his men. David has consistently refused to hurt Saul. They have never attacked fellow Israelites. But now, suddenly, they are marching to war against Saul and the people of Israel, allied with their long-time hated enemies, the Philistines. I can’t imagine that David’s men were happy about this.

They will have two choices. First, they could do what they appear to be doing, which is, to remain allies with the Philistines, and fight on their side during the battle. This could create considerable emotional and spiritual turmoil. They may find themselves facing friends and relatives, and truthfully, they don’t believe in the righteousness of the Philistine cause for war. If they do this, they will be traitors, and Saul, for all his unfair suspicions in the past, will be proved right in the end. If they win, they will have destroyed their country, and no on in Israel would ever accept David as king again. If they lose, they will have destroyed themselves.

Their second choice is to betray the Philistines in the middle of the battle. But that would be problematic for several reasons. First, it shows them as faithless to the Philistines who have treated them fairly kindly for more than a year. Also, if they do that, they will be immediately fighting behind enemy lines, surrounded by the enemy army. Casualties would be very heavy. Another thing is, the Israelites may not understand what David’s men were doing, and if they were able to fight through and link up with Saul’s army, the Israelites might start fighting them anyway. Remember there were no cell phones or radios for them to communicate their intentions to the Israelite army. Finally, Saul’s history shows that even extreme demonstrations of loyalty do not convince him for long. There is no guarantee that turning on the Philistines would actually win Saul’s favor. Saul might even take the battle as an opportunity to kill David, even if he knows that David is helping him.

This is not a good time for David. It is possible that he wrote Psalm 38 at this time (though not certain):

1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath!
2 For your arrows have sunk into me,
and your hand has come down on me.
3 There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
4 For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.

12 Those who seek my life lay their snares
those who seek my hurt speak of ruin

and meditate treachery all day long.

We don’t know what David would have done – it is not clear in the text. I suspect that he had some vague thought that Saul might be killed in the battle, and then he could rally the Israelites himself. We’ll never know, however, because the Philistines interfered. David was allied with king Achish of Gath. But there were five Philistine kings all together. Each Philistine King ruled over a city and some surrounding territory. When the other four kings saw that Achish had David and 600 Hebrew warriors with him, they objected strenuously. They couldn’t trust him, and so reluctantly, Achish sent David back to the town he had given him, Ziklag. David objects to Achish, and I’m not sure if the objection was genuine, or merely to maintain the deception that he was truly loyal.

In any case, it seems to me that the Lord arranged things to get David out of a very difficult position. David had placed himself there, by deceiving Achish about who he was raiding over the past year. It was his own fault that he was between a rock and hard place. But the Lord extricated him anyway. This is more evidence of God’s incredible, undeserved grace.

So David and his men did not take part in the battle, but traveled home to Ziklag. It took them three days to get back, and when they arrived they received a horrible shock – it was burned to the ground, and all their wives, children and possessions were gone. The Amalekites were very wily. They had seen that the Philistines and Israelites had focused all their attention on one another. So they raided all the through the southern territories of both peoples, finding only defenseless towns and villages, for all the men had gone off to war.

David and his men were devastated at the loss of their families. It says:

4 Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep. (1Sam 30:4, ESV)

When the grief was over, anger kicked in. But it was chiefly anger against David. His men had fairly good reasons to complain. David had led them to settle with the Philistines in the first place. David had not let them be at peace in Ziklag, but had raided the Amalekites, arousing their ire. David had decided to deceive the Philistines into thinking they were allies. Therefore it was David’s fault that they had marched away with the Philistine armies, leaving their families defenseless. The men talked not just of mutiny, but of stoning David to death. Stoning wasn’t considered murder – it was considered just punishment for gross wrongdoing.

Try and get inside the mind of David for a minute. There is no doubt that he himself had made a mess of things. He didn’t have many good options to start with, with Saul chasing him, and people betraying him, but even so, all his choices of the past 18 months had led to this mess. He had lost his own family. He had lost the families of his faithful men, and all the possessions they had finally been able to accumulate after years of homelessness. Now his men were turning on him.

There were several options for David at that point. He could have said, “yes, go ahead and stone me.” That would have been the response of despair and giving up. He could have been angry. War leaders in those days had a great deal of authority over their men. He was, after all, God’s anointed. He could have rebuked his men, and blamed them for some of what happened. After all, there is no doubt that they had been happier in Ziklag than wandering homeless in the desert. He would have been within his rights to execute the ringleaders of the rebellion. He could have tried to fix the problem himself immediately, trusting in his own strength and wisdom to pull off some kind of miracle.

Instead, it says:

But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God. (1 Samuel 30:6)

The word “strengthened himself” is the Hebrew word transliterated “chazaq.” It means to seize upon, to lay hold of with obstinate persistence. The sense it gives us, is that David focused and fastened his heart, mind, soul and strength on God and God alone, and held on for dear life. He did not immediately try to fix anything or even to defend himself. He just held on to the Lord.

Once more, we see evidence of David’s faith-filled heart. There is no doubt that he has already made some very bad decisions in his life. He is in a mess created by some of those unfortunate choices right now. But his instinct is always to turn back to the Lord. That is the life of faith. It isn’t about performing perfectly, or even performing well. It is about grabbing ahold of the Lord through faith, and holding on for dear life, through good and bad, through the evil brought about by others and the messes brought about by yourself. This, and this alone, is what made David such a great man.

We can see how David’s focus on the Lord brought him back on track. He already knew that the Amalekites were God’s enemies. Clearly, they have already attacked, and this is war. It was certainly David’s right to pursue them and bring them to battle if he could. It would be easy just to assume, and then act. But David, after strengthening himself in the Lord, also humbles himself, assuming nothing, wanting earnestly to hear from God. So before doing anything else, he inquires of the Lord.

Once more, “inquiring of the Lord” most likely involved a sacrifice and a worship service, and possibly even a fellowship meal. It wasn’t a quick thing. But David took the time to worship the Lord, and to lead his men to do the same, before anything else was done.

I want to pause and consider a few things here. I hope David’s life is showing us that perfection is not necessary – only faith is. But think for a moment about your typical response when you are in difficulties. Do you waste time and energy blaming yourself? Do you tend to trust yourself to come up with a solution? Do you want to control the situation and work it out, essentially save yourself? Or maybe your response is depression and despair. You might tend to think the worst will happen to you, so you may as well get resigned to your fate. Perhaps you even blame yourself and accept that you deserve the disaster because you brought it on yourself. Maybe you typically take another approach – you blame others, and get angry at them when things don’t go well. It helps you feel better or more righteous to say it is someone else’s fault.

I think we all tend toward one or more of these things when trouble comes. I want to encourage us, however, to be more like David. He didn’t do any of these. Instead, he fastened his hope and trust on the Lord. Like a bulldog latching on and not letting go, he focused on God with all his soul, heart and strength. All the energy that he might have put into controlling the situation, or blaming others or blaming himself – he put into holding on to the Lord. Don’t put your energy into blame, or self-abuse. Don’t even put your energy into fixing things. Put all your focus into obstinate faith. This is just as true even when you know it is all your own fault.

It is also possible that David wrote Psalm 91 somewhere around this time, either while he strengthened himself in the Lord, or perhaps after his battle with the Amalekites. But whether or not he wrote it, then it is relevant here:

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High; will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler; and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.

9 Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place-
the Most High, who is my refuge-
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you; to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation



Saul begins to reap the deadly benefits of religion without relationship.

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1 SAMUEL PART#27. Chapter 28

Remember all that we have learned about king Saul. One of the most important things we discovered is that he was a religious man, but not a man of faith. Time after time, when he felt he could somehow use or exploit God, he did so. But when he was confident in himself, or when he felt that God had nothing to offer him, he ignored God. He had the trappings of religion and he used them to control others and manipulate God. But he did not live in a day to day walk of faith, trusting God in all things, relating to him, loving him. The depths of Saul’s spiritual poverty are revealed in 1 Samuel chapter 28.

Saul, having no real trust in God, was terrified when he saw the Philistines. Now consider something. Every time Saul was involved in a battle with the Philistines up to this point, God saved the Israelites. The Lord used Jonathan in chapter 13, and David in chapter 17, and several other times. But none of that seemed to make any difference to Saul. He was just as scared and faithless as he had always been.

I want to pause and say something about that here. Sometimes we think that if God just did a miracle for us, then we would really trust him. If we saw the Lord do something really great, then we wouldn’t doubt, then we wouldn’t disobey or draw back in fear. But that wasn’t the case with Saul. God’s previous miracles didn’t matter. The same was true with the first Israelites who came out of Egypt. They saw many miracles. Their food and water were daily miracles. And yet it did not help them to have faith and surrender to the Lord.

Jesus addressed this issue in his own ministry. Though he did many miracles, often people came and demanded miracles on the spot – basically asking him to prove himself to them. Jesus addressed this Luke 11:27-29:

27 As He was saying these things, a woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “The womb that bore You and the one who nursed You are blessed! ” 28 He said, “Even more, those who hear the word of God and keep it are blessed! ” 29 As the crowds were increasing, He began saying: “This generation is an evil generation. It demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. (Luke 11:27-29, HCSB)

John records that many miracles (‘signs’) still did not convince people who did not want to be convinced:

37 Even though He had performed so many signs in their presence, they did not believe in Him. (John 12:37, HCSB)

In another place, Jesus told a story about a poor man named Lazarus, and a rich man. At the end of the story, the rich man found himself in hell. He begged that someone be sent from heaven to tell his family the truth about the afterlife. Jesus concludes the story like this:

31 “But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:31, HCSB)

When people in the New Testament say “Moses and the Prophets” they mean “the bible” since that was as much Bible as they had at that time. What Jesus is saying is this: if you don’t trust God’s word and the promises in scripture, no amount of miracles will cause you to trust.” The problem can’t be fixed by a miracle. That is both hard and good for us to remember. Seeing is not believing. With God, believing is seeing.

So Saul, in spite of all that he has seen God do, is a religious pretender, not a man of real faith. Therefore, now, facing the Philistines, he is quaking in fear. It says that he inquired of the Lord. As before, Saul doesn’t go to the Lord unless he thinks God can do something for him. So now, he inquires of the Lord only out of fear and a desire to manipulate God. It doesn’t tell us what Saul was asking God. I think it is most likely that he made an animal sacrifice to the Lord, and was hoping for some prophecy that God was pleased with the sacrifice, and would give Saul the victory. But he didn’t hear anything by way of the “sacred dice” (the urim and thummin) or through prophets, or in dreams. Basically, Saul is demanding another sign here, before he will really trust God. He has had God’s help all his life, but he still won’t trust the Lord without some kind of additional sign.

God has been working on Saul all of his life. Remember how he called him to be king? Remember how he gave him the victory at Jabesh Gilead? Remember how even after Saul proved to be useless to God, God kept pursuing Saul’s heart, sending him a troubling spirit to get him to turn to the Holy Spirit for relief? Saul has had decades to surrender his heart to the Lord. The Lord has never quit trying to win him over. I think this lack of a sign is one more chance for Saul to surrender his heart. The Lord has put him in a crisis where he has the same two choices he has always had: 1. Trust God, or 2. Manipulate God and other people to control his own destiny, and get the outcome he wants. Before this, Saul has always chosen #2. He doesn’t know it, but this will be his last chance to give his heart to the Lord.

Tragically, Saul once again chooses to try to control his own life and outcomes, rather than trusting God. When he doesn’t hear from the Lord, trust is not even an option. Saul simply must find some way to manipulate God into saying what he wants to hear, or doing what he wants God to do. So he seeks out a medium, or witch, or spiritist, or whatever you want to call it.

Deuteronomy 18:9-14 says this:

10 There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the LORD your God, 14 for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do this.

These practices were part of the reason for Holy War, which Saul failed to carry out as king. Not only were the people of God not supposed to do these things, they were supposed to wipe out those who did. Such things separate people from God and put them under the influence of hell. Saul did make some attempt to stamp out the practice of the occult, but obviously he wasn’t entirely successful. And now he is willing to deliberately abandon faith in God, abandon his previous laws against these things, and seek help from the dead.

Here is the final proof of Saul’s internal condition. Religion is just something to be used and manipulated, and if one approach doesn’t work to accomplish his aim, he’ll try another. So he and a few of his men disguise themselves and go to the witch. The disguise is actually pretty pathetic. The woman lives not far from the battlefield. Her visitor is the tallest man she’s ever seen, and he wants to talk to the ghost of the prophet Samuel. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out it is Saul. So at first she thinks it is a trap. Then when she is convinced, she pretends that the ghost of Samuel told her who Saul was.

Now it is natural to wonder, what really happened here? Was the woman a charlatan who made it all up? Was there really a spiritual presence there? And if so, was it really Samuel?

To answer that, we need to consider what the Bible says about life after death. Certainly, the entire New Testament teaches that at the end of time, there will be a judgment day. Those who rejected Jesus will be thrown into a lake of fire with the devil and his demons. Those who receive him will be physically resurrected to an eternal, joyful existence.

But there is that period of time in between. Samuel was in the period, as is every person who has died up until today (except for Jesus). Some people believe that in that “between-time,” you are unaware of existence until judgment day, at the end of time. Others believe, as I do, that there is a period of time when dead souls are either with Jesus in joy and freedom, or in hell. The presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus in Matthew 17, suggests this very strongly. Jesus painted this picture of life after death in his story of Lazarus and the rich man. Revelation 6:9-11 shows people who have died, yet are aware and are waiting for the final judgment day and the resurrection. Actually several passages in Revelation suggest that there is life with Jesus between death and the physical resurrection that will occur at the end of time.

Therefore in order to believe that it really was the spirit of Samuel, we have to believe that some people on earth – mediums, fortune tellers etc. – have the power to pull people out of the presence of God and back to earth so we can talk to them. I don’t buy it for second.

There is another reason to believe that this was not really Samuel. God chose not to answer Saul when Saul wanted some reassurance. He did not answer through the urim, or through the prophets or in dreams. If God would chose not to speak to Saul through these holy and righteous means, why would he then work through the unrighteous means of a medium – basically rewarding Saul’s wicked behavior?

Even beyond these most significant facts, there are other things in the text which suggest that this was not Samuel. Saul himself could not see the spirit – he had to ask the medium what he looked like. Her reply was very vague: “An old man wearing robes.” That’s pretty much how I picture Samuel myself. Saul accepted this description as true, but there is nothing in it that actually identifies Samuel personally.

Finally, there is the message that Saul got from this apparition. Once again we need to question why God would speak through this illegitimate means after not answering by any legitimate route. But secondly, listen to the tone of the message. It is angry, bitter and hopeless. There is no encouragement. There is not even any opportunity for repentance. Not too long after this, Saul becomes wounded and commits suicide, rather than fight on with courage. I personally believe that his encounter with this evil spirit contributed to that act.

I do believe that there was something spiritual going on here – something creepy and utterly evil. Remember the other Saul, in the New Testament, the one who repented and came to Jesus, and later was known as Paul? He encountered a girl who could tell the future. But it was an evil spirit that gave her the power of limited fortune telling (Acts 16:16-19). I met someone once, who used to be involved in fortune telling, and spirit communication for money. She became a Christian and rejected all that. We asked her what was involved in it. She said that sometimes, she was just tricking people by being observant, and making vague statements combined with educated guesses. But she also told us that sometimes, she was aware of a spiritual presence which gave her information – which she now realizes was a demon.

I personally believe that Saul unknowingly sought (and received) an audience with a demon, masquerading as Samuel. Saul was rewarded with the kind of the thing you would expect from a demon: condemnation and hopelessness. By turning to witchcraft and séance to try and control his life, he was turning his back utterly on God and seeking help from hell. And he got exactly what you might expect from hell.

So where to do we go with this text?

First, if this isn’t too obvious, don’t play around with séances, spirit-guides, mediums, psychics and so on. That stuff comes straight out of the pit of hell, and you are inviting the depths of hell into your life if you fool with it. Saul’s results were dramatic and self-destructive.

I find some reminders here about religion. There are many people like Saul who go to church and talk the religious talk as a way to manipulate God or influence others. It became a way of life for Saul, and ultimately it destroyed him. God never gave up on him, but by his empty religious spirit, Saul took himself out of God’s jurisdiction. I hate religion. I love Jesus, but I hate religion. I think maybe God hates it too. Religion is about appearance and manipulation. Real faith is about surrendering your heart to the One who created you, and cares about you more than anyone else in the universe. Saul had plenty of religion. David had faith.

There is also a caution here about how you view miracles. I’ve seen miracles. I love it when God does them. But my faith does not depend on them, and I know I cannot demand them from God, on my cue. We sometimes think (like Mike and the Mechanics) that all we need is a miracle. Not so. All we need is the Lord, and to get him all we need is faith to believe he is there and to trust him. Miracles are real, and great, but if we make them necessary to trusting God, we are in trouble. Jesus himself warned against that attitude.

I think there are many times when we get ourselves into situations like Saul’s. We come face to face with a problem. We can try to manage and control life ourselves; or we can trust the Lord and surrender to him. I pray that we make the second choice, not the first.

I guess the main message is the same message we hear over and over through scripture: Trust the Lord. Base that trust on his word and his promises, not on anything else.

More Mistakes, More Grace



1 SAMUEL #26. CHAPTER 27:1-12

David was not a great hero of the faith because he was particularly righteous. He became one of the Bible’s great ones because whenever he failed, he returned to the Lord seeking mercy, and went back to trusting God again.

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Many people have the misunderstanding that David only failed spiritually once in his life, in the matter with Bathsheba. If you have been following this sermon series, however, you will have noticed that in fact, David has already failed a number times in his life, both spiritually and in terms of achieving his goals. The picture we have of David is not a man who was almost perfect. Instead, he is a very flawed human being. But he was a person who was always willing to admit his mistakes, and he continually looked to the Lord (not to himself or to others) for forgiveness, help and encouragement.

Chapter twenty-seven records yet another time when David failed spiritually. The last time the Lord spoke to David about where he should be making his base, he said, through the prophet Gad, that David should stay in the land of Israel, in the territory of the Tribe of Judah (1 Samuel 22:5).

David did that for several years, but it was brutal. He and his men couldn’t live in a town for fear that Saul would catch them. If they stayed in a town, but escaped before Saul got to them, it was likely that Saul would punish the citizens of that place. So David and his men lived in caves and outdoors. They couldn’t farm to support themselves. There were six-hundred of them, so they couldn’t hunt or gather enough food either. They relied on friends and strangers to help them through their tough times. But often, the people alerted Saul to their location, and they found themselves running for their lives. They continued to barely survive, but it didn’t look (at least on the outside) like they were doing anything constructive.

At one point, it looked like David had convinced Saul to leave him alone, by sparing Saul’s life in the cave. But Saul eventually came back, and David was so surprised, he had to go see for himself. Last time we saw how David once again dramatically showed Saul that he meant him no harm. This caused Saul to leave again, but you can almost see the wheels turning in David’s head, as he realizes that Saul will never leave him alone for good. If sparing his life the first time would not convince Saul that David was a loyal subject, nothing could.

There is something else that the text mentions that we haven’t talked about yet. These men were young, but many of them, including David, had families (v.2). Living like they were, it must have been hard on their wives and children.

So David does something uncharacteristic – he makes a unilateral decision without consulting the Lord. The last thing he heard on the subject was that he should stay in the territory of Judah. Without asking God again, he takes his men and their families and goes to the territory of the Philistines. The Hebrew shows David’s thoughts to be something like this: “There is nothing good left for me. So I’ll go to the Philistines.”

Now, we should be careful stating absolutely that David was sinning here. The scripture doesn’t say one way or the other. But I think we can say that to do this without asking God was unusual for David, and it did not reflect the relationship of trust in the Lord that he normally had. In fact, it seems more like something that Saul would do, than David. At the very least, it looks like David made a decision that was based more on fear, hopelessness and weariness than on faith. We can also see that as a result, he put himself in a position where he had to be deceptive.

He went back to Achish, king of the Philistine city of Gath – the same place he went when he first fled from Saul (chapter 21). No doubt Achish has heard what David has been doing since he left last time, and he knows now that David is not insane. Even so, David might be a powerful ally. He is bringing six-hundred men who have been hardened by the wilderness and by some battles. He is technically the enemy of Saul, king of Israel. So Achish once again allows David to take refuge in his territory. He sees the potential in an alliance, and also the potential danger in picking a fight with David and his six-hundred hard men.

This time, however, David is a little wiser, and seeks to keep physical distance between himself and the king. He asks if he and his men can stay in some town out in the country, away from the capital, Gath. So Achish gave David the town of Ziklag to live in.

Four hundred years before, when Joshua led the people of Israel across the Jordan river, the entire land was given to the Israelites by God. They still had to enter in and take possession of the land by driving out the pagan tribes – but the Lord promised to be with them and help them do that. However, no tribe truly trusted God enough to fully possess what he had promised. So the town of Ziklag was supposed to belong to the tribe of Judah – but they had never actually taken possession of it, being too afraid to challenge the Philistines. Now, David – a man from the tribe of Judah – receives this little town as a gift, without any fight at all.

We could look at this and say, “Oh, I guess David did the right thing after all, because things began to work out for him.” But I don’t think so. Just a little more than a year after David went to the Philistines, David’s problem with Saul was solved, and he was free to live in any city in Israel. This would have happened whether or not he had gone to live in Philistine territory. So I don’t think the gift of Ziklag was God’s endorsement on David’s actions. Instead, I think it shows us how gracious God is. Even when David was afraid and more or less ran away, the Lord blessed him, and through him, blessed his people. The Lord did not allow David’s fear and lack of faith to hinder what He (God) wanted to do. Though David didn’t deserve it, God used him anyway. Though David didn’t deserve it, God allowed he and his men to have a time of relative rest and stability. God continues to work, no matter what happens. Our own failure will never stop him from being at work.

There is something else that strikes me. Right or wrong, now that David has done this, the Lord moves forward from here, and he leads David to do the same. Remember in chapter 15, earlier in Saul’s reign, the Lord told Saul to wipe out the tribe called the Amalekites? Saul only partly obeyed. He didn’t carry out the war the way the Lord asked. But now David begins a campaign of raids against the Amalekite clans. In each raid, he completely wiped out everyone he found. This was something that God wanted to happen. We don’t have time and space to re-hash all the discussion about Holy War, where we considered why God might want to do this. Go back to to review this subject. The point here, is that David, even after he messed up, is back on track. He is letting the Lord accomplish his purposes through his (David’s) life. David and his men were warriors, with the hearts and desires that go along with that. So the Lord used them just as he made them. Even so, there is an obedience here. They weren’t fighting just anyone they could find. They were letting the Lord fight His battles through them, making war only when and where the Lord led them to.

Unfortunately, David had to engage is some deliberate deception at this point. King Achish wanted to know what he was up to. So David replied accurately, but deceptively. He said he was raiding in the southern territories of Judah and Israel. Technically, that was true. All that land was supposed to belong to Israel, including the places where David fought the Amalekites. But he certainly was not fighting other Israelites. Even so, he let Achish believe that he was making war on his own countrymen.

Now, we might say that David’s deception was part of the war between Israel and the Philistines, and therefore it is justified. After all, Achish was actually David’s enemy, though they were in a temporary truce. So it is almost like a spy lying to the enemy – it is an act of war, not a sin. I won’t say that interpretation is definitely wrong. And in the short term, David’s deception allowed him and his men to be at peace, and to advance God’s agenda.

Even so, David’s deception led to problems in the future – even as it had in the past. It put him in a very awkward position not too long after this. He had to be saved from that position by people and circumstances beyond his control. In fact, I suspect it was the Lord who saved him from the consequences of his own lies.

In the long run, true honesty is always the best policy. The fact that David put himself in a position where he basically had to lie, is one reason that I suspect that God did not lead him to go live among the Philistines. In addition, I am not sure why David and his men could not have raided the Amalekites from their base in the Wilderness of Judah, and thus gained much needed supplies and food.

Here are some things that I personally take away from this passage:

One thing that strikes me is how the Lord moves forward with us and with his plan, even when we take a wrong turn. We don’t go back to where we screwed up and do it over. Instead, the Lord mercifully picks us up where we are, gets us back on track. He didn’t make David go back to Judah and start over. Instead he adapted his plan, accounting for David’s mistake.

As we have seen before, the main goal in the life of faith is to trust God. If we do that, our behavior will naturally be pleasing to God. And even when we fail, if we return to a place of faith and trust, God is overwhelmingly gracious. Despite David’s failure, God gave him stability and rest, and through him, restored to Israel one of the towns that had been given them. Despite David’s failure, he continued to use him and bless him. I can trust that the Lord will deal with me in the same. I know I am not perfect – not in behavior, not even in how well I trust God. Because of Jesus, my failure is not the final word, not the most important factor. God’s grace is always a bigger factor than my failure. God has a way of turning failure into gracious victory and blessing. That takes a lot of pressure off me.

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you?




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1 Samuel #25. 1 Samuel Chapter 26:1-25

Often when I teach through the Bible, I am looking for tightly focused themes and messages in each passage. That works pretty well in the teaching portions of scripture. But often, when we get to narrative history, I feel like each passage is a box of chocolates: a lot of variety, a few surprises, but all of it is sweet.

I want to point out again David’s precarious situation. He trying to lead and support 600 men who can’t stay in one place. In fact, they can’t stay in any civilized place, because the king has declared him an outlaw, under the death sentence. He is dependent upon gifts from friends and strangers. He is also vulnerable to these same people, if they choose to betray them. We don’t know for sure how long David lived this way, but it was certainly years – maybe even as long as a decade.

One of the reasons I like to point this out is because many churches and popular preachers seem to suggest that if you have faith in God, everything will always go well for you. By implication, if things do not go well with you, it must because you don’t have enough faith, or you are not righteous enough. David was an imperfect human being, but he did live in faith. In fact he had a great deal of trust in the Lord, and always repented from his sins, and was willing to humbly learn to do better.

Even so, for many years, it did NOT go well with David. I just want to make sure that no one reading this ever falls prey to the teaching that if life is tough on you, it is because you don’t have enough faith, or you are a bad Christian or something like that. Also, I want to make sure you don’t believe that you can earn favors from God by being righteous, or saying the right words or having the right kind of faith.

I do want to say, however, that David became the great man he was because of faith. Sometimes things went very well for him and sometimes they didn’t. But how it was going on the outside was not as important to David as the quality of his relationship with the Lord. And because that relationship was more important to David than anything else, God was able to use him in amazing ways, and also to bless David without David thinking he had earned it.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to receive all of life as blessing, whether or not it looks that way outwardly? If we could do that, it wouldn’t matter much to us whether circumstances were good or bad. We would always be experiencing life as blessing. David was getting there.

In chapter 26, David is still in a time of outward difficulty. But we will quickly see that things are very good with his heart. Once more, the Ziphites betrayed David – the same people who almost got him killed in chapter 23. They knew where David was, and they told Saul to come and get him. As far as we know, Saul had left David alone since the incident when David spared his life in the cave. But the Ziphites basically tempted Saul to sin. Having betrayed David once, this group of people probably thought that if David were not killed, he would take retribution on them if he had the chance, so they may have been quite urgent and persuasive in trying to get Saul to start hunting David again.

David can hardly believe it, so he takes a few men on a reconnaissance mission to see if Saul really has come. One of them is Abishai. Abishai is the son of David’s sister Zeruiah, which made him David’s nephew. Since David was the youngest of ten, it is quite possible that he and Abishai are basically the same age, or even that Abishai is a little older. They might have spent a lot of time together as boys. At this point, they are both probably in their early or mid-twenties, in the prime of physical power and maybe a little inclined to try something crazy.

The two of them decide to sneak into the heart of Saul’s encampment at night. This is the desert, so the soldiers probably did not have tents. The picture seems to be that Saul chose his sleeping spot, and then the whole army arranged themselves around him, with his bodyguard closest to him and the rest around them in a rough circle. David and Abishai crept through the entire circle of sleeping men and came to Saul sleeping soundly, along with Abner, the chief of Saul’s bodyguard.

All this appears somewhat similar to chapter 24, but only superficially. Almost every detail is different. Saul doesn’t come alone into the cave where David and his men were waiting. Instead David creeps with only one companion into the middle of Saul’s camp. This time it wasn’t Saul almost finding David where he was hiding, it was David finding Saul where he was camped openly. Before, David was passive. This time he initiated the action.

I think that it is not coincidence that this happened shortly after David’s interactions with Nabal. In chapter 24, we have the record of how David was tested, in the cave with Saul, and he passed that test. But with Nabal, he failed. He fully intended to take matters into his own hands regarding Nabal, and was saved from sin only by the wisdom of Abigail. Now, once more, he gets the chance to take matters into his own hands, or trust the Lord.

Verse 12 says that the Lord put a deep sleep on Saul and the army, which made this whole incident possible. It is almost as if the Lord is giving David a chance to see if he really learned his lesson with Nabal. It isn’t just a test – obviously, God knew what was in David’s heart. But David may not have been sure of himself. He may have had times where he thought about the incident with Nabal, and condemned himself, and wished he had behaved differently. The Lord is giving him a second chance, a “do-over.”

Abishai hasn’t matured in that way at any rate. He asks permission to kill Saul. It would be all over. The good times could begin. The days of wandering homeless, despised by people around, in danger all the time, could all be ended by one swift spear thrust. As before, it was a powerful temptation. Who could blame David? In Saul’s mind, anyway, they were enemies. It would be an act of war. It wouldn’t even be David who struck the blow.

But David has learned his lesson thoroughly. He says:

10“As the LORD lives, the LORD will certainly strike him down: either his day will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. 11 However, because of the LORD, I will never lift my hand against the LORD’s anointed. Instead, take the spear and the water jug by his head, and let’s go.” (1Sam 26:10-11, HCSB)

He saw the battle with Goliath as the Lord’s fight. So he sees the struggle with Saul. It isn’t his, really – it is God’s business, and David trusts God to take care of it in His own time and in His own way.

As morning breaks, from a safe distance, David calls and awakens the camp. He shows them the spear and the water jug he has taken from Saul’s side. David is young and strong, and he has accomplished an amazing, bloodless feat of arms. So he teases Abner, Saul’s commander for a moment. I get the feeling he is rejoicing in what he and Abishai just did. But then, once again he respectfully confronts Saul with his wrongdoing. Like Abigail did with David, so David does with his king, Saul. He shows Saul he is wrong; he reminds him of true righteousness in God’s eyes – but he does it all with respect. You might say that David is submissive to the authority of Saul, but he is not subservient or a doormat.

At the end of the discussion, David shows where his trust is:

23 May the LORD repay every man for his righteousness and his loyalty. I wasn’t willing to lift my hand against the LORD’s anointed, even though the LORD handed you over to me today. 24 Just as I considered your life valuable today, so may the LORD consider my life valuable and rescue me from all trouble.” (1Sam 26:23-24, HCSB)

He doesn’t ask Saul to treat him the way he treated Saul. Instead, he declares that he trusts the Lord to treat him with righteousness and love.

Throughout this, Saul seemed to be full of remorse. But he was remorseful last time two, after David spared his life in the cave. David has learned something important from Saul: Remorse is not the same as repentance. Saul let his emotions rage through him uncontrolled. Sometimes he was full of murderous fury; sometimes he was full of regret and sorrow. But the regret and sorrow did not lead to true repentance for Saul – they were just feelings he had sometimes. So, even though Saul invites David to come back with him, David does not do it. Saul is in God’s hands, but David is wise enough not to trust him.

It’s another great story, and I love it just for the daring deeds and passion and trust in God. But what does it mean for us now? What does the Lord want to say to us through this passage today?

One of the things that catches my attention here is that David and Abishai accomplished a daring exploit, a great feat of war – yet without violence or bloodshed. If you are a young man, particularly, you may sometimes yearn to do something daring or great. Often it is easiest to imagine doing this in the context of some kind of violence – saving comrades during a battle, or saving your family from the bad guys. There is nothing wrong with the desire to do daring deeds, or with having a warrior-spirit. In fact, it is a good thing, used by god. By trusting the Lord, David allowed his warrior-spirit to be used and satisfied without committing violence.

Along with that, David shows that withholding violence takes more courage than doing something violent. With one violent act, his troubles could have over. It was much harder – it was a much greater deed – to leave Saul unharmed. I think we can all learn from that. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek. It takes a lot more courage to do that than to take matters into our hands, and protect ourselves. It takes courage not to reply with harsh words or gossip when someone hurts us. It takes courage to not repay hurt with hurt.

As we read the Old Testament especially, I think it is helpful to ask: “Where is Jesus in this text?” Remember, David is sometimes a “type of Christ.” What this means is that God used David at times to show the world what the real Messiah (Jesus) is like – to people who would never get the chance to know Jesus in their earthly life.

This passage does show us a little bit of what Jesus is like. Like David, Jesus is a mighty warrior, forever in the prime of life, full of bravery and wisdom; ultimately and absolutely victorious over his enemies.

David held back from harming Saul, who, without a doubt, deserved to be harmed by David. In the same way Jesus holds back the punishment that we all richly deserve. Jesus told us to love our enemies, to pay back evil with good. David did that very thing. Jesus forgave the people who were crucifying him, even as they did the deed.

Here’s something else that I think is very significant. David did not know at the time that the Lord was using him to show the world what Jesus was like. He didn’t realize how significant his actions were. But because he lived in trust and obedience, many people in his generation, and for a thousand years after, had some idea of what the Messiah was like.

We don’t always know when someone has a chance to see Jesus through us. We can’t always tell when the Lord is doing that. Very often the opportunity comes when we least feel like it. There was a huge temptation for David to act precisely opposite of how Jesus is. So in the same way, it may be in our toughest moments that God uses us to show Jesus to the world.

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you right now?


When God sends your enemy into your cave with his pants down, unable to see you in the dark,  how do you know that it isn’t God’s will for you to kill him?


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1 Samuel #23. (Chapter 23:14 – Chapter 24:20)

This is one of my favorites stories in the entire history of David. I think what David does, and what he refrains from doing in 1 Samuel 24, shows more courage, faith and heart for God than any of his amazing feats in battle. This is David at his best.

I want to briefly summarize the end of chapter 23, since we did not cover it in detail anywhere else. After David left the town of Keilah, he took his men and went into the wilderness on the other side of the Judean mountains. It may have been more green there 3,000 years ago, but these days, it is mostly desert. It was farther away from Saul, and in terrain that was significantly more rugged. Even so, Saul pursued David there, hoping to capture or kill him. During this time, Jonathan came secretly to David, and “encouraged him in his faith in God.” They renewed their friendship.

The people of the region betrayed David, as the citizens of Keilah had done. When you read the Psalms that David wrote, you will often find references to treacherous people, liars and friends who betray. This is because this sort of thing happened to David astonishingly often. In spite of his integrity and the help he brought to others, in spite of his faithfulness to God and respect for Saul as king, people were quick to believe the worst of him, and spread lies about him, and betray him to Saul.

I don’t know about you, but this encourages me. I think my natural expectation is that if I surrender my life to Jesus and have integrity in letting him live through me, people will see it, and like it, and praise God for it. I expect a positive response to God’s life shining through me. I expect good results, and favor with people. But Jesus said we ought to expect the opposite:

18 “If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of My name, because they don’t know the One who sent Me. (John 15:18-21, HCSB)

He explains that there is blessing for us in this situation:

10 Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 11 “You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. 12 Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:10-12, HCSB)

Peter, in his first letter, also talks about this:

19 For it brings favor if, mindful of God’s will, someone endures grief from suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if you sin and are punished, and you endure it? But when you do what is good and suffer, if you endure it, this brings favor with God. (1Pet 2:19-20, HCSB)

13 And who will harm you if you are deeply committed to what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, (1Pet 3:13-14, HCSB)

Seeing the life of David, and hearing what the New Testament says, gives me hope. Being a person with a heart for God is not necessarily a way to get a whole bunch of people to like you. It isn’t a road to sure success. It is often the opposite. But I cling to these promises that there is great blessing for us in those sorts of trials, sooner or later. At this point for David, he experienced the persecution, but not the blessing.

At one point, David was almost caught. He and his men were in a valley or canyon, and Saul and his men were coming down another valley on the opposite side of the mountain. They were gaining on David. But before they could close, messengers found Saul, reporting that the Philistines were attacking elsewhere in Israel. Saul had to break off the pursuit. Once again, I want to point out that David did not know what his future held. He didn’t know for sure what God was doing, and he might very well have been caught. In that particular incident, it was merely lucky timing that saved him.

And then comes the incident described in chapter 24. This is later. Saul is back to his new hobby of trying to find David and kill him. He and his men are traipsing around the rugged desert and mountain terrain where, according to rumour, David is hiding. They aren’t having any luck. David appears to be miles away. One day, Saul has to relieve himself, and he goes into a cave alone for privacy. It just happens to be the cave where David and some of his men are holed up.

I want to make sure we understand the scenario. David was anointed by Samuel to be God’s chosen instrument. It was understood along with that, that he was supposed to be Israel’s next king. Israel’s present king – Saul – who is no longer God’s instrument, has been trying for a long time to kill David. Now Saul is alone, unarmed and unaware, standing right in front of David, night-blind, back-turned with his pants down. Saul could not be more helpless.

David’s men believe that this is a gift from God. Now is the time for David to kill Saul, and become king himself. I suspect that nine people out of ten would agree with David’s men. Killing Saul at that moment would have been easily justifiable self-defense – after all, Saul was there for the express purpose of killing David. Saul was acting contrary to God’s stated will and purposes – he was trying to kill God’s chosen instrument. So killing Saul would be not only self-defense, but also protection of God’s work in the world. I don’t believe there was a person living at the time who would have blamed David.

David creeps forward, knife held low and ready. He raises his arm to strike…and then lowers it, and quietly cuts off the corner of Saul’s robe. He creeps back to his men, and a furious but quiet argument ensues. Now David’s men, seeing that he will not kill Saul, are eager to do the deed themselves. Once again, who could have blamed David if he had let one of his men do it? Not only would he have the justifications listed already, but he could always claim that it wasn’t actually him who killed Saul, and he really didn’t want it to happen. But David argues vehemently, and commands his men not to touch Saul. Finally, Saul leaves the cave and the opportunity is lost.

I imagine the cave was up on the slope of a hill or something. After Saul has gone down a little ways, David emerges, and calls to Saul. He shows him the corner of his robe and says:

11 See, my father! Look at the corner of your robe in my hand, for I cut it off, but I didn’t kill you. Look and recognize that there is no evil or rebellion in me. I haven’t sinned against you even though you are hunting me down to take my life. 12 “May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD take vengeance on you for me, but my hand will never be against you. 13 As the old proverb says, ‘Wickedness comes from wicked people.’ My hand will never be against you. (1Sam 24:11-13, HCSB)

All this wisdom from a man not yet thirty years old. But of course, it wasn’t really David’s wisdom – it was the Spirit of God at work within David. I think the key is verse 12: “May the Lord judge between you and me, and may the Lord take vengeance on you for me, but my hand will never be against you.” David literally refused to take matters into his own hands. Remember when Saul was about to lose the entire southern portion of Israel? His army was deserting him, Samuel wasn’t showing up, and so Saul held a worship service merely for the purpose of getting people to stick around. Saul took matters into his own hands. But David will not do that. His trust is not in what he can do, but in what God will do.

However, there is a natural question. When God sends your enemy into your cave with his pants down, unable to see in the dark, facing away from you, how do you know that it isn’t God’s will for you to kill him? I mean, we’ve already offered many reasons why no one would condemn David for doing it. So how did David know he shouldn’t do it?

I think there are two answers. The first is one that I never get tired of talking about: we need to live in a day-by-day, moment-by-moment relationship with the Lord. The ten commandments told David not to murder, but it could have justifiably been called self-defense, or war, not murder. There is no rule-book that covers this scenario. David, like us, had to rely on a connection of faith with the Lord. Through that faith, the Lord communicated to him that it would be wrong. We might say David just knew it in his heart. The reason he knew it in his heart is because God put that knowledge there through the faith-relationship.

Second, in context of this faith relationship, what God showed David was that to kill Saul at this point would be taking matters into his own hands, rather than trusting. I believe that there are times when God calls us to act speedily and courageously without hesitation. But there are also times when the Lord calls us to let opportunities pass by, and trust Him to bring about his purposes in his own way. Personally, I think the second way is harder, and in our culture we almost never think that way. We typically assume that if we see a means to meet our goals, it is God giving us that chance, and we should take it. Sometimes, that may indeed be true. But sometimes the Lord calls us to wait and trust so we can receive it from him, not get it by our own effort.

Consider this: if David had killed Saul at this point, he might always afterwards wonder if God really wanted him to be king, or if he had made himself king. And there was something that was more important to David than reaching his goal of becoming king. It was more important to him to be right with God than to achieve his ambitions. So he says, “Yes, I’d like God to judge you Saul, for what you’ve done. But my priority is not to judge you, nor to make my goals happen. My priority is to be right with the Lord.”

What’s your priority? Think of something that you really, truly want. Now imagine that the power to make it happen is in your hand. Would you do it, even if you knew in your heart that God didn’t want you to?

Now, I don’t want the message to be that we are just not as righteous as David. David wasn’t any better than us. He just learned to trust God, and he made the trust the primary and most important part of his life. The message is not “you aren’t as good as David.” The message is: Trust God. I’ll say it again: Trust God. The thing that you want so much, the thing that you are convinced is even God’s will for you – God will take care of that. David eventually did become king. It didn’t happen that day. In fact it was still years away. But God did take care of it. He worked it out the best way possible.

So trust him.



As God’s “anointed one” David’s life and actions give us insight into what Jesus is like. When God’s people get themselves into trouble, both David and Jesus are eager to come to our aid.

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1 Samuel #22. God’s Heart for

Rescue. 1 Samuel 23:1-13

We are reading a book of the Bible that is primarily a record of history. Theologians call this kind of Biblical writing, “narrative.” In Sunday school, we all called them “bible stories.” The gospels – the bible stories about Jesus – are narrative. So is the book of Acts. So also, is much of the Old Testament. Whenever we read narrative we should keep in mind that there are three basic layers to it.

First, narrative parts of the Bible are descriptions of actual historical events. Archaeology has consistently confirmed and correlated the bible stories we read. Skeptics used to claim that it was all made up – but in trying to prove that, they instead proved how historically reliable the Bible is.

Even so, we need to realize that this history was written with a purpose in mind. This is true of all history, by the way. Dr Mark Cheathem will soon have a new volume published about Andrew Jackson. It will tell readers about Andrew Jackson and his life, to be sure. But Dr Cheathem will also be telling the events of Jackson’s life from a definite perspective, and building a case that it is a valid perspective. His main thesis is that Jackson’s life was shaped by his own perception of himself as part of the Southern gentry class. In a similar way, the Bible tells us real history, with a certain particular perspective. [For more information about Dr. Cheathem and his books go to] The perspective used in the Bible is that God was at work in these events, and the writers, inspired by God, record how God was interacting with humans through the incidents that are recorded. So we not only look at the historical events, but, trusting that God inspired the writers, we look at how God was at work in them.

Finally, we recognize that God is still telling the story, and he uses the Bible to communicate with us today, to tell us how he is at work in us and around us today. The bible is there to help us know God better through Jesus Christ. So as we read, we look for how he wants to communicate with us in this very moment, and how it helps us to know Jesus better, and walk in relationship with him.

In 1 Samuel 23:1-13, David hears that the town of Keilah, near both the cave of Adullam and the forest of Hereth, is under attack by the Philistines. As soon as David hears of it, he has two immediate reactions. First, he wants to go rescue them. Second, he chooses to ask the Lord if he should do that. Remember, both a prophet and priest were with David at this point, and I am sure that together, the three of them asked God about it. David’s first reaction was exactly what God wanted. His heart, and David’s heart, was to deliver his people.

But David’s men said to him, “Look, we’re afraid here in Judah; how much more if we go to Keilah against the Philistine forces! ” (1Sam 23:3, HCSB)

Remember David now has about six hundred men with him. The way war was waged in those days, it is possible that some of them had previously been sent to help Saul for a short time in some of his battles. These citizen-soldiers usually just stayed for one battle or one short campaign, and they were not as significant as the professional warriors. Generally, they just hung around, and if the battle went well, they provided manpower for pursuing enemies; if the battle went badly, they would have been the first to flee. Because these men were so low in society, however, it is possible that very few of them had any experience at warfare. Certainly, aside from David, none of them were professional warriors – yet. Quite simply, they were afraid.

Last time when Saul wanted his men to take action he spoke to them sarcastically and accusingly. David does neither. Probably mostly out of concern for his men, he asks the Lord a second time. When they hear another affirmative, David wastes no more time. He leads them into battle, and they win a resounding victory, saving the town of Keilah.

But all is not well. No doubt David and his men were tired of living in the forest and the cave. So they weren’t in a hurry to leave Keilah – a real town with houses and even a wall. They were glad to hang out in civilization for a while. Saul hears that they are there, and declares: “God has handed him over to me, for he has trapped himself by entering a town with barred gates.”

I want to pause and point out two things. The first is a small difference. In all David’s interactions with God in this passage, he calls him “the Lord.” Saul calls him “God.” “The Lord,” is the way most English translations express the Hebrew personal name for God. So, in fact, it is a more casual and intimate way to talk to God. To picture it another way, say you were talking about a man named John Smith. David is calling him “John” and Saul is calling him “Mr. Smith.” I think this is a reflection of their different relationships with God. To Saul, God is a distant Supreme Being, one that might possibly be manipulated into helping him (Saul). To David, he is a close personal relation, a friend in all times.

The second thing I want to highlight is their different approach to God’s guidance. David pauses and talks to the Lord multiple times on many occasions. He asks what God wants to do in every situation. Four times in these thirteen verses, we see David seeking God’s guidance. On other hand, Saul simply assumes that God exists to assist him to fulfill his (Saul’s) own ambitions. In these verses, he doesn’t once seek to know what God wants him to do.

Let me state this even more clearly. In Saul’s mind, the whole point of God’s existence is to help Saul have the kind of life he wants. God is his assistant. But in David’s mind and heart, he (David) exists to serve God and carry out his will on earth. He is God’s servant, and even calls himself that exact thing in verse ten. I think that these two attitudes compete for dominance in everyone who believes in the existence of God. Is God there to help us live our lives – or are we here to express His Life and fulfill His Purpose here on earth? In other words, is my life about me (with God as a help and support to me), or is my life about God (with me as his valued tool and helper)? I think we all know the correct answer to that question. But practically speaking, many Christians live as if God is their servant, not the other way round. It is so easy to start thinking that the main point of God is to do good things for me. The truth is, the main point of my life is to let God work through me.

The citizens of Keilah are apparently not very grateful to David for his help. There is no record of any expression of thanks. Instead, when David asks the Lord if it is safe to stay there, the Lord tells him that the people of Keilah will hand David and his men over to Saul, if he stays. Saul’s intention is to surround the city and destroy it, with David and his men inside. It does not say so overtly, but it is quite possible that it was a citizen of the town who went to Saul with the information that David was there.

This is ironic. The people of Keilah rejected their rescuer. They sent for Saul to come and capture David. In rejecting God’s anointed one, the citizens of Keilah were inviting their own destruction. In their rejection of David, they were destroying themselves.

Thankfully for everyone, David sought God’s guidance, as he did so frequently, and he led his men back into the wilderness, saving both himself and the town of Keilah, yet once again.

Now, we have heard the history of what happened. We have noticed how God was involved back then. But what does this mean for you today? How is the Lord using this to speak to you, to help you know Jesus better and walk with him?

Remember that David is a type of Christ. God used his life to show us what the ultimate “anointed one” is like. One of the things I think the Lord shows us here is that the heart of God is to rescue us. David, anointed with God’s spirit, heard of people who were in trouble and oppressed, and his first response was, “Can I go save them? Please?” God’s heart is for redemption. He sees people in trouble and oppressed, and he says to the anointed one, “rescue them!” Jesus’ heart is for your rescue. I know there are many things that happen in this life which we don’t understand. But we can’t doubt that God loves us and wants to save us. He came in the flesh, he gave up his body in tortuous suffering to rescues us. His heart is for our redemption. Whatever you face, you are not forgotten. There is One who sees you as precious and valuable. His heart is for your ultimate salvation, for your best good.

David rescued the people of Keilah. Today, three thousand years later, it makes no difference to those people. But the redemption we get through God’s Ultimate anointed one is eternal. It is the redemption of our spirits, souls and eventually the re-making and resurrection of our bodies. Three thousand years from now, the redemption of Jesus will still make all the difference in the universe.

Sometimes, like the people of Keilah, we don’t welcome the one who delivers us. Their rejection of David is pretty poor behavior. Here, he has just saved them, but now they turn around and try to have him killed. When we reject Jesus, it is just as offensive and ugly. He gave his life for us. Some people would like his salvation, but want nothing to do with him – they don’t want a daily relationship with him. Perhaps he interferes with our lives in ways we don’t like. When we reject God’s anointed redeemer, we are inviting not freedom, but destruction into our lives. Let their behavior caution us to receive what God wants to do in our lives.

Maybe you identify with David’s men. You aren’t a professional, like he is. Perhaps God, through Jesus, is inviting you into something new and scary that you aren’t sure you are ready for. Maybe you’ve been invited to take part in a prayer ministry. You think, “I’ve been around church. I’ve prayed out loud a few times, but I’m not experienced like some other people.” When God’s anointed (Jesus) invites you into his mission, don’t shrink back. David’s rabble weren’t fighters at this point. But out of that same group came the greatest warriors in the history of Israel.

Maybe you think you don’t have the background to pray for others, or to share your faith with your neighbor, or make a stand for God. You might be right. You probably don’t have the right background. But neither did David’s men. All they really needed was enough trust to follow where God’s anointed one led them. That’s all we need. We small, no-account group of Jesus-followers might be exactly the tools God chooses to use.

Let the Lord speak to you right now.


Saul doubted and feared. David trusted and listened. Which one are you like?

1 Samuel 22:3-23


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The Bible calls David a man after God’s own heart. We have already seen why on several occasions. He trusted the Lord to do battle with Goliath. Later he gave Goliath’s sword to the priests, because he saw it as God’s victory, not his own. David ran not to his family, but to the Lord when he was in trouble. His orientation was toward God, and all his hope and trust were in the Lord.

But this does not mean that David was perfect. Most of probably know about his major sins in connection with Bathsheba and her husband. But that wasn’t the only time he screwed up, and it certainly wasn’t the first. Two weeks ago we looked at 1 Samuel chapter 21, and saw that even though David ran to the Lord when he was in trouble, he gave in to fear and lied to the priest Ahimelech. Now in chapter 22, we see the horrible results of that lie.

Before we get to that, however, I want to point out some unrelated positive things. At this point, David was in the cave with some of his relatives, and number of other desperate men. It is unclear whether his parents had also joined him there or not. In any case, he knew his parents were likely to be in danger from Saul, and he could not expose them to the kind of harsh conditions that he would have to bear for the foreseeable future. So he took his parents to the kingdom of Moab.

There are two special things about this action. First, is the relationship David’s family had with the Kingdom of Moab. The book of Ruth is a short history (four chapters) of David’s great-grandmother Ruth. She was the grandmother of David’s father, Jesse, and it is possible that she was alive during the first part of Jesse’s life. It is a sweet story about a family that went through hard times, but still trusted in the Lord. It shows us that David came from a family of people who had a heart for God. But the important thing here is that Ruth was originally from Moab. So David did not just randomly dump his parents on the first foreign dignity he could find. He took them to people who were actually relatives, albeit distant ones.

Second, this highlights something we don’t talk about much in modern western society. Both Old and New Testaments are clear that we have a responsibility to take care of our families, and even particularly, the elderly members.

But if a widow has children or grandchildren, they should first learn to fulfill their duty toward their own household and so repay their parents what is owed them. For this is what pleases God. (1Tim 5:4, NET)

If any believing woman has widows in her family, she should help them, and the church should not be burdened, so that it can help those who are genuinely widows. (1Tim 5:16, HCSB)

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1Tim 5:8, ESV)

David took his responsibility to his family seriously. He could have said, “Look Ma and Pa, I’m just really busy these days. I’m trying not to get killed, I have this band of men to lead, I am God’s chosen instrument in this generation, and oh, by the way, I have a kingdom to win.” Those things might have easily been more pressing than taking care of his parents. But he didn’t feel right doing anything else until he knew that they were safe and well cared for. We sometimes forget that both retirement and social security are relatively new developments. In all of history until about 50 years ago, elderly people did not have these. Instead, they had children. Where I grew up in Papua New Guinea, it is still that way. When someone gets too old or infirm to provide for themselves, their family takes care of them. It may have to be that way again in America before too long. That isn’t the end of the world. It worked pretty well for most of human history. And David managed it, even in his precarious situation. I hope my kids are reading this.

When David leaves his parents there, his words to the king of Moab are very humble: “Please let my father and my mother stay with you, until I know what God will do with me.” He is not arrogant. Even though he knows Samuel anointed him as God’s chosen instrument, and to be the next king, David does not presume upon God. He humbly admits that he is in a pretty uncertain situation. I think this is also important because sometimes we read the Bible and we think faith was easy for the people that we read about. But this shows that David felt he had no guarantee of how his life would turn out, or even if he would survive the next few weeks. It is easy in hindsight to see how powerfully God worked in his life. It seems inevitable to us, reading it three thousand years later. But when David lived it, he had no more reason to trust God than you and I do today. He had no special guarantee. This should help us to have confidence that God is still working in our lives, even when we, like David, can’t be sure how things will turn out.

Now, it appears that he stayed there in Moab for a time. In fact, it says that David himself took care of his parents (they lived with him) while he was “in the stronghold.” Then the prophet Gad (this is the first time we’ve heard of him) says, “Don’t stay in the stronghold, but return to Judah.” It can be confusing, but obviously then, the “stronghold” doesn’t mean the cave, but rather, the stronghold of the king of Moab. “Judah” means the area belonging to the tribe of Judah in southern Israel.

The presence of this prophet is interesting. Samuel the prophet was Saul’s advisor for a time, but Saul never really listened to him. Finally, they parted ways forever. At this point Samuel is very elderly indeed, and would have been unable to live the hard life David was living. So the Lord sent David another prophet – this man named Gad. Fittingly enough, Gad appears to have been one of those original desperate, in-debt malcontented men that joined David. But the Lord has gifted him to speak prophetically into David’s life. And unlike Saul, David listened and immediately responded to the Lord. This wasn’t necessarily an easy choice to make. The Lord was telling David to go back to Israel, where he would be in danger from Saul. David wasn’t going to fight Saul or any Israelites, yet he was supposed to go there and remain in danger. Even so, David didn’t hesitate.

Meanwhile, we get a glimpse into what is happening with Saul. Saul has completely given himself over to hatred and jealousy of David. He verbally abuses his own son Jonathan, as well as his men, accusing them of conspiring against him. He thinks David has bribed them with promises of land and military commands. You can see that Saul has moved from insecurity to almost full blown paranoia.

It is at this time, through Saul, that David’s lie to the priest brings forth its terrible fruit. Doeg, the man from the region of Edom (not a true Israelite) speaks up. He tells Saul what he saw and heard when David came to the sanctuary at Nob. He mentions that not only did David get bread, and the sword of Goliath, but Ahimelech the priest “inquired of the Lord” for David. “Inquiring of the Lord” at the very least meant a brief worship service and then use of the Urim and Thummim (– the “holy dice,” so to speak). It may have included a more thorough time of worship, and a sacrifice. So here is our proof that David went there not only for physical help, but to hear from God and worship in his presence.

Saul summons Ahimelech (the high priest) and all the priests of Nob. He confronts Ahimelech, who protests his innocence. He knew nothing of the rift between David and Saul, because David had lied to him. It may well be that he would have helped David anyway, but David never gave him the chance to do so honestly. Ahimelech freely admits that helped David, and reminds Saul that David has always faithfully served the king – indeed he has been Saul’s most faithful and potent warrior. In a way, I think when Ahimelech confronted Saul with the truth that Saul is being unjust to both David and to himself, he sealed his own fate.

Saul rages, and orders his bodyguards to kill Ahimelech and all the high priests. They balk. This is an abomination. Even Saul’s faithful followers know that he is ordering a horrible murder. I picture Saul screaming and raging, and then Doeg, who is not an Israelite, and who is cunning and ambitious, does the deed. He murders 85 priests that day. He continues on afterwards, and directs the murder of all of their families and the destruction of the village at Nob. With eighty-five men, plus their wives and children Saul, through Doeg and Doeg’s men, murdered two-hundred people or more.

However, they missed one. Abiathar, son of Ahimelech escaped, and he took his priestly garment (called an “ephod”) with him. He fled to David and told him what happened.

Then David said to Abiathar, “I knew that Doeg the Edomite was there that day and that he was sure to report to Saul. I myself am responsible for the lives of everyone in your father’s family. (1Sam 22:22, HCSB)

David’s response is remarkable. Saul is the one who ordered the murder of the priests. Doeg is the one who carried it out and did the actual killing, probably assisted by some underlings. But David says, “this was my fault. I am responsible for the loss of those lives.”

You see David had a heart that God loved. It wasn’t because David was perfect. He lied when he was running from Saul. But he was open, willing, humble and even repentant. When Samuel confronted Saul about the sins he committed, Saul’s response was always something like: well I had to do it. Circumstances demanded it. I was losing men.” David could easily have said, “I had to lie to save my life.” He might have said, “It was an extreme situation, calling for extreme measure. Besides, I’m not the one who killed them. But instead, his response is: “I was responsible for this great tragedy.”

This is not to say that David was blind to the evil of Saul and Doeg. At this time he wrote Psalm 52, in which he castigates the evil of Doeg, and by implication, Saul. In David’s eyes, their biggest sin is this:

Here is the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, taking refuge in his destructive behavior. (Psalm 52:7)

What is even more amazing is what David wrote next. Remember he is still hiding in fear of his life. Remember, he had no more reason to trust the Lord than you and I do.

But I am like a flourishing olive tree in the house of God; I trust God’s faithful love forever.

I will praise you forever for what you have don. In the presence of your faithful people, I will put my hope in your name, for it is good. (Psalm 52:8)

As always, the Lord brings some good out of every terrible situation. David is his chosen servant. Now David has both a prophet and a priest to worship with him, and give him godly counsel. And unlike Saul, David humbly and willingly receives what God says through them.

Now what does all this mean for us today?

Maybe you need to hear the specific practical advice that you should take care of your family, and even your parents when they are unable to take care of themselves.

Perhaps you face the temptation that Saul had, to let your insecurity rule you. Do your fears drive away the people you love, or cause them harm? I doubt anyone reading this has committed murder on the scale that Saul perpetrated that day. Even so, the difference between faith and doubt is huge, and matters a great deal. Without trust in the Lord, if we trust only in ourselves, like Saul, we are doomed to hurt those around us. See how much better it is to be like David and put your trust in the Lord alone.

Like David with Gad and Abiathar, do you have godly spiritual advisors who listen to the Lord and have permission to speak honestly into your life? If not, ask the Lord to send you a few.

There is one last thing. Last time we talked about the concept that in the Old Testament we find people or events that remind us of Jesus, or show us what Jesus is like, or what following him is like. There is another one this week. More than two hundred people lost their lives for helping David. So today and throughout all history, people around the world have been persecuted and killed for following Jesus. It is a reminder that we should pray for those who are persecuted today, and also that we should be ready to make a choice between our own life and our obedience to Jesus.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you about all this right now.